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25: Matthew Shepard, 25 years later.

So, this is the second 25 years later post I’ve written. The first was a 500 word vomit produced in about 20 minutes. Disjointed. Disorganized.

Matthew Shepard memories (via UWyo's AHC)

The fact is, I am in Laramie, Wyoming, this week – I arrived Sunday evening and have been attending Matthew Shepard related events ever since.

Sunday night was “Laramie Pridefest: Remembering Matthew Shepard – 25th Memorial Event” – held at the physical site where Matthew Shepard was picked up by his killers. Monday night was a concert, including a piece commissioned by the Shepard Symposium in Matthew’s honor.

Tuesday was a day of rest.

An Afternoon Conversation with the Tectonic Theater Project & 25th Memorial Cast of The Laramie Project

Yesterday – Wednesday – was an amazing day: at lunchtime, the Tectonic Theater Project participated in a conversation. Although the audience was (I felt) a bit sparse, the interviewers/writers/actors provided a keen sense of what their experiences were like, descending upon Laramie in the aftermath of Matthew’s murder in order to interview local residents, generating the material that would, over time, be refined into the play that we now know as “The Laramie Project.” The audience included people who were living in Laramie at the time, one of whom participated in an argument with Tectonic Theater members at a bar in downtown Laramie – at which point, one of the “characters” in the play apparently yelled at Moisés Kaufman for asking citizens why Matthew Shepard was murdered instead of the people in jail.

The character in question, Jon Peacock, is the individual I knew best – I’d worked with him as a graduate assistant the previous academic year and I had taken several classes with him during my time at UW.

Laramie Project staged reading -- complete cast

In the evening, there was a staged reading of The Laramie Project – amazingly, sold out. The script was jointly read by a cast of 24 actors. The actors ranged from Tectonic Theater members to undergraduates who had not been alive at the time. It was amazing. The audience cried – and it was clear that several cast members were struggling, on stage, to not cry, especially during the speech by Dennis Shepard at the end of the play.

This was not my first time seeing the play: I know that I’ve seen it live at least once, in Indianapolis, and the HBO movie version, which I own on DVD.

It is going to sound odd, but I am grateful that the Tectonic Theater Project came to Laramie, conducted these interviews, and distilled this play. I know that Matthew Shepard had a huge impact on me and on my life – but there is only so much that I can do. I cannot do much: I never knew Matt and I never met Matt. However, knowing that this play continues to be performed, continues to be discussed, and continues to be a force for good means that Matthew Shepard is not forgotten and cannot be forgotten.

Today there are a series of Social Justice events at the University of Wyoming – which I will dip my toes in, including the lunchtime special, “Laramie Then & Laramie Now: Remembering Matthew Shepard” and an evening presentation of “Hurricane Diane” at the Biodiversity Center.

Rest in peace, Matthew. Matt.

R.I.P. Matthew “Matt” Wayne Shepard – *December 1, 1976; †October 12, 1998


For historical reference, see 2004200520062007200820092010201120122013,  20142015201620172018201920202021, 2022, or any of the many times he’s been mentioned on my blog via a search for Matthew Shepard.

Better than I am J: The Passing Playbook

A decade ago I reflected on reading “I am J” – the first book I had read focusing on transgender individuals. At the time, it was one of the few books I had read that took on being transgender directly – but it left me feeling “meh.”

Since then I’ve read any number of books with transgender characters – I think mostly in supporting roles, but often well developed and portrayed. See Heartstopper, among others.

A couple months ago I was in London (seeing George Takei) – where I stopped by Gays the Word. There I picked up a stack of books. Three months later and I am starting to make my way through the stack.

The Passing Playbook (Isaac Fitzsimons) is a charming YA novel that takes on being transgender from the first person and weaves a believable (at least to me) narrative about being an FTM boy in modern day Ohio. Given that the book is about playing soccer, I assumed that the “passing” was about passing the ball, but in retrospect, I was laughably naïve: of course it is about “passing” as your target gender, not being somewhere in the middle. (OK – there is a double meaning, so I wasn’t completely off.)

It’s remarkable to me that society has shifted this far over the course of a decade (even if there is substantial backsliding right now) – this is a very well written, engaging, engrossing novel. I found myself putting aside other activities to be able to finish the book in short order.

To the Stars: I saw George Takei in London

George Takei

Last fall when Twitter started being destroyed, I set up an account on Mastodon – and after an initial burst of activity on Mastodon, I have reverted back to my Twitter-scale of use. (In other words, I don’t use it at all.)

That said, during my “active” time on Mastodon, I followed George Takei. I have a long history of being a George Takei fan – from being addicted to Star Trek (the original, thank you very much) as a kid.

His autobiography, To the Stars, was a bit of a revelation in some respects – for here was a man who I knew as Lt. Sulu talking about his experiences growing up in a Japanese Internment Camp during World War II. His book was deeply engaging and I offered it to my Mother since she too had a passing interest in this aspect of American history. Knowing she was not a Star Trek fan, I noted, “you can stop when you get to Star Trek.”

(She too was fully engaged – read the whole book and when she gave it back to me, she noted, “nobody seems to like William Shatner.”)

All of this was before he came out – at least publicly. I’m not actually sure when he came out as gay (I mean, I could look it up, but that’s too much work for my rambling mood) – but at some point he became famous for being the gay actor who played Sulu in Star Trek. There are probably a lot of other aspects to his fame, but from my perspective, these are the key points.

Back to the point: during my brief super active Mastodon period, George Takei announced that he would be starring in a musical in London about Japanese internment camps in the USA during World War II – a musical entitled “Allegiance.”

This is why I found myself in London over Easter weekend – I went to the last performance of Allegiance on Saturday, April 8, 2023, with two friends.

For my first time seeing George Takei in person, I was very happy. The musical was set at Heart Mountain (in Wyoming – I’ve been there, one of two Japanese Internment Camps that I’ve visited while on vacation Stateside – the other being Amache in Colorado) and covered all of the key points about this period of American history. I’m sure some of the nuances were glossed over in the name of music, but the essential parts of the story were correct, as I understand this history.

There’s no point for me (a gay, white, CIS-male) to try and arrive at some larger moral message – this was a terrible bit of American history and it is super important that we never forget.

It was excellent seeing George Takei in person – a pleasure. I hope to witness his acting again.

The Main Maine Problem

Back in November I took a week long vacation to Maine and Boston with a friend.

We didn’t need a car for the Boston part of the trip, but the Maine portion need one. After landing in Boston, we got our rental car and headed north – it was a real shitty red Honda Civic, undesirable on two levels: first, because it was red; second because the road noise was VERY LOUD.

Fortunately the “Low Tire Pressures” light came on shortly after we entered Maine – meaning that we could justify swapping cars when visiting a Maine branch of our car rental company.

Before renting the car, I knew that we would be driving on the New Hampshire and Maine Toll Roads, but not a lot. From Boston to our hotel we could pay $2 to New Hampshire in cash, then $4 to Maine in cash. For our couple of days driving around Maine, I figured we would spend no more than $8 more – a trip up the coast, a trip to Augusta, and that’s it.

Clearly it made much more sense to pay these tolls in cash than to pay $14.99/day for an EZPass enabled car that would have allowed us to go through the EZPass lanes and never worry about the tolls.

Arrival day went fine: our plane was early, immigration a breeze (even for non-citizens), the car rental center was empty, and we were rapidly on the road north. We paid our tolls without any issue and then checked into our hotel.

After a quick shower and cleaning up, we stopped by the Portland Airport’s car rental company and swapped the car in less than five minutes – our new car was a white Kia of some kind – forgettable in that there was nothing wrong with it and it was a color that would not attract the attention of police.

The next morning we went to drive on the toll road – $1 – but the collector wasn’t there, so there was a sign telling us to go to a website and pay, or to call in. We paid a subsequent $1 toll without any issues and headed off to the Maine Maritime Museum – which I can heartily recommend. Given that I, normally, do not give a rat’s ass about ships and other nautical type things, I can honestly say that this is a most excellent museum worth visiting. I think we were there for over two hours.

Alas, I was in a race, in a way, to pay the toll before it got sent back to the car rental company – because I was sure it would trigger an expensive bill, even if I only owed $1. (For reference, because I missed paying a 2€ toll to enter Jūrmala, Latvia, I ended up paying 86,30€: 50€ for the infraction, 30€ administrative fee from the car rental company, and 6,30 VAT.)

Sunday night I tried to pay online – only to learn that because the car was already registered with EZPass, I couldn’t pay online.

Monday afternoon I reached a human being after being on hold for a long time – only to learn that the violation wasn’t in the system yet and that it could take 48 hours to process the photographs of miscreants like me.

Tuesday morning, I reached another human who told me it wasn’t in the system, but that she could take $1 from me anyway to help prevent the fine.

Tuesday afternoon, I got an email back saying that the charge had already been picked up by the car rental company’s account.

I did not, alas, get a $1 refund.

I did get hit with a rather modest (less than $10) charge for the toll road usage – much less than if I had paid for the device up front, which surprised me. Had it actually been a significant charge I would have protested up the wazoo – but at some point my time is worth money.

Which gets to another truth: I enjoyed my vacation in Maine – even if we were a couple weeks too late for the fall colors.

However, I see no point in returning to Maine: the other Portland – in Oregon – is in a state without any toll roads in the parts I like to visit. I like Lobster Rolls, but I can get them in Boston – where I do not need to rent a car.

Just some food for thought.

Paper Ordering Forms

In 2022, ordering something is super easy with constant updates.

I get an email confirming the order, I get an email telling me my order has been shipped. Then I get an email from the delivery company telling me that they will be delivering my package. A day or two later, I get notification from both the company I ordered from AND the delivery company that my package is on a truck. Often I will get notified of a delivery window, then, after I get the package I get an email informing me that the package has been delivered.

Lots of emails.

Remember back in the 1980s and 90s, when you would get a catalogue in the mail, then carefully pull out the order form from the center of it, write everything down carefully, then write a check. You’d drop the pre-paid envelope in the mails. Subsequently, a month later, the package would appear on the doorstep and you’d be thrilled. The only hint that you might have that your order was successful is if your check cleared and a statement from the bank came in the intervening time – but the timing rarely worked out that way.

24: Matthew Shepard

Wow.

Today marks 24 years since Matthew Shepard died.

It remains difficult to write my thoughts about him every year, some of this is because I feel like I am being a bit repetitious, some of it is because I never quite know how to address my feelings about him every year.

It’s not easy to pause and consider what Matthew Shepard means to me.

His murder remains a central memory in my life – one of those days/experiences that I can relive when I close my eyes.

One of three vivid moments in my life: Space Shuttle Challenger. Matthew Shepard’s Murder. September 11th.

This is a moment to dwell – even as I abhor dwelling in most other areas of my life. A moment where I am vaguely spiritual in my thinking – even as I am an active atheist.

His murder was nonsensical – but in being nonsensical, his life has incredible meaning. His memory is a force for good on this planet.

Rest in peace, Matthew. Matt.

R.I.P. Matthew “Matt” Wayne Shepard – *December 1, 1976; †October 12, 1998


For historical reference, see 2004200520062007200820092010201120122013,  2014201520162017201820192020, 2021 or any of the many times he’s been mentioned on my blog via a search for Matthew Shepard.

Völklingen Ironworks – A Cynical Take

Last October I popped over to Saarbrücken for a weekend, gong there to see the Völklinger Hütte — A UNESCO World Heritage Site that, from a distance, seemed pretty cool.  It turns out I found it rather boring — and I wrote a note to a friend about what I thought:

Today I am in Saarbrücken, Germany — which is right on the border with France.

About 11km away from me is the Völkingen Ironworks — an enormous facility that used to produce steel until it was closed in 1986.

It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site — and for 17€, one can visit the factory. It is clearly a place that used to be incredibly important, employing thousands of people, producing massive quantities of steel.

Now for the cynical Adam version of history: When the factory was closed in 1986, the local economy was fucked — clearly, nothing could replace the employment that the old steel mill provided. The local community, though, had a problem: this huge, ugly, factory on the edge of town. What could they do with the site? Option (1) find somebody to restart the steel mill (never going to happen). Option (2) tear down the facility, remediate the heavy pollutants, and restore the area into something vaguely resembling what it looked like before the factory was built (WHOA EXPENSIVE).

Then somebody had a brilliant idea: this place was important! This place made steel! This place is history! “maybe we can turn it into a UNESCO World Heritage site” -. and they did. By being a UNESCO World Heritage site it means that they only have to pay to somewhat maintain the facilities to look like what they looked like when the place closed and they would never disturb the underlying pollution, which could become incredibly costly to remediate.

My take might be incredibly cynical, but I suspect there’s a nugget of truth to it….

Beyond that, I enjoyed Saarbrücken and I would happily return to explore its more interesting touristic sites.

Weekend in Vienna

In July, I decided that I needed to plan a weekend in Vienna in order to, uh… escape the heat of my apartment for an air conditioned hotel room in Vienna. Yup, I specifically sought out air conditioning in Vienna and I appreciated it. The dates were set: the last weekend in August would be a long one in Vienna.

Once I was there, my Friday objective was to take a hike through Lainzer Tiergarten, a massively large park in south-westish Vienna. It’s over 6,000 acres of nature, with trees, grassy areas, and wild animals.

Wild boar

Yup, even Vienna can be a boar.

It was a great 8.7 kilometer (5.4 mile) hike on a rather hot day – it peaked at 30°C (86F). I was rather odoriferous by the end – while parts of the hike were in the shade, enough of it was in the sunshine that got progressively hotter and hotter as time went by.

This ended up being my principle activity in Vienna – I had a grand time doing other small things, but my Friday ended up being just this hike. I ended up back in my hotel, taking a long soapy shower before finding an early dinner. Thereafter I ended up watching Netflix in my hotel room.

Saturday involved a walk by the Danube and dinner with friends, before returning home on Sunday.

I feel like I know Vienna well enough that I no longer feel compelled to do touristy things whilst there. I like this feeling.

Essen: Well worth a visit!

Statue for Mining in Essen I spent last weekend in Essen with a friend.

The raison d’être for the trip was the Zollverein, a coal mine that has been turned into a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I’m that kind of weird.

Last October I visited the Völklinger Hütte near Saarbrücken, a steel mill turned UNESCO World Heritage Site. I never blogged about it (it happened during one of my non-blogging moods) – but it was hugely disappointing. Perhaps I will post my thoughts about it soon. Saarbrücken rocked, I would happily go back, I just wouldn’t bother to go near the Völklinger Hütte again.

Saturday morning we started by visiting the Museum Folkwang, which is a free and excellent art museum located in the heart of Essen. There were some excellent bits and bobs in the museum, and we managed to arrive on the opening day of “Expressionisten am Folkwang” – which showcased some of the museum’s best bits from the collections (and, to be fair, some completely and totally forgettable pieces of crap – in my humble opinion).

Slides at Museum Folkwang

After that we made our way to the Zollverein, where we wandered around much of the grounds.

We’d originally planned to visit the Red Dot Design Museum, but when the cashier started providing a lecture about the rules of the museum that took more than five minutes (in German), saying things like, “this is not a playground” and then itemizing several things you couldn’t touch, etc…, I had enough: if a design museum has to provide lengthy, detailed instructions on how to visit the museum, then its design has completely and utterly failed. One would hope that a design museum would be, largely, intuitively designed. After all, good design is 99% invisible.

Zollverein

The wander around the grounds turned out to be a good introduction to the facility: it allowed us to wander past most of the coking facility – a ginormous building/structure behind the mining facilities. Most of the questions we had about this facility were subsequently answered when we took the guided tour (in English) later in the afternoon.

Zollverein - Coking Plant

For a coal mine, by the way, its buildings were very pretty – steel framed construction with a curtain of bricks.

The guided tour lasted about an hour and was given by a retired school teacher whose father had worked in the mines.

This was not my first coal mine: I’ve actually visited two area mines in back in Wyoming, where the earth is stripped off the top of the coal, then a very thick seam of coal is blasted to smithereens and then transported off for processing and onward shipment.

Unlike my first coal mines, this mine was down a shaft and the seam of coal was, as I recall, only 1.5 meters thick, which is tiny compared to the ones in Wyoming.

The tour was comprehensive: our guide talked about the community surrounding the coal mine, then we climbed to the top, saw where coal was initially processed, sorted, and (if of the right quality) sent on a conveyor belt to the coking facility.

Patron Saint of Mining

When it was all said and done, on Saturday I walked 24,500 steps – I slept like a baby.

But before I close, I must note that the Essen in Essen was excellent: we ate at a French bistro on Friday evening and had a lovely Vietnamese meal on Saturday.

I would go back to Essen.

Making it Better in Wyoming, continues

About 11 years ago, I promised to donate money to the University of Wyoming Rainbow Resource Center every year.

I’ve kept my promise – some how donating enough to become worthy of individual attention from the UW Foundation. I don’t personally think that I’ve donated enough to qualify for this kind of attention, but be that as it may, it’s nice to be noticed every once in awhile.

Generally speaking, I give money in August for use during the subsequent school year. This year I’ve donated a substantial sum to the “Rainbow Resource Center Scholarship” – a scholarship fund that I am responsible for having had established. I also donated to the Rainbow Resource Center’s discretionary fund and, because I still listen to their output, Wyoming Public Media.

I view the donations as going into a black box: Wyoming is not an easy place to be a member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, whether one is a fully out and proud or whether one is struggling with identity. Further, I have to fully recognize that I have the luxury of sitting in Berlin, Germany, living my life the way I want to live it, without many (if any) hindrances. The people running the UWyo Rainbow Resource Center know far better than I do what the UWyo students and community need and my input would be completely unhelpful at best.

Before donating, I asked how much money was in the two funds – I have to admit that the funding in the Rainbow Resource Center Scholarship fund was disappointingly low. This clearly means that its being used. I’m glad the funds are there to help people, I am sad that it is being used to the extent that it is being used. (In case anybody from UW reads this: I do not need to know for whom or why the funds are being used – it’s a black box from my perspective; keep using the money as needed..)