My Own 'Brokeback Mountain'

By Colbert, Chuck | National Catholic Reporter, February 3, 2006 | Go to article overview

My Own 'Brokeback Mountain'


Colbert, Chuck, National Catholic Reporter


Sooner or later, more than a few of us men do a mountain stint. For me, movie scenes from "Brokeback Mountain" flash bigger-than-life reminders of time I spent on that lonely hilltop. My Brokeback occurred 20 years ago in San Francisco. Serving as a naval officer, I was engaged to be married to a woman.

But a severe case of cold feet pushed me to a Critical turning point. Unlike Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), the movie's protagonists, I broke off that engagement six weeks short of my wedding day.

Believe me, it was not easy telling my fiancee a hurtful truth. I was gay, but my being gay was not her fault. Yes, I really loved her, but a marriage would have been disastrous for both of us.

I shiver to think what my life would look like today if I had continued denying a gay male identity, trying to live a lie that I could no longer sustain.

I was an only son, and pressures of family, church and state weighed heavily on me. So much expectation rested on my shoulders to marry well and carry on the family name. For Ennis and Jack, different societal forces, very real threats of violence and death, ensnared them.

Looking back on my life, I realize the inner courage that this then very conflicted 28-year-old naval officer managed to muster was nothing less than a miracle.

My fiancee's mother phoned a few days later and said to me, "Chuck, I know that what you did for my daughter, telling her, you did out of love for her. And I will never forget that."

Fortunately, I lived in California. Gay life and same-sex love had traveled a long way from 1963 to 1983, from the loneliness and heartbreak that E. Annie Proulx's short story tells in wrenchingly stark prose.

The story's plot line and mood are only enhanced on film. The motion picture captures all of the pathos and more, with full moons and crystalline blue skies, the alpine beauty of big-sky country Wyoming-style, the wide-open stretches of landscape that Ennis and Jack share with coyotes, bears and herds of sheep.

For me, Gustavo Santaolalla's haunting music captures perfectly the prevailing melancholy. That music and the dark Wyoming skies pierced only by moonlight enabled me to go back in time, connecting with my own private Brokeback. In the film, it is the mountain's biting cold that brings Ennis and Jack together, if only for the warmth of human connection in a bedroll. Suddenly, the spark of same-sex male desire ignites and never really dies out. …

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