The day Gianni was killed I’d just unpacked from a trip to Cartagena, where I’d gone to tan my beautiful body because I look flawless tanned. So I called my pilot friend who works for ACES to ask when he was flying to Cartagena next, to see if he could get me on a flight for free, and he—such a charming man and a beefy daddy—called his friends at the airline right then and got me tickets, and I was able to go to Cartagena for a weekend and stay with a friend from my hometown who has a house there, because the truth is I don’t have a dollar to take a trip across the street, unless, by some miracle, someone else pays, which is exactly what happened, because in the end I didn’t have to pay a dime.
So, anyway, the day Gianni was killed, I’d just gotten back from Cartagena, and I was getting ready to visit my friend Roberto to tell him everything I had done on the beautiful Colombian beaches so he could wallow in envy, because, like the ad says, it’s better to cause it than feel it. So I caught the first bus ejecutivo on Seventh I could find—I’d rather die than be caught on a minibus—and just as I was getting ready to sit down, walking like this, flawless, down the aisle as if I were on a catwalk at the Cartagena Hilton where the beauty queens parade in bathing suits, suddenly, bam, the earth-shattering news comes out of nowhere: Versace has just been killed on a street in South Beach. Awful: I hadn’t even been to South Beach! Imagine my shock—I couldn’t even place it, I didn’t know what they were talking about, I wasn’t able to imagine the situation, I felt stupid, ignorant, uncultured. And to top it off, the other passengers on the bus didn’t even blink. There I was, walking down the aisle, looking at the faces of the people who were traveling with me on the bus—nothing, everyone, as if nothing had happened, continued looking out the window, totally indifferent, either talking or laughing. And I asked myself: My Dragness, what kind of country is this where no one is disturbed by such news, where no one blinks at the death of such a god? That’s why there’s social injustice—I thought at the time—that’s why there’s vandalism, that’s why our streets aren’t safe: because of the lack of solidarity, the lack of brotherly love. That’s when I decided that it was because of so many years of violence, I guess, that we’d lost that thing they call a social conscience in Colombia.
I, on the other hand, was in shock, and I immediately thought about Donatella, and Santos, and the magnificent house that belonged to Antonio D’amico, Gianni’s lifelong husband, and I wondered who would inherit that fortune and end up with the store on Fifth Avenue, and the mansion in South Beach, and all the shirts, and the spectacular underwear that I could never buy because they cost fifty dollars a pair. I think I must have fainted, because I fell into the first open seat, bam, as if I’d suddenly run into life, and I cried, and cried, and cried, not just a river like in the song by Maná, but an entire Pacific Ocean, and the Atlantic, and, of course, the Mediterranean Sea—because if a queen cries an entire sea, she has to cry the Mediterranean or, at least, the Aegean, which is as clean and as pretty and as blue and bathes those fabulous beaches on Paradise and Super Paradise in Mykonos and where, everyone who’s seen them says, the most beautiful papitos in the universe sunbathe naked.
Thinking about Gianni’s death I feel like a Molotov cocktail of negative emotions. The same thing always happens to me when I think about death, and it really bums me out because I get really sad, and sadness pisses me off and, to top it off, it makes me feel melancholy, and then I start obsessing, which is a bitch because it doesn’t lead to anything positive, and you end up a bigger drama queen than my superhot friend Simón. But today I’ve been feeling all, like, dejamestá, which is a word we use where I come from when you don’t want to admit that you’re depressed, because depression is like death: a taboo subject. No one likes to talk about death and even less read about it, so that you can avoid realizing that someday all this happiness is going to end. That’s why I’d understand if someone wants me to stop spilling my guts here, even though, truthfully, I can’t write about this clatter of happiness when I’m sad, like today, in spite of the fact that my life is a cacophony and my heart is bursting with happiness. That’s why I promise, solemnly, I’m going to take a break from being happy just today, in order to talk about things that no one likes to hear, and if any other time—which I don’t think will happen—I feel depressed, I’ll resist telling you about it because, like everyone else, I believe you have to shoo the sadness, and when you start to cry, it’s best to say, ¡olé!, like a matador, and wipe the tears away, as soon as you can, with the most elegant of verónicas.
I’ve learned over time to appreciate and enjoy my homosexuality. But I confess it wasn’t easy, and it isn’t easy now. But when you accept and understand that being this way isn’t our fault, or that it’s not an invention of the devil who possessed our bodies to do evil, much less the sin that the beatas, the holier-than-thou señoras, talk about at five-o’clock mass. And we don’t have to strike our chests, or whip ourselves, or even cry every night when we’re in bed under the covers, just for being different from the rest of humanity. To be honest, though, what makes us different from straight men isn’t that we go to bed with men and they don’t. They do. What makes us different is that we have the balls to live the life we want, breaking the rules imposed by society, confronting the law that say that you’ve got to marry a woman and have children and raise them and send them to school and earn enough to give them an allowance, and then demand that they marry the woman that we, their parents, approve of, and allow them to move away eventually to live far from home so, when we’re fifty years old, they can do all the things that we wanted to do.
The problem isn’t just that our countries are machista, like a lot of people think, but rather our societies operate under ambiguous standards that prefer that people be hypocrites and do whatever they want as long as they don’t do it in public. That’s not only how we latinos are but also the gringos, who get all bent out of shape just because their president allowed Paula Jones to give him a blow job, and Monica Lengüinsky, and who knows how many others, as if, with all the problems in the world, it mattered whether Bill Clinton had a mole on his dick or whether it was crooked or not, and whether he should resign and go to jail for a long time because of it. The Danes, on the other hand, don’t allow themselves to be influenced by such religious nonsense. They call a spade a spade. And no one can say that they don’t have morals, because morals, after all, are like assholes, everyone has one and they usually stink. Take the French, on the other hand, who are anything but Manichean and, still, lead happy lives, and that’s how we saw them in ¡Hola! the day of Mitterand’s funeral, wife and mistress side-by-side, because that’s how it should be, that’s how you should live: head-on, without anyone telling you what to do, without bowing to societal norms that no one understands, or knows where they came from, because I’m sure that if you ask anyone on the street why being homosexual is bad, no one, I guarantee, no one will give an intelligent answer. In fact, everyone thinks that you should stay away from gays just because society says so, without so much as thinking about it, without daring to ask what the hell they find so awful about it, without even knowing what about homosexuality is a “sin.”
The fact is, we humans are more herdlike than sheep: so eager to take the easy way out that we live borrowed lives, incapable of straying from predesigned models. We’re as cowardly as ostriches, always with our heads stuck in the sand so we don’t have to face the realities of life. That’s why someday I’ll live in France, or Holland, or Denmark, or a country where people don’t allow petty gossip to stop them, and dare to do the only intelligent thing that can be done in this fucking world we were born in: be happy.
But you can’t be happy when one morning when you least expect it, bam, you find out that someone is killing your heroes; when sick minds are capable of murdering even Gianni, someone who not only didn’t harm anyone but also sewed so many fabulous dresses, all of them spectacular and rococo, in bright colors and with medusae incrusted everywhere. Hamlet said it in the movie I rented at Blockbuster the other day, the one with Mel Gibson, when he found out that his uncle had killed his dad, the king, he said something is rotten in the state of Denmark, or something like that, but not just in Denmark, also in Bogotá, and in Lima, and in Los Angeles, and in Taipei, and in Shanghai, and in New York, and in Miami, where some queen who was repressed by society goes out on the street with a gun one day and shoots Versace in the head. Now that I think about it, who wouldn’t? With so many cobwebs in our head—so many cockroaches is more like it, the only thing that survived the atomic bomb that the gringos dropped over Hiroshima, and continue to be the only thing capable of surviving in the cobwebs that we humans weave in our minds. And we don’t even know for sure if Cunanan, the guy who they say murdered Versace, was for sure a repressed gay. They said the same thing about Yolanda Saldívar, who allegedly killed Selena: that she was a lesbian. But who can say whether or not these murderers were homosexuals or whether they’re artifices that society uses to convince us that being gay is so bad that we’re even capable of killing our own.
We live in a world without heroes. The slogan is finish off whoever is able to excel, just like my enemies at La Caja de Pandora have tried to finish me off, saying that I am a poisonous harpy, as if harpies were poisonous. Snakes are poisonous, some frogs, fire ants, and a whole lot of other animals, but not harpies. Of course they do it as a defense mechanism, to maintain their species on earth, just like they taught us in elementary school about that Darwin guy, but not Darwin Jiménez, Enrique’s cousin, my friend from the bookstores, but the other Darwin, the one who said all that stuff about the survival of the species. Unlike we humans who kill for pleasure, out of envy, because we allow ourselves to be manipulated by social repression, all to make money that we’ll never be able to take with us to hell, because not even the Greeks were able to take with them those coins that people say they used to put on their foreheads when they died, supposedly to pay Charon for transporting them across the river Styx. When you’re dead, you’re dead, period.
It’s funny but now that I think about it, we homosexuals grow accustomed to the loss of our loved ones from an early age. The first person we lose, of course, is ourselves: it's the beginning of that great pain that we face in our lives, the chaos of knowing who we are, this way: in the plural, or that we’re not what everyone else wants us to be, the feeling of that monster that grows inside us that we can’t defeat, without knowing where it comes from, how it’s born, why. No one who hasn’t struggled with something that everyone judges to be evil can understand this fact clearly.
Then we lose our parents, who are usually the last to accept the idea of having a queer son. Some simply feel guilty for having given birth to such a diabolical reprobate, who should remain forever in the depths of Tartarus, or for having raised us wrong and spoiled us from childhood, as if that were the cause of homosexuality. Others face deep fears, of being the intermediaries of Satan and things like that, of having given birth to a shameful and abominable being, who rejects his family and rebels against God. And those parents who don’t think it’s such a bad thing are quick to invent problems. Take, for example, the case of my friend Gabriel, who’s dealing with some maternal drama: his family has passed on, from generation to generation, a ring that once belonged to the first of their descendants to land in this country, back in the times when Colombia was a colony. And now, because Gabriel is not only gay but, to top it off, the only son, no one will inherit the ring, which is going to be kept in a vault in saecula saeculorum, and no one will ever know that it exists, which is terrible because the mother (who’s already getting old) says that she’s more than fifty years old and can’t have another son to inherit the ring that belonged to her great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. That’s why, whenever I run into Gabriel I ask about his mother and he, all distressed by the centuries-old misfortune, always says the same thing: “She’s there, still unsure how she’s going to solve the problem with the ring.” Yes, I definitely know of many parents who would prefer to hide their gay children at the bottom of the earth, like Uranus, and not allow them to see the light of day ever again, so they don’t have to feel inferior to the rest of humanity: better dead than queer, they exclaim to God thanklessly.
Little by little, they’re all leaving our side. It’s an exception if one stays. Yes, I know that being gay is in style now and people call us and invite us over and say “Come to the party I’m giving at my apartment this Friday, but come in drag because people love it,” and you go, knowing that they’re inviting you to be the clown in charge of entertainment, but you go because, after all, it’s so-and-so’s party and How can we miss it when all her parties are always in A!ós and Cromos. But those people aren’t your friends, real real friends, who’ll wash and iron your clothes, the kind that you can tell all your problems and misfortunes and heartaches to and “Listen, so-and-so left me for someone else and I don’t know what I’m going to do now alone for the rest of my life.”
And that means there are two tragedies in one: sometimes, because the love of your life has left you; other times, because you can’t share it with anyone. And I wonder: what the hell is a tragedy good for if you can’t talk about it? But no, we have to suffer alone, since heteros believe that being gay is a punishment, we have to pay a price. Besides, that’s why for them it’s not just a scandal that we’re gay but, even worse, that we might have a partner. That’s the worst thing for them—“You mean you’re in love with another man and it’s mutual?” And it bothers them that we have someone to be with, to support us, and to share our problems with, and all those little love things.
No, sirs: it isn’t easy being gay, not in the least. I wish a straight guy had the courage to live all this . . . but they’re all cowards, “the strong sex.” They prefer to hide behind their wives’ skirt, or in their mommies’ lap, or behind their children, while going off on us the whole time, as if we were given a choice, as if someone had asked us when we were born: “Say, do you want to be gay?”
From Al diablo la maldita primavera. © Alonso Sánchez Baute. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2012 by George Henson. All rights reserved.