My Conflicting Feelings on Brokeback Mountain

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree of Separation.

I  finally  went  to  see  Brokeback Mountain,  then  came home, talked to a counselor of mine a while on the phone, and stayed  up  until  5:30  a.m.  before  meditating  to  make  myself sleep. And still, the movie  had me grinding my teeth in my sleep.

The Long-Awaited Honest-to-God Secret to Being Happy

I knew what it was about and had said I wouldn’t see it, but  something kept calling me back to it. I’ve been a Heath Ledger fan since his Roar days, but in this movie, I hated Ennis, his character. Hated him.

Hated him.

Hated him, hated him, hated him.

Others walked out of the movie crying. I walked out with a clenched jaw.

I’m not anti-gay. I’ve had gay male friends since 1979. Some openly gay and others not. There was many a night I cried on the shoulder of a gay friend in college. They were safe. They understood. They empathized with what it was like to not have the guy of your dreams interested in you. They were artistic and musical and fun (at least, the gay men I hung out  with were).

One of the most memorable times was one afternoon in college, sitting on a hillside with Jeannie and Michael, watching a tug-of-war fraternity game in the valley below. One of the frat boys had caught my  attention—blond, longish hair, tan, chiseled, shirtless. I did the equivalent of licking my lips and commenting on how much he looked like the  Greek God Apollo.

“Oooh,” Jeannie cooed, “I want him so-so-so bad.”

Then from the other side of Jeannie, I heard Michael sigh. “Oh, honey, so do I!”

After college, I lost touch with most of my gay friends, but when I converted to paganism, I discovered a whole new set of gay men I adored. I’ve had some very close gay men friends over the years and I’ve long been sympathetic to their struggle for acceptance. So for a movie about two gay cowboys and their bittersweet love affair spanning decades, well, I had sympathetic feelings about that.

I loved the movie. It was beautifully done, the scenery was  striking, the acting magnificent, the styles and changes in the decades fun to watch. The love story between the two men was deeply touching.

I liked Jack, liked the way he wanted to be true to his feelings, to be honest with them, to have the love of his life— Ennis—even though it  was dangerous, and to find a way of making it work.

I hated Ennis.

Not at first. But when he and Alma married, oh, just the look on  his face. It was the only look he ever gave her. No smiles for his wife! Or as he said later, he had to live with what he was stuck with. By the time they had a couple of kids and she was struggling to make a home while he was closed in on him- self, I started to dislike him. It reminded me too much of how my ex used to pull in his feelings in a tight ball and hide inside himself.

By the time Ennis got so excited about Jack coming to see him and then her accidentally spying the two men mauling each other,  I was sitting teary-eyed in my seat.  The actress was so powerful at showing her sense of distress and hiding her hurt while he rushed off,  full of lies,  to spend days with his lover when   she   repeatedly   couldn’t   get him off the  couch to go anywhere with her to socialize. She kept it secret and drowned for years  in her own ache for him to love her back, just as strongly as he ached for Jack’s love.

He was a lousy father and a terrible husband. I hated him for the way he’d get a call from his lover and dump their kids on her to take care of while she was working, the way he took out his frustrations on her and held her down and held her back when there were other men who loved her and valued her and he did not. I hated him not for being gay and  struggling with missing his lover but for what his deception did to his wife and daughters every day after day after day. He imposed his own misery on  Alma, sentenced her to something she never asked for.

At one point, he blames Jack for being where he is—for having nothing, for having lost everything, for staying in piddly jobs for years so  he could easily leave to meet Jack whenever possible. He blamed Jack, he blamed his wife, he blamed every- body else for his lonely, miserable state. But it was his own doing, his own fault, and he never took responsibility for living a lie or for forcing his wife to live a lie with him.

I hated the way he never smiled for Alma, never appreciated her, but with Jack, it was an easy smile and a warmth that was nothing like he  had for his wife…ever. I swear I cheered when Alma divorced him and I was thrilled to see her move on to a new life and family with a man who truly loved her.

So for a movie about two gay men and a love story I was sympathetic to, the thing that bothered me was the deception.

It struck a chord for me, too, a deep one I guess I had to stay up all  night thinking through so I can finally release it. I knew I needed to go so I could bring some things to the surface that have hurt for a long time

Throughout the movie, I kept thinking of my ex’s gay friends.

All the times when he was congenial and happy with them in a way I never saw on his face with me, ever. All the times he jetted off to vacations with them all over the country and into Canada and reported back on how they went dancing together at trendy clubs when  I’d  wanted for ten years to go dance with my husband at something  other  than the annual Christmas party deejay music that was exact same thing every year. All the side trips he made on business trips to go to gay clubs and really fancy restaurants in Atlanta with his gay friends when I would have loved to go on a romantic weekend getaway without the girls (I can think of two times in 18 years, one for our 10th anniversary and the other in conjunction with a business trip to Apalachicola). All the parties of theirs and dinners with them we went to where I didn’t understand the jokes or the history and no one would tell me and I felt like such an outsider. Some of the things some of them said to me over the years and I didn’t say anything back because I either didn’t understand or didn’t want to offend my ex’s friends…the way they often told me in kitchens littered with whiskey bottles or in the hallway of a restaurant that I held him back from who he really was and I should just let him go and how cruel I was to insist he spend time with me when he could be with them…. The way my ex denied that his friends were gay until even our daughters said it was obvious.

The hurt. The jealousy. Not that he had friends, because I urged him many times to seek out more and new friends locally and I never tried to get him to give up his old friends from high school or work. But that he had a connection with them that he never had with me, and he shared so much of himself with them that he could never open up even a little bit and share with me. And that I saw it time and again, even when I refused to acknowledge it. All those years, it built up inside me that I was never as important to him, never as valued to him for who I was, that I was something to be tolerated or changed.

It goes so far back and so deep that I’d forgotten how even before we married, he told me how good his friends were at certain things and I’d never be that good and need not even try. That’s why I never sang in front of him again, even lullabies to the girls, and why I rarely played piano in his presence. It was the sense of being stuck with me when he’d rather be elsewhere. Including that night right before our second anniversary when I spent twenty minutes in line at the mall paying for his present and  we were late meeting his friends for margaritas, a weekly event, and he told me he spent too much time with me anyway and not enough with his  friends, even though we often spent less than an hour alone together in a whole week. Any time at all with me seemed to be too much for him, even in the first two years of our marriage.

All that, this movie dredged up for a final look before saying goodbye to it.

It was interesting to see my feelings reflected on the face of an  actress in a movie when she was put second so many times to her husband’s wishes to be with his friend. It’s some- thing I can finally purge now.

I think the ideal ending would have been Ennis reading a note from his ex-wife that said, “Thank you for being such an ass or you never would have driven me away and I never would have ended up with someone who really loves and values me.” But then, the focus of the movie is about two gay cowboys and their love for each other and not about the deception of their wives.