Monday, January 30, 2006

Thoughts from the other side of the Mountain

On Saturday, I went to see Brokeback Mountain with Damien and Tom, who then graciously invited me over for dinner. (Br'er Damien's review of the movie is here.)

On one level, that was my reaction, too. OK - I can check this box off. Been there, done that. Nice visuals, beautiful cineatography, powerfully acted (if unsympathetic) characters, but definitely not the "oooh, ahh..." reaction I've read in so much of the press. (I did love Letterman's list of "Top Ten Rejected Titles for 'Brokeback Mountain,'", which included Oklahomo, Best Little Bathhouse on the Prairie, and The Good, The Bad, and the Fabulous.)

But there was more to it than that, for me.

I really identified with the character of Ennis - fearful, emotionally-impaired, unable to imagine life outside the rural closet he lived in. It was that same fear of being "found out" that kept me closeted as along as I was. Which is pathetic, especially since so many people I've come out to have said, "Well...yeah, that's no surprise." Not a lot of folks were fooled...

I also identified with Ennis, because the first guy I ever loved (and first male sexual partner) was my best friend from high school. He and I both married, and (unlike Jack and Ennis) never picked up our sexual liason after my wedding. He divorced before I got married, and he found another childhood sweetheart not long afterwards. Both my marriage and his relationship with his girlfriend were disintegrating in early 1990. He committed suicide on Palm Sunday 1990, rather than face his alcoholism, drug use, and closeted secrets.

My marriage ended eight months later, followed shortly afterwards by my entrance into sobriety. I've wondered what would have happened if he and I had both been newly sober and newly-single at the same time. I wondered if we both would have stayed in the closet as long as I did if he had lived.

Of course, it's a silly speculation on so many levels - if only because relationships (especially sexually-active ones) in early sobriety often last about as long as matter-antimatter unions. And the family estrangement he felt resulting from his interracial hetero relationship (a contributing factor in his suicide) would have been nothing to the reaction of his redneck family to his having a gay lover. And I can't deny that his shame over our past sexual encounters was also a contributing factor to his death. So that whole line of thought falls into the woulda - coulda - shoulda category...a romantic fantasy even more improbable than Brokeback.

But the other image from the movie - that of violence against gays - is one that is not nearly as far away from us as we'd like to think. True, it's been ten years since Matthew Shepard's brutal murder, but gay-bashing is still something that goes on every single day (though it rarely gets publicized as anything more than a violent mugging). There are still many places where homophobia can be a justification for murder (the so-called "gay panic defense"). So in that way, it's still a very timely story.

But the movie's best argument is for coming out, and for living the truth, instead of a lie. Would the two lovers have had a longer life up on Jack's parent's land? Would it have been happier, less fraught with guilt, shame, and fear? Who knows. All I know is, every day that I'm out to more people, I lessen the likelihood of living the rest of my life (however much there is) in regret and what-could-have-been. I've lived enough of that - and I'm not going back to it.


  1. steve

    Too late for writing anything insightful here...just thank you for being a friend....and an inspiration.....I am very sad for you for your friend's suicide...God, what an excercise in "what could I have done that I didn't?" We can not go back...I struggle every day with that...different reasons....same you were saying yesterday.....the way you boot up is destructive...only gods grace keeps us above ground...I have spent quite a bit of time on recovery reading the last month, and in the good old fashioned BB yesterday and today.....and I can only conclude I am particularly blessed for not having relapsed after spending so much time in resentment and self pity...the two poisen arrows of recovery they talk about again and again and again as certain death...I thank god for doing for me what I clearly can not do for myself...including comprehending him...

    sleep tight old boy


  2. steve, thanks for this post. My first "love" was a guy in college. But we didn't know it. It was all just short of getting sexual. We never admitted it to each other. I was trying to be straight. So was he. Two weeks after I told him I was engaged to be married, he shot himself. I've never rally gotten over it. He was my best friend, and I still miss him terribly. Only later (from a mutual friend) did I come to understand what his suicide was about. I know I am not responsible, but I replay so many "what if's" through my mind. I pray for him often. It's only that Turth that wil set us free. My heart breaks that he and I did not find that particular truth long ago.

    Peace, Joe.

  3. I got a great deal out of the movie too, and related too much with the Ennis character. It was more in how he lived alone. And I don't mean resided, but lived, because of secretiveness and inability to truly connect to other people. It really messed me up some and got me thinking. Thanks for writing about it.

  4. That's what makes the 'rainbowland' frigthening. I'm shocked that in the States, there are still negative perceptions of being a gay man!

    Somehow, Southeast Asians have a long way to contend with such homo-phobia within our society. It is not easy, especially when right-wing and religious conservatism is enshrine in the constituition