Homophobia in the Sookie Stackstackhouse Books and True Blood’s Response

I really thought my vampire thing was over. I read all Anne Rice’s books through middle school and high school. And I’ve been completely obsessed with Buffy: the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel for years. Like let me sing you the musical, go out cosplaying, and attend fancons obsessive. Then my friend Gretchen insists I watch True Blood.

Both Charlaine Harris’ The Southern Vampire Mysteries books and the True Blood TV series have their flaws. They aren’t high literature by any means, and clearly fall into the category of beach-reading for the novels and trashy-TV for the show. The actors constantly drop their accents and Harris goes on and on about Sookie’s less-than-stylish outfits. And I’ve take to randomly calling out “Buuhill!” and “Ssucky” in mockery.

The first season of True Blood basically follows Dead Until Dark‘s plot. I whipped through the book knowing what was going to happen around every corner. Some of the little changes I liked better than others. When I got the second book, Living Dead in Dallas, I stumbled a bit with it, and likewise, I felt the second season stumbled. I’d been warned this was the weakest book in the series.

But what I couldn’t get over was the homophobia in Living Dead in Dallas. This book made me forever grateful for Alan Ball’s flimsy second season fixing the missteps the book took. Neither are gems, even in the vampire-porn genre, but True Blood‘s Season Two isn’t as offensive.

In Chapter One, Lafayette Reynolds’ body is found in Detective Andy Bellefleur’s car. It wasn’t until this scene that I consciously realize Lafayette is the only gay character and the only black character Sookie considers a friend and has regular interactions with. (As far as other black characters, Tara Thorton and Eggs are not introduced until toward the end of this book.) And Lafayette’s dead. Whereas in the TV show, Lafayette’s alive and one of the main characters, who has his problematic stereotypes, but is enough of a fixture to be a fan-favorite.

Godric explains to Eric why he's meeting the sun
Godric explains to Eric why he's meeting the sun
Now onto the book’s main plot, when the Dallas vampires have mind-reading Sookie investigate the missing vampire Farrell, it’s quickly apparent that Farrell’s gay. (However, it’s still problematic that the only gay character would be somewhat inherently evil — or at least inhuman. Because Bill seems to be the only decent vampire in Sookie’s world.) Turns out Farrell was an associate of Godric (called Godfrey in the book).

In the TV show, Godric is the missing one and Eric sends Sookie after him. Godric is Eric’s sire and implied lover. Also, its pretty implied Godric is gay. Over two thousand years old, Godric is wary of being a vampire — he cites that vampires do not evolve — and attempts to step into the sun to teach a lesson to the anti-vampire church, The Fellowship of the Sun. However, he’s stopped by Sookie and others. Later, he does commit suicide, but with only Sookie watching him.

Overall, Godric’s TV arch is very moving and possibly the best thing about Season Two. The actor playing him is incredibly talented, and his connection to Eric brings dimensions to the character of Eric we hadn’t seen. Not to mention, Godric never threatens to kill Sookie or her friends. Which makes him the only vampire, besides Bill, to do this. In fact, AfterElton.com readers voted Ball as gay TV writer of the decade, in part for his writing gay characters on True Blood. (Also on Six Feet Under.)

And on the completely opposite ‘what the f***’ hand, you have the Living Dead in Dallas plot where Godric converts to Christianity because he believes his soul is damned. Why is it damned? Well, he’s not only gay, but he’s also a pedophile who then makes his male child victims his dinner. And Godric’s been doing so for two thousand years plus with no plans to stop.

Godfrey sniffed the blood on me, and his face was swept with longing. I knew that look. But it was devoid of lust. He didn’t care a thing for my body. The link between blood and sex is very strong for all vampires, so I considered myself lucky that I was definitely in adult form.1

Worse, yet, we find that the reason Farrell’s missing is because he has the same predilections as Godric and Godric wants him to repent. Like a good Evangelist, Godric wants Farrell to burn in the sun with him, no matter what Farrell wants.

Both Godric and Farrell are the worst gay stereotype: that all gay people, especially gay men, are pedophiles. We can forgive our favorite fictional vampires for killing — even killing children — but only God can forgive them for raping children.

Sookie, our narrator, while she defends human-vampire love, she never fully condemns the church or Godric’s involvement in Farrell’s kidnapping. Even after the church kidnaps her. Yes, she rallies against them burning her — an evil vampire-loving human — tied to Farrell. And maybe it was kind of bad they kidnapped Farrell, but since Sookie isn’t attached to him (and he’s an evil child rapist), he doesn’t matter.

Further more, Sookie later muses on just how much Godric deserved to die and how perhaps even some innocent people were behind bars, falsely accused of Godric’s crimes. But how he saved her, so wasn’t it good he sought forgiveness with God.

For his centuries of molesting and killing children, Godfrey had deserved to die. I wondered how many humans were in jail for crimes Godfrey had committed. But Godfrey had helped me, and Godfrey had carried with him the most tremendous load of guilt and grief I’d ever encountered.2

Then all the vampires proceed to grieve over Godric’s death as he was so resolute in dying, in repenting for his sins. There’s a definitely an implication that all vampires should repent to God for their sins. And that there’s something beautiful and sacred in this. Sure, every text about vampires deals with the horror of killing humans for food. Some drink animals’ blood (Angel and Spike); some try to only eat the really bad (Lestat); some are vegetarian and sparkle (Cullens); others feel really bad about it (Louis); and some drink only tiny amounts from the willing (True Blood vampires and Cassidy). Even texts which mention rape (though not of children) and killing of children by vampires, none of the characters or the supporting characters judge the vampires worthy of a death sentence. Especially since we all know murder and rape, especially of children, is horrific and we have already judged them. But here, Harris seems to feel we need to have an anviliciously strong reason to want Godric’s death.

Of course, Living Dead in Dallas‘s problem isn’t the condemnation of serial killing pedophiles, but its lack of any other representation of queer people. We have the dead Lafayette in Chapter One and dead Godric, who meets the sun, and Farrell, who’s killed in a human attack on his nest, by the end. Oh, and then we have Eric pretending to be gay (though the text hints Eric’s bisexual) to accompany Sookie to a human orgy. (Don’t ask, the Maryann plot was even more tacked on in the book.) Specifically, Eric pretends to be flamboyantly gay in a hot pink tank top and leggings that are swirling pink and aqua.3

While I don’t believe Harris is intentionally homophobic, Living Dead in Dallas still kills all its queer characters and makes two of them serial killing pedophiles. Thankfully, Ball changed the text for True Blood to keep Lafayette around, ditched Farrell as an extraneous character, and gave Godric moving storyline without pedophilia and murdered children. But seriously, these books are supposed to be my light reading, my beach reading, and not ones I write rants about on my blog.

1 pg 158 from Charlene Harris’ Living Dead in Dallas
2 pg 202
3 pg 247

Edit: As of September 2010, I have read all the Sookie Stackhouse books. (Or at least the published ones.)

0 Replies to “Homophobia in the Sookie Stackstackhouse Books and True Blood’s Response”

  1. Your comments match my thoughts — I’ve read all of the books in this series, and although some of the much later ones really jump the shark in other ways, the second book is still the weakest overall, and certainly is the most homophobic. You’re right that Harris is not intentionally homophobic here. In fact, if asked, she would probably describe herself as as a gay-positive person and writer. What we probably have here is the sort of ingrained societal homophobia expressed in her writing. As a long-time northerner, I can’t help but wonder if this is more a southern thing — my two years in Florida certainly showed me that people there are more casually and apparently unknowingly homophobic than people in many other areas of the country. I’m not trying to be a south-hater, but I do think there’s a reason gay marriage is doing better in New England than anywhere else.

  2. You were definitely the friend I was referencing who warned me that the second book was the weakest. I imagine I’ll be picking up the third book soon, now that I’ve gotten this review done & that I bought it before reading the second one.

    I definitely agree that Harris would consider herself very gay-positive. I do think that a lot of current homophobia is causal and unknowing and unfortunately it tends to crop up places that have issues with “traditional values.” Or whatever they’re calling it these days. Of course, the causal is the place where we get the most bingo cards and derailing & the hardest to deal with hurt feelings, while feeling the need or obligation to educate and all the problems with that.

  3. There are some later books in the series dealing with a couple of lesbian characters that are also homophobic in a weird way. I can’t say more without spoiling it for you, but for some reason it never felt as homophobic to me as the second book did. Perhaps this is because the second book really lowered my expectations. I’ll be curious to see what you think when you get there.

  4. @Mona — Yeah, I’m planning on reading the next book mostly because I already own it. But I don’t know how much further I’m going to read in the series. (That and I have a bookcase full of things I’d perhaps rather read.) I expect fluffy and I expect the writing to be shallow. It’s about 98% comprehensible, which hits higher than certain other popular vampire books I’ve read excerpts from. But this was rather like a smack across the head.

    @Carole — Interesting. Not quite sure I’ll get that far, but you never know what I’ll read next. You’ve definitely peaked my curiosity to see if the 2nd book lowered your expectations so much the other homophobia wasn’t so bad.

  5. I was actually googling the topic of “homophobia and sookie stackhouse” because I wanted some confirmation that I wasn’t utterly hallucinating the homophobic overtones in Dead Until Dark. It’s interesting to hear the overtones continue through the series, but–wasn’t it already right there in the first book?

    So Sookie goes looking for Bill at his house, and he has a bunch of vampire friends over who are enjoying a bit of an orgy with their human toys. Sookie is immediately repulsed because one of the (male) vampires is receiving oral from his (male) human toy. That’s not my problem. Being an unwilling audience to someone else’s sex acts is no fun, I get that. But the fact that the very first onstage example of homosexuality is bound up with disregard of bystander consent is a bit unsettling. But then my impression that Harris uses “gay” to signify “bad news” is cemented when the gay vamp then deliberately attempts to infect Bill with Vampire AIDS.

    It would be bad enough if the most overtly gay character was also an antagonist. It’s much, much worse if that gay antagonist goes about attempting to harm the protagonists by living down to one of the cherished slanders perpetrated by homophobic pundits everywhere and trying to give Bill “the gay disease”.

    Thank goodness for Lafayette, even if I barely remember that he actually was portrayed as gay in the novel (I knew he was in the show). I’m very sorry to hear Harris kills him off.

  6. @Nicole — There were definitely undertones in the first book, but it didn’t feel like the sludge hammer of the second book. I think the entire premise of vampires getting equal rights, a la gay rights (especially when it’s not established in the universe that gay people have even achieved civil rights), is problematic given the evil nature of vampires.

    I was okay with Sookie being uncomfortable with the vampire orgy, give the consent issue, & while problematic as Harris’ first sex act choice, things didn’t really get bad until the vampire AIDS issue. (I see a lot of Sookie POV issues early on concerning sex as Harris’ idealized virginity state for Sookie, which is its own issue.) I do wonder if vampire AIDS shows up in the other books.

    Yes, thank goodness for Lafayette.

  7. The virginity issue at least gets two mitigating factors: bad as it is, it does persist as a trope in a large part of the romance genre, under which these books might be categorized, so it gets a “conistent with its peers” excuse; and Sookie’s virginity didn’t feel pushed as a morality issue as much as a pragmatic one (no one wants to date a gal who can actually read their minds). So that didn’t bug me nearly as much as it might have.

    I was really glad to hear the TV show substituted “Hep D” for “Vampire AIDS”, but I don’t think that would help with the “See? See? Gays are out to infect your kids with STDs!” issue. Not having watched the show, I don’t know whether that aspect of that scene was improved.

  8. Um, can you tell me why exactly *you* are conflating “pedophile” with “gay”? You read “pedophile” and overlaid “gay” because it definitely isn’t in the text.

    Godric is a completely different character from Godfrey – they even have different names. The text clearly states that Godfrey has sex with and kills children – it never says that he is gay, or that he has a preference for male children at all – that is all from your head. You’ve overlaid gay onto a character who is a pedophile, through your own reading of the scenes, because it certainly doesn’t say that in the text.

    Farrell is the gay character, not Godfrey. The reason that AB replaced the Godfrey character with Godric is because it’s easier to sympathise with someone who hasn’t done wrong – and thus have Eric weeping over the death of a worthy character, rather than have Sookie weeping over the death of an unworthy character.

    As for your assertion that all of the gay characters are killed off in this book, that would be Lafayette, the only gay character killed – not the “all” – as Farrell is saved by Sookie.

    I also think if you re-read Dead Until Dark again, you’ll find that it is in fact a heterosexual sex act – Janella is giving oral sex to Malcolm. Not only that, but if you read your books again, you will find that Tara and Eggs are in fact, white people. Race is dealt with in a different manner in the books – in that rather than step into the rather fraught black/white racial tensions, Harris instead uses vampires/white humans to represent that.

  9. The worst book for homophobia in the series is a late one, “Dead and Gone”. In that novel [SPOILER ALERT!], Jason’s friend Mel Hart has been exiled from the Hotshot were-panther community (that’s Calvin’s village) for being gay/refusing to breed. That’s repulsive enough, but he has had a crush on Jason Stackhouse and, when Jason’s wife flings homophobic insults at him, Mel lashes out at her, leaving her wounded (later to be killed by others). Mel is torn apart by the Hotshot were-panthers, the same inbred bigots who created the situation by exiling him in the first place. Whatever Charlaine Harris thinks of herself (non-racist, non-homophobic, etc.), it’s not reflected in her writings.

    1. At the time I wrote this, I hadn’t read Dead and Gone. But yes, Mel’s story is one of the best examples of the worst homophobia in the books. Harris seems to be especially bad when writing gay men.

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