“The world I grew up in was one that didn't want to hear anything about my experience as a gay man, and it didn't want me to study my experience,” explained Associate Professor of English Eric Patterson, who also teaches in the American Studies, and Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Studies programs.
Times and attitudes have since changed, though, and Patterson's new book “On Brokeback Mountain: Meditations about Masculinity, Fear, and Love in the Story and the Film,” is proof that his experience can be showcased in this world.
When Patterson first read Annie Proulx's short story “Brokeback Mountain,” he felt connected to it in so many ways.
“A whole range of things that I teach about and do research on were related to the story and the film. It relates to the interests I have in the American West, in movies and fiction about the American West, in classical — meaning Greek and Roman — culture, and English and American poetry,” he said. “The film and story really made me think about the social construction of gender and sexuality.”
After watching the film, Patterson couldn't help writing about the two versions of “Brokeback Mountain.” The writing turned from what Patterson thought was articles into a manuscript for this book. “I couldn't resist writing it,” he confessed.
“It's a comparative discussion of the story and the film, in relation to the cultural construction of masculinity, attitudes toward gay men, attitudes toward homosexuality, and the impact of homophobia on men who love men,” Patterson said of the book.
The book addresses these topics with academic and general audiences in mind. In two introductory sections and seven chapters, Patterson tackles the stereotypes that sometimes overwhelm the issues he focuses on while reflecting on the profound relationship of the movie and story.
As he said, “While it's now possible to affirm and discuss sexual and gender minorities, we still have a long way to go to achieve real inclusion and equality.”
The book was published on Jan. 17, and Patterson said he received his copies just one day after the Jan. 22 death of actor Heath Ledger, who portrayed Ennis del Mar, a sheepherder who develops a relationship with another man, Jack Twist (portrayed by Jake Gyllenhall) in director Ang Lee's film version.
“I think Ledger respected gay men enough to get beyond the jokes and the insults and the stereotypes and the fear, and all that stuff that so many get trapped by, and think about the human experience of men because he had an uncle whom he loved who was a gay man,” Patterson said. “I think that's part of what made his performance in the movie so brilliant.”
Copies of Patterson's book are available at the College Bookstore. Patterson's “Elegy for Heath Ledger” and “Brokeback Mountain: A Story, A Film, Now an Opera?” are available at Rowmanblog.typepad.com; and “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” is available at glbtq.com.