As a sex therapist, I see lots of what sociologists call MSMs – men who have sex with men and who don’t identify as gay. I’ve been wondering what they talk about after seeing Brokeback Mountain together. Apparently, they discuss the cinematography. As much as the movie has given straight guys license to tongue-kiss as a joke (everyone’s seen the Mad TV sketch about the football fans who find themselves inexplicably sucking face), there’s a looming silence in the land between the “bi-curious” guys who haunt Craigslist and the women who must know in their heart of hearts that they married fags. I’m waiting for the meta-media event where Brokeback Mountain as a cultural phenomenon becomes a plot point in some TV show that catalyzes a discussion of the dick-sucking suburban daddies.

Some gay friends have complained about the lack of hot sex in Brokeback Mountain, as if they expected a Titan Media extravaganza. Since when do closet cases make for ideal sex partners? They may be pent-up and ardent, but they’re usually lacking in the proficiency department, accustomed to seconds-long furtive encounters colored by visions of exposure and ruin. One of the distinctions between out gay guys and MSMs that the movie makes crystal-clear is that the latter never question the assumption that they will marry women, with whom most of their partnered sex takes place, no matter how much they fantasize about doing it with men. (Among the many cinematic portrayals of nightmarish compulsory heterosexuality, my gold standard is the scene in Uli Edel’s Last Exit to Brooklyn where the closet case played by Stephen Lang, disturbed to find himself in love with a drag queen, gives his wife a brief, brutal fuck and immediately pitches over onto his side so we can see the look on his face of stark raving terror.) 

I love the way Brokeback Mountain sketches with haiku succinctness tiny pockets of shame-drenched sexuality: the role of Juarez as a refuge for MSMs…and the semaphore with which married ranchers signal their availability to one another…and the austere body habitus that religious households cultivate. Just imagine what kind of sex life Jack’s parents had. Ennis’s visit with them is the great under-remarked scene of the movie for me. While Peter McRobbie’s dried-up stick of a father speaks volumes in his terse interrogation of Ennis, I’m haunted by everything that pre-PFLAG mom Roberta Maxwell (a great stage actress who played the girl in the original Broadway production of Equus) conveys with her eyes alone: vast acres of warmth, compassion, grief, encouragement, and sexual starvation.

Nightcharm, posted March 2, 2006