“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into”

Jonathan Swift
"The Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital." - Bill Maher
"The city is crowded my friends are away and I'm on my own
It's too hot to handle so I gotta get up and go

It's a cruel ... cruel summer"

Sunday, January 08, 2006

broke culture

The S.O. and I saw Brokeback Mountain last night. It was the second night of the movie’s Amarillo engagement and the theater was about three-quarters full. Before the movie started, the S.O. pegged the first couple who would walk out: he was wearing a black cowboy hat and she looked a bit dowdy. We theorized and stereotyped about the couple. They probably drove in from Clarendon or something and just looked at the poster: hey, look it’s a western; I hain’t seen a good western in ages.

Of course, that small-townie cluelessness doesn’t really exist anymore in my real-life experience. It’s not really conceivable that they didn’t know, in the age of satellite television, satellite radio, the internet. Hell, if nothing else, they had to read Mallard Fillmore’s latest plotline. Last week Bruce Tinsley portrayed his stereotype of the liberal media, Mr. Noseworthy, as being a closet homophobe who was really “grossed out” by the sight of cowboys kissing. It was no more believable than our theory of the Clueless Clarendonians.

Frankly, I’m sick of stereotyping each other, but I don’t see the alternative. That’s why Brokeback was such a beautiful and devastating story and why it is such a beautiful and devastating movie. It doesn’t stereotype. At all. Some of the audience laughed inappropriately at the wrong times and for the wrong reasons, seeing stereotypes where none existed, but it was their own issues that provoked their laughter. Jack’s and Ennis’s love isn’t a bit stereotypical; it is completely new and incomprehensible to them. For that reason they are exactly like all other lovers, and for the same reason they are completely unique.

An example: in a mountain scene before the two men consummate their love, a blurred Ennis undresses behind Jack. The camera is focused on Jack. In some stereotypical gay-cowboy farce in some alternate universe, Jack—played by Carson from Queer Eye—peeks. He holds his hand in front of his eyes, and he turns his head slightly and he mugs and he peeks and he makes that lecherous Carson expression.

Our universe, for once, got a better deal. In Brokeback Mountain, Jack doesn’t look; the camera holds on the scene for an eternity, and the visual holds more sexual tension than a years' worth of the latest sitcom about two characters who love each other but won’t admit it.

But our universe is also stuck with stereotypes, from fag basher to fag hag. I suspect that the real continuum of attitudes is as complicated as the complex strata of human sexual desire itself. In both Rent and Brokeback, I’ve been baffled by the walkouts. Offended audience members stayed through relatively passionate early scenes, but left during tender later scenes. In Rent, they stayed when lesbians made out, but left when they were married. In Brokeback, they stayed through the first violent/passionate sex scene, but left when Jack and Ennis held each other and kissed. It was as if they could handle gay sex, but not gay love.

I don’t understand it, but I don’t understand homophobia so I’m forced to stereotype and ridicule it. Tinsley doesn’t understand the position of enlightened straights so he parodies us as hypocrites.

I’m on the verge of concluding that explaining myself one – more – time – won’t matter, but I’m not there, yet. And I’m outraged at being called a hypocrite, and, yes, I do take Tinsley’s cheap jokes personally. So, here goes: I’m not a hypocrite. I’m not even a well-meaning liberal of the “some of my best friends are gay” ilk. I have had gay friends all of my life; I’ve experienced their anguish at coming out with them. I've hung out, and partied, and gone to church with gay people. When I was younger and presumably cuter, I experienced the worst fear of some homophobes. I dealt with it, the same way I dealt with it when girls I wasn’t attracted to flirted with me. And the men involved remained my friends.

So, yeah, some of my best friends are gay. But I also know some gay people who are cliqueish, and insincere, and, worst of all, Republican. I’m way past being ashamed or proud or defensive of the fact that I am a straight man who has been and remains connected to gay culture and gay politics and, especially, to gay human beings.

I’m going to go way out on a limb here and predict that Jack and Ennis will join the ranks of literary history’s great tragic lovers. And someday the politics of the time that makes their story tragic will be as difficult for future students to comprehend as the socio-political backdrops of Romeo and Juliet or Tristan and Isolde are to us.