Author Topic: Brokeback Syndrome? Not what I thought it was...  (Read 7367 times)

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Brokeback Syndrome? Not what I thought it was...
« on: Jan 13, 2006, 05:58 PM »
Don't know if this was posted before but I thought this was an interesting article I found...

Probing the ‘Brokeback Syndrome’
Can a straight man fall in love with another man?

Friday, January 13, 2006

DESPITE HEATH LEDGER’S critically acclaimed acting in “Brokeback Mountain,” it’s not entirely convincing when his character, Ennis del Mar, defiantly insists, “You know, I ain’t queer.”

What makes the statement difficult for some audiences to accept at face value is that Ennis says it right after he and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) engage in decidedly queer sex.

Movie critics and the media—gay and mainstream—are largely ignoring Ennis’ protestations, universally classifying “Brokeback” as “the gay cowboy movie.”

Both lead actors drew the ire of some gay moviegoers and critics by insisting in interviews that their characters aren’t gay.

“I approached the story believing that these are actually two straight guys who fall in love,” Gyllenhaal says in a recent Details magazine story. “These are two straight guys who develop this love, this bond.”

Ledger attempts a similar argument in an interview in Time magazine.

“I don’t think Ennis could be labeled as gay. Without Jack Twist, I don’t know that he ever would have come out,” Ledger tells the magazine. “I think the whole point was that it was two souls that fell in love with each other.”

So can a straight man really fall in love with another man, or are love and sex inextricably tied to sexual orientation? Does “Brokeback Syndrome,” at least as Ledger and Gyllenhaal tell it, occur in nature?

Eric Marcus, the gay author of “Is It A Choice? Answers to the Most Frequently Asked Questions About Gay & Lesbian People,” dismisses talk of Ennis and Jack being anything but gay as box office-influenced political correctness intended to steer straight audiences to the film.

“It’s absolutely a universal love story—a love story about two gay men,” Marcus says. “My vote is that Jack and Ennis are gay, and there was never any doubt in my mind.”

But how can Jack and Ennis be gay when their sexual and romantic lives included wives, girlfriends and children?

“It gets complicated when we have to assign labels to something that is often more complicated than the label presents, …,” Marcus says. “[But] in terms of what they desired, it seems pretty clear that what they desired was each other.”

Even the people responsible for bringing “Brokeback” to the screen don’t all agree with Ledger and Gyllenhaal. Director Ang Lee told this publication that the bond between Jack and Ennis constitutes a “gay relationship.”

Producer James Schamus responds to Gyllenhaal’s statement in Details with surprise.

“Did he really say that?” Schamus asks in the magazine. “Well, I suppose movies can be Rorschach tests for all of us, but damn if these characters aren’t gay to me.”

BUT GYLLENHAAL AND LEDGER aren’t the only people unconvinced that their characters are completely queer. Just as clearly as Marcus sees two closeted gay men, Fritz Klein observed something different when he walked out of the theater.

“I left saying, ‘Oh, what a nice film with two main characters who were bisexual,’” says Klein, a bisexual activist and author of “The Bisexual Option.”

“In our society, it’s so much easier to say they’re gay or straight and leave out the gray area of bisexuality,” Klein says. “What makes them not bisexual? That’s what I want to know.”

Luigi Ferrer, president of BiNet USA and board member of the Bisexual Resource Center, two bisexual rights organizations, asks the same question.

“I wondered why the headline of all the stories about the movie is always ‘gay romance,’” Ferrer says. “Because in actuality, if we’re talking behaviorally, both men are bisexual.”

Both Ferrer and Klein point to the extended relationships Jack and Ennis maintain with their wives alongside their two-decade affair with each other.

Klein makes a distinction between the two characters, speculating that Jack‑—‑who initiates the love affair with Ennis and has sex with other men—is more “toward the gay side of bisexuality.”

Ennis, whose sole same-sex relationship is with Jack, is “a bit more toward the straight side of being bisexual,” Klein says.

Dee Hawkins, a 22-year-old bisexual from Chicago, agrees.

“It was never mentioned in the movie, but I definitely got the sense that Ennis was an example of what being a bisexual person is like,” Hawkins says. “He didn’t search out men, and you also saw where he was really in love with his wife. Then after they separated, he was attracted to other women.”

But the heterosexual marriages of Jack and Ennis weren’t significant enough to change Marcus’ opinion that the men are gay.

“I don’t doubt they had feelings for their spouses, but there seemed to be no question as to where the depth of their feelings were,” Marcus says. “I don’t think this was the story of bisexual men struggling with love for two different partners of two different genders.”

Kevin Johnson, 38, identifies as bisexual. He agrees that simply having sexual experiences with both genders doesn’t qualify someone as a bisexual, gay, or straight.

“There’s lots of gay men who have had wives—that doesn’t mean they’re less gay, and that doesn’t mean they’re bisexual,” Johnson says. “The act [between Jack and Ennis] is homosexual—the people are complex.”

INSTEAD OF ADDRESSING whether Jack and Ennis are gay, bisexual or straight men with an anomalous “Brokeback Syndrome,” the media watchdog Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation opted to promote “Brokeback” as a neutral, universal love story.

“While the media was quick to brand this the ‘gay cowboy’ film, we’ve really discussed the film as being one about love and the relationship that develops between these two characters,” says Damon Romine, entertainment media director for GLAAD.

“It takes place in a time where gay or bisexual people couldn’t acknowledge who they were or who they loved, so there are no labels for the relationship that develops between these two men,” Romine adds.

But with media outlets labeling “Brokeback” as “gay,” GLAAD advocates the inclusion of bisexuals in discussions of the film, Klein says.

“When it is this obvious that it is a bisexual character, but it’s still not discussed, this is part of the erasure problem bisexual people face,” he says. “It’s another example of bisexuality being eliminated, or ignored or being put under the carpet.”

Exactly what determines someone’s sexual orientation and where it falls in a spectrum can be ambiguous. There is no clinical definition of the term bisexual, and many mental health experts and lay people doubt even the existence of bisexuality.

A common misconception is that bisexuals are equally attracted to both men and women simultaneously and equally, but rarely is that the case, experts agree.

Johnson, who had a longterm relationship with another man, is currently dating a woman and hasn’t been romantically involved with a man for more than 10 years. He has no plans to date another man, but says he is still bisexual.

“The relationships I’ve had with women tended to encompass more of what I was looking for on an emotional level,” Johnson says.

The only data available on the prevalence of people on the sliding scale of sexual orientation comes from self-reporting, with estimates for bisexuals ranging as high as sex researcher Alfred Kinsey’s 50 percent of the U.S. population. Kinsey’s methods gauge sexuality using a linear scale from zero to six—where zero represents “exclusively heterosexual,” six signifies “exclusively homosexual,” with degrees of bisexuality in between.

People who experience “Brokeback Syndrome” could, say, be a one on Kinsey’s scale.

Klein created his own, more expanded, scale that measures attraction, fantasies and behavior toward both sexes, as well as emotional preference compared to social preference. Klein’s scale also measures the variables for the past, present and “ideal” as a way of recognizing that sexual orientation is “an ongoing dynamic process.”

But some researchers suggest self-reporting is unreliable. They turn to more physiological, and controversial, methods to determine sexual orientation. Researchers from Northwestern University recently published a study that implied bisexuality does not exist in men, after sensors attached to the penises of supposedly bisexual men didn’t detect arousal while the men watched heterosexual pornography.

“We looked at arousal, because I don’t think a person can change his sexual arousal to men and women over his lifetime,” says Gerulf Rieger, one of the Northwestern researchers. “Measuring arousal is more stable than self reports.”

But activists and other sex researchers lambasted Rieger’s research for using “crude” and incomplete criteria.

“Sometimes we tend to focus only on the sexual part of [bisexuality],” Ferrer says. “We’re not looking at the emotional or affectionate component of it.”

HAWKINS SAYS SHE enjoys sexual relationships with men, but prefers dating other women because of the closeness and emotional connection she develops with them, she says.

“There was a point where I kind of identified as being completely gay, but the only reason I felt like that is because I felt like that was how people viewed me,” she says. “It’s hard for people to believe—both heterosexual and gay—that someone can be attracted to both men and women in the same capacity.”

Hawkins and Johnson both say they’re frequently accused of being confused, indecisive or going through a phase.

“As far as straight people are concerned, you’re queer, no questions about it,” Johnson says. “You get a similar bias from the gay community who says you’re too chicken shit to come out, or you’re greedy.”

Another popular misconception about bisexuals is that they want the best of both worlds by sleeping with men and women simultaneously—something Johnson says he is “too lazy to do.”

Like Ennis and Jack, Hawkins has never disclosed her bisexuality to her opposite-sex partners, but she says lesbians she knows struggle with her desires for men.

“I’ve found women who don’t identify as bisexual usually find it to be very unappealing, because they assume that as soon as a guy comes along you’ll leave them, like you don’t take the relationship seriously,” Hawkins says. “But even though I’m still incredibly attracted to men, I won’t allow myself to act on that because I’m in a relationship with a woman.”

BISEXUAL ACTIVISTS HAVE long searched for another label that doesn’t imply people who have relationships with both sexes are attracted equally to men and women, and seek relationships with both partners of both genders at the same time, Ferrer says.

“One definition I like is somebody that acknowledges and honors their potential for sexual and emotional relationships with more than one gender,” Ferrer says.

Trying to diagnose a “Brokeback Syndrome,” lumping characters Jack and Ennis—or anyone else—into a label goes against the spirit of the gay rights movement, says activist and blogger Keith Boykin.

“I think labels can be very limiting for a lot of people because when it comes to a community as diverse as ours, it’s not possible to find a label that suits everyone,” Boykin says. “It seems inconsistent to force people to accept or adopt a label for a movement that’s all about self-identification.”

One label Jack and Ennis rarely, if ever, get tagged with is “men on the down low,” even though they are married and have children, but still secretly sleep with men. Boykin, who is black and co-founder of the National Black Justice Coalition, a black gay rights group, says this represents a “racial double standard” since the relationship between Jack and Ennis is heralded as an epic love story instead of a threat to other people.

“It’s not really the term [down low] that matters, it’s what the term implies—and when you hear ‘down low,’ you don’t think good things, you think evil and deceptive,” Boykin says. “We’re more willing to consider the nuances of why [Jack and Ennis] are doing this, instead of seeing them as pathological the way we do with black men.”

Marcus believes it’s unfair to apply modern terms to characters like Jack and Ennis.

“It’s more important to look at how people behave than what to label them,” Marcus says. “I think we worry too much about labels, and the labels we have don’t adequately cover the range of sexual experiences people have.”

It is sometimes important for people to label themselves bisexual, especially in medical settings, so they and their doctors can accurately assess their health risks, Ferrer says.

And having “bisexual” as a label to identify with was more important to Johnson’s sense of self-understanding as a young man, he says.

“The older I get, the more I think it really doesn’t matter what the hell you call yourself,” Johnson says. “The expression of love is what matters, not the gender.”

Ryan Lee can be reached at

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Re: Brokeback Syndrome? Not what I thought it was...
« Reply #1 on: Jan 13, 2006, 06:24 PM »
In a sense, I'm glad that humans and human emotions are so rich and complex. 

Thanks for sharing this dirtbiker.