Matthew Shepard’s murder kept me in the closet a long time.

Fence me in

Fence me in by Bradley Gordon on Flickr

My family watched a lot of The 700 Club. I read about Matthew Shepard’s murder in its newsletter on the long walk home from school one day. I don’t remember the exact words. I do remember the day. It was cold, overcast, and miserably damp. My feet squelched in the mud.

The newsletter must have been graphic because even now I feel sick and am assaulted with horrific imaginings so vivid they seem to be memories. I stood in the road a long time, watching the primed tobacco stalks slouching with rot in the waterlogged fields.

I didn’t know exactly what a homosexual was, but I understood from the newsletter that this is what would happen if you were one. I understood that it was evil and evil has consequences. My terrified empathy was soothed by the distance between myself and Wyoming, between myself and homosexuality.

But. There was a girl on the softball team at school who waited for me outside homeroom and asked me to the movies with her. I felt something exciting and frightening and wonderful around her.

Not much later, I learned what homosexual meant. But I never connected that word to myself, no matter how I felt about that softball player in middle school or other girls I knew later. I remembered Matthew Shepard and knew that I wasn’t evil – I wasn’t a bad person who could be tortured to death for some secret dirty thing.

Until, one day, I realized that that was exactly what people who watch the 700 Club thought of people who had feelings like mine.