I was eight years old the first time I read Little Women. I fell in love with the Marches and identified with all four sisters in different ways. I was a writer and loved adventure and couldn’t manage to do what was expected of me like Jo. I was the oldest and could be too cautious and practical for my own good like Meg. I was quiet and withdrawn and loved music like Beth. I was artistic and used words people didn’t understand and was never taken as seriously as I took myself and totally had a thing for Laurie like Amy.
I’d go on to revisit Little Women and its sequels throughout the years. I learned more about the historical context of the book. The Alcott family’s involvement in Transcendentalist, bohemian circles. Louisa May Alcott’s first-wave feminism. All of this just made the book more fascinating to me. Age and distance have made some of the book’s imperfections more noticeable, but it’s one of those childhood loves that will always have a special place in my heart.
Despite all this, somehow the existence of The March Family Letters escaped my knowledge until this month. To be honest, I was more apprehensive about this one than any of the literary webseries I’ve watched. There are so many ways a modern Little Women could go horribly wrong. Would Jo be a straw feminist or a misogynist? Would Meg be an unsympathetic killjoy in the tradition of grouchy sitcom wives? Would Beth be a Purity Sue, canonized by virtue of disability? Would Amy exist to remind the audience that being a girly girl makes you a terrible person, or at least a really shallow one?
Don’t worry, my inner voice whispered as she wrapped me in a blanket and brought me some hot chocolate. It’s being distributed by Pemberley Digital. Click the playlist.
This was supposed to be my Halloween post. I’ve actually gotten a few requests to review this literary vlog series. I kept putting it off because I knew once I got started, I’d want to watch the whole thing in one sitting. I was right. First, a little background on the source material.
Carmilla is a vampire novella by J. Sheridan Le Fanu that predates Dracula by twenty-six years. Aside from its place in the history of the horror literary genre, it’s noteworthy in that it features a tragic romance between the eponymous female vampire and the human female narrator. This isn’t subtext speculation or revisionist history. It’s right there in the 1871 text.
She used to place her pretty arms about my neck, draw me to her, and laying her cheek to mine, murmur with her lips near my ear, “Dearest, your little heart is wounded; think me not cruel because I obey the irresistible law of my strength and weakness; if your dear heart is wounded, my wild heart bleeds with yours. In the rapture of my enormous humiliation I live in your warm life, and you shall die–die, sweetly die–into mine. I cannot help it; as I draw near to you, you, in your turn, will draw near to others, and learn the rapture of that cruelty, which yet is love; so, for a while, seek to know no more of me and mine, but trust me with all your loving spirit.” And when she had spoken such a rhapsody, she would press me more closely in her trembling embrace, and her lips in soft kisses gently glow upon my cheek. – Carmilla, Chapter IV
So, yeah. Basically Carmilla was Twilight for Victorian girls if Edward was a woman and died at the end. It’s one of my favorite classical guilty pleasures. Laura’s intense attraction to Carmilla coupled with her fear and frustration at having these feelings in the first place is written as effectively as any Austen heroine’s. Although Carmilla meets the tragic end that all monsters must in classic Gothic horror, she’s a remarkably sympathetic character. One easily gets the impression that, contrary to Proto Van Helsing’s slander, her feelings for Laura become true love, not the inhuman lust she’s accused of. The end leaves it nearly certain that, despite Laura’s participation in Carmilla’s death, Carmilla’s forbidden love was returned:
It was long before the terror of recent events subsided; and to this hour the image of Carmilla returns to memory with ambiguous alternations–sometimes the playful, languid, beautiful girl; sometimes the writhing fiend I saw in the ruined church; and often from a reverie I have started, fancying I heard the light step of Carmilla at the drawing room door. – Carmilla, Chapter XVI
Carmilla the webseries replaces the Gothic castle of the original with a modern-day college campus. If you think “lesbian coed vampires” sounds like a great premise for a porno, you’re going to be disappointed. If you think it’s a great premise for a modern update that keeps all the elements that made the original novella awesome while updating the elements that have thankfully changed with the times, you’re going to love this webseries as much as I do.
My first question about this update was how they’d handle the lesbian stuff. The answer is “Very well.” Although the mostly-female cast is certainly good-looking, the show obviously wasn’t shot or staged for the male gaze. The writing makes you care more about whether Laura and Carmilla will fall in love than whether they’ll make out. Laura’s queerness is taken for granted, not played for angst or drama. The same goes for the other queer characters. I say “queer” because the writing doesn’t specify whether any of these young women are lesbian or bi. No one in-universe seems to care. Nor does anyone find it shocking or incredulous that platonic friendships exist between queer women, or between queer and straight women. (Actually, I’m not sure any of these women are straight. But there are definitely women who are close to each other and don’t seem like they’re ready to make out the second you turn your back, something plenty of shows with supposedly all-hetero casts can’t get right.)
My second question was how they handle the vampire stuff. (SPOILERS AHEAD.) This Carmilla is indeed an actual vampire. Her backstory is nearly the same in this series as in the original novella. And, like any good postmodern monster, she can and does choose whether to use her curse for good or evil. In this incarnation, she’s covertly helping the young women she’s supposed to lure to her dark mistress. Which was always my theory about the original. Think Snape as a double agent for the Death Eaters. Now that I think of it, that’s a pretty good way to sum up this Carmilla. She’s FemSnape.
My third and most important question was whether Carmilla and Laura would live (or un-die) happily ever after in this version. I don’t have a definitive answer for that yet since the series is still running, with updates every Tuesday and Thursday. But the way the first 31 episodes have gone, I’ll be surprised and heartbroken if they don’t.
Want to check it out for yourself? Click here to go to the YouTube page, or watch the complete playlist embedded below. Click here to read the full text of the original novella on Gutenberg, available in-browser or as a free e-reader download.
I’ve been around some pretty extreme religious types in my life. You know those rhetorical arguments about modern Christians not really taking the Bible literally because they don’t see a cotton/poly blend as a sin? I’ve known Christians who believed wearing a cotton/poly blend is a sin. Yet, not once in my life have I heard anyone say, “I approve of the Westboro Baptist Church’s work.” I have never personally encountered a Christian-identifying person who said “God hates fags.”
Oh, I’ve heard people say that acceptance of homosexuality would bring God’s judgment upon our nation. But they would never say “God hates fags.”
I’ve heard people say they aren’t required to show love to people the Bible clearly calls an abomination. But they would never say “God hates fags.”
I’ve heard people say they need laws that allow them to refuse jobs and housing to “homosexuals” to protect their sincerely-held beliefs. But they would never say “God hates fags.”
I’ve heard people insist on using the word “homosexual” to refer to all LGBTQ people, because calling gays and lesbians “gays and lesbians” allows them to normalize their perverted lifestyle, and because bi and transgender people don’t really exist anyway. But they would never say “God hates fags.”
I’ve heard people say, “We’re losing our country,” not knowing they were speaking to one of the people to whom they’re supposedly losing it. But they would never say “God hates fags.”
I’ve heard people say we should love homosexuals the same way we should love addicts, adulterers, and pedophiles, with the obvious implication that these are all on the same moral/psychiatric plain, and that the end goal of that love is saving these people from their dysfunction and perversion. But they would never say “God hates fags.”
I’ve heard people say homosexual desire is a temptation like any other, and that it’s no sin if you never act on it – that is, if you choose a life alone, a life with a spouse you can never fully love, or a life of the impossible task of shutting down half of your sexuality while keeping the other half alive enough for functional relationships. But they would never say “God hates fags.”
I’ve heard people say homosexual love can never be real love, only broken, shallow, selfish, insatiable lust. But they would never say “God hates fags.”
I’ve heard people compare my first love, which wouldn’t have been considered inappropriate in any way if it had been with a boy, to bestiality. But they would never say “God hates fags.”
I’ve heard people say that we can’t grant homosexuals the right to marriage and families because we have to protect the institutions of marriage and family. But they would never say “God hates fags.”
I’ve heard people say that, while they believe in reaching out to unsaved homosexuals, they couldn’t continue to fellowship with unrepentant homosexual Christians as believers. But they would never say “God hates fags.”
I’ve heard people go out of their way to find something, anything, in someone’s past to which they can attribute the “brokenness” of same-sex attraction, to explain away as dysfunction something they’d see as beautiful and healthy if it were between two people of the opposite sex. But they would never say “God hates fags.”
I could go on for a hundred pages. If you think I’m saying that all these people are really no better than Fred Phelps, you’ve completely missed the point. These people are better than Fred Phelps. These are nice people. These are people who don’t want to hurt anyone. These are people who sincerely want the best for their neighbors, for their nation, for the poor broken homosexuals. These people feel sincerely torn over how to discriminate in the kindest way possible. They might be you. They have been me. You, most likely, are better than Fred Phelps. I was and continue to be better than Fred Phelps. And that’s his true danger. Fred Phelps and others like him let us believe that being better than them is good enough.
Fred Phelps is dead. Let the scapegoating die with him. Let us all resolve that we can do better than “better than Fred Phelps.”
I don’t know your name yet. I don’t know anything about you. I don’t even know if you identify as a woman, a man, or both, or neither. I don’t know if I’ll be the first bisexual person you date. I don’t know if, at this point in time, dating a bi woman is something you’ve ever considered. And I don’t know if you watch Glee.
If you’re a straight cisgender man, my obsession with Glee in its early seasons is probably something you’ll laugh at me about. If you’re anything else, you’ll probably laugh about it with me. And rage with me. And cry with me. But whether or not you were watching Glee in its fifth season and saw the episode “Tina in the Sky with Diamonds,” you’ve probably been exposed to this biphobic stereotype in one way or another: thatyou will never be everything a bi woman could possibly need and want, because she’s capable of being attracted to something opposite of you. And I want to tell you right now that this pervasive, bigoted, malignant stereotype is…correct.
You are NOT everything I could possibly need and want.
No individual human being CAN be everything another individual human being could possibly need and want.
Maybe you’re white. I’ll still be attracted to Adriana Lima and Enrique Iglesias. Maybe you’re short and slender. I’ll still be attracted to Liv Tyler and Chris Hemsworth. Going beyond looks, maybe you hate my favorite tv show. I’ll still want to talk about it with a friend who does like it. Maybe you hate sewing or crafting or knitting or equestrian sports or fashion or makeup. I’ll still want to keep those hobbies/interests and share them with people who do like them. People who aren’t you. People to whom I’m theoretically capable of developing an attraction.
Whatever your best qualities are, whatever made me fall in love with you, someone else in the world has those qualities, only better. And someone else has the opposite qualities, which may also be attractive to me. You’re not the only person in the world that I could’ve happily married. No matter how compatible we are, I will, at some point in our relationship, have a problem you can’t solve and an emotional need you can’t fulfill. I’ll like things you hate and hate things you like. I’ll want to try something in bed (or elsewhere) that you won’t, and I’ll veto something you want to try.
But I will always choose you. Out of all the women and men and everything in between that I could’ve had, you are the one I’ll decide to spend my life with. You are the one I’ll want to be the mother/father/parent of my children. And I’ll make that choice for the simple, inexplicable, irrational reason that you are you and no one else is, and I’ll have fallen in love with you.
Whether you’re gay, straight, bi, or actively label-free, I’m trusting that you’ll choose me for the same reason. And that even though I can’t fulfill your every need and desire any more than you can fulfill mine, you will always choose me. Because I am me and no one else is, and you’ll have fallen in love with me.
Last December, I wrote a response to gay rights activist Dan Savage’s challenge for LGBTQ-affirming Christians to stop telling him “We’re Not All Like That” and start telling other Christians. Since then, progressive Christian blogger and author John Shore has partnered with Savage to launch The NALT Christians project.
I feel like Savage has addressed the parts of his original challenge that I found most problematic. He specifically acknowledged the existence of LGBTQ Christians in his introductory video (embedded above), and the project partners with Truth Wins Out, a gay-led Christian organization. I’m fully in favor of this project. I’d love to see it become as big as It Gets Better.
But, going back to my original reservations, I’d like to add a challenge of my own.
To Christian LGBTQ allies: Don’t play into the LGBTQ/Christian false dichotomy. When you “reach out” to the LGBTQ community, please recognize that you don’t have to reach as far as you think.
We’re not The Other. We’re not broken. We’re not washed and waiting. We’re not lost souls out there in The World that you need to bring to Christ. We’re not The Unsaved or The Unchurched. You want to reach out to us? Look in the pew you’re sitting in. There we are. There I am.
I am the little girl in Sunday School who’s always the first to raise her hand. I am the girl who gets the lead solo in the Christmas pageant every year. I am the teenager who plays piano for the worship service every fourth Sunday. I am the lady who hosts a small group in her home. I am the teacher in your kids’ Children’s Church. I am the Facebook friend who posts Rachel Held Evans‘ articles on your news feed all the time. I am the friend who prays for you and with you every time you ask. I am Mary Lambert. I am Jason Collins. I am a Christian, and I am not an LGBTQ ally. I AM queer, and I am here.
Update: On 9/4/13, I wrote this follow-up post in response to Savage and John Shore launching the NALT Christians Project. I do support the NALT Christians Project, which addressed a lot of my concerns regarding Savage’s original challenge at its launch.
I have such mixed feelings about Dan Savage. I love the It Gets Better project, and I think it’s pretty cool that Savage has endorsed Christian author John Shore‘s books on LGBTQ issues in the Church. On the other hand, Savage’s hotheaded, reactionary approach can be a real turn-off. And what is up with the biphobia? Did a bi guy leave him for a chick once or something, which I’m sure is so much worse than when a gay guy leaves you for a dude?
Sometimes I forget to qualify “Christian” with “fundamentalist evangelical right-wing bats–t Christian.” And I’ll write something taking “Christians” to task for their abuse of queer people. And I’ll get emails and I’ll get calls from liberal Christians, whispering in my ear, “We’re not all like that. Psst, we’re not all like that.” I call them NALTs now, for Not All Like That Christians. NALT Christians.
But the reason so many of us have the impression that you are all indeed like that, and why Christian has become synonymous with anti-gay, is because of these loud voices on the Christian right. And they’ve hijacked Christianity, with your complicit silence enabling their hijacking of it.
And you know what? Liberal Christians, you need to do something about it. You need to tell them you’re not all like that. We know — liberals, lefties, progressives, queers — we know that not all Christians are like that. The religious right: They don’t know. Tell them.
So stop writing me and telling me that you’re Not All Like That, and start doing something about it. Start telling them you’re Not All Like That.
– Dan Savage
I think Savage’s challenge, though well-intended, misses the mark on many levels. Mainly in that, while he doesn’t outright state that there are no queer Christians, his wording does play into the idea that LGBTQ and Christian are mutually exclusive identities. They’re not. I, for one, am a bisexual Christian. Of course, Savage doesn’t think bi people are sufficiently queer anyway, so who knows what that’s worth to him. Regardless, thereareplentyof Christians out there who are higher on the Kinsey scale than I am.
And here’s the thing: not all of them are liberal. Heard of the Gay Christian Network? It’s an international ministry with thousands of members that reaches out to LGBTQ Christians and their communities. Its executive director, Justin Lee, is an openly-gay conservative Southern Baptist. Conservative preacher boy Matthew Vines went viral this summer with his sermon on how he reconciles his gayness with his faith in an inerrant Bible.
Not all straight allies are liberal, either. I know many evangelical right-wing Christians who personally believe homosexual sex acts are sinful, but who still support civil rights for LGBTQ people. Perhaps more importantly, they treat LGBTQ individuals the same way they treat everyone else, i.e. the way they want to be treated.
Does Dan Savage honestly think the first American president to publicly endorse same-sex marriage was re-elected without the votes of evangelical Christians? Does he think no votes for marriage equality in Maine, Maryland, Washington, and Minnesota were cast by evangelical Christians? Okay, maybe these Christians aren’t shouting from their church steeples that, “I’m a Christian and I’m not a tool!” But maybe it’s not because they’re complacently allowing the likes of James Dobson and Bryan Fischer to hijack the issue. Maybe it’s because they’re too busy not being tools. They’re out there just living, being kind to people, treating the people in their lives with justice, mercy, and equality, and quietly voting for our rights in elections they can’t wait to be over.
Once more for the record, I am a bisexual feminist liberal Christian. And personally, I’ll take the conservative friend who says “You know I believe differently than you on this, but I just want you to be happy” over the liberal activist who says I’m not gay enough or loud enough any day.