A new article up on The Thought Erotic about sexuality and love in speculative fiction (/television).
by Courtney E. Morgan
There have been more and more representations of queer characters and relationships in mainstream media lately—more depictions of fully fleshed out, round protagonists, given fullness and complexity in their relationships and their narratives. Queer characters can be the leads in important movies, can win awards: Moonlight, Call Me By Your Name, Battle of the Sexes come to mind. It’s a beautiful thing.
Queer cinema, of course, has been making incredible movies for decades, but there’s been a real shift, with queer characters and relationships becoming more common and normalized and even centered, in commercial films and TV shows in recent years. However, very few of these narratives offer really “happy” or positive endings for their characters—particularly rare are storylines with queer relationships thriving or even remaining intact at the end of the film.
This has something to do with genre, of course—these films mentioned aren’t exactly rom-coms—but I think it has equally as much to do with acceptance, or lack of, and the lingering (often blatant) homophobia still permeating our culture.
I think of an interview with Annie Proulx many years ago, after her novella, Brokeback Mountain, broke out onto the big screen. Brokeback Mountain, in both story and movie form, is a love story between two gay cowboys, set in Wyoming in the 1960s, and it ends with a horrific murder.
In an interview with the Paris Review, Proulx lamented: “I wish I’d never written the story. It’s just been the cause of hassle and problems and irritation since the film came out … So many people have completely misunderstood the story. I think it’s important to leave spaces in a story for readers to fill in from their own experience, but unfortunately the audience that Brokeback reached most strongly have powerful fantasy lives. And one of the reasons we keep the gates locked here is that a lot of men have decided that the story should have had a happy ending… They can’t bear the way it ends—they just can’t stand it. So they rewrite the story.”
I find this anecdote telling but also surprising—that men (both gay and hetero, but primarily hetero according to Proulx) so resisted the ending of the story: Jack White’s brutal and homophobic murder.
“They can’t understand that the story isn’t about Jack and Ennis. It’s about homophobia; it’s about a social situation; it’s about a place and a particular mindset and morality. They just don’t get it.”
This does, of course, play into the “bury your gays” or “dead lesbian” tropes in television and film, which is problematic (not to mention easy).
But I think Proulx’s complaints begin to speak to way that art is descriptive and reflects back at us our own cultural values and norms. There can be no happy ending for Jack and Ennis within the confines of a homophobic world.
What I find interesting is that in films like Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name, the homophobia is there, it drives characters and directs their lives, but Elio and Oliver, Chiron and Kevin, still carve out moments of peace and calm, of deep human connection and love.