Rounding out Gay Day here at Bleakonomy

I am loath to have Bleakonomy become a single-issue blog. Honest and for-truly I am. But, with the march and the speech and the upcoming referendum on my civil rights... well, there's just a lot to say. I promise to get back to making fun of Sarah Palin tomorrow.

Anyhow, this evening I caught the tail end of a report on All Things Considered about the ten-year anniversary of the Matthew Shepard murder and The Laramie Project, the play written about the murder. From the report:
Among the people that the Tectonic corps interviewed were investigators, ranchers, clergymen and Shepard's friends. They talked to the bartender at the Fireside Lounge, where Shepard and his killers were seen the night he was beaten; one of Shepard's teachers at the University of Wyoming; the policewoman who was called to the crime scene where Shepard, brutally beaten, lay on the ground tied to a fence; the lead investigator on the case; and a professor who followed the trials of Shepard's killers. "When they used gay panic as a defense," she told Tectonic Theater, "I said 'This is good.' Because if nothing else, the truth is going to come out."
Yes, but what is truth? Complicated, it seems.
Six years after the crime, the ABC newsmagazine 20/20 set out to debunk the idea that Shepard was murdered because he was gay. Like The Laramie Project, the one-hour episode included interviews with Shepard's friends, as well as investigators assigned to the case. ABC's Elizabeth Vargas interviewed Shepard's killers, Aaron McKinney and Russ Henderson, both serving life sentences.

Shepard, 20/20 reported, may have used methamphetamine. The report said that McKinney had been a dealer. "Meth is what made the world go around in Laramie," a friend of McKinney's and a former dealer told Vargas.

20/20 also reported that McKinney and Henderson had been on a meth binge in the days before meeting Shepard. And prosecutor Cal Rerucha told 20/20 that "the methamphetamine just fueled this point where there was no control. So, it was a horrible, horrible, horrible murder. But it was a murder that was driven by drugs."

So, of course the playwright has to question the veracity of 20/20's report, and we get an endless cycle of debunking.

For my part, I have always been uncomfortable with Shepard's murder being elevated to Grand Symbol, the history of violence against gays encapsulated in one person's murder in Wyoming. I don't need an official martyr, thanks all the same. Aaron McKinney is not Fred Phelps is not Dan White, and Matthew Shepard is not Harvey Milk is not me.

What's more, once you make someone your Symbolic Victim, you have to work assiduously to preserve the narrative of your choosing. Even the playwright admits as much:
Kaufman knows very well that which story you tell — and which story you choose to believe — depend a lot on your own agenda.

"Stories are malleable," he says. "History is malleable. And so we have to be doubly vigilant when we listen to history and we listen to stories."

Well, as someone who is broadly supportive of the so-called "gay agenda," I think the story is muddy, and serves as a poor proxy for the collective gay experience. I am obviously very sorry that Shepard was murdered brutally, and I am glad that his death has served some good by drawing attention to violence against gays and lesbians. But we have better things to do than preserve the version of the story that we like best. Life, as they say, goes on.

1 comment:

  1. This is always the problem with real-person symbols. It becomes a debate about that specific person, and when it is discovered that he or she is more complicated than previously thought, it seems as if the whole movement are moral force demanding change is also different.