18 January 2006


Intimacy Between Men

I first read "Brokeback Mountain" as the final story in Annie Proulx's Close Range: Wyoming Stories collection of short stories. I had no idea what I was getting into when I read it. Sure, other stories in the collection had displayed the hard, homophobic, aspects of the American west -- like the killing of the retarded guy who was hitting on other guys. But "Brokeback Mountain" was completely out of the blue.

I didn't know anything about nor had I anticipated this love story between two young men hired to herd sheep one summer in Wyoming. I didn't know it had appeared in The New Yorker. I didn't know Annie Proulx from diddly: I had picked up the book in the Cleveland airport when I was changing planes there on the way back to Memphis, where we lived at the time, from a job interview in Erie, PA. I was taken with the entire collection, even before I got to "Brokeback Mountain."

I didn't grow up in Wyoming, but I did grow up in the only town of a rural county in middle Tennessee. I was lucky to go "off to school," but I had enough experiences in my little home town to know the kinds of things the locals thought about "queers" and "faggots." I knew I was one of "them," even as I told myself I wasn't.

Of the long duration it took me to come out (I didn't come out until I was 33), the sadest part is that for the bulk of that time, I never allowed myself to imagine that I could be emotionally close to another man. Sexually close, yes, but emotionally close: I didn't believe that was in the cards. It was only when I began to consider that option, to see that closeness with another -- another who was going to be another man -- was what I wanted that coming out became part of the picture.

Brokeback Mountain, the movie, depicts a different story: a story of episodic emotional closeness between two men. Their times and situation preclude their intimacy developing further; in fact, the character of Ennis Del Mar, played by Heath Ledger, doesn't even realize the degree of his intimate connection to the other, Jack Twist, until Jack is gone from this world. To me, the movie is solid and substantial: perfectly, if slowly, paced; beautiful in cinemagraphic scope; carefully scripted (by Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana); subtly scored. It covers twenty years, realizing the times and places well.

The story and the movie have affected both Mack and me. The sadness. The possibilities. The connections to the small-town rural lives we could have had. What might have been. What was for many. What still is for some.

The last minutes of the movie, in which the Ennis character goes to see Jack's parents, in which he for the first time, un-selfconciously, is honestly himself before others who are not like him, has stuck with me. He doesn't even realize that just by being there he is saying, "I loved this man." Jack's father is a homophobic asshole, but Jack's mother understands. Perhaps for the first time in his life, Ennis felt okay that he had loved another man. And he seems to have learned the preciousness of that love by the closing scene in the movie.

I know this isn't a review. I know it isn't telling you, the reader, whether to see the movie or not. The story and the movie matter to me: not in some kind of Star Wars gotta see it 14 times way, but in a way that reflects something about what I feel for Mack, about what I feel as being a man who loves another man. The movie, moreso than the story, makes me aware of how lucky I am to have him, to live with him, to feel secure enough in our lives together that our concerns about wacko neighbors coming to off us because we are gay is shrugged off as a humorous fantasy, even if it is still non-negligible. It wasn't always so here, it isn't necessarily so other places, even in this country, and it's not something to take for granted.

This is a beautiful post. I felt the same way.
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