16 August 2006


Brokeback Visit

Part I. The Overwhelming Heterosexuality of Existence

So, close to a moon ago, Bryan asked:
So did anybody realize y'all were "different"?
And I wrote a long reply -- it may have been the best thing I've ever written -- seriously -- really -- no shit -- and then the internets ate it. Well, actually, the Firefox program on my computer, which, as Bryan noted in the comments, is usually a sweet application.

So, back to the subject of "did anybody realize?"

Who knows? When we're together, I figure it's obvious (bonus track: Pet Shop Boys, "It Must Be Obvious") that we're gay men, that we're a couple. But I also know how overwhelming the expectation of heterosexuality is. I mean almost any person who is in the closet (for whatever reason) is presumed, at least at the surface-level business of day-to-day life, to be heterosexual. Sure, people will gossip and wonder and snicker about whether so-and-so is gay, but when it comes to that person face-to-face, it's, "Are you married?", "Whozit (opposite sex) in the mail room is single, would you like me to fix you up with them?", etc.

I mean, it's socially impolitic to ask someone outright if they're gay, even though almost everywhere in the USA these days, most people know, through some social institution, someone who is gay and out. For those who aren't out, it seems to be really really important, both to straight people and to gay people, to protect the closet status of closet gay people.

(Don't get me wrong here. People who choose not to come out usually have what seem to be very good reasons, to them, not to come out, and regardless of the fact that most of their fears about the negative consequences of doing so are not grounded in reality, the magnitude of the negative consequences in those very few cases where those fears are grounded in reality -- loss of family connections, loss of friends, loss of job -- are serious enough that you don't just sneeze at their concerns. They're their concerns, after all, and I'm not in their skin. If I were, I might opperate the same way they are. I did for years.)

So, even though it was probably obvious to some of the people at the Oyster Ridge Music Festival that Mack and I were two gay men, a couple in a committed long-term, there were probably even more people there who invented their own reasons for us being together there with Valerie and Kendall: They're father and son. He's her (Valerie's) brother, and he's his (Kendall's) brother. They're all just good friends. The human mind is very good at constructing theories then not testing them to see if they're bullshit.

Part II. A Brokeback Moment

SkySo, there we were in western Wyoming. The setting of both "Brokeback Mountain" the short story and "Brokeback Mountain" the movie. Valerie, Mack's sister, had a shepherd's stove in her living room used as a coffee table, and she told us about how sometimes you have to stop for shepherds moving sheep from one part of BLM lands to another. My brother Ray, who used to do the long-distance haul trucker thing, brought that up, too, when I told him we had been to western Wyoming. (I know Valerie's read "Brokeback Mountain" the short story, and it wouldn't surprise me if Ray had seen the movie -- on DVD, of course -- but neither of them metioned that in the context of talking about shepherds on BLM lands in western Wyoming.)

There we were in Wyoming, where just a few years ago, Matthew Shepard was killed, almost certainly when it comes down to it, just for being gay. Of course, people in Wyoming, as a rule, aren't like the two guys who killed Shepard any more than people, anywhere, are, as a rule, like the two guys who killed Shepard. But there are cultural matters that correlate with geography -- Kemmerer, Wyoming, is not like San Francisco any more than Iraq (put those diapers on those goats, some dude might pop a rod, and who knows what that could lead to -- and this is in a country we liberated supposedly for Democracy) is like the USA.

So was I nervous? I hardly thought about it. I was no more nervous or concerned than I am any other public place, than I would be at a music festival or concert here in Florida. But how would one live there? How would two men have a life of emotional intimacy in that setting? That was the kind of question the characters in "Brokeback Mountain" had to deal with.

Mack and TimTheir answer, unsatisfactory as it was, was to meet up, take the horses, and go camping on BLM lands. And when we got back in the woods on those four-wheelers, I could remember the kind of liberation that being out in the woods with someone you care about -- or are interested in, in the case of my own history in rural middle Tennessee -- can give you: a security, a peace of mind, that you can't have "in town" (whether Kemmerer, Wyoming, where nary a word was said to us, or Nashville, Tennessee, where I was once assaulted -- decked in the middle of Lower Broadway -- for being gay and in the wrong place). When you're that far away from the rest of the world, it's easy to be yourself when being yourself is a threat to the rest of the world and the rest of the world is a threat to you if when you're being yourself.

The critics who suggested that the characters should've moved to the city likely don't understand that security that comes with being in the woods, in the mountains. It's not baggage free; what is? But being out there, alone with someone you love, away from other people, is a very comfortable and secure feeling. So, if you were gay -- even if you couldn't say the word -- and from that part of the world, going to those hills, those woods, those mountains, for a few weeks a year with the one you love -- even if you couldn't say the word -- would be a perfectly good short-term solution to the problem of being who you are in the place where you know how to be.

Wow - alright then; I'd say that's a fine recovery from the lost scribe.


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