On Cunanan

The Ultimate Gay Serial Killer

I can still recall the moment I found out that Andrew Cunanan had committed suicide.

I was sitting in a cab with three straight friends, ebullient in conversation, when the driver turned to us and announced, ''The faggot killed himself.'' We sat in silence for the rest of the ride, my friends embarrassed and I not wanting to make a scene.

It was another petty revelation of my difference. But what sticks in my mind is the efficiency of the cabbie's words. It wasn't necessary for him to say who the faggot in question was: We'd all been reading about little else besides Cunanan ever since Tom Brokaw announced that a ''homicidal homosexual'' had killed Versace. The murder syncretized the three things Americans care about in boom times: celebrities,fashion, and homos. Plus, it offered novelty. Cunanan's crime went way beyond the predictable mode of the gay predator: picking up young men and torturing them in his basement (or, in Jeffrey Dahmer's case, killing them quietly so he could dismember and digest their remains). He was the first gay serial killer to move out of the crawl space and into the mainstream of snuff.

But once he shot himself, Cunanan became just another faggot--too nelly to shoot it out with the FBI, and probably wanting all along to be pissed on and beaten to a pulp by a squad of robust marines. Think I'm being hysterical here? Consider the FBI's explanation for why they didn't bumrush the boat where Cunanan was hiding: They wanted to give him time ''to do what he wanted to do.'' In playing out their scenario, Cunanan brought closure to an anxious nation by demonstrating that the icon of the homicidal homosexual contains within it the faggot who yearns for self-destruction. You don't have to lift a finger to blow him away. Just give him time and he will do what he wants to do.

Of course, any trapped man might decide to kill himself. And for that matter, whatever drove Cunanan to murder must have had more to do with his personal history (i.e., the absent father) than with his sexual orientation. But from the moment he burst onto the front pages--complete with yearbook photo of a hot number and the scrawled testimonial ''nice bod''--everything Cunanan did and everything he had ever done was filtered through the peculiar and persistent nightmare of the nation regarding homosexual villainy.

At the height of the obsession, while Cunanan was being seen in nearly every gay bar and Calvin Klein outlet in America, I was having lunch in a diner near my office where a group of retired men sit and schmooze. Their usual chat about archaic boxing events and nigger-loving politicians had been disrupted by the specter that was haunting the tabs.

''They say he's running around in a dress,''said one gent. ''He shaved his legs and everything.''

''He looks more like a woman than a woman,'' his pal replied.

''You can't recognize him,'' the gent observed. ''He could be anywhere.''

Another instructive metaphor: Any faggot has the option of passing as a broad. This is why you have to be careful when picking up a hooker--always check for a dick before you pay. Think I'm being bitchy here? Consider that the cops believed Cunanan might be hiding in a dress. Pity the drag queen who was picked up for speeding on the Long Island Expressway, while Cunanan was on the lam, and ended up getting treated like a potential serial killer.

But the fantasy of the faux woman that was part of Cunanan's image (even though his actual m.o. as an escort had more to do with leather) is much closer to reality than the cops and codgers realized. After all, every homo is a gender bender just by virtue of his (or her) disruption of the sexual binary code. Think I'm being academic here? Consider what makes a man: He puts his penis in what makes a woman. The man who takes the penis and the woman who does not are male and female in a much more precarious way. They call the scheme of gender into question and demonstrate that there are many ways of being whatever sex you are. The way we have chosen is a metaphor--one that creates a coherent order but also keeps us from fully knowing ourselves. And the image of Cunanan barreling down the highway, undetectable in a dress, shows how fragile that metaphor really is.

What's more, this faggot--being a guy--is free to do what many women might like to but usually can't: bite the dick that feeds him. Out of the dress bursts a maniac--we've all seen the Brian De Palma movie--all the more methodical because of that mysterious connection to the feminine. Which means he's as dead-on as any dude and as wily as any bitch. Factor race into the fantasy: Cunanan could ''pretend'' to be white, Asian, or Latin; anything but the Filipino he was. Now add AIDS (he was widely--and falsely--reputed to be HIV-positive), and you've got the perfect motive for the master villain of our time: a demon changeling carrying an invisible disease, out to spread death and chaos with the fury of a woman and the force of a man.

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