Research Proposal: Gay and Lesbian Serial Killers

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[. . .] But this notion becomes particularly fascinating when we consider the various permutations that can be taken by a specifically homosexual serial killer. The homosexual can prey upon other homosexuals: this is the case with Dahmer and Dennis Nilsen. The homosexual can prey upon heterosexuals of the same gender: this is arguably the case with Gacy, Berdella, and Dean Corll. Although many of the young men that were victims of these three were solicited for sex, generally the situation was such that the victims were heterosexually-identified and motivated by promise of payment -- what psychologists and public health advocates would describe in 2014 as MSM (men who have sex with men) rather than specifically gay. Finally Wuornos provides the most interesting case, as a homosexual woman who preyed upon heterosexual men who had solicited her as a prostitute. There do not appear to be recorded cases of homosexual male serial killers who preyed on the opposite sex, in spite of the popularity of Silence of the Lambs. I am excluding recorded cases of pedophiliac serial killers or those who target children, who do frequently exhibit an indifference to gender -- a pedophile who preys upon children of the same gender should not be considered a homosexual in the terms which I am considering. But this is all subject to a more close analysis in terms of how Fox and Levin hypothesize that the social stigma of homosexuality makes the homosexual easier to dehumanize. In this case, the pattern of both Dahmer and Nilsen -- picking up men at gay bars and clubs, and killing them as part of a seeming parody of relationship patterns (i.e., wanting a boyfriend who will never leave) -- seems to indicate that the dehumanization was extended by the killers to themselves as well. In some perverse sense, the pattern of Dahmer's and Nilsen's crimes would appear to be a critique on the fleeting nature of many gay relationships.

In terms of further literature review it is worth observing the various theoretical suggestions that have been made about the role of sex in serial murder, and to attempt to see if there is some applicability to specifically homosexual serial murderers. Canter, Alison et al. (2004), for example, discuss the classic paradigm of "organized" versus "disorganized" serial murder and discuss the role that the integration of sexuality into the crime plays in this paradigm. They note that the "disorganized" killer is frequently marked by "social inadequacy and inability to maintain interpersonal relationships" which "increases the likelihood of sexual ignorance as well as the potential for sexual perversions or dysfunctions as part of the homicidal acts." (Canter 294). This is a point at which the role of homosexuality might very well be brought up -- depending on the decade, it might in itself have been considered a "perversion" or "dysfunction" (before 1973 it was still classified as mental illness) whereas the notion of "sexual ignorance" is also more considerable with homosexuals as the presence of social stigma (until very recently) meant that it might have been more difficult to seek out partners.

However much of the literature reviewed discusses the fact that, in many ways, the received paradigms and models relating to serial murder may in fact be deeply flawed. The mere existence of the gay serial killers that I propose to focus on in some depth with this study is already one way in which the existing paradigms may be invalidated. As Seltzer (1995) argues that "one of the governing popular misconceptions about serial killing is the assumption that serial killers are almost invariably white males, despite the fact that the percentage of known black male serial killers is closely comparable to their proportion in the U.S. population as a whole (the estimates run from 13 to 16%) and despite the fact that perhaps 10 to 15% of known American serial killers are women. The construction of serial killing as "femicide" & #8230; goes some way in accounting for these reverse biases." (127). Likewise, in terms of a closer examination of the Wuornos case, it is worth noting that Heide (1991) reveals that "historical research on serial murderers…challenges the commonly held view that serial murder is a recent and almost exclusively male phenomenon" stating that a "review of various biographical materials" that "covers almost two hundred years (1795-1988), and reveals that over two hundred individuals in the United States have killed three or more persons over a period of days to years" and that "interestingly, 34 of the 203 (16.7%) serial murderers identified were women, a percentage that closely approximates the current involvement of females in overall homicide arrests in the United States." (1104). The problem here may be one with media bias, and media perpetuation of an outmoded paradigm, rather than anything more complex: there is a gap between the actual statistics and the way in which information about serial killers reaches the public.

But there are some basic methodological problems with the study of serial murderers. Ball (1989) notes the relative lack of in-depth personal interviews and surveys with those convicted of serial murder: thus he argues that in terms of the basic understanding in existing psychiatric literature, "the fact that the serial murderers themselves tended to refuse cooperation on personal grounds or advice of attorney has made for a necessarily sketchy and somewhat repetitious reliance on those sources that could be mined" (Ball 594). Similarly there are problems with the assumptions made about the psychiatric histories of serial murderers, as Seltzer (1997) observes that "As the forensic psychiatrist Helen Morrison observes, the foundational status of trauma in serial killing is, at least, open to question: 'A serial killer may complain that he was abused as a child, either physically or sexually. Little or no evidence has demonstrated, however that these complaints are consistent or that the alleged abuses have any real foundation" (7-8). However these studies largely date from an older psychiatric paradigm that depended quite heavily on Freudian and post-Freudian models of psychiatric behavior -- the difficulty is that this paradigm has been partially replaced with more neurological models (focusing on frontal lobe trauma or amygdala function) that do not bring with them any kind of theory of mind that might in some way be predictive. Limited amygdala function may be a defining character of sociopaths, for example, but all available literature on serial murderers emphasizes that they are not necessarily sociopaths: indeed the distinction between the two behaviorally has been emphasized again and again in the scientific literature. Thus Husain (1995) claims that "scoptophilia plays a predominant part among the psychopath's attempts at control" where "the execution of dominance-submission patterns, within which the object is necessarily apprehended as a prey" is being accomplished by the serial killer. (Husain 138). This is interesting in terms of attempting to theorize something in common between homosexual serial killers, given that the predominance of looking (rather than talking or otherwise interacting in potentially homophobic environments) may in fact be a characteristic of gay behavior over all. This is not to suggest that gay serial killers may be more likely to qualify as psychopaths rather than serial murderers per se, but instead to indicate one way in which they seem to question received paradigms and generalizations concerning behavior. For what it is worth, the literature on the differences between serial murder and psychopathy generally tends to acknowledge that John Wayne Gacy (for example) followed a larger number of the traits of the latter -- his unwillingness to confess after having been arrested, for example, and his attempt to set up an insanity defense by faking (badly) a case of what was then termed "multiple personality disorder" but which is now largely conceived of as being either iatrogenic or factitious. But the reason this is intriguing is that, of all the gay and lesbian serial killers that are under survey, Gacy is perhaps the one who is least gay-identified and most similar to a different sort of paraphiliac: in reality his sexual orientation would appear to be ephebophiliac, insofar as he was attracted predominantly to post-adolescent young men, who were frequently under the age of consent. He was therefore arrested for statutory rape and jailed before he moved to Chicago and began his career as a serial murderer. But in Chicago, Gacy insisted upon marrying a woman and posing as a heterosexual -- his sexual activities with young men were generally manipulative and involved posing as a rugged heterosexual who liked to mess around with guys occasionally. This is not something that we notice in any of the other most salient cases -- Dahmer and Nilsen, for example, would find their victims in gay bars, and Berdella and Corll were open about their sexuality but largely preyed upon male prostitutes rather than casual sex pick-ups.

As a result, one field of investigation may involve this sort… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Gay and Lesbian Serial Killers.  (2014, March 29).  Retrieved June 15, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/gay-lesbian-serial-killers/6686954

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"Gay and Lesbian Serial Killers."  Essaytown.com.  March 29, 2014.  Accessed June 15, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/gay-lesbian-serial-killers/6686954.