Parting Glances: Martyrdom of Saint Matt

By Charles Alexander
Originally printed 1/16/2014 (Issue 2203 - Between The Lines News)

January 20th is the Feast Day of St. Sebastian. His 3rd Century death (288 A.D.) by crossbow arrows, while tethered to an upright post, is commemorated by paintings of over 100 artists, including Titian, El Greco, Redon, Tommaso, Carravagio, Moreau.

St. Sebastian is patron saint of soldiers and athletes, many of whom wear his medal for good luck. He's also known as "Patron Saint of Sports." Of late, he has become a venerated homoerotic icon for gay men. Catholic and otherwise. Active and passive.

Impressionist Claude Debussy composed a soloist-and-chorus vocal work, "The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian," in which St. Sebastian as he gets pierced by yet another arrow sings out ecstatically, "Encore! Encore! Encore!" Again. Again. Again.

There are parallels to a legendary saint of our day, our time - although certainly not venerated in any religious sense - namely Matthew Shepard, who was left in 1998 tethered to a post to die in Laramie, Wyoming, victim of a brutal anti-gay murder. Or, was it anti-gay?

His "arrows" to wound have recently been shot in the form of a book ten years in the researching and writing by Stephen Jimenez, "The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder Of Matthew Shepard" (Steer Forth Press)."

Jimenez's book, that has occasioned much controversy, upset, ill will, is based on in-depth interviews completed in 20 states with 100-plus contact sources in an attempt to understand the venerable and vulnerable Shepard's murder. His family is shocked and denying. LGBT activists are upset. Right-wing pundits, smug and accusatory. The arrows are sharp. Deep. Wounding.

Jimenez writes that 21-year-old Shepard was a frequent drug user, involved in the distribution of crystal meth. That drugs and drug-related debt were the real motives behind Shepard's killing. That he was friends with his hustler murderers. Other darts inflicting pain are that Matt was sexually abused as a child, raped as an adolescent.

Matt, Jimenez claims, was as a teenager arrested for molestation of two boys. (His criminal record was sealed to the public almost immediately after his death). Some Laramie citizens quoted say media rushed into hasty judgment without considering facts based upon a full crime investigation.

Unquestioned! Matt's death became a rallying cause against gay bashing and anti-gay crimes.

But shockingly, Matt wasn't the innocent victim portrayed by the media, says Jimenez. He was a very troubled young man involved in an underground Wyoming sex and drug-trafficking life style. As a gay man, he was frequently a victim of the dynamics of a drug-using milieu that took tenacious control. Matt became, like his murderous associates, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, a predator.

The bottom line of course is that Matt Shepard was murdered. He was left to die a horrendous, unattended death, tethered helplessly to a fence. There's no doubt it was a hate crime. However unnerving, "The Book of Matt" forces readers to weigh whether Matt's cruel, night-long agony is an anti-gay hate crime or a drug-related act of vengeance. Perhaps both.

Two martyrs of sorts. One past. St. Sebastian. One present. Matt Shepard. Both asking with their respective deaths centuries apart how God and society view them in their troubled journeys to manhood and self respect. Judge not that ye be not judged.

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