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All the Peace Corps Volunteers in Swaziland recently attended a big all-volunteer conference in which we showed up at the biggest city, Manzini, and endured a metric ton of workshops. One day at lunch, I had a conversation with a few others about potential methods for educating vampires about HIV risk. We had just finished when Mr. Rob* appeared and sat across from me.

"You missed the conversation about interventions for vampires," I told him.

"Aw, man," said Rob. "That's a population I really want to work with! It sucks that I missed the focus group."

Potential HIV Interventions for Vampires: My Notes **

The target population is approximately 18-1023 years of age and tends to be unemployed, but wealthy. According to the roleplaying game Vampire: The Masquerade by White Wolf Game Studio,*** which has both condensed and defined modern perceptions of vampires,**** vampires can carry and spread HIV although it does not make them sick. The game also notes that vampires don't especially enjoy sex -- but they do, of course, require blood to survive; thus the major vector for transmission is biting rather than sexual contact, and that's where we should focus our efforts.

The mechanics of this will vary. The well-known acronym ABC summarizes the methods used to prevent HIV spread among humans: Abstention from sex, Being faithful to an HIV-negative partner, and Condom usage. Analogous practices for vampires might include abstaining from human blood by drinking animal blood instead, but this is an inefficient and ultimately unsatisfying alternative for the vast majority of vampires -- particularly very old ones, which require a certain minimum quality of blood. A vampire might be faithful to one partner by only choosing to feed from one human; in fact, many vampires already keep a retainer to serve this purpose ... but is it realistic to expect complete fidelity?

As for prophylactics, perhaps it would be possible to develop some kind of tooth-sheath that would protect human meatpuppets from contracting HIV, but I strongly suspect that humans will prove unwilling to utilize this intervention because it will decrease the unearthly bliss imparted by vampire bites. Another idea from the focus group is simply encouraging vampires to drain human blood into a glass and drink it from there, but again, lack of unearthly bliss = almost certain failure to adopt intervention.

Vampires are a highly marginalized and stigmatized population. This makes interventions difficult. The vampires, who must hide from humanity to survive, will be hard to find. Additionally, they may be wary of well-intentioned human educators. It's conceivable that they may even consume said educators -- our initial team should never travel alone. (But while it may be tempting to equip the team with materials such as stakes and flamethrowers, we must keep in mind that if any of us actually kills a vampire -- even in self-defense -- that will only make our job more difficult in the long run as they may begin perceiving us as vampire hunters, etc.)

Since fetish communities are both marginalized themselves and have demonstrable vampire sympathies, it might be worth seeking out HIV educators that have historically been willing to workshop that population (such as Chicago's group Better Living with HIV). We might also seek parallels with initiatives for commercial sex workers. Like vampires, CSWs have experienced exclusion and even abuse; some (though not all) are not happy to be CSWs, and would take other options if they were offered.

Ultimately, the lesson we have learned from other similarly stigmatized populations is that one of our best possible tactics is to recruit educators from within those communities and educate them so they can convince their peers. Thus, we should probably begin by trying to reach out to known high-profile vampires such as Ann Coulter.***** But the vampire community itself, which greatly fears human attention, polices its ranks for HIV carriers and slays them when found because carriers are considered a threat to vampiric secrecy. This has the unfortunate effect of driving vampiric HIV carriers even further underground, and of course making them even more difficult to reach.

Thus, we must accompany our educational efforts with a destigmatization campaign both within the vampire ranks -- encouraging them not to terminate HIV carriers but rather to treat them with sympathy and understanding -- and among humanity itself -- encouraging them not to view all vampires with fear and mistrust but to understand that many vampires legitimately live peacefully among humans, and those should be differentiated from violent, murderous, non-consensual vampires.****** A good start might be to encourage kine humans to use the polite term "thanatotically challenged" to describe the undead, plus some nice diversity workshops in schools and corporations where everyone gets snacks afterwards.*******

A final recommendation from the focus group: workshop venues for this population should probably be dark.

P.S. The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the US Government or the Peace Corps.

P.P.S. Today is World AIDS Day, folks! Donate money or something.

* Has it become a convention on this here blog that I refer to certain men in my life with Mr.? I can't remember how consistent I've been. Maybe it has.

** I really can't tell if this will be funny to other people. We'll have to see.

*** Technically the game has been updated and is now called Vampire: The Requiem, but the old version was better.

*** To the extent that major popular movie-makers have been sued with relative success (i.e. money-grubbing settlement) for stealing setting material from the game. Also, I've heard that the recent prime-time TV show "True Blood" claims vampires cannot spread HIV, which strikes me as dangerous and irresponsible spreading of misinformation. (But naturally, those who truly believe vampires cannot spread HIV will argue that by claiming they can, I am cruelly increasing vampiric stigma.)

**** I take it back. Ann Coulter is not even close to cool enough to be a vampire.

***** Of course, successful destigmatization of vampirism may lead to people becoming more careless about becoming vampires or even choosing to become vampires (after all, from some perspectives the benefits are considerable). It's hard to know how to deal with this effect. I mean, we can't all be vampires; that's unsustainable, more's the pity.

****** I'm particularly fond of those square-shaped sugar cookies.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 1st, 2009 11:30 pm (UTC)
Can this be linked and forwarded? ;)
Dec. 2nd, 2009 09:09 am (UTC)
Absolutely. Anything I write can!
Dec. 2nd, 2009 10:01 am (UTC)
... and by anything I write, I mean anything I write here. Ahem.
Dec. 2nd, 2009 06:20 pm (UTC)
Noted. :)
Dec. 2nd, 2009 08:33 am (UTC)
Whew. All those asterisks indicate footnotes. For a moment, I thought the vampires were the sparkly kind.

On the other hand, I wonder what *official* US Gov't./Peace Corps statements would have to say about vampires.
Dec. 2nd, 2009 09:15 am (UTC)
Well .... Considering how irritable Peace Corps gets about high-risk behavior among its human Volunteers, I can't imagine that it would smile on any possible behavior among vampire Volunteers. That is, assuming it would even allow vampires to become Volunteers. You'd think that Peace Corps would obviously employ people it's trying to destigmatize, obviously, and yet we all got a lecture right before we left about how we'll be Medically Separated (i.e. fired) if we contract HIV ....

The Peace Corps mission in Swaziland is officially that we 1) educate adults and youth about HIV, 2) support community HIV initiatives and 3) support HIV-related Non-Governmental Organizations. It's a pretty broad, vague mission (indeed, my entire job here is broad and vague), so I'm sure we could get vampires in there somewhere. Getting funding is another matter -- due to our favorite president Mr. Bush, one cannot apply for Peace Corps-related funding for any initiatives that aren't relevant to Abstain, Be faithful, or orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs), so we'd have to go outside our own funding channels .... On the other hand, a friend of mine points out that "surely there are vampire OVCs, right?"
Dec. 2nd, 2009 05:32 pm (UTC)
major faux pas on your last footnote—it presumes that the diversity workshops will not be diversely attended, i.e. that everyone there will be able to consume solid food! really, i thought you knew better.
Dec. 2nd, 2009 09:07 pm (UTC)
I am covered in shame!
Dec. 2nd, 2009 10:11 pm (UTC)
And blood!
Dec. 11th, 2009 06:13 pm (UTC)
If only!
Dec. 5th, 2009 02:39 am (UTC)
I am amused.
Dec. 6th, 2009 10:36 am (UTC)
Yeah, VtM had a lot going on.

And cool post.

I feel for you re: the title. "You only love me because...."
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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