In Brokeback Mountain, Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist are two young men living a pastoral life as cowboys/ranch hands; they meet each other for the first time in 1963 in Wyoming, to undertake a sheep herding job for the summer. Their employer’s one rule for them while up on Brokeback Mountain is that one of them has to stay with the sheep out in the fields overnight, and the other can stay at camp. After spending several weeks together enduring the job’s hardships, and with only each other for company, they slowly begin to build a relationship.
While at first their relationship is platonic, it eventually evolves into a romantic one; Brokeback Mountain depicts in depth the struggles and complications - both internal and external – Jack and Ennis must deal with throughout the entirety of their relationship. Attraction Because Ennis lives the stereotypical cowboy lifestyle, he frequently tends to keep to himself; he has experienced many hardships throughout his lifetime, and is not prone to be particularly conversational.
Jack, on the other hand, is easy-going and carefree; his ambitions in life to become a rodeo cowboy have helped him to develop into a loquacious individual – these personality characteristics are illustrated through Jack and Ennis’s first interactions with each other while up on Brokeback Mountain. While at first Jack and Ennis seem like polar opposites, by spending so much time together while herding sheep, it allows them to open up to and identify with each other, and to see that they both feel isolated from society - just to ifferent extents. According to the mere-exposure effect (Saegert et al. , 1973; cited in Hyde & Delamater, 2008), Jack and Ennis’s repeated exposure to one another “[lead] to greater liking for [each other]” (Bornstein, 1989; cited in Hyde & Delamater, 2008, p. 283). This consistently repeated exposure led to Jack and Ennis being able to build rapport amongst themselves, and help them realize that they are alike in many respects.
Homophily, the inclination to be surrounded by and to have contact with people who are similar to ourselves in social status (Hyde & Delamater, 2008), also lends itself well to Jack and Ennis’s relationship, in that, we tend to like people who are similar to ourselves, because they help to positively reaffirm our self-image (Hudson and Levinger, 1978; cited in Hyde & Delamater, 2008). Although Jack and Ennis would consistently butt heads about how to do things, they eventually grew to like each other – albeit, platonically at first – because they felt as if they grew to know and understand one another.
Gender Roles and Socialization Socialization, a method in which a society expresses accepted norms and expectations of an individual (Hyde & Delamater, 2008), is very important in that, it provides an avenue for individuals come to know about gender roles and stereotypes. Via socialization, both Jack and Ennis learned of their expected gender roles, or “a set of… culturally defined expectations, that define how people of one gender ought to behave” (Hyde & Delamater, 2008, pg. 314).
For example, Ennis has been socialized to believe that men are supposed to be masculine, stoic, and composed; however, developing homoerotic feelings for, and engaging in homosexual relations with Jack, are contrary to Ennis’s culturally-defined gender role of a man. After their sheep-herding job is done, and the protagonists part ways, Ennis, unable to adequately comprehend and deal with everything that has happened to him while up on Brokeback Mountain, breaks down in self-disgust, because these events have caused him to question his masculinity, a key part of his identity.
Ennis, attempting to reassert his masculinity, tries to preserve it by waiting until he has privacy (running into a deserted alley way) to act out – because socialization has taught him that men do not act on or display their emotions; upon discovering that he is being observed by another, he defensively (and instinctually) lashes out in rage, like any heterosexual man would be expected to do. Sexual Orientation Throughout the film, various situations arise in which both Jack and Ennis attempt to define their sexual orientation.
Initially, we are lead to assume that both Jack and Ennis identify as heterosexual – Ennis is engaged and is due to be married once he finishes the herding job on Brokeback Mountain, and we also assume that Jack is heterosexual, the reason for this being that straight is the sexuality that is most commonly associated with his chosen profession (although there are some moments in which we may question this assumption about Jack; for example, when he and Ennis first meet, Jack continuously checks Ennis out, attempting to do so discreetly while shaving).
While up on Brokeback Mountain, however, we get more in-depth insight about both Jack and Ennis’s sexuality. After becoming extremely intoxicated one evening, Ennis decides to sleep at camp (instead of with the sheep); Jack convinces Ennis to sleep in the tent with him to avoid the cold, and Jack reaches over and uses Ennis’s hand to stimulate himself. Ennis, still intoxicated and sleep-drunk, is confused about what is happening – once Jack clearly asserts what he’s trying to do, Ennis initially resists him, but eventually succumbs, and Ennis engages in his first homosexual experience.
Ennis realizes something about his relations with Jack are “right”, and continue – although hesitantly at first – to engage in them. Jack, who initiated the homosexual relations, could be placed in one of two categories regarding his sexuality: as bisexual, in that his gender orientation is geared towards both genders, or conversely as a situational homosexual.
Situational homosexuality also helps to explain the late-immergence and occurrence of homosexuality in Ennis; in situational homosexuality – or deprivation homosexuality – a person who identifies as heterosexual may engage in homosexuality activity, due to fact that they are in situations in which they are deprived of their regular heterosexual activity (Hyde & Delamater, 2008, p. 361) ; while being away from other individuals for months at a time while on herding jobs, Jack may have turned to heterosexual activity, in order to satiate his need for sexual activity. Conclusion
Throughout this paper, I have provided examples in which three specific concepts of human sexuality – attraction, gender roles and socialization, and sexual orientation – are portrayed in the film Brokeback Mountain. Although media tends to dramatize individuals’ experiences regarding human sexuality, through this film, we get glimpses into the interpersonal journeys of Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar, two men who struggle not only with coming to terms with their own sexual identity, but who also struggle with the development and maintenance of their relationship and love for one another, pning throughout their adulthood years.
Although Jack and Ennis’s relationship is not “stereotypical” (for both men and women, heterosexual and homosexual alike), from it, we can take away from their relationship that, regardless of one’s sexual orientation and/or preference, we all experience the same struggles regarding human sexuality, to some degree or aspect.  It is later revealed throughout the film, that Jack is, indeed, most likely bisexual.
For example, some time after Jack and Ennis have parted ways after the herding job on Brokeback Mountain, he meets Lureen Newsome. Both highly attracted to each other, they engage in sexual intercourse, which consequently results in Lureen’s pregnancy, and Lureen and Jack’s marriage. However, throughout the year, Jack still maintains his relationship with Ennis, and admits that he has been to Mexico, to engage in homosexual relations.