My love affair with queer cinema began in 2005, when my father took me to our local independent cinema for a preview screening of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. I was 14 and only just beginning to consider — albeit timidly — my emerging sexuality from the safety of my bedroom. Up until that evening, my exposure to gay sex had been strictly limited to a few late-night Google searches, resulting in more images of horse whips and leather ass-chaps than men kissing under moonlight.
The photos I found online were abrasive and forthright, a stark contrast to my apologetic nature and certainly more graphic than the heterosexual sex-ed illustrations I’d seen at school. This was perhaps one of the reasons I’d been left so enamoured by the trailer for Brokeback Mountain, with its meandering shots of rolling mountainside, gentle banjo soundtrack, and two men kissing in a way that seemed ‘normal’ and loving.
The film’s trailer carved out a small window to a world I’d heard of, but not yet experienced. It validated the ‘funny tummy’ feeling I occasionally grappled with around other boys, and reassured me of the joys salvageable from being labeled ‘different’.
When my father suggested we see the film together, I was equal parts thrilled and mortified. It felt like all the hidden parts of who I was were being abruptly pushed to surface. I was terrified of the conversation that might ensue; would the words be forcibly pulled from my throat like rainbow handkerchiefs from a clown’s pocket?
Dad, I… am… gay.
Adapted from the short story of the same name by Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain tells the story of rodeo cowboy Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and ranch hand Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) who, in 1963, fall in love while working the same ranch in Wisconsin. Sitting in the cinema, I recall glancing to my father while anything remotely sexual played out on screen — trying to gauge any kind of reaction. When Ennis flips Jack in the tent… When they leave behind their wives and meet up on the first of many “fishing trips”… When a disillusioned Jack sleeps with a male sex worker…
Was dad repulsed by what he saw? Would he mind if I found it beautiful?
The tension I felt as the credits began to roll was unlike anything I’d experienced before. It might’ve only been a film, but instinctively I knew that my father’s response to it would be somewhat indicative of his underlying views on homosexuality and, by extension — me. How could it not be?
“Wow,” he said, removing his glasses as he paused for impact — “wasn’t that incredible?”
I can now look back and appreciate the significance of what my father did for me that night. Even though I wouldn't come out of the closet for another year or so, taking me along to watch Brokeback Mountain saved me considerable inner turmoil. For the first time I knew that, when I was ready, my family would embrace the queer twist in my very own storyline.
That's what the best films should do - reflect, challenge, and validate the multi-faceted nature of those who continue to watch and need them.
These days, it’s encouraging to examine the film and television landscape and watch as LGBTIQ+ stories shift from the peripheral into the mainstream. From last year’s surprise Moonlight victory at the Academy Awards to the recent success of Call Me By Your Name; the legacy of RuPaul’s Drag Race to the multiple Emmy wins of Transparent — queer stories have never been more diverse or readily available.