Embracing My Nature: Hannibal and My Gay Awakening

Hannibal aired its final episode in the final week of August 2015. Then, mere days later, I came out. I often joke that Hannibal turned me gay. And, in a way, I mean it. Of course, I was always gay, but I wasn’t honest with myself about that until I was twenty-three, when Bryan Fuller’s sophisticated devil twisted the truth out of me, seared it, and served it back to me rare.

Dr. Lecter has been a part of my life since I was seven years old, the age when I watched The Silence of the Lambs for the first time. I had just developed a taste for horror. A few months prior, my uncle, who’s only ten years my senior, decided to show me Scream; he’d just purchased the video cassette. Whether he was trying to terrify me or unnerve me, I’m not sure, but neither happened. I was captivated, and horror became my main course of choice thereafter.

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So when my stepfather bought The Silence of the Lambs, there was no question that it was fit for a family movie night. My parents figured if I could handle Tatum Riley getting crushed in a garage door, I could stomach seeing Sgt. Boyle’s body disemboweled and strung up like a Francis Bacon subject. And they were right. Obviously, as a first-grader, I most certainly did not understand all the nuances, but I was fascinated as hell nevertheless.

Between Anthony Hopkins’ mad shrink to Mads Mikkelsen’s portrayal years later, I devoured the horror canon—experiencing what I would much later recognize as gay tinglings along the way. Griffin Dunne set off my spidey senses first with An American Werewolf in London—his character’s undead form especially did it for me (that’s yet to be unpacked). And I should’ve known I was queer when Eduardo Noriega set my groin on fire with The Devil’s Backbone.

And yet… I still thought I was straight, or at the very least hetero-romantic for some reason, despite the fact that I had no wish to date women. And men weren’t actively on my mind, at least not as in an amorous sense. I was in my mid-twenties and hadn’t had a serious adult relationship, and wasn’t in any rush to find one, until I found myself alone.

My dog Rocky, my best and almost only friend, died in February 2015 of complications from a routine dental procedure due to a type of blood cancer we didn’t know he had. At the time, I was without a roommate and would remain so until my brother would move in after graduating from high school that spring. So I spent many days on my own. Books and movies were all I had when I wasn’t working.

Work was sporadic. Back then, I was a freelance set dresser for films and commercials. Since I seldom ever hung out with my coworkers off set, production life was the only thing that got me out of the apartment. Well, work and trips to the library for my next entertainment haul.

On one such library excursion, I happened upon the first season of Hannibal. In my show days, my schedule was so irregular that I couldn’t commit to watching TV as it aired; this was before I had streaming apps. So, although I was familiar with the series, I hadn’t gotten to it. But, oh boy, did that season one cover make my mouth water: Mikkelsen as the gentleman cannibal, delicately dabbing at his lips with a chic napkin, presumably having just eaten a rude acquaintance.

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I checked out seasons one and two, and the horror aficionado in me was completely enveloped. The aesthetically heightened POV. The lush, stylized bloodshed, almost operatic in mood. Violence so elegant and cinematographically ingenious that I saw the series immediately as a couture Criminal Minds. A dozen or so episodes in, I realized that Hannibal is not only so much more but truly in a league of its own as a gory pitch-black comedy of manners.

The character largely responsible for the narrative’s wicked humor is of course Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham, the scrappy, mentally compromised misanthrope who lives in seclusion in the woods in a small home full of dogs. I felt so seen. Like Graham, I have a macabre curiosity. Also like Graham, I prefer the company of a canines to humans. And yet again like Graham, my mind is my own worst enemy. At this point, I was dealing with severe depression, dangerously low self-esteem, suicidal ideation, and a suppressed sexuality, so…

Dancy and Fuller nailed his essence. I’d read Red Dragon and had seen both film adaptations, and this Graham was special. Graham is heterosexual in all iterations—and Fuller does not alter that—but he and Lecter develop a warped tenderness in the series that goes beyond fraternal. To Lecter, Graham is a fascinating specimen from the beginning, whereas Graham initially rejects Lecter’s advances, telling the doctor pointblank that he doesn’t find him interesting. And yet their intimate therapy sessions eventually border on erotic as Lecter probes deeper and deeper. Only intellectually so, mind you.

Lecter and Graham’s relationship never quite becomes physical—not in the real world, anyway—but on camera the homoerotic electricity is damn near palpable. And it really had an effect on me. The show didn’t need them to touch. It would’ve been too obvious. And probably not as powerful. Something about the wholly cerebral penetration of Graham mixed with that keen physical restraint creeped under my skin, and into my brain.

Undeniably still, like a lot of the fan base, I really fucking wanted them to fuck. Before finishing season two, I’d decided that I needed Graham and Lecter to consummate their partnership and become full-blown murder husbands. I wanted them to traverse Europe, killing the impolite and the homicidally inferior, then eating them—then eating each other. I fucking craved it.

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Then, thankfully, just as the third season was about to premiere, I found myself between film productions. With only commercial gigs on my radar, I could more easily carve out time to watch what would ultimately be the final season of Hannibal as it aired. And those thirteen episodes were absolutely delectable. They gave me everything I desired, albeit not quite as I’d designed.

Lecter’s final line, “This is all I ever wanted for you, Will. For both us,” after guiding Graham through a passionate communion of sorts, followed by Graham’s somewhat tantalized response, “It’s beautiful,” stirred me. And their bloodstained, haggard cliffside embrace left me breathless. I knew right there that I needed my own murder husband. Hannibal had cleansed my palette, and it was time to start living my life as me, a gay man.

I’ve been meaning to do a re-watch for a while. Maybe it’s time I feel all this all over again. Now as a proud homosexual who’s more aware of his mental health. I still struggle with depression, and my suicidal ideation has lessened, but coming out did wonders for my self-worth. I’m sure I would’ve embraced my nature sooner or later—followed the urges I’d kept down for so long and cultivated them—but Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal dissected me when I couldn’t, not on my own. Figures, for this sick puppy, that it would take a civilized cannibal and a neurotic profiler to do it.


Brandon Stanwyck lives in Cleveland, Ohio. He works on movies and commercials; you've probably seen one or two. He also works in a bookstore.

You should follow him on Twitter, keep up with his website and listen to him on the Academy Queens podcast.

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