Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gay and Cool

'Needing to clear his head, Shears fled to Berlin and surrendered to the city.  "I had an adventure," he says. "It had been eight years since I had gone anywhere by myself and didn't have to answer to anybody."  He bought a bicycle and explored the city a little bit, but the man who sang "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'" also spent a good deal of time clubbing.  "I heard great DJs and went dancing and took drugs.  I saw crazy shit. It was exactly what I needed to do," he says.  Shears also attended extreme sex parties--as a spectator.  "All those things kept me going and gave me fuel.  They made me happy to be alive."'

(From the August 2010 online edition of The Advocate, p. 42)

Okay.  In case you haven't figured it out, the above quote refers to Jake Shears, member of the singing group Scissor Sisters, talking about the period after the band had written and recorded a follow-up CD to 2006's "Ta-Dah," deciding the music wasn't what they wanted to put out there, and telling The Advocate what he ended up doing instead.

Recently, I came up with the idea to write a post about being gay and being cool.  Of course, anyone who knows me knows I'm not the one to write such an article (I hear you laughing all the way over here).  In fact, I've always been so uncool, I probably define the term.  So it's ironic that I, one of the most uncool gay people ever, would want to juxtapose the two subjects in a blog post.  But why should that stop me?

After reading the article about Jake Shears, called "Nocturnal Admissions," written by Jeremy Kinser, I thought the content helped to identify what I wanted to say, and I couldn't put off writing the post any longer.  After all, what's not cool about Shears, as a symbolic gay man--he's young, he's buff, he's pretty, he fronts a successful singing group, he's into sex, and he takes drugs.  For many, it's easy to look at him and think what many people do, especially gay people:  It's cool to be gay, and gay people are cool.

I suppose what disturbed me most about the article on Shears was the unabashed way his perhaps stereotypical gay life was represented.  I say stereotypical because, back in Kelowna, when I was coming of age as a young, gay man, I saw my share of behavior that often made me wonder how I could be gay yet conservative in so many areas of my life. For example, I didn't smoke, drink alcohol, or take drugs.  Still don't.  I had and have no interest in them.

And, as for sex, well, I was as sexually inhibited as you could be and still call yourself gay. I'm sure there are at least one or two men out there who wondered why they wasted their time coming on to me, taking me home (or going to the trouble of coming over to my apartment), and getting naked when I was unprepared to do any of the things they wanted.

Instead, what I sought most was physical closeness with, and validation from, another human being--with none of the risk involved in performing oral or anal sex (which, need I remind you, are the basis of gay sex).  Oh, and I had this ludicrous idea I should be in love with someone before I gave freely of myself physically.  Chalk that up to my Catholic upbringing, but it didn't score me any points with potential partners, believe me.

So, do I define the term uncool?  Oh, yeah.  Am I in a position to write on the topic with some expertise?  You bet.

For many years, I kicked myself for not giving in to the gay lifestyle, so to speak.  While I saw numerous young, gay men around me, living the way I thought others expected me to--smoking, drinking, drugging, and engaging in promiscuous sex--I remained firm, and, in a sense, redefined, for myself anyway, what it meant to be gay.  I didn't buy into the stereotype.  I believed if that's what it meant to be gay, then I was having none of it. Everyone else might think I was square (that's uncool in 60s parlance), but at least I was true to myself--which was far more important than following the herd.

What annoys me most about the article on Jake Shears is not that he comes across as living the stereotypical gay lifestyle--which he, and every other gay man or woman, is entitled to do, if they so wish--but that it was written about so matter-of-factly and, I believe, irresponsibly in an influential gay publication like The Advocate.

If today, I were the same young, gay man I was twenty-five or thirty years ago, and I read the article on Shears, someone I might potentially look up to or who sets an example for me, I would be reminded once again of just how much I don't fit into the gay lifestyle, and how much I need to fit in somewhere.  As a result, would I end up feeling worse about myself at best, or, at worst, decide to turn my back on my upbringing and engage in activities I know aren't good for me, physically, emotionally, and morally, in order to go along with the crowd, to fit in, to belong?

Whether you're straight or gay, it takes a bloody strong person to set boundaries in terms of what you are or are not prepared to do, particularly when belonging is so important to all of us.  And all of us seek role models to validate our choices are the right ones and will pay off at some point.  As far as I'm concerned, Jake Shears can take all the drugs he wants. Doesn't matter to me.  I, and many impressionable young, gay people, just don't need to read about it in the pages of The Advocate, as though glorifying activities we know are not only harmful but illegal as well.  

Not cool, not cool.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Letter to My Twenty-Year-Old Self, Part One

Dear Rick,

You don't know me, but you will--in thirty years.  That's right, I'm your fifty-year-old self, writing to you from the year 2010, a time and place in the future that isn't on your radar in 1980.  You're having difficulty even conceiving of the year 2000 now, because it sounds very space-agey, and you'll turn forty then, which might as well be one hundred, because both seem equally inconceivable.  But, believe me, it's all ahead of you.  You'll see.

Where to start?  Well, I could write to you about what's going to happen in the world in the next thirty years, but you'd tell me I'm bullshitting you.  So I'll only say this:  It will be impossible for you not to pay attention to what happens to Princess Diana in a Paris tunnel on August 31, 1997; to the World Trade Centre towers in New York on September 11, 2001; to the countries bordering the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004; to New Orleans on August 29, 2005; and to Michael Jackson on June 25, 2009.  You'll have to see it all yourself to believe it, and, even then, years later, you'll wonder if they really happened.  I can vouch for that.

What about if I tell you what you're going to do for a living?  I know you think you'll only stick with that job you got this year, with one of Canada's largest financial institutions, until something better comes along, but you're wrong.  Yes, you always thought you'd be a writer, crafting words into beautiful essays, short stories, and novels, making your mark on the world with your perfectly expressed thoughts and ideas, and you'll see the irony in working for a company that deals in little more than numbers and math, especially since your mind doesn't work in that way, and you were never good with numbers and math in school.  But you'll work for the bank, in many different capacities and different locales, for twenty eight years, "retiring" in July 2007 to pursue a writing career in earnest.  In 2010, you'll write more than you ever have before, but you'll still struggle with the daily realities of creating something where there was nothing, and you won't have earned a dime on what you've written since 1994.  Maybe in the future.  Now is all about finding your voice and writing what brings you joy.

Maybe you'd like to know where you'll travel.  I know the idea of travel seems exotic to you, something a little otherworldly, because your parents never gave you a case of wanderlust while you were growing up, but you'll see a few amazing places by the time you're fifty. Because of your childhood obsession with Disneyland, you'll go there nineteen more times (even holding annual passes to the park for several years); you'll go to Walt Disney World in Florida with your sister in May 1989; through work, you'll travel to Toronto several times, and Montreal and Regina once each; to Cancun, Mexico, in February 2002; to Hawaii in December 2006 and October 2007; and to Paris, France, in September 2008.  Travel will be a nice-to-have in your life, but your focus will always be on a comfortable and stable place to call home, and that's where you'll spend most of your money and your time.

I understand how all of this is fascinating to you--since you're only twenty, and never in a million years did you expect to receive a letter from your fifty-year-old self.  After all, you're just getting on with your life after graduating from Okanagan College in April 1979, earning a worthless general arts diploma, and subsequently working at a self-serve gas station until the bank hired you.  I could go on about so many other things that happen in your life that you wouldn't understand or believe, but what I really want to do is use the rest of this letter to tell you about something that's critically important to me and to you, whether you realize it or not.

For the past number of years, you've done everything you can to put the possibility of being gay out of your mind.  Yes, I know, the kids weren't nice to you when you went to school, calling you unflattering names, physically abusing you, teasing you constantly about being gay.  I know all about that and everything they did.  Remember, I'm you, thirty years down the road.  I know you left high school in June 1977 feeling such a sense of relief you'd never have to be around them again, until you realized several would end up attending college at the same time you did the following September.

Only things were different in college, weren't they?  For some reason, most people seemed to be more accepting, more tolerant.  You didn't get called faggot even once during your two years of college, did you?  That's because some of the worst offenders were finally growing up.  From my perspective today, I also think that's because some of them were gay themselves, and beginning to realize what that looked like.  I think they realized how awful they'd been to you for so many years, and they wanted to say something to you about it, but they didn't know how, and you wouldn't have known how to receive it because you were still too angry anyway.  Or maybe they'd be oblivious to how they treated you, not realizing they'd called you all those names, did all those things, and how you'd been affected by them.  I'm not sure which.  Even all these years later, I still recall what they did, and I'm confused by my mixed feelings of forgiveness and anger.      

I realize this will be one of the most difficult things for you to hear--and I don't want to hurt you in any way, so please keep that in mind--but--bear up for me here--do you know that you're gay?  I know.  I know.  You've heard that in many different ways from so many people--from the mean-spirited kids at school, to the older fellow from Vancouver who tried to pick you up when you stayed with your grandparents in Kelowna and you were only thirteen; to the freakish goon who worked at Pixie Photo and told you he didn't have any picture prints but he had a great, big hard-on for you; to any number of older and creepy men in Kelowna who leered at you on the street or in the mall.  You were told you are gay in so many ways, so many times, you couldn't bear to hear it even one more time, but you need to hear it one last time, from me, because you know you can trust me, right?  I'm you, for goodness sake.  I'm not out to hurt you.  I would never intentionally do that.  What would I gain if I did?

Yes, it's true, whether or not you're prepared to believe it--you are gay.  And before you shake your head, no, you're not, or break down and cry because you can't bear it to be true, or try to run as far away as you can, you have to know you can't run away from what you are, from what you know in your heart you are, from what you've known to be true about yourself for many years, ever since you were a little boy, when you were attracted to your neighbor's hairy chest, or one of your elementary teacher's handsome face and stocky build, or the downy soft hairs growing on the muscular pecs of some of your high school classmates.  You tried to convince yourself you were just envious of their maturing bodies, because they had hair growing on their chests and you didn't, and you wanted some more than anything else, to prove to yourself, and to the world, that you were a man after all and not gay.  But you know lots of gay men have hair on their chests, don't you?  Just because you have a hairy chest doesn't mean that you're not gay, as much as you'd like it to.

So you're gay?  So what?  Of course, it's easy for me to say that now, because I'm you thirty years older, and I've seen and done things that you can't imagine at this point in your young life.  But, trust me, eventually, you'll accept that you're gay.  No, let me rephrase that. Perhaps you'll never totally accept it, because, even in 2010, despite the logical progression in the movement of our society and culture, there's still some discrimination against people who are gay--but you'll get to the point when you'll make your peace enough with it to get on with living your life.

But, first, you'll go through a tough six years.  Between now and when you turn twenty-six, you'll both deny your sexual orientation--to yourself and to others (who will continue to insult you every time they ask if you're gay, because the question, no matter what form it takes, or who asks it, even if they're people you like and trust, will feel impudent and insulting)--and begin thinking about the very real possibility that you might be gay.  For a period, you'll label yourself asexual.  You learned that term in biology class in college.  It means having no gender at all, without sex, sexless.  You'll rationalize that, even though you're a young man, with male hormones coursing through your system, compelling you to be sexual, you're not interested in having sex, with women or men.  And you'll be happy with this decision for several years, because it'll be easier than having to deal with the possibility of being gay. But, eventually, you'll realize sex is one of the most beautiful things you can share with the right person, someone you feel emotionally connected to, yes, even love, and you'll decide being asexual had a place in your life when you needed it, but it was no way to live your life. (In fact, it's not living at all--it's existing, going through the motions, but I'll let you discover that for yourself.)    

HIV and AIDS will make things even harder for you.  What are HIV and AIDS, you ask? You'll have plenty of time to learn when they come up. There'll be lots of confusion about it. Are they God's revenge on gay men for being gay?  Can you get them through French kissing?  Will wearing a condom while engaged in anal sex prevent them?  You'll find answers to these and other important questions as time goes on.  Suffice it to say, you'll be grateful that somewhere in the very core of your being, you knew being promiscuous wasn't morally acceptable.  You'll be grateful that you didn't play around when you were younger, and that you remained a virgin until you were twenty-six, because thousands upon thousands of gay men will end up getting HIV and AIDS, and a shameful number of them will die, the world forever robbed of their unique visions and talents.  You'll be grateful you always believed, even when those around you didn't, and it wasn't cool to be you, that sex was meant to be shared with someone special, not indulged in indiscriminately with any cute face that came along.  That could be the very reason why you're still around in 2010, writing this letter to you.

As inconceivable as this seems now, you'll come out when you're twenty-six--late for some, early for others.  So much will happen before this pivotal event in your life.  First, you will come to accept that you're gay, as incomprehensible as that sounds now.  Second, you'll get to the point where you believe that, because you're a good person, you don't deserve to be alone for the rest of your life, just because you're gay.  You'll come to believe you are entitled to be as happy as any straight man, and that you have to live your life fully to be happy, even if that means being something society finds unacceptable.  This will be a big step for you, because your experience at school, and at home with your parents, taught you to hate yourself.  Because you left your teens with no self-esteem whatsoever, the fact that you get to the point where you believe you're entitled not only to be gay but happy will mark the beginning of your journey down the long and challenging road toward self-love.  That journey will be ongoing for many, many years.  Your fifty-year-old self is still on it, discovering all of the insidious ways in which he still falls short of loving himself unconditionally.  I suspect you and I will be on this journey for the rest of our life.

What will lead you to the point of coming out as a gay man, and who will you come out to? Long before you officially come out, you will out yourself to a colleague, someone you work with in Prince Rupert, during the summer of 1981, when you go up there to provide vacation relief.  You and Judy will become good friends, and she will come down to Kelowna several years later, and go out dancing with you at Tramps, at the Capri Hotel, on a Saturday night after you've moved out on your own.  You and Judy will end up back at your apartment building, in the open, under-building parking lot, sitting in your car talking until the sun comes up.  For the first time in your life, you'll feel safe enough to tell another human being that you're gay.  You'll know you can trust Judy.  And, even if you don't know, you'll know she's returning to Prince Rupert, and, if she spreads your news to anyone, they won't be anywhere near you to hurt you, or to use what you've told Judy against you.  This will be an important event in your life--the first time you've had the courage to put into words that you're gay, so that both she, and you, can hear it.  

Unfortunately, it will still be some time before you officially come out because to tell a friend who lives out of town that you're gay is quite different from telling a family member who lives in town.  Sue at work will help you with this.  You'll hate her, because she'll make your life a living hell while you work at the Southgate branch on the administration-officer-in-training program.  But Sue will transfer to Capri Centre, where you'll work as a teller, the two of you will clear the air, become good friends, and she will be one of your greatest supporters (even as her brothers were some of your biggest tormentors in school, their attitude about gay men changing markedly when their younger brother comes out).  You'll receive an invitation to a New Year's dance from the unlikeliest of customers at the branch, Sue will encourage you constantly to take the chance and go, and you'll eventually work up the nerve to attend your first gay function, where you'll discover not all gay people are creeps or freaks, where you'll meet a sweet young man from Vancouver who genuinely likes you, and where you'll get a glimpse of what it will be like to accept yourself and to begin living your life as a gay man.

When you come out, it will be to your mother, and it will not be pretty.  You'll do it on New Year's Day, 1986, over the phone, after you've both returned to your respective homes following dinner at your aunt and uncle's.  You'll insist your mother had to have known already, because you'd left so many clues over the years--you showed no interest in girls, you never dated any, you were too concerned with your hair and physical appearance, you were a good decorator, you listened to too much dance music.  But when she tells you she had no idea, you'll be incredulous and even more upset with yourself for dropping this bomb on her (at a time, you'll later find out, when her marriage to your father was falling apart, and she was already going through enough without having to learn her son was gay).  Your mom will cry, a lot, something you hate to hear, something that hurts you to the core, because, for all her faults, you're close to your mom, and because your father used to make her cry for many reasons, and you swore you would never do that to her.  She'll tell you not to say anything to your father or anyone in the family about being gay, but she'll end up telling them all, which will come as a shock, since you don't have the option of telling them in your own words or seeing their reactions firsthand, and which will be a relief, that she's done some of the hard work for you.

It will take time for your mother to receive your news and to make sense out of it.  It took time for you to accept being gay so you could tell other people, didn't it?  Then you must expect your mother will need days, weeks, months, and perhaps even years to accept you in that new light.  But, I promise you, you will be surprised by how resilient your mother and family will be.  Sure, three or four weeks later, when your mom calls you to say you're invited to come over for dinner, and she assures you your father won't leap over the table and throttle you for not being the son he always hoped you were, things will still be strained between all of you.  You'll pretend that everything is just the same as it was before, and God knows no one will bring up the subject because who knows where that might go, but, of course, it's not the same at all.  Everything will be unexpectedly civil, maybe more so than before they knew, because emotions will be raw, you'll all need a little tenderness, compassion, and understanding, and everyone will be on his or her best behavior.  But you'll get through it, and so will they.  

As for the rest of your family, you and your aunt will discuss it, briefly, and she'll tell you she always knew (which leads you to ask yourself how your mother couldn't have known, or didn't your mother and her sister ever talk about the possibility that you might be gay?). You'll come away from this conversation thinking she's all right with your sexual orientation--after all, it's not one of her two sons who's gay--but, years later, when your aunt's daughter (your first cousin) is getting married, your aunt will do something that will suggest to you she isn't so comfortable with it after all.  And you'll be so upset by what happens that, in the end, you'll decide attending your cousin's wedding, and pretending like everything is fine between you and your aunt, is the last thing you want to do.  The wedding incident, in conjunction with other events, will put distance between you and your aunt, but that's all right, because you'll see her more as she really is, and you'll realize you don't need people like that in your life if that's the way they choose to be.

As far as your seventy-something grandmother is concerned, she's always loved you dearly, and she'll tell you she wishes for you that you weren't gay, but, if that's the way you are, then the good Lord made you that way, and she has to accept you.  You will love her for this response, and she will never waver from it.  She will also make you feel she loves you just as she did when you were a little boy, her first grandchild, and she will support you over the years in ways that will stun you in their generosity and acceptance.  Even when she turns ninety-two, you will never feel any distance between you because of your sexual orientation. She will stand as a shining example of unconditional love.  

Monday, August 9, 2010

Straight Validation

Today, it happened again.

T. arrived at my door just after eight this morning to perform annual servicing on our natural gas furnace.  On Friday, I'd made arrangements with the company he works for to have this done, but, this morning, when I woke up, I'd completely forgotten about it.  I heard the loud knock.  I scrambled to find something to wear.  I ran down the stairs, into the kitchen to turn off the alarm, then to the front door.

T. was a young man, about twenty-eight, five or six inches taller than me, with thick, dark hair, long, square sideburns, and a long and wiry chin beard.  In other words, he was attractive in a heterosexual sort of way (which, to me, is often more appealing than in a homosexual sort of way).

"I forgot you were supposed to be here this morning," I said to T. after I let him in.  "I haven't had time to shower yet," I continued.  "I'm sure my hair is a mess."  I finger combed it without seeing if I was making it better or worse.

Why did I say that?  For the next hour, I kicked myself repeatedly while T. was here, doing his work, answering my questions, for making such a pointless comment.  What straight guy would ever apologize to another guy because he still had bed head?  None that I know of. T. was here to work on the furnace, not to look at my hair.  How could I have been so stupid?

As I prepared breakfast and ate, I asked myself if T. knew I'm gay because of the hair comment.  Or had anything else given it away, like how particular everything in our house is, or my appearance overall, or any of the questions I asked--because, after all, I know nothing about furnaces, and most straight men would, right?  The more pertinent question I should have asked myself is, why was it so important to me that he not know I'm gay?  

Despite hashing out subjects like this on my blog for the past year and a half, and even deciding I've settled many of the outstanding issues I have related to being gay and how I feel about myself as a result, apparently, I can still find myself discombobulated if I think a straight fellow, in my house to provide a service, knows I'm gay.  What the hell is that about?

If I'm honest with myself, I believe I didn't want T. to know I'm gay this morning because I must believe, deep inside, I'm somehow less than a straight man having his furnace serviced.  I must think I'll be taken advantage of, because I'm clueless about furnaces, and he could tell me something needs to be fixed, how expensive it will be to repair it, and I wouldn't know if he's giving me a line or not.  Or perhaps I feel I'll receive a lower level of service because T., in his straight estimation, doesn't think I, as a gay man, deserve his usual high level, or because I've creeped him out, and he can't wait to get the hell out of my house, performing a shoddy job as a result.    

Should it matter in the least that I'm gay, or that I don't know the first thing about natural gas furnaces, when a straight, young man comes to the door to service it?  Not in the least, of course, and I realize that now that he's gone.  So why was it so important when he was here?  Why did I not want him to be able to tell I'm gay?  Was I trying to impress him for some reason, and, if so, why?

Straight men confound me, probably because I don't have a good relationship with a straight man in my life.  Possibly because, for that very reason, I struggle to see myself on a par with straight men.  I don't want to be somehow perceived as less than, in their eyes (or in mine, for that matter), just because I'm gay.  In other words, perhaps every time I have an encounter with a straight man, I look at it as an opportunity to be validated as a man, period, which, for me, can only be done by a straight man.  

I suppose if you didn't receive that validation from a straight man in your life, particularly when you were a kid, whether that man was your father, or an older relative, or a teacher, you continue to seek it in your life as an adult.  Although, I admit, this is ridiculous, because I'll be fifty-one years old in October, and I'm still looking for validation from a straight man because I didn't get it forty or more years ago?  Makes about as much sense to me as I'm sure it does to you.        

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Gratitude and Appreciation

In 1982, nearly thirty years ago, I was twenty-two--four years from coming out, a decade from the relationship I'm in now, and light years from accepting myself as a gay man.

I sat alone in a theatre and watched "Making Love," starring Michael Ontkean, Harry Hamlin, and Kate Jackson.  As the article from states below, "Making Love" was " of the first studio productions to present a gay male couple as protagonists."  It was ground-breaking, no question about that.  It presented popular actors of the day depicting a straight married couple as well as a gay couple.

Although awkward in some places, the portrayal of the difficulty two men had giving in to their feelings for each other was, I believed at the time, pretty realistic.  This movie had an enormous impact on me.  It showed me what was possible in a world that was more perfect than the one I lived in, and what I imagined would never happen to me.  

Alone, because I didn't know anyone else who was gay, I went back to the theatre two more times to watch the same movie.  I shouldn't have been surprised by the reactions from some of the men in the audience when they saw Ontkean and Hamlin kiss.  Their disgust was instinctive and audible throughout the hushed theatre.  I sank in my seat, as though I were ashamed for kissing a man myself, as though I were ashamed for being gay.  I was, believe me.  I prayed one day I would kiss a man, and I wouldn't have to feel ashamed.  

The times, they have changed.

This past week, I watched both "Brokeback Mountain" and "A Single Man" on DVD.  Neither one of these two life-affirming movies could ever have been made in 1982.  I can't even imagine how the men in the audience back then would have reacted to Ledger and Gyllenhaal engaged in anal sex in the tent up in the mountains of Wyoming.  To say the least, it would not have gone over well.

"A Single Man" takes the reality of being gay one significant step further.  It alludes to the possibility, and the beauty, of a loving and committed relationship between two men over a sixteen year period.  Yes, gay men aren't just about promiscuous sex, multiple partners, and lonely emptiness.  Gay men can be and are emotionally connected to each other, and their relationships deserve to be respected to the same degree as straight relationships.

I don't want to say that today's young gay men should be grateful movies like "Brokeback Mountain" and "A Single Man" are made, and receive the amount of acceptance they do from mainstream audiences, but they should be.  It's easy to be critical of a movie for any number of reasons, but let's not lose perspective here.

For the first time in our history, we're seeing honest depictions of gay love and loss, and those depictions are as real as it gets.  Furthermore, Neanderthal men aren't sitting in audiences spewing obscenities at movie screens when they see two men embrace and kiss passionately, or grieve over losing a long-time partner, or engage in anal sex.

We've come a long way, baby, and it's our responsibility to support visionary film makers, and actors, who have the courage to take up our cause, even if they're not gay themselves, and to show us as we really are--in an effort to prove that, when it comes to love, loss, and relationships, we're no different from anyone else.        

Harry Hamlin Remembers Making Love

Actor Harry Hamlin thinks starring in the 1982 gay film Making Love may not have been helpful to his film career, but it's something he would do again, according to blogGreg in Hollywood.

Hamlin starred in the film as a writer who falls in love with a closeted and married doctor (Michael Ontkean). "At the time, I had about 70 percent of the people telling me not to do it," Hamlin says. "Hollywood wasn’t ready for the movie at that time."

Though groundbreaking as one of the first studio productions to present a gay male couple as protagonists, Making Love was not a financial success upon its initial theatrical release. “It was probably 10-15 years ahead of its time,” Hamlin says. “I’m not sure it was helpful to my future film career.”

Asked if he'd reprise his character in a sequel, Hamlin says "“If they want to do something about a gay octogenarian, I may be up for it in a couple of years.”

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


In January 2006, I saw "Brokeback Mountain" for the first time.  Early buzz about the subject matter had gotten my attention and made me keen to see it.  In the meantime, I collected everything I found about the movie and compiled it into a folder, still located in our filing cabinet.  I found a copy online of the short story written by Annie Proulx, on which the movie is based, and printed and read it numerous times.  The movie was released in the U.S. in mid-2005, and I was frustrated that, for some reason, the release date wasn't the same in Canada.

When I finally saw "Brokeback" with Chris in Victoria, where we lived at the time, I was deeply moved by the portrayal of unfulfilled love between Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar.  At the end, when Ennis, powerfully portrayed by the late Heath Ledger, opens the closet in his trailer and sees hung on the back of the door one shirt inside another, the outside one belonging to him and the inside belonging to Jack, played skillfully by Jake Gyllenhaal, I lost it.  The lights went up in the theatre, Chris and I got up to leave, and I couldn't see where I was walking I was so upset.

I waited anxiously for "Brokeback" to be released on DVD.  I wanted my own copy of the movie--not just so I could watch it anytime I wanted to, but so I could own Jack and Ennis's story, so I could be close to it, have it a part of my everyday life.  Several months after seeing the movie in the theatre, the DVD was released, and I paid full price to own a copy on the day it arrived in stores.  I couldn't wait, or maybe I'd already waited too long.  I was eager to watch it again.  

But I couldn't, not until last night.  Four and a half years passed between seeing it for the first time, and getting up the nerve to see it again, because it was too painful.  I knew I'd cry at the end, like I had the first time, and I didn't want to put myself through that.  How many times over the years had I planned to watch "Brokeback," but only when Chris wasn't around.  When I cried, I wanted it to be in private.  I didn't want to look over at Chris and see him watching me.  So I waited until he wasn't home, when he was hundreds of miles away in the Interior of B.C. visiting his father.  The perfect time.

Only, once I got to the TV room and located the DVD, I'd look at the picture of Jack and Ennis on the cover, anticipate what I was about to see...and I couldn't do it.  I missed Chris too much.  I worried that if I watched "Brokeback," somehow I'd tempt fate, and something awful would happen to him on his long drive back home.  Superstitious?  Absolutely.  What was the connection between the movie and Chris driving back home?  I'm not sure.  But Jack couldn't have Ennis, and I worried Chris would be taken away from me, so I wouldn't have him, either.  I couldn't fathom my grief and all-consuming sadness if that happened.

When Chris was away visiting his sister last evening, not that far away from where we live and an easy enough drive back home, somewhere, I found the courage and the strength to watch "Brokeback" once again.  I'd forgotten some of the parts.  I'd forgotten just how intense the emotions are between Jack and Ennis.  I'd forgotten how difficult their relationship was over the twenty or so years they continued to meet several times a year in the mountains of Wyoming.  I'd forgotten Jack's ever-hopeful plans for them to be together, and Ennis's realistic conclusion, at least for the place and the time, that they couldn't be a couple of men living on a homestead, with a cattle and calf operation.

As I watched the movie, the ending drawing nearer, I prayed the story would turn out differently for Jack and Ennis.  I prayed something had happened in the interim, between January 2006 and now, to change the outcome.  Thankfully, times have changed since Jack and Ennis met each other in 1963 during their summer of herding sheep on the mountain slopes.  In my mind, both men, as young and as beautiful as they were then, were now in the present, and they could fulfill their dream of being together on their own piece of land, living happily ever after, not unlike what Chris and I are doing.  

Chris returned home about fifteen minutes before the movie ended.  He always comes to me when he gets back to let me know that he's arrived safely.  I worry about him constantly, that something untoward will happen to him, that he'll be taken away from me before we've lived a long and satisfying life together.  But he didn't disturb me.  He must have recognized the music from "Brokeback."  He must have known it was near the end, remembered how difficult watching the end had been for me before, wanted to give me the time to take it in and respond the way I had to.  I was grateful for his consideration--and not grateful, too.

I did not cry, although I came close.  Perhaps the tears will come later, when the numbness wears off, when I see what happened to Jack and Ennis in the context of my relationship with Chris today, when it registers in my heart that their story is the story of countless gay men over the decades.  It's a shame so many men were kept from each other because society would never have accepted their love.  Our society should be ashamed of itself for ever playing a role in preventing even one gay man from being with the man he loves most dearly, with whom he wants to share his life, grow old, and die.