They Got Him With the Tire Iron

“Brokeback Mountain” and the Dangers of Being Gay

On October 7, 1998 Aaron Kreifels went out on his daily bike ride through the plains of Laramie, Wyoming. While taking in the scenic view during his ride, something out in the distance caught his eye. As he approached the site of his curiosity, Aaron spotted what he initially thought was a scarecrow next to a fence. Then he noticed a glisten of blood. As he advanced closer and closer, the sun’s bright sparkle revealed a horrifying truth. Now just five feet away from the “scarecrow”, Aaron barely recognized the face of a boy. Matthew Shepard had been left to die.

The “scarecrow”, Matthew Shepard

Matthew Shepard was born in Casper, Wyoming on December 1, 1976. He was characterized by those surrounding him as a “tender hearted”, kind, and gentle individual. His father describes him as a boy who was, “Optimistic and had a passion for equality and standing up for everyone.” Matthew had goals in life, he was intelligent, and ready for the challenges that lie ahead. Matthew attended the University of Wyoming with aspirations of majoring in political science and minoring in languages. Although it seemed like he was a “golden child”, Matthew struggled with his own demons, struggling with severe depression caused by a traumatic experience in which he was beaten and raped while on his high school trip to Morocco. Unfortunately, two more demons would come soon enough to claim his life.

Matthew Shepard was found in a coma on October 7, 1998. What’s tough to think about is the fact that he was put into that coma eighteen hours before the time of discovery. On October 6, Matthew was beaten to death with a pistol, tied to a fence, tortured, and left to die by fellow students Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. What could make not one, but two people commit such atrocities? How could students of a university act so violently towards another student of that same university? Matthew Shepard was gay, but more importantly, the two perpetrators knew he was gay before they brutally murdered him. After they had met Matthew the very night of his murder and had figured out that he was gay, McKinney and Henderson both pretended to be gay themselves in an attempt to lure Matthew into their truck. During their trials McKinney and Henderson tried to explain that they just wanted to rob Matthew and that they didn’t commit the crime out of hate for homosexuals; however, the fact that they knew he was gay before they murdered him after saying they just wanted to rob him invalidates any argument that they had. This was a hate crime. Oddly enough, this wasn’t the first time a boy from Wyoming was killed for being gay. In the 1960’s, the same type of brutality fell upon another victim; however, unlike Matthew, his death was only imaginary.

The location in which Kreifels discovered a dying Matthew Shepard tied to a fence

In the fictional short story “Brokeback Mountain” written by Annie Proulx, the reader is taken into the world of two men from 1960’s Wyoming. These cowboys seem like your average cowboys; tough, hard working, happily married, and gay? Annie Proulx takes the stigma that cowboys had to be these hard nosed guys, and flips it on itself, by keeping it so that they still are tough men, but just so happen to be gay. Today’s much more non-judgmental society combined with a strong push for LGBTQ pride and rights, may make this seem like a menial matter to go into detail about, but as proven by the tragedy involving Matthew Shepard, being a homosexual man in Wyoming can be life threatening. This idea of danger correlating with being gay was far too familiar for main characters Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist.

At the age of nine years old, Ennis was introduced to the harsh realities of what it meant to be gay in 1960’s Wyoming. Ennis’s father took him and his brother to see Earl the Rancher, a man who was no longer breathing, just to have it ingrained in their minds that being gay here was unacceptable. In paragraph seventy-one, Ennis recalls the horror he witnessed at such an early age while talking to Jack,

“They’d took a tire iron to him… What the tire iron done looked like pieces a burned tomatoes all over him, nose tore down from skiddin on gravel.”

Ever since he witnessed this, Ennis knew that he couldn’t afford to be gay. He explains this fear to Jack as well,

“We can’t. I’m stuck with what I got, caught in my own loop. Can’t get out of it. Jack, I don’t want a be like them guys you see around sometimes. And I don’t want a be dead.”

This just shows how dangerous it truly was to be gay at that time and in that specific place. Ennis would rather pretend to be something he’s not and even convince himself that he’s something he’s not instead of just being open about who he really is because of the risk that comes with being a gay man in 1960’s Wyoming.

Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist from the 2005 film “Brokeback Mountain”

Then there’s Jack Twist. Jack Twist, the optimist, the risk taker…the deceased. Jack was Ennis’s lover; however, unlike Ennis, Jack was able to be more open with who he was and wanted to be. This however, as Ennis suspected, came with a price. Jack being more open about his sexuality, just like Matthew Shepard, is what caused his death.

Ennis first hears about Jack’s death by receiving a return letter saying that Jack is deceased. Confused and flustered, Ennis calls Jack’s residence to learn about the incident and speaks with Lureen, Jack’s wife. During this phone call, Lureen explains to Ennis that Jack’s death was just a “freak accident”,

“Jack was pumping up a flat on the truck out on a back road when the tire blew up. The bead was damaged somehow and the force of the explosion slammed the rim into his face, broke his nose and jaw and knocked him unconscious on his back. By the time someone came along he had drowned in his own blood”.

This information makes Ennis uneasy, such an accident as Lureen had described didn’t seem all that likely. The memories of Earl come back to haunt Ennis and he questions this so called “accident”. Anxious and determined to reveal the truth in Jack’s death, Ennis takes a trip to Jack’s house to talk with Jack’s parents. This meeting with Jack’s parents is what tells Ennis the whole horrific story without them coming out and actually saying it. While conversing with Ennis, Jack’s father angrily recalls the “nonsense” that Jack had been spewing to him about moving in with another man,

“He had some half-baked idea the two a you was goin a move up here, build a log cabin, and help me run this ranch and bring it up. Then this spring he’s got another one’s goin a come up here with him and build a place and help run the ranch, some ranch neighbor a his from down in Texas”.

This was when all of Ennis’s nightmares about the tire iron finally came into fruition,

“They got him with the tire iron”.

Jack had been with another man besides Ennis, and the fact that Jack’s father knew this meant that Jack’s secret was finally out, and as with the case of Matthew Shepard, the consequences for opening up were fatal.

Jack Twist from the 2005 film after being murdered with the tire iron

After being rightfully disappointed with the conversation he’d had with Jack’s father, Ennis decides to go up to Jack’s room in an attempt to bring back the wonderful memories he had with Jack through some of his belongings. While examining Jack’s closet, Ennis notices a hidden part in which a shirt was hanging on a nail. Ennis picks up the shirt and is taken back at first by the heavy weight of the single shirt, that is until he realizes that there is another shirt inside the shirt. As he removes the shirts from each other, Ennis now sees that the shirt inside of Jack’s shirt was his own shirt from their time on Brokeback Mountain. Remembering the moments on Brokeback Mountain, Ennis presses his face against the shirts. This action of Ennis embracing the two shirts is extremely significant. Him embracing the two shirts shows for the first time in the story, just exactly how Ennis feels about his relationship with Jack. The embrace symbolizes that Ennis is finally embracing that he is gay and that what he had with Jack wasn’t just a one time fling. Ennis is finally coming to grips with the fact that he loves Jack and there’s nothing anybody, including him, can do to stifle that love.

Being gay isn’t a choice, it’s just who an individual is. If one cannot be his or herself without the fear of being judged and punished by certain members of a community, then that’s not a true community, just a group of individuals who aren’t unified. Unfortunately these communities do exist and unfortunately these dangers of being gay portrayed in a fictional story are far too real for many individuals even today.

Ennis Del Mar from the film embracing the shirts and his love for Jack Twist

While Matthew Shepard fits the part of Jack Twist almost too well- from being a native of Wyoming, to being a gay male, to being murdered for being gay, so too do many others who we’ve had to say a far too early goodbye to. The victims of the Orlando Night Club Massacre were targeted solely because of their sexuality just like Matthew and Jack were; however, the scenario was completely different. Omar Mateen didn’t know these individuals personally like McKinney and Henderson knew Matthew or like Jack’s murderer knew Jack, also Mateen murdered fifty plus individuals unlike McKinney, Henderson, and whoever murdered Jack. All three of these scenarios are different from bullying as well; however, all these differences in situations always points back to the same despicable theme: There is some type of danger that comes with being gay.

So whether it’s a bully’s fists, a pistol used as a pistol whip, a semi-automatic rifle, or a tire iron, these weapons are harsh reminders of a reality that so many innocent individuals have had to endure because of one single trait they possess; when really, it’s the hundreds of other characteristics that truly make them who they are.