Saturday, July 13, 2024

My First Queer: Carmilla

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This article is part of the My First Queer series, a site-wide series of articles written by some of our non-straight Fandomentals contributors. Each will contain their thoughts on their first experiences with queer media and what it meant to them. Enjoy!

D.E.B.S. and Imagine Me and You could have both qualified as ‘My First Queer’. That also applies to all the movies I watched were the queer character dies when I was first actively started seeking out queer media. If we want to get really technical Will & Grace could count as ‘My First Queer’ because, yes, as a kid I would flip to Will & Grace when the mid-day reruns were on. But even now I can’t quite say drew me to that show so strongly when, looking back, I know so much of the stuff happening flew right over my head (including the fact that Will is gay, which I somehow didn’t pick up on until later). But the first queer series that truly mattered to me was Carmilla. It still stands as one of my favorite pieces of media, in all its campy, quirky glory.

I found Carmilla during my aforementioned search for queer media. Like so many do when questioning their sexuality, I was searching for myself. I had been consuming every queer movie I could get my hands on. Everything that came up on Google after searching ‘LGBT movies and shows’. While I could relate to the ‘lost and confused girl’ trying to come to terms with herself, none of them quite clicked in the way I needed. I didn’t help that so many ended with someone taking a step off a building.

Then one day on Tumblr I came across a single picture that sparked my interest.

This image to be precise.

I instantly wanted to know what was happening. Who were all these women? (I’d learn later that LaFontaine is non-binary). What were they all doing? Why was one tied to a chair? Is she in a corset? Why is that red ‘Slurpee’ cup duct-taped to her chest?

Needless to say, it was that last question that got me clicking to the Carmilla tag. It was there I was introduced, by proxy of gif form, to the wonderful fight-flirting of Laura Hollis and Carmilla Karnstein. That same day I ended up on the VerveGirlTV channel on YouTube (now KindaTV) and found the first 22 episodes of Carmilla. I binged it in one sitting and was in love instantly.

The Gayest Gay to ever Gay

Here were a bunch of queer characters in a story that didn’t center on their sexuality. Sure, Laura and Carmilla’s relationship always has and will be the heart of the series, but their relationship informed the storyline, it didn’t define it. D.E.B.S., Imagine Me and You—those movies wouldn’t have a plot if the characters were not queer. If Amy and Rachel didn’t question their sexuality there would be no drama or conflict.

Carmilla’s story revolves around a university being run by a cabal of vampires that kidnaps girls every few decades. That conflict exists regardless of the sexuality or gender of any character. That was the thing that struck me deepest: queer characters who weren’t questioning their queerness. Was that even allowed? But at the same time, none of these characters were just ticks for diversity. They weren’t characters who were stated to be gay once in canon and then it was never brought up again. If Laura and Carmilla weren’t gay, nothing would really change. And yet, everything would change. Carmilla is fundamentally a queer series. But it’s worlds apart from other queer fiction where the focus is the coming out aspect of a queer narrative.

Not only are they queer, the series is unapologetic about it. There’s never a point where any character has to define or defend their identity. To see queer characters in a story that wasn’t about their coming out gave me an image of myself nothing else had at that point. In Carmilla, for the first time, I found reconciliation with my identity. Here were characters who’d long gone past their coming out and were dealing with issues that were completely unrelated to them being queer. They were still very queer and happily so. If they got past it, so would I. And I did.

The Tampon Fandom

Carmilla wasn’t just the show either. The close-knit interactions between the fandom, the cast, crew and creators played a huge part in helping me come to terms with my bisexuality. Carmilla, Laura, and LaFontaine’s characters all had social media accounts on Twitter and Tumblr, where they would post thoughts and findings in-between episodes. Sometimes they’d even interact with the fandom.

The Carmilla fandom, fondly known as Creampuffs, also made scores of non-canon accounts. There was a time when almost every inanimate object in Laura and Carmilla’s room had Twitter accounts. A couple of the more memorable being ‘Laura’s webcam’ and ‘Carmilla’s leather pants’. Also, many of the cast and crew were very open about their own identities. There was near constant communication with the fandom. This helped create an inclusive and open space among the Creampuffs.

In the days of season one, the fandom was so young and new and felt very small and homely, like everyone knew each other. There was a chatroom that every Tuesday and Thursday, oh, sorry, Tuesgay and Thursgay afternoon would be filled will scores of Creampuffs.

In case you weren’t aware, season one wasn’t known for its timely uploads, sometime around 5 pm EST was your best bet. So, the chatroom would be opened in one tab, VergeGirlTV’s channel page on another, and it would be a refreshing game. That was part of the Carmilla experience as much as the episodes were. Many were in the chatroom beforehand, discussing everything from the previous episode to what goes best on a taco. Naturally, there were many discussions about sexuality and gender identity. Getting to talk with so many people who were going through the same thing I was or had been through it already was an invaluable experience. Some of those people have become my closest friends even till today.

Four years, four seasons, and a movie later, Carmilla is an irrefutable part of my life. Thanks to Carmilla I found a community. I found lifelong friends. And I found myself.

Images courtesy of KindaTV and Shaftesbury Films.

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