As I look back at the photos of Matthew, I’m always struck: wow, he was really cute. I don’t think I’ve seen a photo of him that wasn’t cute. This is one of the things that I remember emerging in the months after he was killed that was mentioned by some of the more radical and inclusive sectors of the LGBTQ rights movement: when Billy Jack Gaither (another Ekklesía Antínoou Sanctus) was killed in February of 1999, there was nowhere near the outpouring of support, sadness, or activist outrage, because he was older, not considered the “perfect little gay,” and wasn’t exactly out the way that Matthew was. Even in activism, there is a slant toward remembering people who were beautiful and who had qualities that are otherwise held in high esteem by our overculture, despite these being issues that are of primary importance to subcultures. It’s a problem, and one that I’m well aware of for a variety of reasons…
I’m also struck that it has been fifteen years, and in many respects, the death of Matthew Shepard has made the world more aware than ever of the plight of LGBTQ people (though more “G” than anything in this particular case…the Ls, Bs, and Ts still don’t get as much visibility or sympathy on a wider scale, unfortunately) than even perhaps Stonewall did. While the latter could just be viewed as “a bunch of homos causing trouble,” the death of Matthew was a clear case in which the very real harm of homophobic rhetoric and outright false ideas about homoeroticism amongst the majority populations can lead to horrific consequences. This is a lesson that many have still not learned properly fifteen years on, and the prominence of certain fucking ridiculous pseudo-religious bigots that are named with pride of place in the Spell Against Homophobia is another legacy of Matthew’s death that looms large in my mind every time I think of him, unfortunately.
But, it was a kind of watershed moment nonetheless…and as a result, it deserves some comparison with the death of Antinous on those grounds alone. Of course, the parallels are not 100% present, or even 35% present in many respects (the Nile is not a homophobic river, no matter what modern Egyptian laws happen to be!), nonetheless the inundations that have followed in both cases have had far-reaching impacts on the wider cultures concerned.
I’ve remembered Matthew Sanctus with poems by other people in this blog before; today, I’d like to remember him and honor him with a poem of my own. I hope you remember him, too, and I hope that he is pleased with my efforts.
At The Table of the Sancti
A beautiful young man sits at a solid oak table,
with chairs on each side of him, too-quickly filled.
Even in death, old habits do not fade easily,
and it takes a while to strike up conversation.
There are children too young on one side of him,
some of them carrying self-inflictd wounds.
There are adults of many ages on his other side,
bearing marks of their haters’ abuses gracefully.
A candelabra sits in front of him on the table,
with millions of branches and lit candles.
Before some of the others, not even one candle
burns to illuminate the darkness around them.
But each one has a plate and a cup before them,
and the one who fills the cup gives to every person
the same sweet drink from Dionysos’ finest vintage
and the same ambrosial honey Demeter gave Demophoön.
The young man with the million candles is seen
clearly by all who sit at the table, and in turn
his light illuminates the faces of all who sit, too,
no matter how many candles blaze before their visages.
The young man, never wanting any to be left in the dark
(as he was when his killers committed their crimes)
gives every person seated at the table light sufficient
so that none has more or less than any other.
And as Matthew–gift of the gods–does so,
the shepherd of the queer aoroi of all ages,
at his right shoulder standing above him
Antinous smiles and begins refilling the cups.
Ignis Corporis Infirmat; Ignis sed Animae Perstat!