Both Gender Lovin’: A Look at Bisexual Erasure in “Brokeback Mountain”

Lucy Gordon Smith
4 March 2016

Annie Proulx’s short story “Brokeback Mountain” is more than a love story between two men. Proulx captures the whirlwind of emotions as well as the hardship facing uneducated, poor men in the rural west of the United States during the mid to late twentieth century. Many readers do not focus on the internal dilemmas of the characters or the complex factors to their identity; instead they focus on the same sex relationship in this brief but powerful short story. It is clear that Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist both sexually identify as bisexual since they have relationships with men and women throughout the course of the short story and the well adapted film. Thus, by readers reducing Brokeback Mountain to a story of two homosexual men it eliminates a large section of their fluid sexual identity and in turn the readers erase the bisexual identity of the men. This undermines the message of the story since people within the LGBTQ community find much of their identity in their sexual orientation. The evidence of bisexual erasure in the short story and film is evident through Ennis and Jack’s other romantic and sexual relationships, the homophobia in the rural west, and our society’s lack of acceptance and understanding about sexual fluidity.

If someone identifies as bisexual, it means that they are attracted to both men and women. It is clear in the short story and film that Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist are sexually attracted to men and women. These two men are married and show some form of sexual attraction to women since they marry women and father children with their respective wives. In the screenplay and film, there are several heterosexual love scenes. For example, Ennis and his wife, Alma, have two biological children showing that they have consummated their relationship and that Alma and Ennis have had sexual relations more than once. Additionally, there are intimate scenes between the two of them that show Ennis as the initiator and it is clear that he does want to have sexual intercourse with his wife and thus is sexually attracted to Alma. Ennis says to Alma early in the film, “‘this ain’t too lonely, now, is it?’ Ennis is on top of her now. They kiss” (Story to Screenplay, 34). In a similarly sexually charged scene, Lureen and Jack engage in sexual intercourse in the backseat of Lureen’s car, “You don’t think I’m too fast, do you? Maybe we should put the brakes on?” (Story to Screenplay, 40), In the film, Jack seems fairly excited and interested in the physical intimacy between his character and Lureen. Thus showing that he is sexually attracted to Lureen. Additionally, they have a son together, “I got a boy. Eight months old. Smiles a lot. I married the prettiest little gal in Childress, Texas. Lureen.” (Story to Screenplay, 47). This line from the screenplay shows that Jack not only relishes in his wife’s physical appearance but that he is excited that they have a baby together. He mentions both of them to Ennis and enthusiastically talks about his happiness with Lureen and their child at this point in the film. Later in the film, Ennis and Alma divorce for irreconcilable reasons and then Ennis starts dating another woman. He has a relationship with a woman named Cassie shortly after the divorce. Even though he and Cassie do not stay together long term, her legacy remains in his life, “he [Ennis] stands. Goes to the fridge, opens it. Takes out a half-empty bottle of cheap white wine, a legacy of Cassie.” (Story to Screenplay, 95). If he were not interested in her and if their relationship had not made an impact on his life, her wine legacy would not remain. These are examples of how Ennis and Jack identify as bisexual since they date and marry women even though they had a relationship with each other.

The assumption that someone is gay after engaging in a single sex relationship is colloquially referred to as ‘the one drop rule.’ Because society assumes things sexual orientation based off of arbitrary judgments, this shows bisexual erasure in the short story and film. Many critics and viewers jumped to the assumption that this was a film solely about gay men,“for years he had heard it described as ‘that gay cowboy script.’” which shows how people ignorantly make ill-informed decisions about films without knowing the full spectrum of the topic (Story to Screenplay, 147). One same sex relationship, in the case of Ennis, does not make someone gay. Similarly, one opposite sex relationship does not make someone heterosexual. Reducing the beautiful and gripping story of Brokeback Mountain into the tagline ‘the gay cowboy script’ shows a like of analyzing the text, ignorance towards topics of sexuality, and a glimpse at how social norms define society. Despite our society seeming progressive and accepting, Brokeback Mountain is an example of how people still do not understand sexuality identity and still make assumptions about relationships. While confusion over sexual identity is an issue, it is clear that the homophobia in the short story and film of Brokeback Mountain adds to this theory. Prejudice towards same sex couples leads to unneeded animosity and bigotry in Brokeback Mountain.
Ennis and Jack engage in a unique relationship. They initially met and barely started a friendship when they first started herding sheep together. During their summer working together, the sexual attraction and emotional intimacy grew over time. Their romance and intimacy was supposed to be “a one time deal [because they were lonesome]” however, it evolved into something more (Story to Screenplay, 132). The toxic homophobia in the rural West leads to the assumption that both men are gay when in reality, “the complicating factor was that they both fell into a once-in-a-lifetime love.” (Story to Screenplay, 132). Due to the small-minded nature of society, many ignorant people assumed this incredible love story meant they would have this gripping relationship with anyone of the same sex. This is incorrect. Ennis and Jack had chemistry due to their similar backgrounds and life experiences.
Our society stresses a binary system for sexual identity and gender. Men must be masculine and conform to society’s idea of tough behavior. Women must be feminine and enjoy taking care of their home and children. Both genders must be straight. This leads little room for the middle ground which is confusing and limiting considering that many people fall in a gray area or middle category in these binaries that society forces us into. During the production process, many people turned away Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana’s beautifully adapted screenplay because “the urban critics dubbed it a tale of two gay cowboys. No. It is a story of destructive rural homophobia” (Story to Screenplay, 130). People knew one element of the screenplay and judged the story without knowing details in it. This shows the judgmental and non-accepting society that makes uninformed decisions. Ossana said that “Brokeback had acquired the reductive and spurious Hollywood tagline ‘a story about gay cowboys,’ much as Lonesome Dove has been dubbed ‘a story about a cattle drive.’” which enforces this uninformed decision making process (Story to Screenplay, 147). Both stories are about much more than a single sentence summary that does zero justice to a complex and intricate story.
Brokeback Mountain is more than a failed love story that failed because of an non-accepting society and varied external factors. The short story and film show the deep, harmful consequences in small minded communities as well as what occurs when people are uninformed and non-accepting of things outside their realm of comfort. Bisexuality is a real sexual identity and sexual fluidity does exist. By limiting Ennis and Jack to a single sexual identity, readers dismiss much of the emotions and trials of the characters involved in the short story and film. Brokeback Mountain is a story of rural homophobia and ignorance. There is more to the story than two men who fell in love and the story of their two decade romance. This is a story of what could have happened in life as well as families torn apart because of honesty and dishonesty. It is a story of losing youthful innocence and how life never turns out how people imagine. But most of all, it is a story of life and the positives and negatives that happen throughout one’s life. It’s a realistic depiction of the American West and the secrets men hide because of society’s norms and expectations.

Works Cited
Annie Proulx, Larry McMurtry, and Diana Ossana. Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay.Scribner. New York, New York. 2005. Print.

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