'It's something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life' - Musician Scott Jones on stabbing that left him paralysed
A new film charts musician Scott Jones's recovery from a stabbing that left him paralysed and that he believes was homophobic. He tells our film critic about confronting his attacker and rediscovering the therapautic quality of music
The GAZE LGBT Film Festival is in full swing this weekend at Dublin's Light House Cinema, and on Monday night the annual event will conclude with a poignant closing movie. Laura Marie Wayne's Love, Scott tells the moving and ultimately inspiring story of Scott Jones, a Canadian musician who in 2013 was left paralysed after being stabbed in the back and neck by a stranger. Despite all evidence pointing to the probability that Jones had been attacked because he was gay, Scott's sexuality was never mentioned during the subsequent trial, and the incident was not categorised as a hate crime.
While this, as he sees it, distortion of reality still bothers Scott deeply, he has made a remarkable psychological recovery, reviving his music career and helping found Don't Be Afraid, an organisation aimed at tackling homophobia and transphobia through dialogue and education. And making the documentary, he tells me, played a huge part in bouncing back from a horrifying event. "I don't know if I could truthfully say I've moved on from this," Scott explains, "because I think it's something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life, it was just such a traumatic event. But in terms of processing it all, I've been very lucky to have Laura, the film-maker, by my side: we have such a close relationship, and she really helped me to work my way through the trauma.
"I've known Laura for 14 years, we became really close friends while we were at university, and had someone else suggesting making a documentary about what had happened to me, of course I would have been hesitant. But I trust Laura implicitly, and I trust her artistic vision because I've seen all the other work she's done so I just knew it was going to be told in a really sensitive, beautiful way. The camera was off-putting at first, but I got used to it."
Before his attack, Scott admits, he didn't fully appreciate the extent to which some people have a problem with gayness. "I loved to travel, and I travelled all over the world, but I never thought that an attack like this would happen in my home town in Nova Scotia in Canada, I definitely thought it was more likely to happen elsewhere in some of the other countries that I visited, that were more openly homophobic. Since the attack, my eyes have been opened to how much of a problem homophobia still is in Canada: it's made me realise that we still have a lot of work to do here."
His memories of the fateful night are, he says, quite clear. "It was October 12, 2013, which is quite interesting, because October 11 is International Coming Out Day, so it was just a bizarre coincidence."
Scott was on a night out with friends at a club in his home town of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, when he encountered his attacker, a 20-year-old local called Shane Edward Matheson. And Scott firmly believes the attack happened because he casually, in the way that people do, checked this person out.
"I know what I think," he says, "and I know what I believe. But I guess there's an element where I don't know what the precise moment was that set it all off. I remember running upstairs to find my friend Amy, and I called her name out, I'm sure in what would be considered an effeminate way to a lot of people, and then I saw Shane and I kind of checked him out and then I saw his face and I was just like okay, I recognise that look. So there was that moment, and then I was walking down the street with my arm around my friend Andy's shoulder, and that's another moment that, because it could be perceived as gay."
Matheson followed Scott out of the club and stabbed him several times in the back, severing his spinal cord. Scott collapsed on the pavement, and would later recall how the neon street lights lent the scene an eerie sheen, so that "it seemed all washed in orange". When he later found out that he would never walk again, he was devastated.
"I think it's accurate to label this experience as one of grief," he says, "and we know that grief is not a linear process, so it's like one wheel forward, two wheels back you know, and yeah, I mean you saw the film. I cry a lot, I think the film and Laura gave me this outlet to express those emotions that weren't being expressed to the public, where the media were picking up this positive story of me moving on and overcoming adversity and starting an anti-homophobia campaign, and that was all really positive.
"But, of course, I didn't feel comfortable breaking down in front of the media, so the film process really allowed me to feel the hurt and gave space for the darker side, and you know it really has been a journey of light and dark. Some nights I have feared for my life, and others I've rejoiced at all that I've overcome. Before the attack I think I was living life on the surface a lot more, and I think we all do until we experience these traumatic moments, it could be losing a loved one, it could be a car accident, it could be paralysis. I realise now that I took a lot for granted in my life: now I'm not as close to the surface, I'm much deeper in the river, I think."
During the trial, it galled Scott that his sexuality was never once mentioned.
"I mean, it's part of my identity, you know? But the people investigating my crime were predominantly white, straight men, the people prosecuting and defending this crime were also straight, white men, and the judge was a straight, white man, so there was just this lack of awareness of my experience as a queer man in a small town. They really felt like the attempted murder charge was enough, it carried a heavier sentence [10 years], but for me and for my family and Laura, the real reason for it all was omitted."
At the end of the trial, onlookers were astonished when Scott told his attacker: "Shane, nothing can justify what you've done to me, but I forgive you for what you've done."
Matheson then apologised, saying: "I'm sorry I put you in that chair. I don't know why I did it. I'm sorry."
"I believed his remorse," Scott says. "When he apologised, I really believed that he was truly sorry, and that kind of opened a door to further healing for me. I really felt that I would like to reach out to Shane, and so I do still hope to meet with him some day."
Scott's recovery has been slow, and gradual, but he's come a long way in the five years since the attack. Apart from making the documentary, and founding the Don't Be Afraid movement, he's gone back to college in Toronto to do a PhD researching the use of music as an agent for social change. Music, he says, has once again become central to his life.
"When I was in high school," he tells me, "and still in the closet, I practised piano for hours every day, and the piano kind of knew who I was and accepted me for who I was. And I was part of a choir and that was an environment where I felt safe and could express myself and come close to being 100pc of who I was at the time. And so I really leaned on music and choir after I was attacked, and I rediscovered the therapeutic qualities of music."
There's a special moment in Love, Scott when he's performing on stage and uses a walking frame to stand up. While he smiles, the crowd wildly applaud, acknowledging Scott's courage and resilience, and all that he's overcome.
"That was a soul-stretching moment alright," he says.
Love, Scott screens on Monday, August 6 at the Light House at 8pm, and you can follow the documentary on Instagram at @lovescott_film
Highlights @ GAZE
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
The grim business of so-called 'gay conversion therapy' is explored in Desiree Akhavan's drama starring Chloë Grace Moretz as Cameron, a free-spirited teenager whose strict grandmother sends her to a remote treatment centre after she's caught in the back of a car with a prom queen.
Tonight, Light House Cinema, 8.30pm.
Documentary charting the experiences of Suzanna, a 21-year-old woman living in the wonderfully named village of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, who begins transitioning towards her true life as a young man, a journey that will be tough for her and her family. Sunday, Light House Cinema, 6pm.
Katharina Mückstein's absorbing Austrian coming-of-age tale stars Sophie Stockinger as Mati, a sulky teenage tomboy who spends most of her time doing wheelies with a local motorcycle gang, but is consumed with desire after meeting Carla, a pretty young woman who brings her cat to Mati's mother's veterinary practice.
Sunday, Light House Cinema, 8.30pm.
Wild Nights with Emily
Molly Shannon and Amy Seimetz head the cast of Madeleine Olnek's witty and provocative period biopic, which posits the not unreasonable suggestion that 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson was a lesbian who fell in love with Mabel Todd, the charismatic woman who'd ensure her posthumous fame.
Monday, Light House Cinema, 5.30pm.