Monday, January 11, 2010

The Meaning of Matthew and The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I recently read two gay-themed books and I liked both of them.  The first was The Meaning of Matthew, a biography of Matthew Shepard written by his mother, Judy Shepard.  Before reading the book I knew the basics of Matthew's story, that he was killed in Wyoming because he was gay.  The book brought out the details of his life before his murder and outlined how he was killed, what happened at his killers' trials, and what his family did afterward.  Matthew wasn't necessarily a role model -- he did things most of us have done at one time or another, like hook up with guys, drink, and not pay enough attention to school.  He wasn't very stable either -- he moved from one school to another, had money issues, and suffered from depression. Some people might judge him by saying if he had been more stable and wasn't drinking at a bar he wouldn't have been killed.  I bring out these details, though, more to illustrate that he was just a normal 20-something-year-old doing things that most gay men in their twenties do. What happened to Matthew could happen to any of us.  Matthew Shepard is by far not the only gay person to experience a hate crime, but his murder got a lot of attention from the media. 

One thing I found interesting is the role that three different LDS church members played in Matthew's story.  Surprisingly, they were all positive.  The first one was either the CEO or the media spokesperson (I can't remember....someone important though) for the hospital that Matthew was taken to after he was beaten, and where he died a few days later.  Matthew's mother knew about the LDS church's attitude toward homosexuality and was surprised and reassured by the hospital guy's kindness toward her and her family.  He saw past Matthew's sexuality and instead simply saw a boy that had been horribly beaten and a family that was grieving.  He provided alot of help to the family in dealing with the media.  The second was the grandmother of one of the men that killed Matthew.  She was LDS and was known in the town for being a good person.  She raised her grandson, who obviously and unfortunately did not follow in his grandmother's footsteps.  She was devestated by what her grandson had done, and Matthew's mother saw that her family was not the only one that had been torn apart.  They were able to comfort each other.  The third was US Senator Gordon Smith, a Republican from Oregon.  Matthew's mother worked with him to get an expanded hate crimes bill introduced in Congress. He was one of the few Republicans supported by gay rights groups (although he later supported the Federal Marriage Amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman).

The second book I read was The Perks of Being a Wallflower, about Charlie, a sophomore in high school who is very smart but suffers from mental illness (or autism?) and has poor social skills.  At first I couldn't really get into the story or identify with the main character, but as the book went on I got fairly attached to him, as did the other characters in the story.  Charlie isn't gay, but his best friend is and it plays a significant part in the story.  Charlie tends to be pretty passive and lets things happen to him.  He learns that he needs to speak up for himself and let people know what he wants, rather than going along with things to make other people happy.  I think I tend to do this as well -- I don't like to rock the boat or be the center of attention, and I like to nurture and care-take other people.  Which means sometimes my own needs don't get met.  Charlie also tends to think waaaaayyyy too much.  He overanalyzes everything and isn't sure how to react appropriately in certain situations.  Kind of like me! He learns that he needs to "participate" in life more rather than simply observing it and analyzing it.  Just like Charlie sought out a group of friends, developed relationships with his family members, and participated in social activities, I need to do the same thing.  Hopefully my interpersonal skills are a bit better than Charlie's are, but I was able to identify with his experiences.

Two very different books, but both very good and I would recommend them both.


Ben said...

I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower last semester. I, too, really liked it and identified with Charlie in a lot of ways. I'm definitely not a genius, though!

I liked the message of the book--that people shouldn't compare their struggles and burdens with others because everyone is doing the best at what life's thrown at them. I also really liked the idea that we need to stop being mere wallflowers, and participate in life.

PS The book that I referred to in my blog is called "The Shadow of the Wind". It's a really good book and I recommend it. :) (Not gay-themed, although it's gay-friendly.)

Frank Lee Scarlet said...

Someone who over-analyzes life instead of living it? Glad I've never done that...haha! Really, though, both do sound like interesting reads.

A Gay Mormon Boy said...

Thanks for the recommendations. I think that 'The Perks...' is right up my alley.

As for 'The Meaning of Matthew', I really hadn't thought about LDS connections, but it adds a certain dimension to the story that puts it into perspective. It is a complex world in which we live and the details are what make it the beautiful and terrible beast it is.

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