What happens when your best friend is brutally murdered and you find yourself in the limelight?
After Matthew Shepard was beaten to death in 1998 by two homophobic men, Patterson, an articulate young woman who could put a personal face on his tragic story, became a media darling. Her memoir opens with a description of her childhood in Wyoming. She was a tomboy who came out as a lesbian in high school; her gay brother eventually died of AIDS. She met Shepard during her freshman year at college, and they became boon companions. After his death, Patterson blossomed into a forceful and sought-after gay-rights activist; she’s best remembered for standing up to hatemonger Fred Phelps, who picketed Shepard’s memorial service with placards saying, “God Hates Fags.” In this seamless autobiography (kudos to co-writer Hinds for helping to craft a remarkably smooth text), Patterson refuses to sugarcoat or propagandize. The Matt Shepard she describes was prone to depression and laziness. Revealing the chinks in her friend’s armor doesn’t detract from the impact of the story—quite the opposite. Patterson’s assessment of the activist community is similarly nuanced and unsentimental. After Shepard’s death, she took a job with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). She lauds the organization for its tireless work, but also suggests that she sometimes felt exploited like a “trophy or prop . . . before any interview I would always be coached to open with something about Matthew.” Eventually, Patterson left GLAAD, returned to school and began co-hosting a radio show; she thinks of herself as “a sort of lesbian Howard Stern.” She concludes her memoir with the exhortation, “Do your part. Make the world a better place.” Indeed, the book itself is a piece of activism, and readers will not put it down unchanged.
Evenhanded and stirring.