Often, contemporary conceptions of the word “queer” connote an intersectional identity without a clear definition. In fact, “queer” is unique in that it seemingly resists definition. However, in the essay Queer Theory Revisited Michael Hames-Garcia highlights one of the problems with this understanding, “if my heterosexual friend begins to call herself queer, many people… will have many questions for her about what she means by that… the kind of identities that she [as a heterosexual woman] and I [as a gay man] already have determined differently the possibilities for our inhabiting a socially intelligible queer identity” (35). In short, established ideas of ‘queerness’ affect what we come to expect from queer identified people, specifically in that queer connotes a type of gay, white man. Yet, in Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist desperately avoid labels. In turn, this develops into a theme of silence which ironically comments on this problem in “queer.”
Proulx remarks how early in their relationship, “[t]hey never talked about the sex, let it happen… but not saying a goddamn word except once Ennis said ‘I’m not no queer,’ and Jack jumped in with ‘Me neither” (15). The use of double negatives, while common in southern and rural dialects, becomes a positive statement in formal English. Thus, in masking their affection, Ennis inadvertently declares himself “queer” with Jack also sharing in the declaration. And yet, neither party would likely identify openly as “queer.”
Whether their secrecy is entirely due to the hostile culture around them or arising from internalized homophobia, neither situation really gives room for readers to see Ennis nor Jack as queer individuals. Somehow, they evade the label, while still alluding back to queer culture and identity. Paradoxically, this exemplifies both everything we expect and what Hames-Garcia finds problematic with “queer”—gay men who simply aren’t gay men.