Experiment gone awry

(2 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Gaurav Gopalan had “an insatiable appetite for life”, according to his friend Heather Haney.

Gaurav was always looking to learn more, about himself, about others, about theater. He was always discovering something.

–Heather Haney

Heather had met Gaurav when he invited her in 2006 to try out for a role in an upcoming production of MacBeth.

Gaurav had moved to Washington from his native India, where he had received a British colonial private school education.  He arrived with a desire to learn how to direct, a background in Sanscrit epics, Eastern spirituality and Chekov.  nd he had a particular passion for Shakespeare.

He told me once that his mother told him that everything he needed to know about Western culture, you can learn from reading Shakespeare and the King James Bible.

But she said that most of the good things in the King James are also in Shakespeare, so he could just read that.

–Christopher Henley

Henley and Gopalan often worked together in the Washington Shakespeare Company, where he became resident assistant director.

How could he serve, was the philosophy he brought into the room.

–Kathleen Ackerley

By day he was an aerospace engineer, with a PhD from the University of Maryland in 2004 for his thesis, Quasi-static Acoustic Mapping of Helicopter Blade Vortex Interaction Noise.  The PhD was dedicated to his family (which now lives in Kathmandu, Nepal) and “this great country, the United States of America”.

He’d dialed back his theater commitments in the last couple of years, wanting to focus on his career. He did consult with Haney and the cast of Constellation Theatre’s The Ramayana, though, talking them through the epic’s broad ideas about the dharma and illuminating other aspects of Hindu spirituality.

A few weeks ago he asked his friend Heather for a “huge favor” in an email.  He asked her to meet him before an opening-night party on August 29 for a Washington Shakespeare Company’s Avant Bard production of Happy Days to help him get his make-up right.  Gaurav showed up at the party presenting himself as someone named Gigi.

But Gopalan wasn’t unveiling what he thought of as a transgender identity. His friends say he was clear on that.

It was something he was exploring.  He saw himself as male and female-everyone possesses male and female, he believed. They’re both important. I think it was a small part, the newest part.

–Heather Haney, on Gaurav’s sense of self

Gaurav was a gay man.  He was also bipolar, according to his partner of nearly five years, Bob Schaeffer.  Gaurav and Bob had met on match.com and connected at the Kennedy Center, when they watched a performance of Madame Butterfly.

It’s true he was a little nervous, Haney and [Christopher] Henley say. He wanted to be sure his look was perfect. He wondered what people would say, how they’d talk about his new incarnation-his new “avatar,” to use his word.

“He looked fabulous,” Henley says. “I said to him, ‘You’re like a character in a Godard film.'”

“He was so happy,” Haney says.

His former professor and mentor, Fred Schmitz, called him “a very talented person, very, very good theoretically”.

He could have been very successful, but he wanted to stay in the Washington area, and the opportunities in aerospace there are somewhat limited.

–Professor Schmitz

His partner said he had recently been on a roller-coaster, eating less, sleeping less…and drinking more.

I told him I was worried about him….I said, ‘You take antidepressants; they tell you not to drink when you’re taking antidepressants.’

Friday, we had the best talk of our relationship, before he went out,  We started talking on the porch, across from each other; then we started sitting next to each other, then we came in here to the couch. We talked for about two hours.

–Bob Schaefer

Schaeffer says he expressed concerns about him going out as “Gigi”.

Over Labor Day weekend Gopalan had gathered in New York with friends from his undergraduate days in India.

His friend, Rishhabh

Misra, says he’d never seen Gopalan happier. He had taken a hiatus from his job. He’d bought a ticket for Kathmandu, planning a stay of three to four months to spend some quality time with his parents.

On Friday, Gaurav set out, heading south in sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat.

He stopped in at the Source theater on 14th Street NW, looking for Constellation’s Allison Stockman. He picked up a bottle-an expensive one-at the Cork Market wine shop. Around 3 p.m., he paid a call at Studio Theatre, where he asked after Joy Zinoman, with whom he’d worked on 2007’s The Pillowman.

He was animated. He wanted to talk to Zinoman about this new persona, this new expression of his feminine side. Zinoman wasn’t in. He caught up with a couple of her colleagues instead. He left the wine as a gift.

He got a mani-pedi at Salon Blu and a martini at the 1409 Playbill CafĂ© when it opened at 4pm.  He told the proprietor that he had an idea that he wanted to play Cleopatra.

After returning home to have his conversation with Schaeffer, he told his partner he was headed for the straight clubs on U Street NW.

His body was found on the 2600 block of 11th Street NW in Columbia Heights, a few blocks from his home.  There was no visible sign of trauma.  He remained unidentified for three days, while police asked the trans community to search their number for anyone who was missing.  He was finally identified after a post-mortem photograph was released to the media.

Cause of death had been awaiting toxicology tests, but results of an autopsy released Tuesday revealed that Gopalan suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage [internal head bleeding] due to blunt impact head trauma.

The death has been ruled a homicide.

We don’t know Gaurav’s intentions when he set out as Gigi to face the world.

We do know that his experiment went awry.

Police do not believe there was any connection between this murder and recent attacks on transwomen in the area.  

Now our determination must be to get the killer because somebody killed this fine young man who had such a great life and was loved by so many people.  We have got to get this killer.

–gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1)

As one commenter added to one of the articles linked:

This is the ‘serial killer’ among us – the widespread dehumanization of trans people in our daily lives in this city.

–Jaime Grant


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    • TMC on September 23, 2011 at 12:56

    May the Goddess guide Gaurav on his journey to the Summerlands. May his family, his friends, the GLBT community and the world find Peace.

    The Wheel Turns

    • Robyn on September 24, 2011 at 00:05

    In sorrow.

  1. I’m supposed to feel sorry for a military contractor, because of what exactly?

    I Haven’t quite gotten it.

    Let’s see:

    1. Military contractors make lots of money and kill lots and lots and lots of people for a very nice living…

    and this one is gay or something?

    2.  Um?????



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