Crisp & Matthew Shepard:
where? Enjoying eternal Wizard of Oz screenings among the Heavenly
Depends upon your belief
system, I guess, but there's no doubt in my mind that Quentin and
Matt will always stand together in our growing pantheon of gay heroes.
my appearance progressed from the effeminate to the bizarre, the
reaction of strangers passed from startled contempt to outraged
hatred. They began to take action. If I was compelled to stand still
in the street in order to wait for a bus or on the platform of an
Underground railway station, people would turn without a word and
slap my face.
you think of a pair at once more similar and dissimilar? The
New World Innocent and the Old World Queen. I see them reaching
across a vast space to hold handstwo allegorical figures,
Youth and Old Agea boy who had barely begun his life and a
graybeard who long outlived his critics and tormentors. What unites
them is their courage. Matthew's needs no explanation; his heroism
became the martyr's, no less true because it was thrust upon him.
By all reports his short life was one of affirmation; there's no
doubt that its end influenced many.
BENT reprinted Dennis Shepard's eloquent statement to his son's
jury, we got this response from a reader named Tony in Pennsylvania:
"Tears come to my eyes as I read his remarks to the jury. I ask
myself why such a terrible thing should happen to such a worthwhile
person that only wanted to live his life happily. I have been closeted
for 42 years, my whole life. The courage that Matthew had was an
example to us all. I wish I could say I had it, but I don't. However
from this day on I will no longer hide the fact that I am gay. I
am not going to broadcast it, but I won't deny it anymore."
soon as I was in the street once more, the whole gang started to
hit me from all sides. Almost immediately I fell on my hands and
knees in the gutter. For a second, I wondered whether I could stay
there forever, but, fearing that I might be kicked, I staggered
to my feet and was at once knocked across the pavement by a single,
more carefully aimed blow. As I leaned against the front of Finsbury
Town Hall covering my own equally ornate fašade with my hands to
prevent rivers of mascara from running down my cheeks, I said, "I
seem to have annoyed you gentlemen in some way.
Crisp's affect was far too cool for his death to elicit many tears.
His gift for simultaneously engaging his public and distancing himself
from them was a great part of his appeal. His studied combination
of reserve and "in-your-face" makes it difficult to imagine at this
long remove the kind of courage it took in 1930s London for a man
who affected silk scarves and lots of makeup to refuse the role
of second-class citizen that seemed the only role available to him.
Crisp said "no" to beatings, to the closet, and to shame. By doing
so he said "yes" to a life that inspired others to free themselves
from their own shame.
time they hit me with a weapon of some kind or
hammered my face against the wall or else I fell very heavily
as I lost consciousness. Certainly the damage was worse
do these two men merit special mention in a forum devoted to the
experience of disabled gay men? A friend who read the first draft
of this piece accused me of belaboring the obvious when I tried
to underline the connections. At the risk of seeming heavy-handed,
let me at least remind readers that Matthew Shepard stood 5'2' tall
and weighed about 100 pounds. His birth had been premature and in
their statement to the press his parents spoke of how he had battled
health problems all his life.
present-day American culture, any man so small and so delicate will
have his masculinityhis very human autonomyquestioned
as a matter of course. Quentin Crisp can explain the rest, in words
that every "obviously" disabled gay man can understand twice-over:
anyone whose appearance is highly eccentric it is usually the first
meetings that are a special ordeal. In the days when I had looked
for regular employment I had only the initial interview for each
job to negotiate. Now that I was free-lancing, I had to face several
such challenges every week. Since I depended for my livelihood on
the goodwill of whomever I had come to see, these situations needed
to be handled with much greater care than confrontations with strangers
in the street.
small, the effeminate, the screaming queen, the wheelchair geekremain
outsiders. Because we are the men who reject or who cannot assume
traditional masculine roles we are also the men who stand at the
edges of gay culture.
our worth is continually called into question, we, in turn, question
all assumptions. As official Enemies of the State ("commie pinko
fags") or certified Objects of Pity ("He's so courageous") we fight
to be ourselves. In the process we learn to call the world to account.
It's not easy to keep at it, but keep at it we must. For the dissolution
of our own shame. For Mathew and Quentin, who set the pace.
do not walk about the streets lost in thought ... so no one interrupts
my train of thought by speaking to me. I welcome them. When we say
of anyone that he is boring, it is ourselves we are criticizing.
We have not made ourselves into that wide, shallow vessel into which
a stranger feels he can pour
anything. I have said no one is boring who will tell the truth about
©Bob Guter 1999
is Editor of BENT.