Privacy and the “Queer” Family of Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain creates an image of the queer family that differs drastically from the family presented in either Paris is Burning or All About My Mother. These two works show the queer family as a haven for the abused and oppressed, a community where members can find love and support. Brokeback Mountain, by contrast, presents an insular queer family (that is, the “family” of Jack and Ennis) that is totally disinterested in creating a relationship with the outside world, either as some part of a “queer” community or as part of society more generally.

Jack and Ennis’ meeting at Brokeback Mountain, itself, sets the stage for the insularity of their queer family. In this pastoral, seemingly unobserved place, they imagine that they exist entirely outside of the social norms and expectations that they would otherwise face them. Their conversation after their first sexual encounter shows this:

… Ennis said “I’m not no queer,” and Jack jumped in with “Me neither. A sone-shot thing. Nobody’s business but ours” (7).

What’s particularly interesting about Jack saying that it’s “nobody’s business but ours” is that it creates a direct connection between the idea of being queer and being observed as a queer. Thus the queer family changes from being about support in the face of adversity (as in Paris is Burning and All About My Mother) and becomes a separatist unit, founded in romantic love and aiming to hide or disguise itself from heteronormative society by invoking some right to privacy.

This right to privacy, I think, is the main difference between Almadóvar’s queer family and the queer family of Brokeback Mountain. While Almodóvar, in keeping with the theme of transnationalism, seeks to broaden the queer family to promote general compassion and a sense of community, Jack and Ennis seek merely the privacy to do as they will, disassociating entirely with society (e.g., the suggestion of moving to Mexico and abandoning the country entirely) and seeming to desire an escape from human community entirely, instead opting for a monogamous and insular relationship.

One thing this analysis hasn’t taken into account is the fact that the society that Ennis and Jack wanted to leave was one that decidedly detested them for their love. The question, then, is this: Would they have desired their privacy if their society hadn’t been so oppressive? If we take as evidence the fact that modern gay marriages lead to the creation of private families, it would seem that the answer would be yes.

This story of a private and insular family leads to more precise questions about the “queer” family: Can private units like the one Jack and Ennis desire be considered “queer families?” If so, why? Merely because they have an atypical gender structure? How much privacy can be allowed in the queer family, and what kind of exclusivity is acceptable in it?

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