After 40 days in the hospital, Hogancamp returned to his mobile home to recover. Because he could not afford traditional physical therapy, he settled on the idea of an alternate therapy. Eventually, he created a fictional miniature Belgium town in his back yard which he named “Marwencol,” based on the combination of Hogencamp’s first name along with the names of two neighbors (Wendy and Colleen) that he fantasized about. Hogancamp then used foot high dolls—think GI Joe here—which he dressed in World War II military uniforms, both Allied and German, and which he then set in various poses. Each of the dolls was named after people in Hogancamp’s life, including some of his attackers and the District Attorney who prosecuted them. Added to the mix were various Barbie dolls as citizens of Marwencol, including dolls named Wendy and Colleen. The female dolls had roles as resistance fighters coming to the aid of the fictional Allied soldiers who had been captured by fictional German soldiers.
Hogancamp created story lines, which he photographed, bird’s eye, by laying on the ground inches from the characters, so that it appeared the dolls were actual people. Because Hogancamp had been a fairly good artist before the beating, he was able to paint each of the dolls to make them appear extremely realistic in the Hogancamp had been the town drunk before the beating. After his injuries, he lost all interest in drinking, apparently because he had been kicked in the part of his head which fed his alcohol addiction. Instead of using alcohol to cope with the emotional trauma from the beating, Hogancamp used the dolls.
Marwencol was a place he could escape to where he controlled everything, where things worked out how he wanted. The bullies (the German soldiers) always got what was coming to them in Marwencol.
Hogancamp’s “therapy” utilizing the dolls was discovered when a neighbor nvolved in the New York City arts scene happened to see Hogancamp walking down a street pulling a toy Army jeep with some of the dolls. After seeing the Marwencol photographs, the artsy neighbor believed they were a new form of art. The neighbor helped arrange for a Greenwich Village art gallery to show Hogancamp’s photographs. The idea, of course, is that you never know what good can come out of a tragedy.
As Hogancamp fretted about preparing for the first night of his work being shown in NYC, he opened a closet in his home which contained dozens of women’s shoes. When asked what he really wanted to wear to the art opening of his Marwencol photographs, he quickly replied, “a blue chiffon dress and high heels.” But because of his fear of what others would think of him, Hogancamp arrived at the art showing dressed in Army fatigues, a real man. During the art show, he told several artists viewing his work what he really wanted to wear. The artists convinced him to go to his car and at least retrieve some high heels, which he proudly wore at the end of the art show, along with his Army fatigues.
At that point in the documentary we learn the reason why Hogancamp was beaten to within an inch of his life. (Note: spoiler alert.) As you might
suspect, Hogancamp was a cross dresser. Drunk at his neighborhood bar, he had talked about his cross dressing with the assailants. One of the assailants later confessed to police that as soon as they heard this disclosure, “we just knew that we’d beat the shit out of him.” This revelation about the reason for Hogancamp’s beating was of course painful for me, a transgendered person.
Complicating things was that my 18-year-old daughter had accompanied me to the movie. Advertisements for the movie gave no clue that it in anyway involved someone with a gender identity issue. Had I known otherwise, I would have passed on taking my daughter, a natural born worrier, and someone who already had enough on her plate without now fretting about me getting killed for being
And, in the end, that’s the issue: getting beaten or killed just for who you are. Things that we’ve heard time and again. Some of the victim’s names are etched into our memories, like Matthew Shepard or Brandon Teena. But other victims are unknowns, like Mark Hogancamp, anonymous to anyone other than their loved ones. Even the people killing them sometimes don’t know their victim’s names. What the killers just know is that they hate and that they want to rid the world of people they see as different, less than human.
When will we get to the point where being “different” is not a license for being beaten or killed? I know that, for sure, one way not to get there is the message that LGBT people are not worthy of certain things—like marriage or parenting or serving in the military. In my mind, it’s not a big jump from “not worth marriage” or “not worth the uniform” to “not worth even breathing the same air.”
Can anyone honestly argue that words of intolerance don’t fuel violence? I think Mark Hogancamp might have an opinion on that. I'm sure that Krissy Bates would have something to say too, if she was still alive.