Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 21 July 1997

VIOLENT CUNANAN: ESSAYS BY PERRY BRASS & JACK NICHOLS

A "GAY" KILLING MACHINE


By Perry Brass

 

Several years ago at a gay science fiction convention I was on a panel on the importance of role models. At the beginning of the discussion, one young man raised his hand and said, "But gay 'role models' are so fucked up!"

What did he mean we asked.

"Well, look at them," he said, counting off the fingers of his hand. "Jeffrey Dahmer, Roy Cohn, J. Edgar Hoover, Truman Capote, Liberace-they're either drunks, murderers, or liars."

I begged to differ with him. "How about Walt Whitman?" I asked. "Or Dag Hammarskjöld, the first Secretary General of the U.N., Dr. Tom Dooley, who helped thousands of people in Southeast Asia, or Roger Casement, the great Irish patriot, who was about as openly gay as you could get in his time."

"They're not role models," he said. "Nobody knows about them."

He had that right. Since we now confuse role models with media figures--and Truman Capote will be known not as a great writer, but as a drunk and society clown--Jeffrey Dahmer has become a "role model," and so will Andrew Cunanan. Cunanan, in fact, will become not only a "role model" and certainly a tabloid media star, but a fashion leader as well. I can see the preppy Cunanan look hitting the streets really soon.

That is, of course during the fifteen minutes or so that he remains famous.

The fact that he seemed to be the boy who had "everything," at least in a superficial way, will help. Unlike Dahmer, who was a misfit and a nerd, Cunanan appears to be a charming mover and groover. He knows how to take over a scene, direct it, and use it to his best advantage. In our sociopathic "Me-first-last-and-always" times, he is a star. But he is not in the least bit original: most of us have met (at least socially, if not sexually) someone who has resembled Cunanan in the past couple of years.

What is new is the idea of putting, on a very real level, the modern psychotic killing machine together with the word "gay" in front of it.

Not that Hollywood has not been playing with this for decades. Queer psychotic villains have been a film staple. Hitchcock loved them, as much as he openly hated gays. In Rope, Psycho, Strangers on a Train, and Rear Window, all the villains have been either so queer as to have lavender neon shining behind them, or they have come under the heading "Mama's boys," which was a 40s and 50s signpost for "Watch Out, Impaired Masculinity Ahead."

This has also been the case in a slew of movies like The Maltese Falcon, Dressed to Kill, and Cruising where queerness and psychosis are, as the academics say, "conflated," that is, one category rises up to kiss another. But in Cunanan we have another category that seems to be a new one: that of the completely sociopathic (that is, guiltless) "gay" killing machine.

I put the word "gay" in quotes, because the whole situation is operating in that environment: Cunanan is openly gay; his victims have been gay men, and most of the information about his crimes has been isolated within our community.

Besides the "murder spree" aspects of Cunanan alleged crimes (which now count at this writing at six: Jeffrey Trail and David Madson, former lovers of Cunanan in Minneapolis; Lee Miglin, an older, wealthy real estate investor in Chicago; William Reese, just in the wrong place, with a usable vehicle, at the wrong time in New Jersey; Gianni Versace, in Miami-for no real reason, other than pure notoriety; and, at last count, Dr. Silvio Alfonso, a 44-year-old Cuban physician living in a suburb of Miami, who probably picked up Cunanan and led him into his home), there is the utter efficiency of the way this young man has allegedly killed.

In another era, he would have been made a war hero.

In fact, that is probably the element most left out here: that Cunanan has been waging a war within himself, and like a deranged soldier is now getting back at his side.

Not that this is something you would not expect, as the gay world has become colder, crueler, and more difficult to operate in-just as the straight world has. But there is something within the way all of us (as gay) deal with both worlds that seems to come out in the twisted dreams of Andrew Cunanan: that being gay means to be an outsider, no matter how "in" you think you are. And that most of us as some point do perceive either of our "camps" (that is, the mainstream "straight world," or the inner, often secretive, gay one) as our enemies.

Andrew Cunanan, despite his polished preppy appearance, was not corporate executive material. Neither was he handsome enough to make it instantly in that Melrose Place dreamland that so many younger queer men dream of. But he needed to live that easy, fluid, no questions asked, "let-me-grab-the-check" lifestyle that is associated in pop-culture-TV-land with either the top corporate class, or an older, moneyed, ruling class that has become the role model for the "Polo" lifestyle so many young gay men like Cunanan have to live.

They feel, In short, that they are of no value whatsoever without it.

At the beginning, when he was just a fairly successful preppy kept boy, Andrew would use anyone possible to get what he wanted. But as the inner landscape of his situation became more dangerous-and he realized he was running out of time and rich older men to use-the only way to balance things out, at least temporarily, was to turn to killing.

So Cunanan, in the way of serial killers like Ted Bundy, became a killing machine. If he had only been that, he might have come into national focus a lot quicker. But since his victims were gay men, and the deaths of even successful gay men are considered just "sick" curiosities by many local police forces, Cunanan has been pretty much anonymously on the loose now for four months. Compared to the killing of Jon Benet Ramsey, the six-year-old Colorado "beauty queen," the deaths of all of Cunanan victims have been small, half-fried potatoes, kept for the most part out of the news and left in the gay community.

It has been only with the killing of Gianni Versace, a killing that was as public and notorious as that of John Lennon's sixteen years ago, that the presence in our midst of a "gay killing machine" has come out. Since notoriety and role-modelship are now completely confused, Andrew Cunanan will certainly become a role model to many gay, self-loathing men. On one hand he may represent the most "successful" public example we've seen of internalized homophobia in a long time. But on the other hand, he may not represent this at all: he may simply represent the fact that gays may now--openly-become killing machines and as an open "choice" pick on the community as their victims.

This thought has intrigued me in the past and some of my novels have dealt with it: the idea that gay men are no longer passive, but are as capable of violence as the rest of the population. But being merely a novelist and not a criminologist, I had always dreamed that this kind of violence would be of a much more heroic sort than Andrew Cunanan will at least (allegedly) be capable of.

I wanted a "killing machine," if we were going to get one, who would fight for us. Who would be pushed to defending himself and others like him in a violently homophobic world.

Instead, we get simply another homophobic jerk going after us-but in this case, it seems-allegedly, to be one of us. So in a way, we old soldiers of the gay wars are back to the kind of violence that homophobic Texas teenagers who prey on innocent gay men have put us through. It is again gay men being destroyed only because they are gay.

But this time, it is coming from within us.

Compared to this, even old closet cases like J. Edgar Hoover look good, and that is not a good place to be.

But I can't help but wondering if there is not something within our society, gay as well as straight, that has become so commercialized, mechanized, status-and-looks-oriented, so Gianni Versace-ized, that young Mr. Cunanan's only way of dealing with this-and getting the attention that he seems to want-has been to the turn himself into a "gay" killing machine.

This is the only way he is going to find any peace in the war going on within him; even is he has to kill his own fellow soldiers to do it.

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Perry Brass's latest book is The Harvest, a gay science-politico fiction novel that (he admits: violently) deals with a future of cloning, marketing human parts, and a rock-solid class system. It can be obtained at your local gay bookstore, through 1-800 343-4002 or on-line at Amazon.com , www.gaybooks.com, and www.adlbooks.com He can be reached e-mail at belhuepress@earthlink.net

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STATUS, QUEERS & VIOLENCE

Not by hate is enmity quelled,

Whatever the occasion.

By the absence of hate is enmity quelled.

This is an ancient truth.

The Buddha

By Jack Nichols

The great love of my life was mysteriously gunned down over twenty years ago, and I fully realized then how very fragile is our hold in life's domain. Violence as a solution becomes always dead-ended.

Listening with patience to a myriad theories accounting for the rise of violence in American culture, it now appears to me that its major sources are approximately four in number.

But before addressing these particular sources, let me first speak to Perry Brass's reflections about social-climbing, America's commercial-brain-washings, and assorted richboy fantasies that infect gay culture simply because they infect American culture itself. It was this aspect of Perry Brass's essay above that intrigued me most, inasmuch as he and I were--unknown each to the other-- much on similar wavelengths as last week's disturbing events--Versace's murder and Cunanan's spree-- unfolded.

I too was contemplating Andrew Cunanan's richboy fantasies, his social climber's disease, a value-system that runs counter to happiness-wisdom taught through the ages. "The honest man, though ever so poor, is king," wrote poet Robert Burns. Andrew Cunanan seems ignorant of this modest viewpoint. As a result, I'd guess, poor Cunanan has suffered as a most unhappy specimen, looking for satisfaction in all the wrong places. He isn't unusual in this respect. As Perry Brass points out, his value-carrying-likeness can be met somewhat regularly in the social whirl.

I met one such likeness, 22 year-old Casey, when I was barely 18. Casey aspired to rub elbows with the rich and famous and secured me a posh job near Washington D.C. in a country club, working at his side. Casey, like Cunanan, was socially adept. He spoke like an aristocrat. We were roommates for a half-year at the club. Though we had oodles of fun as cruise-about friends, we came from strikingly different backgrounds, not just on a money-makers-scale but on a level that might best be called philosophical, a spiritual qualities or values-level.

Casey's upbringing had been decidedly middle-class, while mine had been upper-middle-class. The major way in which we differed was that my Scottish grandfather, though rich, had daily drummed into me Robert Burns' fiery critiques of wealth and status. As a result money and its fancy trappings were moots in my mind. Casey, on the other hand, longed for status.

Casey advanced from front office clerk to become general manager of Kenwood Golf and Country Club. Later he sank into a drinking gloom over a hopelessly drawn out romantic tryst and foolishly ended his own life at age 36, holding a gun to his wire-crossed brain. The smiling, happy-go-lucky jokester he'd been at 22 had, because his life and values were mismatched and increasingly hollow, found life itself to be so too. At the end, he'd drawn little satisfaction from rubbing elbows with the rich. The lesson he taught me then, and the lesson that Andrew Cunanan holds for others today winds somewhere into a philosophical realm where bigger life-questions loom: What makes for genuine self-generating happiness? The aspiration to rub shoulders with the rich? Hardly.

Casey, an unhappy social climber, turned the gun on himself. Cunanan, fooled by rich trappings, turned it on those he'd thought had fooled him. But he'd fooled himself and in the long run, his shots will return to him like boomerangs.

As I moved in my early twenties through conventional gay circles in the nation's capital, I began to realize that beauty is rooted mainly in self-confidence, self-awareness, self-esteem, honesty, and directness. When men looked to riches, fashions, and other exterior artifacts, they got out of touch with themselves.

At age 26, after bouncing about the country, I promptly fell in love with a self-confident young man who, when he was asked his origins, always told inquirers, "I'm from the poverty region, Appalachia."

Though he was no longer suffering extreme poverty himself, he wanted the world to know that back in "them hollers" of Eastern Kentucky were many who indeed suffered greatly, and as he identified himself with their suffering, he showed that poor though they remained, they had also remained dear to his heart.

It was this very sort of loyalty and compassion that informed his fine features, and turned him into the most beautiful man I'd ever seen. He believed, as I do, that beauty's foremost source has little to do with perfect features or current fashions, but is, in fact, the product of an interior vision--yes, an almost spiritual attitude.

A lust for money and its social trappings, is more likely to create a bureaucrat's face or a snob's. Hardly the passionate stuff out of which emerges any truly believable romance. What does emerge from a face originally blessed--at age 18--with youthful promise is too often a generic face, spiritless at 30. Why? Because money is really boring, that's why, and those who don't see this lose sight of their own deteriorating and bland appearances. Spirit has a wild, untamed aspect and is energetic. The true materialist, on the other hand, is a cousin to the grazing cow.

We who are gay, just like our Keeping Up with the Jones' neighbors, are the victims of an ugly value-system that runs rampant through present-day culture. If we fail to question that dominant cultural value system, our happiness usually goes down the tubes with it.

Andrew Cunanan attended a posh prep school. He is said to have bragged incessantly about coming from money. He longed for association with the rich and famous, hoping his lackluster inner existence might be enhanced thereby. But no more than for my old buddy Casey could such a plan work. Casey drank, I'd thought, because his unnecessary self-image (as poor) never got truly squared with his longing to bask in moneyed splendor. I sense that some similar affectation is Cunanan's lot. Like Casey, he now seems to long for personal obliteration, taking out those romances (real or imagined) who failed to appreciate him for being, in the last analysis, a money-boasting bore.

It isn't that there's anything inherently wrong with having money, no, but like happiness it is a by-product, and should never be treated as a goal. As a by-product, however, it often arrives unexpectedly, an un-thought-about reward.

H. L. Mencken, who was a laughing misanthrope, effectively critiqued much that has gone wrong in American culture. He says: "The thing which sets off the American from all other men, and gives a peculiar color not only to the pattern of his daily life but also to the play of his inner ideas, is what, for want of a more exact term, may be called social aspiration. That is to say, his dominant passion is a passion to lift himself by at least a step or two in the society that he is a part of--a passion to improve his position, to break down some shadowy barrier of caste, to achieve the countenance of what, for all his talk of equality, he recognizes and accepts as his betters. The American is a pusher. His eyes are ever fixed upon some round of the ladder that is just beyond his reach, and all his secret ambition, all his extraordinary energies, group themselves about the yearning to grasp it."

It has been this yearning, operating within a man spiritually poor in his values, that has probably turned the suspect Cunanan into such a tragic figure producing even more tragic results. Spiritually rich values have nothing to do with valuing money. Money, as said, can often be their result. The inventor, for example, asks questions and enjoys pointed speculations long before he gets paid. His spirited focus, at the beginning, is not on hard cash and high living and he's moved to work not to get rich but because he's sufficiently curious, adventuresome and visionary. Automatically, almost, he sees what's needed by others (hardly an altogether selfish focus) and creates it.

Living without asking questions of a society around us makes us susceptible to the sharing of its charades and hypocrisies. This, more than anything, it seems, is what has happened to Mr. Cunanan.

And now, a few brief words about the four principal sources of violence, as I see them. GayToday, in future issues, will devote space to more in-depth reflections.

Suffice it to say that Humankind has evolved in stages, and hunter-gatherer man, coming out of the forests, began farming. This change necessitated the evolution of a class-- from hunter to warrior-- to protect rich farmlands.

Some believe that war is inherent in the human condition, and thus violence is unquestioningly perpetuated, given status as a solution in male role-conditioning. Fathers teach their sons --at age two--to put up their dukes. Pity these neanderthals, digging their own graves with clenched fists.

But just as evolution has relegated other barbarisms to a forgotten past, so too, I believe is it possible to relegate violence as a solution to the same disappearing past. An all-out assault on primitive macho masculine codes is needed. Media, including gay media, has been extraordinarily remiss in this respect. While women's roles have undergone intense scrutiny, nobody wants to follow suit critiquing and questioning inculcated male roles. "The Army will make a man out of you." Oh yeah?

Encouraging the value of dog-eat-dog competition is a way of encouraging contention and rivalry. What happens to self-awareness when we're always watching our neighbor's advance in relation to our own?

Next, in our monkey-see, monkey-do world, competitive sports generally set us bad examples. Ear-biting boxers, ice-hockey stick battles and men wrapping their bodies in leather pads, beating each other into insensibility on the football field while thousands of rabid fans scream "Kill' em, maim, 'em." How sweet these pushy sports. If we take them seriously, watching boob tube replays continuously, what do they teach us?

A new book has been published, called by The Chronicle of Higher Education, "an iconoclastic view of the Bible." The theme in this book, by biblical scholar, Regina Schwartz, argues effectively that monotheism sews seeds of violence. "The Bible sets up a way of thinking," says professor Schwartz, "about identity as us versus them." Nobody seems to realize that in this fragile ecosystem, there is no them, there is only us. Professor Schwartz's book is titled: The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism (University of Chicago Press).

The Crusades. The Inquisition. The Irish. The Arabs. The Jews. The Falwells, Robertsons, Popes, Khomeinis. The Bosnians, Serbs, Hindus, Moslems, etc. etc. You figure. Will the mainstream media focus on any of these issues--machismo, monotheism, competition, violent sports-- to bring us solutions? And if not, why not? We might get closer, were media moguls to do so, to answering our nation's perpetually agonized but unsuccessful questioning of its own violent nature. We might better understand what has actually motivated Andrew Cunanan, a tragic, unhappy child gone awry.

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Jack Nichols' new book, The Gay Agenda: Talking Back to the Fundamentalists, is available or can be ordered at your local book store, or, through Prometheus Books (1-800-421-0351. (Hardback with Photos, 228 pp.: $24.95)

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