Rural Queerness and Homophobia

The novella Brokeback Mountain contains themes of homophobia in rural America and the consequences of being openly queer in a society where this is not accepted. The themes of being queer in a rural area are also shared in Eli Clare’s Exile and Pride, in which Clare shares about being queer and disabled within a poor working-class community.
Although Brokeback Mountain is a novel about the experience of being queer in a rural American setting, it rarely actually talks about queer identity. In fact, the only time it is ever really brought up using language about queerness is when Ennis said that he “ain’t no queer” and Jack responded with “me neither” (Proulx 15). However, was also a scene in which Ennis states that he and Jack cannot live together through sharing that a gay man in his childhood town was beat to death with a tire iron. He used this story to portray his fear for the violent and rampant homophobia in working-class rural communities. Throughout the entire story it is made very clear that they could be killed for being openly queer.
Exile and Pride relates to Brokeback Mountain through its discussions of being openly queer in rural areas. Although Clare also speaks of feeling as though he was exiled from his hometown community for being a “dyke in a straight world” several times throughout his book, there was one specific example of queerness in a rural setting that seemed different than the other stories he shared. Clare reflected on attending his grandfather’s funeral and seeing his aunt’s partner considered as a part of their family. He says that “I am quite sure that my aunt has never introduced Barb to Uncle John or Aunt Esther, Uncle Henry or Aunt Lillian as her partner, lover, girlfriend. Yet Barb is unquestionably family, sitting with my grandfather’s immediate relatives near the coffin, openly comforting my aunt” (Clare 33). By sharing this, Clare was explaining the complexities of racism and homophobia within the white working-class community – a community similar to those in Brokeback Mountain. Clare continues that “in this extended working-class family, unspoken lesbianism balanced against tacit acceptance means that Barb is family, that Aunt Margaret and she are treated as a couple, and that the overt racism Barb would otherwise experience from these people is muffled. Not ideal, but better than frigid denial, better than polite manners and backhanded snubs” (34). However, Clare later shares in the chapter that he would be concerned for the safety of a queer person in his town who had not known the residents for decades.
The example of Clare’s aunt and her partner shows the delicate balance of what will be tolerated by that community. However, it also shows a lot about how queerness is only tolerated if it is never spoken of as an explicit thing. His family was only okay with his aunt’s relationship because she had never shared the nature of the relationship overtly but rather allowed to be an assumed thing. In the same nature, Jack and Ennis refused to call themselves queer because of the consequences of being overtly queer, even though they were having this conversation while discussing their sexual relationship. The ideas reflected in both stories is that rural queerness is something that can only be handled in small amounts and if it follows the idea of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of keeping something ambiguous – although even this does not always stop the violence of homophobia that is seen both in Brokeback Mountain and other works as well as in tragic real-life instances.

Leave a Reply