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Is 'vampire' a genuine identity? A look at the surprising world of 'alternate identities'

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Kimberley French/Summit Entertainment/AP

(Read caption) In this film publicity image released by Summit Entertainment, Robert Pattinson portrays vampire Edward Cullen (l.) and Kristen Stewart portrays Bella Swan in a scene from 'The Twilight Saga: New Moon.'

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Forget "Twilight," forget "True Blood."

There are people who identify as “real vampires” – but they aren’t out to suck victims’ blood in the dead of night. In fact, in many cases, they don’t want to reveal their identity at all, for fear of being judged.

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A study just published in the journal Critical Social Work flipped the classic vampire narrative around, looking at them not as predators, but as everyday people.

The researchers, D.J. Williams and Emily E. Prior interviewed 11 self-proclaimed vampires about their feelings on disclosing their identities to social workers and clinical professionals, hoping to shed light on how social workers treat people with what they call "non-traditional identities."

"We should not be surprised to see a proliferation of nontraditional identities in the future," Williams wrote.

Classifying vampirism as an identity implies it is not a lifestyle choice or something a person can control: A 2007 ethnographic study on vampires noted, “a real vampire sees her condition as an immutable state of existence. One vampire even told me he would prefer to be like everybody else if it were possible.”

Those who identify as “real vampires” do not dress in all black or practice magic, which is what distinguishes them from “lifestyle vampires,” who essentially emulate fictional depictions of vampires. According to the Atlanta Vampire Alliance (AVA), real vampires are people who feel the physical need to feed on the energy of another living being.

Not all self-identified vampires feed on blood; “psychic” or “pranic” vampires say they feed on the energy and emotions of others.

Michelle Belanger, author of the Psychic Vampire Codex, says on her website psychic vampires are people “who [prey] on the life energies of others … whose need for energy metaphorically connects them to the life-stealing predators of myth.”

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The 2007 study, in which ethnographer Joseph Laycock spent months observing AVA vampires, said many vampires experience this energy as “a tactile sensation, a temperature change, or even a flavor.”

“Sanguinarian” vampires actually do drink blood, but not in the gruesome, predatory way myths and pop culture imagine it. The AVA actually has a list of guidelines for safe practice.

The study said people who identify as vampires, despite their fears of being seen as dangerous or as mentally ill, are in most ways no different from anyone else.

“Participants in the sample seem to function normally, based on demographic questions concerning their psychiatric histories, in their social and occupational roles, and some have achieved considerable success in their chosen careers,” the study reported.