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Are there bigger lessons to be learned from ‘Brokeback Mountain?’

by Linda Ketner
For many gay and lesbian people, the themes of “Brokeback Mountain” reverberate with themes in our own lives. Themes that are intensely pleasurable and intensely painful, to see and to remember.

During the decades I fought my sexual orientation, a steady diet of unrequited love was sometimes broken by periods of falling into the most intense and passionate love imaginable a la Ennis and Jack of “Brokeback.”

From the time I had a word for my feeling at 12, until I was 23-years-old, I did everything I knew how to do to change my sexual orientation, including working a part-time job in college to pay for therapy and marrying a man.

This last act, marrying a good, blameless, heterosexual man, is something for which I have deep regret. I thought I could will myself into heterosexuality and make us both happy. I couldn’t — heterosexuality wasn’t possible for me.

Was heterosexuality possible for Ennis and Jack? I don’t think so. I think both of them had a single sexual orientation as strong as mine. As I write that line, I see the bitter face of Ennis’s wife. I’ve seen that same bitterness before. Women married to gay men have that look, but who is culpable? The woman who chooses to stay for all the wrong reasons or the man who lives a more profound lie?

I do know that my greatest gift to my ex-husband was that I left the marriage early so that he could get on with his life. And, I also know that the marriage, and its demise, was a great gift to me as well. It set me free.

It let me know that my feelings weren’t going to be controlled by my will. They just weren’t. Not with my celebrated tenacity, not with prayer, not with therapy.

What followed my divorce were years of a soul-eroding, closeted life, but even that wasn’t as damaging as denying my genuine self to myself.

And, although I’m not proud of it, like Ennis and Jack, during that period, I was the secret love of a partner who was married to someone else. Ennis and Jack’s ecstasy at seeing one another, the fiery passion, the longing and yearning between times together are all familiar to me and to many of you who also have been a secret love.

Quite frankly, those feelings are a high that generally aren’t found in a real-life-love or in marriage, which many of us are so keenly pursuing.

There is just something spectacular, wild and raw about the forbidden, the seldom, the secretive. It can’t be duplicated by the everyday responsibilities of feeding the dogs, taking out the garbage and paying a mortgage.

Who would Ennis and Jack have been had they decided to stop the secret love and live with one another? I’m betting it would have been a different kind of love story. I think all that fabulous lust would have transformed into an everyday depth of caring that we saw in the latter part of the movie.

Maybe they would have shared Thanksgiving Dinner and the Fourth of July. They could have been there to take care of each other. Together they could have watched some of the best sunsets ever. They would have been available with a hug any of the dozens of times one is needed. And, Ennis would have been there for Jack’s death — perhaps he might have even prevented it.

Soaring heights or peaceful depths?
We choose — and with the choices create our lives.


Many of us have lived from soaring heights to peaceful depths at different times in our lives. Some of us have tried to live both at the same time.

Culturally, we’ve been known for the former: the hedonistic pleasure seekers. Is it true or false for most of us? Who are we? And, does it differ by gender? Does it differ by age?

Is our interest in marriage an attempt to reflect our “real” culture, which has always been more stable and deep than heterosexuals supposed? Or, is our interest in marriage a reflection of our desire to transform gay relationships into stronger, deeper commitments?

I don’t know.

But I do know this: if marriage had been available to Ennis and Jack, it would have been a different movie. And — although I know movies thrive on unrequited love and illicit sex

— I wonder if Ennis might really have been afraid of losing the mania and obsession. Are we?

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