Queer Identity and Silence in “Brokeback Mountain”

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.

3 thoughts on “Queer Identity and Silence in “Brokeback Mountain””

  1. Hi! I really appreciate your close reading of the double negative in Brokeback Mountain. I had not noticed that when I read it and had not thought about how it was actually a declaration of queerness while seeming as though it was not. The idea of “evading a label” was so important for their safety but the idea of using queer in the same way is interesting – I agree with your definition that it pushes against having one set definition, and think that the way you tied that to Brokeback Mountain was a really impactful analysis!

  2. Hi!
    I love your close reading of the double negative quote and how it exposes their queer identity! I totally missed that and think it’s a really important moment that falls under the radar. I also think that both the hostile culture and the internalized homophobia both Jack and Ennis feel are valid factors as to why they are unable to express themselves and accept their sexuality. But what their queer identity means to them and how they express it is entirely up to them and not what society labels as queer or straight.

  3. This is so interesting. I hadn’t noticed the double negative in these quotes until you pointed them out, and your connection makes so much sense to queerness as an identity. In the other post that I read, the author talked about how Ennis and Jack should be able to live in the world without their sexuality defining who they are but rather just be a part of who they are. I think your post speaks to a similar theme of identity and how Jack and Ennis don’t want to label themselves as queer because then that becomes their defining characteristic, which should not be the case.

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