Subtextual: On Reading Anne Rice as a Young Goth and Finding the Queerest Truth in Fictions

I hate to admit it, but I was a goth child. 

I wore black clothes, I listened to The Cure, I read and re-read The Bell Jar.

I was probably more emo than goth, but we didn’t have emo in the 80s. Are there other ways to describe my past (or present) weirdness? For now, goth is what I have. 

So of course, I read Anne Rice.

When I first read Rice’s work, I was a sophomore at an all-girl Catholic high school in Miami. I had been going to Catholic school since the first grade, indoctrinated by teachers, most often nuns, who stood under crucifixes and spoke without any doubts.

My mother sent communion pictures to our grandmother in Argentina to prove my sibling and I were being raised right. My Peruvian father hardly ever went to church. As a kid, I prayed that he wouldn’t go to hell. I never knew until I was an adult that he wasn’t Catholic. He had grown up Christian and his family had enough money to not have to worry about money. But when their grandfather walked out on them, they lost everything. Later on, they converted to Pentecostalism because the missionaries gave them food. Despite my parents’ difference of religion, they probably agreed on Catholic school because that’s where you teach children to not question anything.

At fifteen, I was tired of not questioning. I was tired of being the quiet one, the one chosen to be Mary in the Christmas play.

I’m not sure if I read Interview with the Vampire or The Vampire Lestat first. But I can definitely say which one I loved more.

Interview with the Vampire, Rice’s first novel, is told by Louis, a vampire with a guilt complex. Yet, he spends seventy years partnered with Lestat, the unrepentant sinner vampire who sired him. Could it have been even more queer-coded? Although Rice wasn’t queer, she confirmed later that Lestat and Louis were “same-sex parents” to Claudia, a dying child who they turned into a vampire. 

But Louis could have taught my religion class. I didn’t need more guilt and shame. I needed other ways to be. 

The Vampire Lestat is the story of those other ways to be. In this second novel, Lestat narrates his early life as an 18th century French aristocratic youth as well as how he became a vampire. He isn’t reveling in evil as Louis had portrayed him in Interview. Instead, Lestat discloses the moral angst that led him (unbeknownst to Louis) to only taking the lives of murderers.

Eventually, Lestat doesn’t accept any interpretation of himself as completely evil or an abomination. But the allure of his character is he doesn’t back down from being fully himself even when that self was perceived as/ is deeply flawed and problematic. He does revel in aspects of being a vampire like the immortality, the heightened awareness that gives him a new understanding of all life. He even conveys this experience onstage as the lead singer in a rock band.

Yet, I was more intrigued by Lestat’s life before he became a vampire. When he’s young, he aspires to be a monk and later an actor. His family vehemently and sometimes violently deters him from both. Lestat gives up on his dreams. Then he meets Nicolas de Lenfent.

Lestat and Nicolas had known each other as children, but differences in their social class kept them apart. When they meet again in their early twenties, Nicolas has dropped out of school to play the violin, and Lestat has become the celebrated town hero who has killed a pack of wolves. Yet, Lestat views Nicolas’ self-expression as an act of bravery equal to being a Wolf Killer. They abandon social constraints to start a friendship.

At the local inn, they spend their nights in a room, drinking and talking about art and philosophy, the meaninglessness of life, how music and theater push away some of the chaos. Eventually, they run away to Paris together. Sadly, their friendship unravels as it often does when one of you becomes a vampire.

Their story fades away from the rest of the novel, but I stayed obsessed with Lestat and Nicolas, their late night conversations, their desire to be more than what was expected of them.

Was this a friendship or romantic relationship? I was schooled in soap operas and Jackie Collins novels, so I knew it felt like a romance even if it wasn’t out in the open. I didn’t know what I was reading could be defined as queer subtext. 

In high school, I was living my own version of queer subtext. I had friends that I could talk to about possibly wanting to be with girls, and I had friends that I had secret crushes on. Yet, I didn’t call myself lesbian or bisexual because I didn’t know if that was me. But also because I was afraid that was me. 

My parents and the nuns would have disapproved if they had known what these vampire novels were all about. But not only did I have to hide what I was reading from them, I also had to hide who I was.


I almost met Anne Rice in 1994. By “almost met,” I mean Aimee, Gabriella and I stood at the gate of Rice’s house in New Orleans, and one of us rang the bell. She wasn’t home. I think we ended up at a nearby cemetery instead. That trip to New Orleans with my friends was after my college graduation ceremony in Ohio. I hadn’t officially graduated because I needed a few more credits. But I was done with college, and what better way to ease my anxiety over not knowing what to do next than to get steadily drunk in New Orleans.

I knew myself as a lesbian by then at least. I had a desperate crush on Aimee. On our last night there, we briefly made out in a bar. She said I didn’t know how to kiss even as we kept kissing. I was ashamed, but even more ashamed that I still wanted to kiss her. She was probably the one who rang the bell at Rice’s house. I wanted her brazenness.

After leaving the bar, Aimee decided to walk the city alone. Did she say that she would kiss me again when she got back to our hotel room? Or was I drunkenly hearing whatever I wanted to hear? It was almost dawn when I heard the door. She slipped into the double bed with Gabriella who was straight (as far as we knew) and already asleep. I was left in the other bed alone. The next day, we drove back to Florida. We were all friendly in our conversations between PJ Harvey songs but Aimee also kept her distance from me.

Despite casual flirtations, she never kissed me again. Apparently, I was that bad at kissing. And/or she realized her straightness. But if someone was inaccessible, my compulsion (later I would know it as codependency) was to want them even more. 

Why did Aimee stay friends with me? Because I encouraged her to write poetry? Because I drove her to 25 cent beer night at the Fort Lauderdale club where they played Björk and New Order? She flirted with boys at the club, and then I would flirt with those boys, telling myself that I got close to them to be closer to her, when I wasn’t sure if that was the reason.

We spent hours getting drunk and philosophizing in her rented room. I wanted to convince myself that we were Lestat and Nicolas. But she never talked about wanting to be with girls let alone wanting to be with me. I held onto the idea of being with her long after I should have let it go.

Later that year, I ended up living in Baltimore for a few months with friends who were lesbians. Stranded between college and “real” life, what held me together was my queerness, going to gay bars. One night, I was alone in the apartment where I slept on a spare mattress on the bedroom floor, and I decided to take a bus to a Towson movie theater playing Interview with the Vampire. Rice’s misgivings about Tom Cruise as Lestat were well-known, and I completely agreed. Yet, I went because I was looking for more queerness.

I was not disappointed. In one of the most hilarious, eerie, and triumphant scenes, Cruise’s Lestat returns to the New Orleans house that he had shared with Louis and Claudia. They had left him for dead in a swamp. But Lestat arrives at their door, a threatening blur moving through the house until he ends up at the piano, all decrepit, playing an ominous sonata that intensifies his level of intimidation as well as his level of queer. 

At the end of the movie, the last scene has Lestat pulling the lacy cuffs of his shirt from underneath the sleeves of his jacket, asserting grandeur even if the sleeves are dirty from decades of self-imposed isolation in an abandoned house. To gravitate towards what’s beautiful, what’s pleasurable like a sonata, a lacy sleeve, even when you’re surrounded by chaos, even when you are the chaos and/ or you are perceived as chaos, that is queerness to me. Just like the books, this movie gave me more ways to define who I was.

I hadn’t read Anne Rice’s work in years. Yet when she died in December 2021, I felt the loss of not hearing about another book from her, the loss of not having met her in New Orleans.

It made me feel other losses, the loss of years spent on a crush/(es) that went nowhere, the years that I go nowhere.

But is it nowhere. Or do I call it nowhere because I think that’s what it looks like.

I spent years trying to find who I was in places that didn’t want me to know who I was. Whether it was hiding what I was reading from my parents and the nuns, or being told by a crush that I didn’t know how to kiss, I kept moving towards my fully realized self only to be told no, you can’t be who you want to be.

The Catholic school girl, the obedient daughter accepted the limitations. But I’ve never entirely let go of those limitations. Even after I fell in love at nineteen years old with a woman, even after I lived with lesbians and drag queens in my twenties, even after I started writing articles for an LGBTQ+ newspaper in my late thirties. Whether I know myself as lesbian, queer, asexual, nonbinary, I’m still that young person who first understood their queerness through stories that kept queerness hidden.

Sometimes it helps to have that young person around. When I first moved in my 40s to a city surrounded by ruralness, I noticed that no one at my jobs was openly gay/ openly supportive of LGBTQ+ people, and my responses to rooms for rent ads on Craigslist didn’t get many replies if I came out in my emails as Latina and lesbian. I went back into the don’t ask, don’t tell closet at jobs and with landlords. It took me a few years to start coming out again. But even now I don’t come out to everyone. When I have to be closeted, the Catholic school girl, the obedient daughter accepts the limitations and keeps me safe.

Safe, yet alone. 

Why did I hold onto the idea of Aimee? Why didn’t I move towards having a relationship with someone openly queer? Because moving towards the inaccessible, the hidden, the mixed messages also kept me safe.

Another reason for needing this safety is because I was physically and sexually abused as a child, as well as sexually assaulted as a teen and young adult.

My access to therapy has been uneven, so I didn’t know until recently that I had complex post-traumatic stress disorder. I also had no clear boundaries or understanding of how to trust in healthy ways. Throughout my teens until my late twenties, I had intense friendships. But if I felt betrayed, unheard or abandoned, I could let go of people that I had known for years. My trust was all or nothing.

Romantic relationships were different. I went towards people who weren’t available. I’ve never had a “real” relationship, a primary relationship that was reciprocal and/ or committed. But subtext taught me to look for hidden meanings everywhere, to find the stories within a story. Even if Aimee was straight, even we didn’t kiss anymore, she still draped her arm around me in public, threw kisses at me across a parking lot. She also wanted emotional closeness: to get drunk together, to read her Bukowski-esque poems out loud to me. Maybe she wanted more. Isn’t that the story of subtext? There could be more. But there wasn’t. That’s also the story of subtext.

Yet, the subtext also kept me safe. It was safer to experience queerness through the subtext that I found in music, movies, TV. To love Lestat and Nicolas. To love the idea of Aimee.

In my 40s, I redefined my sexual orientation to be more fluid, more interchangeably asexual and queer. As I get older, I have fewer friends, and I’m more accepting of myself as introverted. Yet, I’ve questioned whether my asexuality, my introversion keeps me from healing trauma, whether it’s a way to distance myself from relationships.

The therapeutic refrain is you can’t heal in isolation. The mental health professionals concede that we can have “bad days” and sometimes even admit that healing isn’t supposed to be linear. Yet, my experience with many a therapist, many a group facilitator, many a hotline worker, is they make healing feel like a competition. They may say that you can heal in your own time, but they only want the success stories. Something for the brochures. They don’t have the patience to be with someone who is taking years, decades to heal from trauma. No one wants the failures unless they lead to successes. You’ll never learn to thrive if all you do is survive is what someone on a hotline said to me. As if it’s a choice.

What if healing is relapse? After relapse. After relapse.

Or states of mind that shift from disordered to ordered?

What if isolation is one of the only ways I can heal? 

Is my healing incomplete because I spend most of my days in my room? 

Who defines what healing from trauma means?

What if I find my healing in the same way I found my sexual orientation and gender identity? Over years, defining, redefining, moving away from definitions, moving towards and away from my full being-ness for reasons within and outside of myself.

What if there’s fluidity in the healing process?

What if I queer my healing from trauma?

What if I queer everything?

What if knowing my queerness through subtext has taught me to queer everything?

What if these questions are an elaborate justification for continuing to isolate as a coping mechanism?

So what if they are?

What if they’re that and everything else?

I’m not going to shame myself for staying safe, for not pushing myself to work through trauma if I’m not ready or able to do that work for whatever reason.

Healing is not a competition. 

Subtext keeps me safe. Present tense.

Sometimes it keeps me alone. 

Sometimes it keeps me searching for any kind of queerness wherever I can find it: music, movies, TV. Vampire novels. Friends who invite me to get drunk in their rooms. 

These searches led to the years of going nowhere, and by nowhere, I do mean what it looks like to everyone else. The failures without success. The lack of a “real” relationship. The limits of exploring queerness through fictions.

But nowhere has a presence for me. I can find it on maps, I’ve internalized it, I know the thought and speech patterns. Yes, there are limitations. There’s the invalidation and shame (from others, from myself) that comes with not having a primary relationship. There’s the loss of that kind of relationship, if that’s defined as a loss, and sometimes I do define it as a loss. 

Despite that, I’ve built a life inside of nowhere, inside of fictions. There’s a real (no quotation marks) self here. I am the obedient daughter who is hiding her vampire books, but I’m also the fifteen-year-old who wants to question everything. Knowing my queerness through subtext not only taught me to look for stories underneath the stories we’re given, but to also understand the ways we hold back from each other, to know there are valid reasons for holding back. 

I held back because being less of myself was often what was wanted and expected.

When I was told to be good, I was being told to be less of everything I am.

When I was told to be straight.

How do we find who we are when we’re told to be less of who we are?

I found my queerest truth in fictions. I found who I was.     

How could I not fall in love with Lestat and Nicolas? How could I not want to live in their world which was more open, more free?

Without Anne Rice’s vampire books, my sexual orientation could have stayed as hidden as Lestat in an abandoned house. Rice elevated our queerness to the level of rock stars. We could be problematic and flawed. But we could also be good. We could be completely ourselves, listening to the call of our adoring fans, taking our places onstage.


Andrea Dulanto (they/she) is a queer writer whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Peru and Argentina. Degrees include an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Florida International University, and a B.A. in Literature from Antioch College. Publications include The Acentos Review, Writers Resist, Bending Genres, FreezeRay Poetry, peculiar, SWWIM Every Day, Court Green, and others.