monthly column from author/activist
Carol Queen

The Royal Treatment

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

Hey, don't look at me -- I didn't say that, Shakespeare did. And he was no doubt having a prescient moment when he wrote it: "Hmmm, methinks that ages hence, in a city by the sea, a pair of lawyers and a pair of hounds will get into trouble most severe..."

The Dog and Lawyer Show has indeed been a saga almost Shakespearean in its unlikely yet gripping plot twists, its range of characters (and boy, I do mean "characters") -- but Willy the Shake didn't do tawdry, at least not the way these lawyers do.

I should add right away that I don't have any inherent prejudice against attorneys; two of my exes and several of my friends are lawyers. Hell, my dad wanted me to be a lawyer. I thought about it, too, until I saw law school eat my ex-girlfriends alive. It took them several years to reconstitute. So I'm not playing blame-the-law-profession for the Knoller and Noel dog-maul murder, any more than I'm blaming the dogs. But in this kinky tale of dogs o'war, erotic art, threesomes, possible dog-fucking (yes, I said it), and Aryan Nation, the fact that these two were attorneys -- no, make that arrogant-as-shit attorneys -- didn't seem to help their defense.

I suppose I should catch up those two readers who just emerged from an Antarctic ice cave, and recap the story. Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel, who are attorneys and also life partners, were just convicted of murder two and manslaughter, respectively, by a Los Angeles jury. These two probably don't have any peers, so I'll leave that part out.

The trial was in LA because so many San Franciscans would have fought to get on their jury, so they were granted a change of venue. They were on trial in the first place because in January 2001 one or both of their Presa Canario dogs, Bane and Hera, attacked a neighbor, Diane Whipple, and tore her throat out. Marjorie, who was with the dogs, either did or didn't heroically try to save Whipple, but she bled to death anyway. It turned out that Whipple was afraid of the dogs because they had allegedly lunged at her before, to which her life partner, Sharon Smith, testified. So the couple should have known their dogs were dangerous.

The dogs were with Knoller and Noel because they were keeping them for their, um, adopted son, Paul "Cornfed" Schneider, a white supremacist prisoner at Pelican Bay, who allegedly sought their help on a scheme to breed and sell Presa Canarios.

The dog-maul sex angle

So what was our first clue that this was more than a simple, everyday "pair of lawyers makes a tragic mistake by keeping a huge dog in a little apartment from which it emerges and kills the lesbian neighbor" kind of story?

For me it was two things. One: The lawyers said right away that the dog must have gone after Whipple "because she was wearing pheromones." Now, the kind of lesbian who wears pheromones is mostly found in the jerk-off books Noel probably reads. They are just not that common in real life. And the kind of dog that might respond to pheromones? A big fuck dog, that's what.

Noel noted at another point that Bane wouldn't have been interested in Whipple anyway, because she was "mousy." He obviously hasn't seen enough beastie porn -- plenty of dogs on the Internet can be seen expressing interest in plenty of mousy women, plus a few babes. This is thanking Shakespeare again; a "methinks the lawyers doth protest too much" kind of a deal.

Two: When was the last time you heard of two attorneys adopting their jailed client? Huh? What the hell was that about? This set off the big alarm bells even before Cornfed's cell was searched and woo-woo photos of Marjorie allegedly turned up.

Boy howdy, if Shakespeare were alive today, wouldn't he just be all over this?

Here's the deal. You'll recall from watching the news in recent years that non-traditional families -- those consisting of any other combination than one man and one woman -- cannot, in most venues, be legally joined in marriage or anything like it. We usually consider this in the case of gay and lesbian life-partnerships -- indeed, the dog-maul case lent the weight of tragedy to queer family rights, as Sharon Smith used her high-profile loss to raise consciousness about survivors' rights. Noel and Knoller's attorney, Nedra Ruiz, may she burn in hell, even suggested in her closing arguments that her clients were being persecuted as a sop to the powerful gay lobby. (Oh, yes, Nedra, it's always like that when a gay person dies -- someone must pay! Not.)

Ironic, then, that Noel and Knoller added Cornfed to their family by resorting to a method many gays and lesbians have been forced to use to access familial rights: adoption. Yep, when grown-ups adopt grown-ups, you can frequently look at it as a sideways form of marriage.

Wow, I thought, this shit is deep. Here's one where I really hope they don't call me as any kind of expert witness. The local press came up with spicy tidbits as the case unfolded, as both a relationship between the prisoner and Knoller was alleged and even, between the lines, the possibility that the cops were keeping an eye out for beastie pix. But the local papers didn't do as thorough a job of tracking down this case's more, shall we say, interesting angles as that bastion of alternative journalism, Rolling Stone.

Hey, it's not just for music reviews, man. RS has always had amazing, cutting-edge stories, and they're not afraid of much. Just before the dog-maul trial started, the magazine showed us another side of the frisky-yet-arrogant attorney pair and their new "son," including a super-sexed picture of Bane and Marjorie that Cornfed had drawn while sitting around in Pelican Bay with all that time on his hands.

With friends like these...

My Jewish ex-girlfriend Natalie used to tell me a story about her grandmother. Whenever a Jewish person would do something off-color or downright awful, she would moan, "Oh, dear... is this good for the Jews?" Like, Lenny Bruce was gonna give an entire people such a bad name. And Son of Sam? Oy, oy, oy! I feel just like that about Noel, Knoller, and Schneider. Oy vey, is this good for the polyamorists? Is this good for the people who like triads? Oy, this is hell for the kinky people!

See, these are the kind of folks who make me want to go hide behind a white picket fence, even though I've been involved in one fairly long-term triad, and I have pals who probably know just what kind of pheromones to buy to get a doggie interested. Mostly, people who live and love alternatively keep a fairly low profile; we see the folks who choose to come out and march in the leather contingent at Pride, we see a polyamorist or two on the talk shows, but most Americans have no idea they live in the same neighborhoods or work in the same businesses as kinky people. Most of us are not very out, even if we're proud, because we're often at least as likely as gays and lesbians to lose custody of kids, lose jobs and military commissions, and lose our comfortable anonymity if our non-hetero-monogamous lifestyle is found out.

Noel and Knoller would have been that kind of couple if they had more sensible taste in men. But hey, I have a friend who's all over those sexy convicts -- that, too, can be a sexual preference. And I guess they just couldn't resist hunky ol' Cornfed. What he got out of the deal (besides a place to keep his dogs, and a couple of pet attorneys) is a little harder to gauge. Is he genuinely hot for them? Were they really getting ready to make a life together? (If Schneider ever got out of the clink, that is.) Or was the whole deal a fantasy, a rough-trade bout of slumming for the attorneys and, for the con, another couple of people on the outside who knew and cared that he was alive -- another couple of people to write him letters?

Lo, how the mighty have fallen. Defensive about their lifestyle, aghast that Bane had ripped up the neighbor lady, in total denial about the repercussions, Knoller and Noel didn't know how to comport themselves gracefully, how to make amends, didn't know when to shut up. If they hadn't been so publicly arrogant (and, I believe, so privately kinky), they might never have been charged. Now they're going to be on much more equal footing with their dream man. I wonder how, on an intimate level, that's going to feel.

As for the rest of us? I'm just grateful this case seemed to be more about arrogant culpability than lifestyle. As a woman who lives well outside the bounds myself, I definitely feel a sort of compassion for Knoller and Noel, but with a big dollop of "You asked for it, you idiots." I'm with Natalie's Nana on this one.

And this just in: even more "with friends like these..."

At least nobody's been bitten by a dog this time, but here's another situation that makes me shake my head and wonder what the community is coming to.

On March 20th the very foxy Camille Dunham, one of my fetish community acquaintances, competed in the Miss Bondage-A-Go-Go contest, encouraged to do so by the club's promoter.

Camille is a beautiful transgendered woman who often models for Stormy Leather, where she works. She and a bunch of her friends attended BAGG, spent their money, and she entered the contest -- only to find out after the fact that she was disqualified because she wasn't genetically female.

It would be backwards enough for BAGG to disallow TG/TS women from their contest, even if they were clear about their policy upfront. Transgendered women and men are part of the fetish community and always have been. Hey, the club's name isn't "Genetically Pure Bondage A-Go-Go," for Christ's sake. TG folks have been attending BAGG, spending money there, helping to make the club a scene for a decade at least. But to allow someone to compete and then disqualify them, in a city like San Francisco... that's not right under anybody's ethical standard, is it? Around here, I don't even think it's legal.

BAGG needs to issue a public apology to Camille and the TG community. It needs to do some supportive outreach to the trans community -- I would recommend donating money to a solid TS/TG support organization -- and if it has any anti-TG bias on its staff, it needs to do some education around this. If Camille would have been the Miss Bondage A- Go-Go winner, as I suspect, they should make a new crown and give it to her -- she can share the honor with the other winner this year. (I don't want to advocate that the woman who won instead of Camille be dethroned, but they can damned well be cooperative about it.)

And if BAGG management chooses not to do this, they ought to move their club to a city that doesn't want to join the 21st century, because behavior like this does NOT belong here. I'm sure Fargo, North Dakota, would be eager to welcome a club whose members wear shiny black PVC and flog each other.

Uh-huh. Read my lips, BAGG staff: San Francisco is only tolerant of you because it's the kind of place also likely to be tolerant of its TG community. Get with the program.