As you may remember, I recently finished reading The Meaning of Matthew by Judy Shepard, and it deserves to be mentioned. Before I start the post, however, let me go ahead and address a common misconception I run into: there is no relation between Matthew Shepard and myself.
There are few books that can truly take me for an emotional roller coaster, such as Life of Pi or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where there are triumphs and tribulations on every page. You feel a sense of desperation, anguish, and elation every other scene and are eagerly awaiting the next conflict to sweep you off your feet. This… is not one of those books.
Don’t get me wrong, just as you can dive into those stories and not resurface until you’re finished, The Meaning of Matthew is not dissimilar, just don’t expect a roller coaster of emotion so much as a submarine of emotion. You start out on the surface, and just as a submarine plunges into the deep, so does your mood when you begin reading. To be honest, I thought the book would discuss more of the aftermath of Matthew Shepard’s death rather than the lead up to it, but I was (pleasantly?) surprised. Judy Shepard, in her memoir, refuses to leave out any details, and for this I respect her.
For anyone who is not familiar with the story, the book covers the history of Matthew Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming who was beaten and left tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming, all because he was gay. His murder stands as the epitome of gay-hate crimes as well as one of the many results of bigotry that runs rampant in our nation. His death was sensationalized by the media and the aftermath of his death was even turned into a Broadway play, The Laramie Project. I half expected The Meaning of Matthew to offer only a little information on Matthew’s death considering I was in a production of The Laramie Project at FSU and felt well-acquainted with the situation, but the book delivered so much more than I anticipated.
Even though the book is considered to be Judy Shepard’s memoir, it’s also Matthew’s memoir as well. We start at his childhood and work our way to his death, learning about who the real Matthew Shepard was along the way. Of course, there’s a lot more to his story than what you’ve probably heard in the news or elsewhere, so if you’re interested in learning more about the Shepards as a family, I highly recommend this book. It fills in a lot of the gaps concerning his murder, the people involved, and how everything went down before and after. I’m trying not to give too much away without destroying major plot points – so just go and read it.
In fact, I feel like every gay person should read this book, and then give it to his or her mother to read. It really puts into perspective how small the issue of sexuality should be when it comes to parenting, and how fragile the lives are of every one around us. I plan on making my own mother read it, but I’m hesitant because I know she’ll become a basket case. For real, this story is so sad.
I just want to give a small thanks to Robert at the Matthew Shepard Foundation for giving me a copy of The Meaning of Matthew signed by Judy Shepard herself. Reading this book has changed my life, so thank you Robert.