Close Encounter with Whitley Strieber
November 6, 2001
By Susan Chenelle
So I thought Whitley Strieber was a woman. I knew Strieber as the author of The Hunger, the novel that inspired the 1983 film featuring that unforgettably steamy seduction of Susan Sarandon by vampire Catherine Deneuve. And the only other Whitley I had ever known of was Jasmine Guy's character on A Different World. Thanks to my editor at LesbiaNation and Mr. Strieber's publicist, I've now learned better, devoured Mr. Strieber's delicious sequel, The Last Vampire, and benefited from an enlightening conversation with him about love, gender, and alien encounters.
Whitley Strieber's life has been shaped profoundly by two extraordinary experiences. He's been probed by aliens, as he describes in his highly controversial book Communion, and he fell in love with a vampire. Strieber says that it was love that brought him back to the vampire Miriam Blaylock after all these years. As he explains, To my way of thinking, the women of myth have fallen a very long way from power beings like Innana and Lilith Athene to Tinkerbelle and Ally McBeal.
I wanted to re-empower the feminine by creating a character who belonged to the dark and dangerous side, whose nurture is fear, and whose stroking hand of love, is a hand of death. No man who has really, in his soul, bowed to the true power of the feminine, can ever be free again, or would ever want to.
At the beginning of The Last Vampire, years have passed since Miriam's lover Sarah killed herself. Now she is traveling the world, seeking a suitable mate at one of several vampire conclaves, to try to bear a child one last time. Lesbian fans of The Hunger fearing that Miriam's gone straight need not worry too much, though her quest to bear a child and to save her kind from a relentless CIA agent who's hunting them do dominate the story. Miriam's potent sensuality and desire, with both male and female lovers, are powerfully erotic forces throughout the book.
However, this time around, Miriam seems to be too powerful for Hollywood's tastes. Strieber says he was told that Columbia had withdrawn from making a film of The Last Vampire because MGM still owned the rights to the character of Miriam. But he also reveals that he heard a rumor that the studio head disliked the project because she thought it was 'anti-feminine' because the vampire was a woman. Strieber calls this perception typically shallow. There are not many genuinely feminist characters created by men. Miriam is one of them.
Strieber credits his alien encounters with leading him to a much deeper understanding of gender and sexuality. My close encounter experiences were sexually unmooring, in powerful and deeply good ways. I felt every kind of sexuality at once with the visitors. There are no heterosexuals or homosexuals among them, any more than there really are among us. Real sexuality is at once objective and extraordinarily exciting, universal and so intimate that it exposes secrets deeper than knowledge. At this level of delight, there is no gender.
According to Strieber, Western culture's rigid perceptions of gender and sexuality parallel its fear and sense of vulnerability with regard to aliens. In fact, the sexual aspects of Strieber's account of his close encounters sparked the greatest controversy. The anal probe was a challenge to my notion of masculinity, and ultimately a shatterer of illusions and an instrument of freedom, he explains. I also included it as a trigger, to compel people who find the idea of homoerotic sensuality threatening and face themselves.
This is why many men in our culture, who experience themselves as sexuality ambiguous and are terrified of that little fairy flitting about beneath those big muscles of theirs, react so very negatively to that image. It comes upon them unexpectedly and they find it thrilling, and that makes them furious. It made them hate me and hate Communion, and say all sorts of lies about it in the press. It slapped the patriarchy right in the ass. But I didn't care what they did to me or said of me. The book was an incredible personal triumph.
Though he has returned from aliens to vampires, Strieber continues to attempt to seek edges and break down the walls of reality with his writing. I have begun an entirely new novel about a new vampire, who I have found at the border of the Miriam Blaylock character, someone who seems to live in her own darkness. If Miriam herself wrote a story, it would be, I hope, the story I am writing now.
© 2001 Susan Chenelle
All Rights Reserved