The Elders Are Not Tutorial NPCs

NoSchool

A newbie walks into a vampire group. If you think that sounds like the setup for a bad joke, you’re not wrong. Settle in, kiddies, because it’s time for some real talk.

It happens every few months and it’s almost always the same theme, with little variation. A newcomer to the vampire subculture prances into a group, throws some “look at me, I’m shiny and new and I have shiny new ideas” glitter around, and then can’t figure out why no one is rushing to welcome them with open arms. Because, gosh darn it, they have Thinky Thoughts™ they want to share. They want to know ALL THE THINGS and they want it now.

To the newbie’s deep chagrin, no one cares about their Thinky Thoughts™. Everyone’s busy having a discussion or a debate. Or bickering, let’s keep it real. There’s no ticker tape parade, no red carpet rolling out, no pats on the back and no one gushing over how interesting the newbie is and isn’t it wonderful we have a new Kindred in our midst, bang the gong and go tell it on the mountain. So the newbie huffs away, disgruntled at being greeted by a chorus of crickets.

Or, worse, the newbie trots out one of their shiny, new ideas only to be told “been there, done that, rocked the t-shirt, now sit down, junior, the adults are talking; listen and learn” by people who have been engaged in the vampire subculture longer than the newbie has been toilet trained. Wait, what? But this idea is special, by Vlad. How dare anyone fail to recognize its merit? What do you mean it’s been done before? The outrage! Before you know it, the poor newbie vampire, who is now far less sparkly than when they arrived and sporting a bruised ego, has stormed off to write a pouty, whinging screed about the horrible abuse they received at the hands of the elders. Those big, mean meanie-heads.

There’s a lot of baggage to unpack in this scenario. First, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and provide some context. Patience, grasshopper.

Vampires In The Information Age

More than twenty years ago, I had my first experiences with what would come to be known as the Vampire Community. The most memorable was with a tall, gangling girl who lived down the hall from the apartment I shared with my then-boyfriend. We stayed up into the wee hours of the morning, drinking too much coffee, talking, debating and making prank calls to each other’s answering machines. She collected cheesy Halloween decorations and empty Count Chocula boxes. She adored all things vampire. She also liked drinking blood. That tall, gangling girl became known within the vampire subculture as Sanguinarius. She built a website. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Those late night discussions transitioned from our living rooms to IRC and AOL chat rooms, Usenet groups, and dozens of email lists. Although we shared similar experiences, my own path was less straightforward than Sangi’s. For her, it was all about the blood. For me, it was more complicated than that. There were others, too – Sphynxcat, Vyrdolak, Michelle Belanger, Lono, Mistress Mikyla, Akasha, Mairi, Lady CG, and even more who lost interest, got busy with life, or drifted away. Our debates sometimes became heated arguments, but the experience was valuable.

Two decades is a fairly significant stretch of time by any reckoning. By internet standards, it’s a lifetime. In the modern vampire subculture, it’s ancient. Those of us who were active participants in the discussions that took place in those chats and mailing lists were instrumental in shaping the vampire community as it is today.

Back in the 1990s, information was sparse and scattered across the internet. It was difficult to find and separating the wheat from the chaff required considerable effort. We had to figure things out for ourselves through trial and error. A lot of it.

By comparison, newcomers today are practically handed information on a silver platter. Google exists. Facebook acts as a centralized point of contact, fairly bursting at the seams with discussion groups dedicated to the vampire subculture. One of the oldest, largest and most active groups is Vampire Community News, founded by Merticus of the Atlanta Vampire Alliance (AVA). I don’t think it’s possible to spend more than two months in most of those groups, especially VCN, without hearing of Sanguinarius.org, the AVA or Voices of the Vampire Community (VVC).

There is a wealth, an absolute plethora, of educational information on Sanguinarius.org alone. Never mind what’s in the AVA’s educational archives, the VVC’s compilation of articles and their translations into multiple languages, Sphynxcat’s site, Michelle Belanger’s books, including the Vampires In Their Own Words anthology, which showcases essays from a wide range of vampire subculture members, and Joseph Laycock’s book Vampires Today: The Truth About Modern Vampirism. Finding quality information requires only as much effort as it takes to click some links and dedicate a couple of hours a week to reading articles.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an elder in possession of experience, knowledge, and a position of influence, must be in want of a newbie to mentor.

Actually, that’s false. But a fair number of newbies – and even a few veterans – seem to function under the assumption that this is the way things should be. Just…no. That’s not how this works.

Those of us who were active in the earliest days of the “online vampire community” and who are still active today have put in a lot of hours for a lot of years to establish ourselves as people who are accomplished, knowledgeable and capable of passing on the benefit of our experience. We built the websites, wrote the articles, held the meetups and established the Houses, Covens, and councils.

So it’s no surprise that newbies want to ask questions – a lot of questions. There’s nothing wrong with curiosity and enthusiasm. It’s great that newbies want to learn and participate. But when, where, how and to whom those questions are posed can be problematic.

Anyone who has spent any length of time in social justice activism circles, even on the margins, has undoubtedly heard the saying “it’s not my job to educate you.” The reasons for this are many, but they usually boil down to one or a combination of a few basic issues:

  1. The person being asked never offered to answer those questions;
  2. The person being asked doesn’t have the time or energy to provide answers;
  3. The person doing the asking hasn’t made any effort to educate themselves using the resources at their disposal;
  4. The person doing the asking has already demonstrated they are prejudiced, insulting or otherwise not genuinely open to receiving the information in the first place.

The same holds true for newbies in the vampire subculture. There are plenty of community veterans, often referred to as “elders,” who are willing to answer questions. There are always those who want to share their stories and explain things.

However, there’s a huge difference between sharing our experiences in an atmosphere of mutually beneficial discussion as we did “back in the day,” and having the responsibility for educating every looky-loo who comes along forced upon us. Especially when the same questions have been asked and answered dozens of times in the past. Chances are good there’s a FAQ for that.

“You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.”¹

Curiosity and enthusiasm do not make you entitled to our time and energy. For some of us, the answers newbies ask for hold a deep personal significance. Sometimes, those answers can be difficult to explain, especially in a limited space like a Facebook comment thread. There’s no way to condense a response into an elevator pitch or an easily-digested soundbite. It’s more expedient to link to an article or a website that deals with the topic in greater detail. Yes, it’s more work to read and try to educate yourself. But that’s not the elders’ problem. Do your homework, there will be a test later.

We’ve also had to deal with people who pretended to have a genuine interest in learning and then used our answers to ridicule, belittle or threaten us. In fact, it happens so often, it’s become normalized for us to give side-eye and throw shade at anyone who comes sniffing around. We’ve learned the hard way not to waste our time on a relative stranger until you’ve proven yourself. Part of that is demonstrating you’ve made an effort to learn on your own. Bottom line: We have the right to choose when and how we use our voices. We also have the right to say no. If you come into a group assuming we want or demanding that we accept the role of educator, you’re gonna have a bad time.

I Am Jack’s Inflamed Sense Of Rejection

All too often, newbies jump into an intra-community discussion without knowing basic concepts that everyone else already knows and, therefore, don’t need to discuss for the eleventy billionth time. You wouldn’t expect a bunch of stock brokers to pause a discussion they’re having among themselves to explain what the stock market is to a layperson. So why do newbies insist that elders hold their hands and guide them through the vast amount of information they need to know before taking part in the conversation?

Newbies shouldn’t waltz into a group, insert themselves into a discussion and expect people to cater to them. That’s known as “derailing” – in other words, steering the conversation off course and centering it around the newcomer. It’s lazy, disrespectful and the sense of entitlement it projects is offensive, especially when we’ve already spent so much of our time creating and aggregating information. Seriously, if you expect the elders to explain things you can and should be learning on your own time, you’d better be willing to compensate us for our labor. Buy us a fucking fruit basket or something.

And this is how the scenario inevitably plays out:

In their willful ignorance, a newcomer will come up with an idea that has been tried before but failed because of lack of interest or overly-complicated logistics. Or one that the newbie would know can never work because of the fractious nature of the vampire subculture if they’d actually bothered to do even five minutes worth of research. Or, worst of all, the newbie proposes a thing that absolutely no one wants because every time someone brings up that tired, old idea it causes months of bickering and drama that no one wants to repeat yet again because things just settled down from the last time someone brought it up.

Then, when people rightly criticize their shortcomings, the newbie complains about the treatment they receive and whine that everyone is against them. They never stop to consider the possibility that they have only themselves to blame for the cold reception. It’s much easier to lay the fault on someone else’s doorstep than to do any self-examination.

Get The Fuck Off My Porch²

Newbies, here’s a tip:

Stop trying to reinvent the wheel. Rein in that enthusiasm long enough to study the dozens of articles, essays, and books that have been written by and about the vampire subculture. If someone tells you to sit back quietly and observe for awhile, do that. It’s not that we can’t or won’t tell you what you want to know. Sometimes there’s no other way to get the answer; you have to witness it for yourself. This isn’t the Matrix and the elders can’t download all of our experience directly to your brain. The process is long and occasionally daunting. Embrace it.

If you want to make a tangible contribution to the community, you should research the projects that are already in place and then politely ask how you can contribute to them. I promise you’ll find people who will turn up their nose and poo-poo your offer. You will get your face bitten off, chewed up and spit out and have your ass handed to you more than once. Learn to tolerate the discomfort because it’s the only way you’re going to make it here.

“A guy who came to Fight Club for the first time, his ass was a wad of cookie dough. After a few weeks, he was carved out of wood.”³

If you manage to survive the snarknado, you’ll also find people who are friendly, helpful, and would love to debate ideas with you or have you get on board with their project. You don’t need to create something “new” when there’s already a perfectly good thing or five that could use another set of willing hands. While you’re at it, do some digging and figure out what concepts and projects have been considered and rejected and why. It’s a lot of work and not nearly as exciting as seeing your name at the top of the marquee, but you’ll experience much better results.

The elders are not tutorial NPCs who exist to teach newbies to navigate community interactions, help them with their level-up quests and provide them with all the magical things. The vampire subculture is not known for being an easy realm to inhabit. It never has been and never will be. There are no safe spaces and trigger warnings are in short supply. This is not Hello Kitty Island Adventure. There be dragons here.

Welcome to Bite Club.

 

¹ ² ³ Fincher, D., Milchan, A., Uhls, J., Linson, A., Chaffin, C., Bell, R. G., Pitt, B., … Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Inc.,. (2002). Fight club. Beverly Hills, CA: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.
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