Recently the Cute Little Red Headed Girlfriend and I went to the Autry Center for the first of four programs on the history of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in the West. The first program in the Autry's OutWest series was a panel discussion revolving around the movie Brokeback Mountain, called "Whatever Happened to Ennis Del Mar?"
In addition to the panel discussion and reception, attendees were invited to view the shirts featured in the final moments of Brokeback Mountain, currently on temporary exhibit as part of the museum's extensive movie costume collection. You can see the shirts in the snapshot shown at left.
During the panel introduction, members of two groups in the crowded auditorium were asked to stand: representatives of the International Gay Rodeo Association and "the Brokies" (like Trekkies, but for Brokeback Mountain), who had flown in for the occasion. I knew the movie had a fan base, but I hadn't realized until that afternoon how ardent it was.
The panel discussion ranged over a variety of topics, including whether Brokeback Mountain could be considered a gay film or a Western, the movie's representation of male friendship and masculinity, and the film's reception in the U.S. Panelist Kenneth Turan, film critic for the Los Angeles Times and National Public Radio, read his original published review of the film as well as his scathing post-Oscars commentary on Brokeback Mountain losing Best Picture to the movie Crash.
As a Westerner myself, I have a longstanding personal interest in the history of the U.S. West. But I was also drawn the Autry Center's OutWest series because of some documentary footage on gay and lesbian elders that I saw many years ago that has stuck in my mind ever since. In first person interviews, gay and lesbians in their 80s and 90s discussed their lives on film. One of the men discussed his life as a cowboy, describing how he moved west to escape the heterosexual expectations placed on him by family and society.
Although he was seeking a life of solitude, once this man arrived in the West he realized there were others like him who had left home for similar reasons. When I heard this story, there was something startlingly obvious about it that struck me. I think part of what made Brokeback Mountain such a phenomena is that it brings to the surface this hidden yet in some ways plainly evident history of gays and lesbians seeking freedom in the West.
According to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times about the Autry's OutWest series, the next program will focus on a female stagecoach driver who lived her life as a man.