Jeffrey Dahmer, Revere High School yearbook, 1978

Was Jeffrey Dahmer Gay?

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When cannibalistic serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer rose to infamy in the 1980s, his preference for young, gay men exacerbated issues like homophobia and racism, especially for Milwaukee’s gay community. Still, some people remain unsure about Dahmer’s sexuality, which begs the question: was Jeffrey Dahmer really gay? When we think about serial killers, the last thing we wonder about is their sexuality. However, some of the most infamous serial killers in history have profoundly impacted the LGBTQ+ community, especially in the 1970s and 80s.

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Who Was Jeffrey Dahmer?

Dahmer, Revere High School yearbook, 1978

Jeffrey Dahmer, nicknamed the Milwaukee Cannibal, was a notorious serial killer, sex offender, and cannibal who murdered and dismembered 17 boys from 1978 to 1991. Dahmer also engaged in necrophilia with some of his victims and preserved some of their body parts. Though he was eventually diagnosed with various disorders, such as schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and psychotic disorder, Dahmer was deemed legally sane to stand trial. He was sentenced to fifteen terms of life imprisonment and beaten to death by an inmate in November of 1994.

The story of Jeffrey Dahmer is horrific. Through his hideous actions, Dahmer took these people from their families and their loved ones forever. His actions left a scar on their lives and struck a fear at the heart of Milwaukee’s gay community. As we explore this aspect of Dahmer, be careful not to lose sight of the fact that he was, first and foremost, a serial killer.

This was Dahmer’s true legacy. The victims and their communities that were left behind to pick up the pieces.

Why Do People Think Jeffrey Dahmer Was Gay?

Because Dahmer’s spree occurred during the AIDS epidemic in 1987, his actions impacted the LGBTQ+ community detrimentally. However, without explicit confirmation that Dahmer identified as homosexual, many turned to evidence from his childhood and actual killings to confirm the criminal’s sexual orientation.

He Had Relationships With Boys In His Adolescence

Dahmer had brief relationships with male classmates in his early teenage years, though he never engaged in intercourse. He hid this fact from his parents.  Though later admitted to police that he began fantasizing about dominating and manipulating male partners as early as thirteen. Dahmer also shared that his sexual fantasies evolved into violent ones, such as dissecting male chests and torsos.

The initial urge to harm a male peer happened when Dahmer was sixteen. The killer admitted to being tempted to knock a male jogger unconscious and engage in sexual intercourse with the body. Dahmer attempted to turn his fantasy into reality though his potential target did not pass by that day. Fortunately, the unsuspecting victim unknowingly dodged an attack.

His Behavior As A Mixer Was Suspicious

In 1985, Dahmer worked as a mixer at the Milwaukee Ambrosia Chocolate Factory, during which time many patrons described his behavior as sketchy or suspicious. During his employment, Dahmer received propositions from multiple men, and, though he didn’t accept any, he later admitted that it triggered many of his violent fantasies.


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He Frequented Gay Bathhouses

In late 1985, Dahmer began to frequent gay bars and bathhouses, where he experienced his first sexual encounters. While consensual, Dahmer stated that his meetings were “frustrating” because of how his sexual partners engaged with him. When asked to elaborate, Dahmer told police, “I trained myself to view people as objects of pleasure instead of people.”

When Dahmer realized his twisted preferences, he began to drug men with sedatives, waiting for his partners to fall asleep before performing sexual acts on them.

He Stole A Male Mannequin

After being fired from his job at the chocolate factory, Dahmer became more reckless and impulsive, once stealing a male mannequin from a store. He then used it for sexual pleasure, and his grandmother eventually discovered the item and asked him to discard it.

He Was Arrested For Disorderly Conduct

Not only was Dahmer presumed gay by 1986, but he was also known to feel attraction toward male minors. In September 1986, Dahmer was arrested for publicly masturbating while watching two twelve-year-old boys. Police charged Dahmer with disorderly conduct, sentencing him to a year of probation and mental health counseling.

His Victims Were All Young Men

It’s no secret that Dahmer’s crimes were grisly and unthinkable. However, it remains relatively understated that all his victims were young men he seduced at gay bars. Dahmer would take his victims back to his grandmother’s house, engage in sexual activity, then drug them with triazolam or temazepam-laced drinks before strangling them.

Jeffrey Dahmer Victims

Dahmer’s Impact On The LGBTQ Community

Despite the darkness Dahmer cast on the LGBTQ community after his arrest, his crimes inspired significant systematic change, especially in Milwaukee. Over 400 people, including gay rights activists, attended the candlelight vigil for Dahmer’s victims in 1991.

The murders also turned Milwaukee’s underground gay scene even more transient, with many using aliases for protection. However, the killings also inspired sensitivity training within the Milwaukee Police Department and an even more aggressive fight toward acceptance.

Portrayals Of Dahmer’s Sexuality In Pop Culture

Film, television, and podcasts are no strangers to Dahmer-related content. In fact, Dahmer is a subject some critics will even describe as “overdone”. Yet, Dahmer-focused mini-series and documentaries continue to surface thanks to a fascination with his so-called repressed queerness.

In 2017, actor Ross Lynch portrayed the serial killer in My Friend Dahmer. In an interview, he said, “Maybe we can make better efforts with people who seem out of place. Maybe we can step in and avoid creating more Jeffrey Dahmers,” implying that repression of his sexuality led to such extreme violence.

Ryan Murphy’s upcoming mini-series Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story also portrays Dahmer as a “high-profile gay killer”. According to Murphy, the show aims to study the racial dynamics of queer men of color and how white privilege sustained Dahmer’s near-unstoppable spree.

The Bottom Line

From his later admissions and the evidence gathered over the years, we may be able to deduce that notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer identified as gay. That said, Dahmer, himself never confirmed his sexuality, so we can’t say for sure. Ultimately, while Dahmer’s fantasies and actions were harmful to the LGBTQ community, they also inspired change within law enforcement groups and eventually led to safer spaces for marginalized groups.

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Was Jeffrey Dahmer Gay?
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