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David McConnell’s 'American Honor Killings: Desire and Rage Among Men': Book Review


AmericanHonorKillings-210In this unnervingly beautiful new book, David McConnell investigates six murders of gay men over the last two decades. McConnell’s focus is on the perpetrators of these crimes—men he interviews and corresponds with and locks eyes with at their trials—and one of the most disturbing and profound aspects of his account is the fact that of desire and rage, the two terms of his subtitle, desire is by far the more resonant. However twisted or thwarted, desire is everywhere in this book—in the victims, who sometimes long for their attackers; in the murderers, some of them gay, all of them longing for an ideal they feel is under threat; and in the author himself, who hovers somewhere between perpetrator and victim, an ambiguity he makes fascinating use of in the book. 

The most gripping of these stories concerns Darrell Madden, who in Oklahoma City in 2007 murdered the 62-year-old Steven Domer (See Towleroad's coverage HERE). With a fellow white nationalist, Bradley Qualls—a partner in the crime whom Madden, in a little drama of dominance, would also kill—Madden posed as a hustler to lure his victim. As he does often in this book, McConnell takes us into the scene, putting us closer to the action than we might like. “Gazes snagged on them, slid down their bodies, and were nervously yanked loose,” he writes, cannily putting us in both perspectives at once--that of the two men waiting for their prey, but also of the men driving past them, most of them much older, most of them solitary, most of them on their own sort of hunt.

McConnell has written two novels, and it’s out of a novelist’s respect for the twists and textures of individual lives that he refuses familiar explanations for the violence he describes. He rejects from the start the idea of “gay panic,” but he also questions the category of “hate crimes,” proposing instead that we call these acts “honor killings.”

These murders aren’t about individual hatred, McConnell argues, and they’re finally less about attacking a despised group than defending the honor of an ideal of what manhood means: “These killers….saw, or needed to see, themselves as believers, soldiers, avengers, purifiers, as exemplars of manhood.” This may be a question of emphasis—surely a preoccupation with honor entails hating whatever brings dishonor—but McConnell is convincing in his insistence that each of these killers is “a far more convoluted being than our culture...wants to allow.”

MaddenThis is certainly the case with Darrell Madden, whose life emerges as equal parts tragedy and farce. McConnell spent years meeting and corresponding with Madden, and he gives us his history in pieces, moving repeatedly from the scene of murder to the life that led to it. We learn that Madden had a brief career as a porn actor, and that what led him to white nationalism was his own desperate attraction to skinheads.

Madden speaks to McConnell about these things with an openness suggesting trust and fondness, feelings that are to a significant degree reciprocated. McConnell acknowledges Madden’s charm and attractiveness—“he was, almost reflexively, an expert seducer”—and the scenes between them read like an uncensored version of the relationship between Perry Smith and Truman Capote in In Cold Blood. Hidden desire and fascination pulse in the paragraphs of Capote’s classic book; in American Honor Killings, that desire is laid bare.

David_McConnell_new-210And so the most interesting character in these pages is finally McConnell himself, and the book’s key investigations are of his own motives and desires. He writes of “the joy of violence,” of “a wild physical pleasure of release,” of “brute and happy manliness”; he claims, speaking of skinhead culture, that “the solidarity the group engenders is, basically, love.” It’s clear that McConnell understands and to some extent shares the longing for pure manhood and ideal brotherhood that sets the men he studies on their paths. “What am I,” he writes, worrying at “the nagging question of whether I’m more Steve or more Darrell”—more victim or perpetrator of these crimes.

That’s a question many men might ask, and what’s most exciting about American Honor Killings is the way its nuance and detail sharpen the point of its cultural critique. McConnell reads individual acts of violence against gay men as signs of stress or fracture in an ideal masculinity we collectively adore. “The constant irony,” McConnell writes in a telling passage about Madden, “was that daily life among the skinheads in prison was strikingly similar to scenes from the gay porn movies Darrell had appeared in not long before.” The internet is full of porn for gay men in which gay men are brutalized, often by men who match Madden’s skinhead ideal of manhood.  This lends credence to the most unsettling conclusion of this excellent book: that the desire in McConnell’s title is our own.

Garth Greenwell is the author of Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award and a Lambda Award. Beginning this fall, he will be an Arts Fellow at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Alfred Nobel And The Gays

Andre_Gide_1930Nobel Week is over! Many congrats to the winners. But the question nags: Why are there almost no LGBT Nobel laureates?

This thought's been bugging HuffPo's Laurence Watts all month, and the resulting essay, "Where Are The Gay Nobel Prize Winners?", is worth a read. He writes:

Let me rattle off some names you should recognize, and hopefully you'll see my point: Marie Curie (physics in 1903, chemistry in 1911), T.S. Eliot (literature in 1943), Winston Churchill (literature in 1953), Ernest Hemingway (literature in 1954), Martin Luther King, Jr. (peace in 1964), Henry Kissinger (peace in 1973), Milton Friedman (economics in 1976), Desmond Tutu (peace in 1984), Mikhail Gorbachev (peace in 1990), Kofi Annan (peace in 2001), Jimmy Carter (peace in 2002), Harold Pinter (literature in 2005), Paul Krugman (economics in 2008), Al Gore (peace in 2007) and Barack Obama (peace in 2009).

Obviously I've only picked the famous names, so this is not a representative selection, but all of the above share one thing in common aside from being Nobel Prize winners: they were all married, and not to someone of the same sex ...

I've tried to go through the ranks of non-famous Nobel Prize winners, as well, the ones who won for discovering new elements or very small things, or for inventing Band-Aids. I found nothing, which leads me to conclude that either we don't know enough about the private lives of these sweater-wearing types or the Noble Foundation is a bunch of queer-bashers.

Laurence mentions two names that, you'd think, ought to appear on a list of Nobel laureates: the Englishmen John Maynard Keynes and Alan Turing. Turns out, there's good reasons these gayfolk never won. Keynes, who was at one time regarded as a brilliant conservative economist (and who has, for some reason, lately been written off as a socialist freedom-killer), did his work decades before the introduction of the Nobel Prize for Economics. Alan Turing, the freakish polymath who helped build advanced code-breaking computers for the Allies in WWII, and proceeded to do pioneering work on both artiicial intelligence as well as cellular biology, probably couldn't have won because his accomplishments were so diffuse. (Anyway, the Nobel committee prefers to award living people, and after being found guilty of sodomy by the English court, Turing committed suicide rather than submit to chemical castration.)

Laurence acknowledges that somewhere, deep in the bowels of Nobel history, one of the more obscure winners might've played for our team. And he's right, if you liberally interpret the word "obscure": Andre Gide, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1947, was quite gay and quite famous. Still, there are a lot of Nobel laureates, and especially when considering literature, one doesn't seem like enough. Perhaps Capote flamed out early; maybe James Baldwin didn't write enough; and yeah, Ginsberg was really inconsistent. But Frederico Garcia Lorca? Jean Genet? Tennessee Williams? Marcel Proust?

All ignored. Oversight? Happenstance? I've got no idea, but I hope the situation changes soon. At HuffPo, Laurence writes:

Why, then, is having a gay Nobel Prize winner important? Duh, why was having a black president important? It's about aspiration. It seems odd to me as a writer that I can interview gay Oscar winners (Dustin Lance Black), Olympic gold medallists (Greg Louganis), Grammy Award winners (Elton John), CEOs (Apple's Tim Cook), Prime Ministers (Iceland's Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir) and even billionaires (David Geffen), but not a Nobel Prize winner.

I think that sounds right. IMHO, it's about time that Tony Kushner walked away with the prize. That guy's magic.

What other LGBT folk deserve it? Do we have a bunch of brilliant chemists, physicists, biologists, economists, epic poets, novelists or dramatists waiting in the wings? Who are they, and why aren't they famous?

Truman Capote's Brooklyn Townhouse for Sale for $18 Million


Truman Capote's Brooklyn Heights townhouse goes on the market today and is expected to fetch record prices, the New York Daily News reports:

Truman "With 11 fireplaces, parking for four cars, a mural copied from the Kennedy White House, a back porch and a garden like something out of a Southern estate, the Brooklyn Heights mansion is touted as the finest house in the borough's finest neighborhood. 'It's like living in a country estate in the middle of New York City,' said Karen Heyman, the Sotheby's broker selling the property. 'It takes your breath away the minute you walk in.' Built in 1839 and now in the hands of a media entrepreneur, the house was owned in the 1950s by Broadway art director Oliver Smith, who designed the famous sets for 'Guys and Dolls' and 'West Side Story.' Capote said he got Smith blitzed on martinis to persuade his friend to rent him the house's garden apartment from 1955 to 1965. There, amid the grand Greek Revival columns and crystal chandeliers, the eccentric writer dreamed up iconic New York party girl Holly Golightly from 'Breakfast at Tiffany's.' He also wrote 'In Cold Blood,' his famous 'nonfiction' novel, at the mansion. Capote would throw extravagant parties when Smith left town, often bragging that he owned the entire property."

The mansion has 18 rooms. The previous record sale for a townhouse in Brooklyn is $12 million.

News: Taylor Lautner, Harrah's, Swaziland, Gay Ice Cream Truck

RoadLesbian couple in Swaziland bids to become country's first same-sex marriage.

Paterson RoadNY Governor David Paterson shaves his beard.

RoadLa Toya Jackson makes video she promised not to make because she just can't help herself.

Road"Marriage Minutemen" form in New Jersey to oppose marriage equality: "We want to stop any redefinition of marriage that happens without a public vote."

RoadIs this what life without Britney does to a man???

RoadAmerica's first black lesbian mayor, Denise Simmons of Cambridge, Massachusetts, marries her partner Mattie Hayes.

RoadBig Gay Ice Cream Truck a finalist in NYC's Vendy "street food" Awards.

RoadHarrah's Atlantic City casinos in bid to draw gay and lesbian tourists: "Harrah's has been catering to gay and lesbian travelers at its Las Vegas casinos for a few years, but will launch a similar campaign in the country's second-largest gambling market with an 'Out in Atlantic City' weekend of partying Sept. 25-27. The event, expected to draw more than 1,000 people, will bring some of the best-known names in the gay and lesbian entertainment scene to the Harrah's casinos."

RoadQuadriplegic sails around Britain solo.

Shard RoadRenzo Piano's "Shard" to dominate London skyline: "Construction has begun on the Shard, a skyscraper that will be the tallest building in Western Europe and will provide amazing views of London...inspired by towering church spires and the masts of ships that once anchored on the Thames."

RoadThousands call for Turing apology in Britain.

RoadPossible arson investigated at Stereo nightclub in Montreal.

RoadSex club planned for historic hotel in Gloucester, UK.

RoadTruman Capote signed one of his Harry Potter: "Howard Rose of Brier Rose Books in Teaneck, N.J., is selling a first-edition copy of Truman Capote’s 1967 book The Thanksgiving Visitor, autographed by the author in January 1978 'for Harry Potter with gratitude.'"

RoadCranberries to reunite.

Lautner RoadBruce Weber points his lens at Twilight's Taylor Lautner.

RoadAnd that other vamp, Robert Pattinson, does Premiere.

RoadGay Big Brother contestant Kevin finally wins Head of Household competition, reads letter from partner of nine years.

RoadMaine governor Baldacci to appear at marriage equality fundraiser.

RoadFull slate of LGBT candidates vie for NYC City Council seats.

RoadTransgender teen in Vermont makes plea for genderless bathrooms: "Kyle Giard-Chase, 16, asked the Vermont Human Rights Commission on Thursday to endorse the effort. He said that before he came out last year as transgendered, he was a three-sport athlete and the co-captain of the field hockey team, a girls' sport, at South Burlington High School. At an away game, he said he was verbally harassed and threatened by the members of the host school's football team for using the girls' restroom. 'The harassment only stopped when I was reduced to tears and told them I was in fact a female,' said Kyle, now a senior."

Former Truman Capote Hamptons Home on Market for $14.6 Million


Artist Ross Bleckner has put Truman Capote's former Hamptons saltbox house, which he purchased for $800,000 in 1993 from the Nature Conservancy, on the market for $14.6 million, according to the Wall Street Journal:

"The artist restored and enlarged the home, which is in Southampton's hamlet of Sagaponack and sits on four acres near the beach, adjacent to a nature preserve. The main house, now 2,000 square feet, has a view of the ocean. There's also a 1,900-square-foot studio, a two-bedroom guest house, a detached garage and a pool. The author of "In Cold Blood" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's," Mr. Capote purchased the Sagaponack home in the early '60s and was a high-society fixture until he published 'Answered Prayers,' an exposé of his wealthy friends, provoking a scandal. He died in 1984 and left the house to his longtime companion, Jack Dunphy, who died in 1992 and left the property to the Conservancy."


According to DansHamptons: "Capote commissioned the two-story, flat-roofed, saltbox studio near Gibson Beach in 1961. He liked to emphasize that he decorated the home himself: 'For me it's a bore to use a decorator...I just don't care to have someone come in and tell me what I need to live with. I know.' He would remove his shoes upon entering the house, trying to preserve the highly-polished floor coated with blue boat-deck paint. 'Truman had his own style,' continues Clarke, 'he liked to combine very elegant things with sort of absurd bric-a-brac that caught his fancy. It was characteristically eclectic.'"


(images DansHamptons, middle image horst, 1965)

News: China Moon, Kevin Rudd, Spice Girls, Kentucky, Truman Capote

road.jpg Philadelphia Boy Scouts facing eviction for their anti-gay bigotry: "The Cradle of Liberty Council—Philadelphia's Boy Scout chapter—has been housed in an historic building in downtown Philly for almost 80 years, paying almost nothing for the prime piece of proprety under the terms of a 100-year sweetheart lease it inked with the city in 1928. But that lease is set to expire, and city officials say the taxpayer's shouldn't be footing the Scouts rent bill because of it's national policy banning openly gay members and leaders. The Scouts must either pony up the fair market rent for the space—about $200,000 a year—or find a new home."

Poshroad.jpg Back to 1996: Spice Girls kick off world tour in Vancouver, with real live vocals! "There is a click track for the band to keep them in time, which is standard, but all of the girls' vocals were live."

road.jpg British Panto theatre comes out of the closet: "Panto has cross-dressing, innuendo and glitter, so maybe we've reached the point where we've stopped pretending that it's just camp and really it's as gay as you like. It's built into the form."

road.jpg The NYT takes a look at the difficulties of being gay in Newark, New Jersey: "Sharrieff Baker and his partner, Edwin Rosario, who own a house in the North Ward, said they had a very different experience when one of their tenants found out they were a couple. Last month, they said, the tenant tore up a shared bathroom, called them 'faggots' and threatened to blow up their house. When they called 911, they said, Vincent Cordi, the responding police officer, appeared unconcerned and agreed only reluctantly to take their complaint. Back at the station house, they said, Officer Cordi sniggered with co-workers as he typed up the paperwork, at one point blurting out, 'How do you spell 'faggot'?'"

road.jpg Truman Capote, New Orleans, 1946: First chapter of new book Portraits and Observations: The Essays of Truman Capote (Review)

Switchroad.jpg Beckham makes the sponsorship switch: Emporio Armani undies spotted in New Zealand

road.jpg Homophobic, racist flyers found on Canada's University of Windsor campus.

road.jpg A look back at Saturday Night Fever on its 30th anniversary: "Lapels aside, the film seems strangely prescient -- a road map to the income inequality, the ethnic and racial politics, and the lure of celebrity that we see today. Culturally speaking, the '70s are back. As we grapple with soaring gasoline prices, tune in to 'Dancing With the Stars' and work through a new kind of national malaise, we would do well to heed the cautionary lessons of the young man in polyester."

road.jpg Gay census study sees closets emptying in Kentucky.

Moonroad.jpg Watchdogs question authenticity of Chinese Moon photo, say it may be plagiarized from NASA. China denies.

road.jpg Australia's new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd makes his first act ratifying the Kyoto Treaty: "Australia's new stance on Kyoto will isolate the US as the only developed nation not to have ratified the treaty. Mr Rudd is due to attend the UN climate change conference in Bali next week with four of his ministers. When they heard of Mr Rudd's decision, delegates at the conference erupted in applause. Mr Rudd's appointment as prime minister ends more than 11 years of conservative government under his predecessor John Howard. As well as signing up to the Kyoto Protocol, the new government is committed to withdrawing Australia's combat troops from Iraq."

road.jpg Brokeback Mountain costume designer Marit Allen dies of brain aneurysm at 66.

road.jpg Mitt Romney to deliver major speech on Mormonism. AmericaBlog calls him out: "You can't give a speech about being an oppressed religious minority in America only 5 days after you oppress another religious minority in America. Romney can't tell us that the religion of his cabinet is relevant but the religion of the cabinet's president isn't. It just doesn't work that way. Either a candidate for high office's religion is relevant or its not. This week Romney is going to tell us that it's not, though I suspect he's also going to try to con everyone into thinking that Mormonism IS Christianity, so at the same time he's telling us to ignore his religion he's going to be telling us that he's a bigger Christian than we are and that that is the reason we should vote for him. In other words, Romney is going to try to have it both ways this week, lying all the way. So what else is new?"

road.jpg Pam Spaulding posts a wrap-up of the 2007 International Gay & Lesbian Leadership Conference and a new interview with Representative Tammy Baldwin.

road.jpg Fixer-upper: Richard Neutra house goes on market in Santa Monica.


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