Michael Warner states in his book The Trouble with Normal that "the [American] culture has thousands of ways for people to govern the sex of others," that a certain regulation of sexuality and desire can be designed "directly, through prohibition and regulation, and indirectly, by embracing one identity or one set of tastes as though they were universally shared, or should be" (Warner 1). According to Warner, the logical process that follows such a regulation ensures a certain shame attaches to any "taste" that is not "universally shared." That this one "taste" "should be" shared implies that it is not universal. The “taste” that must be converted in order to achieve a “universal” desire is, then, naturally marked with a stigmatized type, one that can only serve to strengthen the shame that that stigmatic mark embodies.
Warner thus outlines a process of "the destructive power of sexual stigma" (Warner 17), in which sexual deviants who do not share the universal taste are marked as something other than that universality. To mark, in this sense, is to instill a blemish on an otherwise consistent and clean agent. What’s more, to stigmatize is to make shameful those acts or "tastes" which are not universal. To stigmatize is to, as Warner asserts, "govern the sex of others."
And Warner’s question is not “how do we get rid of sexual shame [and stigma]…but rather what do we do with the shame” (Warner 4). An uneasy question, sure, but one could say that Annie Proulx has found an answer in her short fiction work "Brokeback Mountain,” and, much like Warner’s suggestion, that answer involves an empowering view of both the shamed and stigmatized “tastes.” After all, to embrace an all-encompassing shame and stigma within every concept of all sexualities, and to empower that shame and stigma, is to create a common ground and equality among all sexualities. To embrace shame is to leave the hierarchies of power, placement and governance.
Proulx tells the story of Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, two male cowboys in mid-western America who meet as teenagers on a "Farm and Ranch Employment" (Proulx 256) operation on Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming. That summer, herding sheep on the mountain, the two men form a romantic relationship of sorts, one that lasts for the next twenty years of their lives and is anything but unproblematic.
While telling the story of the men’s experience of love and sex on Brokeback Mountain, Proulx litters images of markedness on the situation, blemishing the relationship between Ennis and Jack. In fact, the name recognition of the characters alone embodies a rather informative degree of stigma. To name a character "Jack Twist" is to create an entity beginning normally-it starts with the very common, run-of-the-mill name "Jack." To end that name with "Twist" is to directly change or "mark" the commonness and normality that initiates the entity, with strong imagery of actual twisting and distorting. Too, Ennis Del Mar (meaning,...