Category Archives: You Can Always Count on a Little Homophobia
Maureen Orth’s Vulgar Favors is trash. Not the provocative hilarity-inducing trash of a John Waters film or AbFab, but rather the kind of slimy, mean-spirited, exploitative, contempt-for-the-reader trash that you’d expect more in a supermarket tabloid than in a nonfiction title that purports to tell the true story of a series of puzzling murders.
In fact, though Orth never lets the reader forget she was on the Cunanan beat for Vanity Fair even before Versace was killed, the quality of her prose, the toxic levels of lead in nearly every paragraph, the repetition of catch phrases and clichés all belong to the style of The National Enquirer and not to serious crime journalism, which is where Orth appears to believe her book should place her.
To put it more bluntly: what is true in Vulgar Favors comes largely from newspaper clippings and the public record, and what is false is the other 9/10 of the book.
For those interested in a badly plotted novel starring a character based on Andrew Cunanan, Vulgar Favors may do the trick. But Orth has virtually no independent knowledge about the case (though it must be admitted that she solicited an astonishing amount of gossip), or about Cunanan or Versace, which leaves her to her powers of fantasy. To be sure, sustaining invention, even at the dilute level of Vulgar Favors, is a challenge, and yet Orth is so singularly bad at it.
Given that all but nothing is known about why Cunanan did what he did, his motives and motivation can only be ascribed. Orth, however, demonstrates no detectable ability to enter into the psychology of her main character (or any character, including Versace), leading her to populate her book with cardboard cutouts painted with the deft hand of a Jerry Springer or a Maury Povich.
One of the most spectacularly galling features of Vulgar Favors, however, is Orth’s fulminant, reprehensible homophobia. Or perhaps that is the second most galling aspect of this book, and the first is Orth’s habit, just as she is about to serve up some distasteful, titillating “truth” regarding “homosexual culture,” of announcing that the tidbit in question came from a gay journalist or a gay informant, or a gay friend of Cunanan’s. In other words, Maureen Orth wants you to know that she is an objective reporter of inconvenient truths and has certainly not included such details in her book solely for the pleasure of insinuating something too deliciously filthy to leave out—or because her credentials (such as they are) as a journalist provided the ideal cover for a low-tech gay-bashing.
Her credulousness about gay men’s lives in the United States, and in particular in cities like San Francisco and Miami, would be painful if it reflected naïveté, but this is no act of naïveté.
Rather, it is Orth’s deliberate, malicious, all-engulfing desire to draw every raunchy, seamy detail out to the limits of the fervid homophobic imagination, embellish it, and repeat it at studied intervals as a strategy for reinforcing the idea that there was something insidiously, darkly “queer” about Cunanan’s murder spree—and to imply that all but one of his victims, and especially his most famous victim, were, if not deserving of their fates, at least (amorphously) complicit.
The fact that Orth continuously harps on a supposed seconds-long meeting between Cunanan and Versace in a San Francisco club at some ill-defined moment in the past, which Orth manages to parlay into “met several times,” is an important example. Of course, Orth allows no one to forget it was she who “confirmed” this “fact,” although, in fairness, what she calls confirmation is little more than hearsay. Even if Cunanan and Versace had met, it isn’t clear what relevance that would have to the murders—unless the reader believes, as it is quite clear Orth wishes the reader to believe, that Cunanan was provoked to murderous fury because Versace had infected him with HIV.
Now, Cunanan did not have HIV at his death (though he may have thought he did at one point), and it remains a point of controversy whether or not Versace was HIV-positive, a question that will never be resolved thanks to the legal shenanigans of a flotilla of high-priced lawyers mobilized by Versace’s bloody-minded, image-besotted siblings.
Having introduced the concept, however, it becomes possible for Orth to hint, both subtly and not—that the murder of Versace was a revenge-motivated assassination. (Note the book’s subtitle.) If it wasn’t HIV, then perhaps it was that Versace had involved Cunanan in some sort of circle of boy- or drug-procurement that turned sour, or perhaps it was that Versace had promised Cunanan fame and fortune and then reneged, or maybe it was just that Cunanan was psychopathically jealous of Versace’s success and ostentation and needed to murder the designer as the symbol of everything he desired but could never attain.
Yes, the analysis is just that deep.
Vulgar Favors was written twenty years ago, which still provides no excuse for Orth’s delight in salacious detail and sexual innuendo, nor for her distorted pronouncements regarding gay men’s lives, which she delivers with anthropological, Meadian certainty. Perhaps at this distance, she has developed the strength of character to be ashamed of her book, but one tends to doubt it.
In any event, what becomes clear is that delivering these dispatches from the exotic, repellent—and yet endlessly fascinating tribe of the sex-mad, fetish-driven, drug-addled homosexual underground, of the depraved and soulless super-rich—was Orth’s real purpose in writing Vulgar Favors.
Because this is the space that Orth occupies as a writer—a world in which she deploys words like “lifestyle” and “jet-setting” in blissful ignorance that she is trite, unconscious of her evident envy of those who enjoy great fame and great riches even as she condemns them for moral corruption and shallowness. (For more examples of Orth’s style, look no farther than the breathless, voyeuristic hack job she committed on Michael Jackson in her reportage for Vanity Fair between 1994 and 2005; or her most recent book, The Importance of Being Famous: Behind the Scenes of the Celebrity-Industrial Complex, Orth’s slavering exposé of “the big room where the rules that govern mere mortals don’t matter.”
Vulgar Favors is, to be sure, offensive and scandal-mongering, vacuous and devoid of insight, smutty and sneering, but what elevates the book to the level of tragicomedy is Orth’s clear belief that, in writing it, she was practicing genuine journalism.
After Orlando, we weren’t all “#JeSuisCharlie.”
We weren’t all “#WeAreParis.”
The hashtags #WeAreGay and #WeAreLesbian, never mind #WeAreQueer or #WeAreTrans, never “trended.”
The Eiffel Tower, the White House, Facebook profiles didn’t get painted in the rainbow colors of the gay-pride flag.
There was very little #GayLivesMatter (6,920 hits for that hashtag online; 588,000 for #JeSuisCharlie”; 414,000 for #BlackLivesMatter).
Let me be clear: I don’t actually wish for any those things.
I am deeply ambivalent about—no, I’m completely appalled by—the way social media turn tragedy into a brand that people can wear, for a time, like a designer label. Until that fashion goes out of style.
And I understand that #BlackLivesMatter has a genuine social agenda, whereas #GayLivesMatter, to the extent that it exists, is nothing more than a virtual slogan. There’s no comparison really. I don’t argue otherwise.
But it is one week later, and the attack on queer people at a nightclub in Orlando is already fading from the media. Cecil the Lion got more time.
Republicans have succeeded—I think we have to acknowledge this—in shifting the discourse from queer bashing to “terrorism.” They’ve managed to whitewash and straightwash the 102 victims so that they are simply “human” and no longer queer, no longer brown.
Or they were brown alone and “only some” were gay, as Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) put it three days after the attack. Because that would have made things worse. Or better. I can’t tell.
We have to admit that Trump’s message that he will stamp out “radical Islam”—and, thus, would be best for the gays (though he promises to undo marriage equality and opposes all federal anti-discrimination legislation)—has won him voters among gay people.
But still. It is one week later.
I don’t want everyone to “BeOrlando.” Rainbow colors on everything wouldn’t make me feel better, wouldn’t make anyone feel better, wouldn’t bring anyone back, wouldn’t heal the wounded, wouldn’t make gay bars feel safe again, wouldn’t make life feel safe again, wouldn’t take away the sting of hearing over and over how we deserved to die/deserve to die porque la Biblia dice así….
So no, I don’t want memes or hashtags or gay-flag profile generators. I’m not trying to guilt-trip anyone into doing those things now, and I don’t think less of anyone for not doing them sooner.
All I’m saying is that I noticed.
My rhetorical question for Tuesday morning: If Omar Mateen had been inspired to kill queers by the teachings of the Westboro Baptist Church rather than by the teachings of ISIS, would we be calling the Orlando massacre an act of “terrorism”?
The United States of NRA want us to believe in terrorism because that makes us feel scared. We’ll accept the lack of gun regulation—hell, we might even buy a gun. We’ll accept unfettered
spying intelligence-gathering on American citizens.
Anything, in fact, as long as it doesn’t require addressing why so many Americans hate—hate women, hate queer people, hate transgender people, hate black and brown people—enough to kill them.
The media and too much of the public—dragged along by the idiot rhetoric of self-serving politicians—continue to insist that Islam and Muslims are the problem.
They refuse to acknowledge that the real problem was hating queer people.
Because, in a lot of cases, that would require them to bomb themselves.
I have enormous respect for Roberto Saviano, the Italian writer and journalist, author of the best-selling exposé of the Italian Camorra, Gomorrah (which became a 2008 film of the same name), and tireless enemy of the mafia and of government corruption. For his trouble, Saviano, whom Umberto Eco called a “national hero,” has lived under permanent police escort for a decade.
In his recent Facebook post regarding the murder of Giulio Regeni in Cairo, Egypt, however, Saviano puts his foot firmly into his own mouth and makes a move that he ought to have had the sense to realize was both embarrassing and offensive.
Regeni, as many readers will know, was a 28-year-old Italian student pursuing a PhD in Cambridge, England. He had been working and writing in Cairo, from which he disappeared on 25 January. His corpse was found on a desert road nine days later.
Saviano’s Facebook comment and my translation follow.
Giulio Regeni è morto per aver scritto. È morto (è stato sequestrato e torturato) in circostanze che si fanno sempre meno chiare. Su Giulio si è provato a fare ciò che accade sempre: dopo la morte la diffamazione. Hanno lasciato intendere che fosse gay e che il delitto avesse un movente sessuale. Nulla di tutto questo. Condivido qui l’articolo di Silvia Savi, anticipato in parte oggi dal Messaggero Veneto, che scrive: “Nemmeno l’assassinio della giornalista del Corriere della Sera Maria Grazia Cutuli, uccisa in Afghanistan nel 2001, o l’esecuzione nel 2004 in Iraq del reporter Enzo Baldoni o della guardia privata Fabrizio Quattrocchi sono state spinte verso il silenzio in così pochi giorni.” Giulio ha pagato, per aver raccontato, il prezzo più alto. Che la terra ti sia lieve.
Giulio Regeni died for what he wrote. He died (he’d been kidnapped and tortured) under circumstances that become less clear with each passing day. Yet there have been attempts to do to Giulio what is always done: After death comes defamation. They’ve hinted that he was gay and that the crime was sexually motivated. But none of that is the case. I’m sharing here Silvia Savi’s article from the Messaggero Veneto, which appears in preview today. She writes, “Neither the assassination of Corriere della Sera journalist, Maria Grazia Cutuli, in Afghanistan in 2001, nor the execution in Iraq in 2004 of reporter Enzo Baldoni [kidnapped and killed by a Muslim fundamentalist organization allegedly linked with Al-Qaeda], nor the death of [Italian Security officer], Fabrizio Quattrocchi [taken hostage by Islamist militants in Iraq and killed by them in 2004], was pushed toward silence in so few days.” For telling what he saw, Giulio paid the highest price. Sit tibi terra levis (may the earth rest upon him lightly).
First, saying that Regeni might have been gay and that he might have been targeted in part for that reason is not defamation. Saying that someone is or might be gay is not calumny unless you believe being gay is shameful.
In fact, anyone with the slightest degree of sensitivity to the reality of homophobic violence in the world would immediately have asked the same thing, after reading reports that Regeni’s corpse was found nude from the waist down. Was someone sending a message? Was Regeni gay?
Saviano asserts that “they” (who “they” is remains unclear) are attempting to smear Regeni by implying that the crime was sexually motivated.
Even supposing Regeni was murdered solely for being gay, which I do not actually presume (and, in fact, I have read no such claim anywhere), in what way is that a smear? Even to go so far as to suggest that he was out cruising and got killed by someone who hated queers constitutes no effort to besmirch him—unless one already believes that the sex lives of gay men are despicable.
If Saviano were as progressive as he says he is, he’d have understood that the exposition of a nude or partially nude corpse is common when gay and trans people are murdered. He’d also have understood that being murdered because of “sexual motives” is no less a crime, is no less horrendous, and demands no less outraged a response. “They” may be attempting to imply that being tortured and murdered while looking for sex is “asking for it,” but I feel confident in asserting that few gay people thought anything of the kind.
What is most galling is Saviano’s attempt to place two potential interpretations into opposition with one another: the assertion that Regeni was killed because he was gay and the assertion that he was killed because he was a journalist and truth-teller, that he was murdered “for what he wrote.”
In fact, no one yet knows why Regeni was killed, and Saviano’s attempt to fold the young man into the ranks of martyrs for the cause of journalist freedom—which is, after all, Saviano’s cause—is premature, as are most beatifications.
Yes, numerous reports have suggested that Regeni was killed by Egyptian police for his anti-Egyptian-government journalism. The Guardian, for example, reported on 4 February 2016 that Regeni had written about Egyptian labor unions for Il Manifesto, an Italian communist newspaper, going into further detail in its 8 February story, “Thousands of Academics Demand Inquiry into Cairo Death of Giulio Regeni.”
Regeni’s criticisms of “authoritarianism and repression” in Egypt and of the El-Sisi government appeared in Italy under a pseudonym, according to The Guardian, “because [Regeni] was allegedly concerned for his safety.” The International Business Times reported on 12 February that Regeni had ties to “independent trade union and local dissidents.”
No one need deny those ties, however, and no one need deny that Regeni’s journalism threatened the El-Sisi regime’s stranglehold on democracy, in order to wonder whether Regeni might also have chosen as an easy target precisely because he was—or might be seen to be—gay.
Fascist and totalitarian regimes have long recognized the utility of gay victims because they know how easily crimes can be hidden behind public homophobia. It’s easy to kill a queer, who also happens to be an “inconvenient” person, because there are always those who will believe that queerness mitigates the crime.
Saviano, unfortunately, does the same thing. He implies that Regeni’s possible gayness mitigates his bravery as a journalist or his political commitment as a leftist. He accepts the argument that we should not say (or ask) whether Regeni was targeted for being gay (or ALSO for being gay)—“none of that is the case,” Saviano asserts, with absolutely no proof—because that would compromise his utility as a sacrifice to the cause of silenced journalists.
That kind of malevolence, of ignorance, is to be expected from El-Sisi’s security forces (which have lied from the beginning about the circumstances of Regeni’s death). Roberto Saviano ought to know better.
I don’t know why Regeni was killed, but neither does Saviano. I don’t know whether he was gay, but neither does Saviano.
In the end, I have the same information he has. All I want is for Saviano to stop implying that being gay and telling the truth about “what one sees” are a contradiction in terms.
After appearing first in this-is-barely-journalism online scandal sheets like Towleroad, reports of Marco Rubio’s alleged “gay past” have now made it all the way to the Washington Post, and more’s the pity.
The “story,” to the extent one can be said to exist, is a masterpiece of innuendo, insinuation, and plain, old nudge-nudge-wink-wink gossip. In May 1990, when he was 18 years old, Rubio “was arrested for being in a crime-plagued public park after closing time.”
The “crime-plagued park,” also described as “notorious” (code-word alert) in the screechy reports now zooming around the internet, as well as “a haven for drug dealers, prostitutes and gang members,” was also apparently known for sexual encounters between men in which many things may have changed hands, but cash was not one of them.
In specific, however, what Rubio was actually arrested for was drinking beer inside a closed car with a friend. He never went to court; he was never convicted of anything; the charges were eventually dismissed.
The court file, meanwhile “been has destroyed,” the Washington Post says, in one of those irresponsible uses of the passive voice in English that strongly implies an ominous conspiracy (just in time for the new X-Files), but ignores the near certainty that most twenty-five-year-old records for misdemeanor arrests in which the charges were dismissed have also been destroyed. (But “destroyed” sounds so much more dramatic than “sent to the shredder because we needed the space.”)
Since this not-really-a-story broke, the queer media in particular has been throwing around phrases like “closet queen” and “hypocrisy” like there’s no tomorrow.
And they ought to be ashamed of themselves.
First of all, there is absolutely no reason to think that Rubio was in the park because he was having sex with, intended to have sex with, or even wanted to have sex with, another man.
There is no proof that he was there for some reason other than to drink beer in public at an age when he wasn’t legally entitled to do so.
And no one has said any different—at least not anyone who has talked so far.
Second, let’s suppose it’s true. Let’s suppose he was there to cruise for dick. Are we really arguing that a teenager who, at 18-going-on-19, might have been living the vida loca couldn’t grow up to be heterosexual? Or might not have decided, for religious or other reasons, that whatever he was doing, or thinking about doing, with other men, he ought to quit it?
In other words, can we stop insisting on the one-drop (of semen) rule?
Third, and most importantly, Marco Rubio is evil. He is a right-wing, Christian fundamentalist, anti-abortion horror show who denies both rape and climate change with approximately equal enthusiasm.
But the great thing about the American Dream is that none of that is any obstacle to becoming one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse!
No, you can be one of the most terrifying politicians to have come along since the McCarthy era and still be a) a closeted homosexual; b) an out homosexual; c) a heterosexual; d) someone who used to be gay but isn’t anymore; e) a homosexually-oriented but exclusively heterosexual-behaving man or woman; f) a man or woman with naughty erotic fantasies that are, in any case, nobody else’s business; or g) all of the above at different points in time.
In the meanwhile, getting all Dowager Countess of Grantham-sniffy over his supposed “gay past” is just a way to imply that there’s something inherently shameful and indecent about being gay.
Anyone worried about the potential victory of the Tea Party Jihad in America should be shaking with Chikungunya-fever-like chills over Rubio’s politics. The man is despicable.
But not because of a little (alleged) adolescent fellatio.