A friend said, on reading some story I had written, “Your character missed the whole sixties.”
What my friend meant was that my character had missed my friend’s idea of the sixties. My character lived through the sixties in a heterosexual marriage, in middle-sized cities in the upper South and in the Midwest. My friend lived through the sixties as a gay man in Boston, and he wanted my character to come out at a certain point, be activist leftist politically, be anti-war and pro civil rights, do drugs, and have uninhibited gay sex.
That is absurd, of course. There are many ways to experience any decade.
There is some evidence that Jack Twist had a more stereotypical time of the sixties than Ennis del Mar. He smokes marijuana, he seems more experienced in sex than Ennis, and he seems less tied down to one bit of geography. When Jack presents his erect cock, Ennis knows enough to know what to do with it but he has already been deeply enough rooted in his times to refuse Jack’s invitation to the rest of it.
What we’re getting to here is the narrative we tell ourselves. Men experience their times individually, as Ennis and Jack show us, and it may be that this is getting more and more true. There are rumors that “coming out” is not universally necessary any more. Imagine the freedom of being able to live your life without owing that particular action to anybody. That leads to another freedom—the freedom to refuse to say whether you are gay or straight, as some people refuse to fill in the blank male or female as an intolerable intrusion of privacy.
Imagine what Ennis’s life would have been like if he could have done what he did do, without feeling that he was doing something wrong—or that he needed to declare anything. What if he could have worked out a shared devotion to both Alma and Jack? Or left her for him without the fear of the tire iron? What if we gave each other the freedom to live through the sixties—or any other decade—in the way each person wanted, as he explored his feelings and took on the obligations and responsibilities that he chose and personally assumed? In short, what would it be like if I could write my own narrative and didn’t have to live your narrative?