Rural Queerness and Nature

Jack and Ennis’ love story in Brokeback Mountain is a story of gay men yearning for a place within their extremely masculine and exclusionary community. Jack and Ennis were both born in very poor and rural areas in Wyoming. Their occupations require backbreaking and terrifying hard labor- leading sheep through the ridges of Brokeback mountain. The culture they belong to celebrates individualism, hard work, and masculinity- while completely rejecting homosexuality. Both men were apprehensive when realizing their attraction, fearing what this development would mean for their future and safety. The only time they feel safe enough to be intimate is totally secluded from their community and in nature, never able to share their sexuality with those they love.

This interaction between homosexuality and hyper-masculine culture reminds of Eli Clare’s connection to his home in Exile and Pride. Clare describes an environment strongly connected to the land, cushioned between the pacific ocean and Siskiyou mountains. While Clare feels a strong sense of pride in his homeland, he also recounts the rampant homophobia and bigotry that caused him to seek out a more accepting environment. While it is true that Clare faced oppression and violence in his home of rural Oregan, he urges the reader to avoid generalization. Rural America is stereotyped as being firmly anti-queer and conservative, restricting existence for anyone with an identity that isn’t white, cis, and straight. While some Americans may certainly behave in this way, Clare reminds us that queer people were born and exist in these communities. Despite their oppression, queer people from rural America form the same bonds with their environment and culture that straight people do. An appreciation for nature and a tightly knit community will always be a part of them, even if homophobia drives them away.

“In writing about the backwoods and the rural, white, working-class culture found there, I am not being nostalgic, reaching backward toward a re-creation of the past. Rather I am reaching towards my bones”(Clare, 12).

This quote perfectly describes Clare’s dichotomy of resistance and pride. Resistance to the bigotry and trauma he experienced in his hometown and pride in the environment that birthed him. This idea connects to Ennis and Jack relationship’s with their communities and each other. When their relationship first began, both men knew that they had to keep their time together a secret. In their “real” lives they had to work, be married to women, and produce children. Attempting to build a life together was almost out of the question, two men living together could lead to death and violence. Since they could not be together in their community, Ennis and Jack connect through their environment. Their most intimate and happiest times together were spent in tents on Brokeback mountain- totally isolated in the environment that bonds them together in shared connectivity. When ostracized from the communities they were born into, Clare, Ennis, and Jack reach for the embrace of nature, one that would never reject them for their identities. Queer people exist in rural areas and deserve support and representation without being lumped into the stereotype of “bigots” or being excluded from their communities.

One thought on “Rural Queerness and Nature”

  1. It’s interesting to point out how Brokeback Mountain exemplifies some of Eli Clare’s arguments about rural LGBTQ communities. I think it’s also important to highlight how, while Jack and Ennis reveal some insights about rural identity, simply the fact of their rural environment comments on queer communities. For instance, you mention how the culture in Brokeback Mountain celebrates individualism, hard work, and masculinity. These notions and stereotypes have been used to construct the image of the country-brute, but it’s ironically the same society and values which lead Jack and Ennis to come together. Neither Jack nor Ennis seem to abandon these values throughout the book. And in fact, the pair comes to resemble something very different from the contemporary idea of the cosmopolitan gay couple.

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