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Chapter 1 1 On December 9, 2005, the much-anticipated film Brokeback Mountain was released in the United States. Interviews for this study began the week before, symbolically launched on December 1st, World AIDS Day. The last site we expected to visit during these interviews was Brokeback Mountain, Wyoming. However, for many respondents, Brokeback Mountain had clearly—and very quickly—come to represent the looming presence of racism in conditioning understandings and representations of same-sex sexuality among Black men. Set in the expansive, yet close, mountain territory of Wyoming, this film adaptation of E. Annie Proulx’s short story “Brokeback Mountain” traces two decades of a complicated romantic relationship between the rodeo cowboy Jack Twist and ranch hand Ennis del Mar. The film’s reception was mixed indeed. Far from mainstream depiction of male sexuality—heterosexuality or homosexuality writ norm—the film was subject to homophobic response even before it came out, slowing its release to carefully coordinated “gay-friendly” sites across the country that could build up support for the film in informal networks. Alongside popular cultural support for the film, which won three out of eight Oscar nominations at the 2006 Academy Awards, a slow but steady stream of protest voiced forceful anger at the “sinful lifestyle” portrayed in the film. Both in print and on the streets, protesters took up the cause of “family values” with all the vigor of a building anti-gay movement.1 Signs were wielded in front of a movie theater in Rochester, New York, that proclaimed, “Brokeback Mountain Assaults Wives and Children,” a sure indication—through its violent imagery—of the fragility of heterosexual family sanctity that Jack and Ennis were threatening. Storying Sexuality in the Black AIDS Epidemic Yet the anger in the wake of Brokeback Mountain took on many forms beyond these public displays. Perhaps unwittingly, Brokeback Mountain touched a timely chord among Black men in particular, at a moment in which “down low” discourse—a term that has come to connote “secret sex” between Black men—was becoming firmly embedded in the cultural imaginary.2 Could Brokeback Mountain’s celebration and beautiful depiction of a relationship be displayed in this manner between two Black men? Among white men, the relationship is heartbreaking, romantic, celebrated. It is a crushing love story, “cowboy style,” a story in which the vast expanse of mountains both creates and constrains the possibilities of love. The regulatory workings of compulsory heterosexuality are painfully present, but this is a triumphant love that nonetheless comes to utter its name—at once halting, dangerous, tender, violent—between its protagonists. However, many of the men interviewed for this book proclaimed that a “Black” Brokeback Mountain would be quite a different story. This would be an impossible narrative, one circumscribed by race, but more pointedly by racism. This story of personal betrayal within the context of heterosexism and homophobia would become a public health crisis, a story not just of personal but public failure—a vilification of the Black community. In this tale—as in the tale that was unfolding in 2005 of the “down low”—communities of unbeknownst, innocent women would be dying at the hands of their sexually excessive men—dangerous men who had become vectors for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus through their secretive, selfish sex acts. How can we make sense of these two disparate tales of male sexuality, tales painted so clearly in Black and white? In the words of one interview respondent, Davon: “If Brokeback Mountain ain’t two country ass white boys on the down low I don’t know what to call it.”3 Davon, like others interviewed for this book, raised the question: How have Black men become vilified within Black communities, in particular by Black women quick to say I just loved the film Brokeback Mountain?4 How does this film fit within a larger set of victim-villain tales that threaten to rupture along lines of gender, sexuality, and social class within Black communities? What alternate ways of knowing and imagining exist beyond dominant narratives that hold Black men who have sex with men accountable for HIV disparities in Black communities and beyond? By exploring stories of a local community of Black men and women in the San Francisco Bay Area, this book examines the production of racialized sexual bodies in and through the HIV/AIDS epidemic. HIV in Black communities is theorized as a convergence of structural factors, cultural conditions, 2 Structural Intimacies and...


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