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In Touch for Men
Issue 51
January 1981
First posted Apr 4, 2013
Last update Sep-27-2016
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A transcript of the following article is available below
Transcript of the above article

Gay Rodeo, Wild Times In Reno

OCR Transcript by Frank Harrell, Apr 4, 2013

By John Calendo
Photos by
Nick D'Aurizio & D.J. Garrett

There is a belief, widely held, that as soon as you put "gay" in front of a word, it is less. Gay jocks are somehow less than jocks, gay churches less than churches, and gay rodeos-well, that's a contradiction in terms. Redneck will never equal homosexual.

Well, boys, I have been to a gay rodeo and I am here to tell you that gay can magnify. I have been to a gay rodeo and I tell you that redneck combines with homosexual-often, in large groups, and like rabbits.

After the dust had cleared at the Fair Grounds in Reno and that weekend of beer-swilling, bull-watching, casino-gambling, love-drug-taking had wound down, one horse had to be destroyed, one woman went into labor in the grandstand, and three men had to be carried back onto the L.A. charter flight in wheelchairs (twisted ankles, all gotten in glamorous positions.)

Actually, I know very little about what took place at the rodeo itself. I was behind the chutes during most of it, interviewing the riders [See page 30], many of whom had put their careers on the line to be here. However, in regard to those many people for whom the rodeo was secondary, a mere pretext and excuse for having one hell of a weekend-on this story, your faithful reporter was in the front trenches. Stay tuned.

The Gala Tours flight out of Los Angeles was not without incident. One of our cowboys tipped off the metal detector, bells ringing, lights flashing, because he was wearing a cockring. "This never happens on the L.A.-San Francisco run," he said afterward to a round of deep-pitched laughter and knowing nods. My flying companions were mostly well-heeled men on the crest of 40 with gym-built bodies and memberships to Probe. Quietly affluent, but then this little two-night, two hundred-dollar jaunt had affluence written all over it. Many of the men were preparing to drop two or three grand in Reno's casinos.

I had arrived at the airport early, so early in fact that not even the Gala Tours people were there. Only one other man arrived when I did, and we sat and waited, having a conversation by fits and starts. He was late-thirties, handsome, self-contained. He wore a black Stetson, aviator glasses that tinted purple in direct sunlight, and had his shirtsleeves rolled to show L.A. biceps-thick, tan and so attuned that they streaked when he just tapped his knee with hisforefinger impatiently. He was waiting for "a friend" (destined, naturally, to be one of the very last arrivals, an other late-thirties, built-up man in a cowboy hat, who, however, was not so selfcontained. This one would be constantly looking up into the other's purple-shielded eyes.) It was a bright afternoon at LAX, and the nighttime incongruity of our clothes-he in his Marlboro-Man fetishwear, me in a red rodeo shirt and spoofy black chaps-turned heads. Teenage boys, particularly, picked up the message, and certain stylishly weathered women who looked like they knew how to have a good time. "Wait," I told him. "Wait till they see what's coming."

That wait was not a long one. "Um... he's on the tour," I said when I first saw Bruno even though he was a long way off and obscured intermittently by crossing bodies. Concentration-camp hair, sunken sockets, long Western body in pointy boots. Bruno had one of those over-alert gay faces where the eyes jump around a great deal and seem to come to points, who within the first two minutes of introductions manages to tell you how much he enjoys getting fistfucked. Bruno was not his real name. "That's my name for him," he said, tapping the white-worn bulge in his jeans. But he called himself that now, and since his whole body was no more than an extension of that member-his legs for taking Bruno to a bar, his eyes for showing Bruno a magazine-we called him that too.

And when he had come upon us, he was upon us suddenly, with non-stop chatter. Yes, he had been to the rodeo before, and no, it was not a Howdy-Doody affair, hell, two of his friends entered events on the spur of the moment... and won. And the square dancing at the pre-rodeo bar-b-que, don't let the square dance fool you because it was just like disco except you stomp more. And he had really enjoyed getting fistfucked by the cowboy he met last year in the lobby of the Comstock. It was so hot, just sooo hot that it was then, in that position, that he made his decision, declared for the Gay Rodeo, vowing to return every year. And by the way, he hadn't eaten in three days.

"Wait a minute," I said. "Why haven't you eaten in three days?"

"Oh. Because then I would have to get on the hose. I don't want to waste time."

Reporters pray to meet people like Bruno for articles like this. He wasn't crazy, really, just a little... obsessed. He was one of those mysterious people that L.A. is so full of who manage to live without working. And live well. The luxury camera that hung around his neck took 3-D photos.

"Oh, do you make postcards?"

"Naw, it's just my hobby." Nice hobby.

I don't have to tell you, do I, that all through this, he was making an unmistakable, inescapable play for the man next to me, leaning in close and instead of looking into his eyes locking on his biceps, making things so quickly uncomfortable that the man, who had zero in common with me, turned and addressed me intensely, throwing an arm around my shoulders at one point as if we were old buddies who had been through a storm or something. Bruno did not abate. Several mentions of "the friend" who was so late now. No avail. Hurricane Bruno kept locking in on those arms and mentioning the red handkerchief he kept in his right pocket. I hadn't even gotten on the plane yet and already I saw the weekend shaping up. It was going to be Where the Boys Are with everyone wanting the Yvette Mimieux role. I wondered how many sexed-out rodeoboys would be found, come Sunday, staggering down the middle of the Nevada State Highway.

"Is this a convention?" asked the sunny little stewardess when 42 men on the crest of 40 boarded her plane in cowboy hats.

"We're going to the rodeo," one of the cowboys told her.

"Oh?"

"The Gay Rodeo in Reno."

"Oh. "No surprise, no surmise, nothing impolite registered on her face. If anything, her complexion became sunnier-these girls are trained like geishas. The "Oh" that came from the steward, however, a tall Negro with blow-dry hair and big Dior glasses, was near musical. Hunks to the left of him, hunks to the right of him, furred arms throwing overnight bags into overhead compartments, he disappeared for a moment in the prepared food nook, screamed silently, and then returned to meet his boys. He was not wearing glasses.

"May I help you with that?" "Would you like some assistance?" "Is there anything I can do for you?" Actually, there was something he could do for everyone. The drinking of doubles began almost before we left the ground.

The seat I drew turned out to be next to the Tour Director, Leon Bine, who had been directing men to the Gay Rodeo for five of the seven years it had been in existence. "In the first years, they used to meet the planes with haywagons and give everyone a hay-ride back to town. "Leon was a wise, white-haired roly-poly that people liked to cuddle. "Dirty old men need love too, "he'd say whenever a man, whose room he had just switched or luggage confirmed, impetuously jumped out of his seat and kissed him. You must understand, we were only 1/3 of the plane. In general, everyone was well behaved, big arms resting on the tops of adjoining seats, but toward the end of the flight when the drinks-and drugs? -were settling in, some men felt comfortable enough to call across aisles, stand, hold court, hug. The two straight blonde women sitting behind me, the good-looking Reno businessman opposite-conspicuous in this section because he was not in a cowboy hat but wore a light summer suit and sandals-all watched the proceedings with a non-commital interest.

When I was waiting for the john, I stood next to one of our men, on the crest of 50 and in the pink, who had enough gold on his fingers to be mistaken for a cardinal in Eastern Europe-that is if cardinals there had so thorough a penchant for turquoise in-lays. The steward, meanwhile, had been making playful announcements over the P.A., the best coming at the end when he thanked us for flying the friendly skies of United. "We regret that this was such a short hop and that we couldn't show you how friendly the 'friendly skies can be."

"Did he really say that?" Yes. Really. The men broke into laughter and applause.

We were descending along a curve. I was surprised how green and irrigated Reno looked. I had expected tumbleweeds, like Las Vegas. But Reno was upstate Nevada, closer to the lush forests of the Ponderosa than to Death Valley. Reno was where the wives in "The Women" got Reno-vated, the divorce capital of the world, and a loose-living town from way back. Even before the discovery of the Comstock Lode made everyone silver-rich in 1859, Reno was notorious for its whorehouses. Those houses, along with gambling casinos, would proliferate wildly in the years to follow when Reno became a railroad-town, where cowboys drove their steer for shipment and received end-of-the-drive paychecks. Today as ever a cow-hand would most likely go to Reno to blow his wad. Las Vegas was too foreign, full of Jews and Italians and "that Hollywood crowd"; Lake Tahoe was for San Francisco money; but Reno came closest to the Silver-Mining-Town-With-One-Opera House ideal of the Old West.

Even the airport was primitive. They wheeled out one of those wobbly airplane staircases, and we deplaned into a long, low, aluminum-sided hangar that was passing for an airport. A good friend from college days, Nick D'Aurizio, out West on a visit to San Francisco, was meeting me in Reno. I saw him waiting at the end of the hangar... but Bruno got to him first, locking in on his lean body. Back at New York University, Nick, with his handsome goatee, had looked like Peter of Peter, Paul and Mary; he still had the goatee and now spare convict hair, but the years were taking him to other places. He now looked like one of those laconic, deadpan noblemen in the paintings of El Greco.

"How was your trip?" Nick said when he had hugged and shaken off Bruno. "Um, Nick, riding with a plane full of L.A. queens..."

"Yeah?" He was laughing already.

"... is like riding with a plane full of showgirls. I had a wonderful time."

Across the street from our hotel was a gay lounge that we could see from our window. We were high about it, looking through a picture window, and it was a tiny hole in the wall. Now every place in Reno had a marquee, extolling its casino, star acts and steak breakfasts. This tiny lounge had a marquee too, but with one simple message: "WE NEVER CLOSE." I think that must have been the motto of everyone I saw at the Gay Rodeo. People seemed pharmaceutically fueled to go on and on, get wilder and wilder. No one closed, least of all the gay residents of Reno. Reno had no gay-pride parade, so the Gay Rodeo functioned as their collective letting off of steam. You'd see over-sized drag queens dragging their heels into the little lounge at high noon, not the best light for layer upon layer of fotch. Or you'd hear screams in the night that got you out of your plush hotel bed and onto the terrace to see, among other things, a very young teen queen, unbothered by the row, making out with a cowboy against a pickup in the parking lot, or you'd hear spit-fire confrontations between drag queens and queer-baiters in jacked-up cars that would screech to lunging, spark-flying stops, as if to intimidate the answering queens. But nobody was about to intimidate these pioneer-stock Nevada girls. Not on Gay-Rodeo weekend! They'd scream and snarl and bring down a police squad to arrest everyone on the street before they'd back off from their territory.

The history of other cities was repeating itself in Reno. When the war for gay rights is first fought, it is fought by drag queens and drag dykes who will not (or can not) disappear into anyone's closet. I met an L.A. cowboy in the elevator who complained about the "tackiness" that went on below. Well, yes, it was tacky, I agreed, but maybe it was necessary. It was a drag queen, we should remember, a gutsy little drag queen and her loud refusal to be pushed around by policemen that sparked the Stonewall riot. The L.A. cowboy smiled, but I don't think he was remembering, and we all got on the bus to go to the barn dance.

The barn dance and bar-b-que were held the night before the rodeo at the Fair Grounds in what looked like another airplane hangar. Inside, the hangar was lit up like daybreak because the Real People cameras were filming. I wondered who had allowed this. Three school teachers, who had driven all the way from Salt Lake, were furious and left. I know the Gay Rodeo was put together by Phil Ragsdale, a gay Reno businessman, and since this was primarily a word-of-mouth event, he understandably wanted publicity. Still, I wondered if he had considered the kind of publicity he could expect from Real People, a TV program that regularly sank to the level of freak show. I wondered if he had considered how vicious those cameras could be if they chose to zoom in exclusively on the most exotic and frightening foibles of homosexuality. How many eye-rolls from Sarah Purcell would it take to ruin his Gay Rodeo forever? We had paid to come here, paid to enter and then upon entering were told we had just joined the circus. I wondered if he had, for one moment, considered any of us at all.

Anyway, the barn dance and bar-b-que were lit up like a sailor on payday. And those lights were hot. There was fine fiddling and fancy Texas dancing and hundreds of cowboys from places as far flung as British Columbia and Brooklyn. The proximity of San Francisco was apparent, if only by the number of black T-shirts worn with everything and anything. One burnt-out cockette, a certified Bay-Area type, roamed about in leather collar, leather halter, fishnet stockings. And everywhere you saw lots of Germanic Out-West faces, small-built men with bundles of farm boy muscle, long tall Westerners that went through the roof. The whole rodeo was a convention of humps. Beer was sold non-stop, pulled out from barrels of ice.

"Coors, please."

"We're boycotting Coors."

"But I thought... I mean, they have an ad in the Advocate..."

"Naw, the owner's wife gives money to Anita Bryant and Moral Majority and stuff like that."

(I think I heard that conversation at the barn dance, though it was such a drunk weekend, I'm not sure. Definitely, it was some place in Reno.)

You couldn't buy beer outright, you bought "script" (tickets) first-I guess to keep everybody honest. The script was sold by officiating drag queens: One braeing Dale Evans. One chic and debonair Divine. Ragsdale, you understand, being Emperor I of Reno and these two lovelies part of his Silver-Dollar Court-an example of the title-madness bartenders and gay-business owners get into out here. The titles are for fun, but the appointees often do good works. Part of the proceeds of the Gay Rodeo, for instance, was going to buy TV sets for the Veterans' Hospital (so they could watch Real People?), a Thanksgiving dinner for senior citizens, and (my favorite) a horse-washing facility for the teenagers of the 4-H Club.

And suddenly Bruno was upon us, actually upon Nick, who in the rapid fire, managed to slip in, "Come on, Bruno, I face the same side of the pillow you do." But Bruno was too busy not missing a trick, because everybody passing by, he was dying for, those over-alert eyes sharpening to points. And then for some reason, conversation turned, as it often will, to the subject of Sophia Loren. Sophia was Bruno's favorite actress, and guess what his favorite Sophia movie was. Not Two Women. Not Marriage, Italian Style. Not any of her important Italian stuff. Bruno was into the Hollywood period. Houseboat, he tells us and then-in the face of fiddles fiddling recklessly-proceeds to sing the theme. In Italian: "Prrresto, prrresto..."

I mean, here we were in Reno, three Italian kids now totally assimilated into advance Americana and cowboy outfits. It gave you pause. It made you see gayness as the great equalizer, the great educator.

"...with a bing bang bong. "Again Bruno." With a bing bang bong..."

The next day, we were at the rodeo. Nick with his camera and I with my tape recorder sneaked past the guard and quickly scooted behind the chutes to interview he riders. We had to skulk around like this because his majesty the Emperor had not sent us press passes-nor any of the other journalists and photographers I spoke to. Shoddy treatment of the press is not the mark of the professional promoter, and frankly there were a few complaints out in the grandstand that the rodeo was strictly junior, the stock not up to snuff, the rules too loosely observed. But these were the exceptions. Most people I could see-some 7,000 to 12,000 souls-were hooting and hollering and loving it all: The bucking bulls, the brave riders, the rag mop clowns, the San Framcisco Marching Band that introduced the whole shebang by playing "The Stripper" on glockenspiels and kicking like Rockettes.

Of all the things that happened to me in Reno, the rodeo is the thing I will remember the least. (With one exception.) I will remember it the least partly because I saw it the least (I was interviewing riders), partly because I understood it the least (it was my first rodeo) and partly, I suspect, because it was innately forgettable. But then this is the nature of sports. High-impact in the immediacy of the moment, low-import in retrospect. The pictures on these pages tell the story of that day. Here are a few snapshots from my collection:

Arriving at the rodeo, all the barn-dance humps are here, but tenfold. Lots of shirts off, pink sunburn, beer-swilling. Nick, I say, take a picture of him... and that one... Christ, get this guy...

"Relax, John. A lot of these looks are going to last all day." A gaggle of bloodshot cowboys tumble by, hitting a popper. "Some looks, of course," Nick continues, deadpan, "will get better."

Crowds clog the grandstand aisles: A Chinese cowboy. A punk cowboy with two-tone hair and a "Wanna Fuck?" T-shirt. For the first time since I got to Reno, I spot the airport man with the L.A. biceps, shiftless in black cowboy hat, followed by his "friend," also shiftless in black cowboy hat. You know you are close to San Francisco when you see someone pass with a T-shirt that says "HOT TUB SPOKEN HERE." And everywhere a procession of the Great Blue-Eyed American Men; all the cowboy stocks represented: The Dutch with their short-stop noses. The Germans with their vivid pink-and-blond complexions. The French with their long, melancholy faces. And your basic Nevadan with his stringy body made out of beef jerky.

"Hey guys!" The voice was familiar by now. "I'm ripped to the tits!"

And suddenly Bruno was upon us, his 3-D camera in hand, head turning every way, red-cracked eyes showing the strain of information overload. This will give you an idea of Bruno being flirtatious at the rodeo. He points down at a passing man's crotch.

"Is that a sock?"

It sure ain't." "Really!" And goodbye Bruno. Scene change: Hanging out behind the chutes, chatting up the riders. "Who," says a hefty cowgirl, pointing to a perfect sweetheart of a platinum horse, "Who is riding this mother?" Men are helping each other with the back buckles of their chaps and kissing one another good luck. A beautiful cowgirl, striking in her iciness and authority, sits on the fence. In her grey felt Stetson is a pin, the armadillo, symbol of Texas. A cowboy passes by. In his hat is also a pin, two cherubs in sunglasses, symbol of Fiorruci's.

But in regards to the rodeo, I did make one exception. One thing happened there that will stay with me a long time. We have to run the film backwards now to the start of the rodeo, the very, very start, the National Anthem. I've been to gay parades, I've seen gay people in huge masses; I just never saw them all assembled to salute the flag before. The aisles had just unclogged, people were settling in their seats, when the announcement came over the P.A.

And then they played the National Anthem and everybody got real solemn and stood up and sang with their chests pushed out, a little louder and a little more desperately, the way gay people often do when the subject turns to patriotism or religion because they have something to prove, or have been made to feel they must prove something that should be taken for granted. And so here they were-big town, cow town, redneck, white collar, liberal, Baptist-singing their allegiance with their hats over their hearts, the most denied, the most legislated against. And I'm feeling like I'm not even there. I'm getting this weird reading on things. Flags are waving and I'm thinking about Langston Hughes. Langston Hughes was a black poet who wrote about the back-of-the-bus situation of black people, and his words are traveling very well to me in that dust field in Reno:

0, let America be America again-
The land that never has been yet-
And yet must be.
And yet must be!

That night was a Saturday night, and the Reno gay bars were packed, spilling out into the streets, bringing down police harassment. "Off the sidewalk or go to jail," the cops said, getting out of paddy wagons with nervous German shepherds advancing on leashes, and proceeded to arrest people-the Emperor of Chicago was one of the bigger cats netted-outside Club 99 and Chute #1. Ragsdale was so annoyed that he later demanded an audience with the mayor of Reno and had the clout to get it. Ragsdale complained about the plainly harassing posture of the police and the disgusting, selective enforcement of a law-no drinking outside the door of a bar-that was totally ignored in Reno, especially downtown where visitors casino-hopped from Harrah's to the Sahara to the Shy Clown with drinks in hand.

I didn't see the arrests myself, though I was at one of those bars. I read about them in an astute, struggling gay newspaper, out of Sacramento, with the whimsical name. Mom...Guess What' But I was in no condition to observe arrests anyway, being myself quite arrested by a longhaired cowboy who looked like a male Sissy Spacek and had that same spooked out, pink-eyed quality. "Definitely stay away from him," Nick said when we first saw him. "He looks like he's about to go out and commit a mass murder." Ah-huh. In any event by the end of the evening I got to know him...very well. He turned out to be a sweet, even somewhat frightened guy who lived in a remote mountainside section of the Sacramento Valley, was very taken with my East Coast ways and left a big, clunky ring behind in my hotel room...by accident? Anyway, his way of cruising was to sing to me, drunkenly, across the room, singing along with the live Country-Western band. The song I remember best was a song he sang again later in the hotel room. It was a song I would hear on the radio in Reno right as I was leaving and that I eventually had to buy because I was missing Reno. I guess I had fallen a little in love with the place and its gung-ho, Out-West spirit, its romantic involvement with the past. The past, in fact, was more vivid than its present, intruding a double image on things. Even the streets you traveled on spoke of vibrant mythological periods: Eureka Avenue, Mill Street, Bret Harte Avenue, Mark Twain Avenue, and six little courts, one right after the other, named Borite, Calcite, Dolomite, Erbium, Flourite and Graphite. The song the cowboy sang to me had a part that went:

You're just a Coca-Cola cowboy
With an Eastwood smile
And Robert-Redford hair.
But you walked across my heart
Like it was Texas.
And you taught me how to say,
"I just don't,care."

And that pretty much puts the finger on the way I felt about the gay rodeo in Reno.

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The following 3 interviews are transcribed below
Transcript of the above article

Kevin Meunier:

OCR Transcript by Frank Harrell, Apr 4, 2013

  • ITFM: Do you ride in other rodeos?
  • MEUNIER: I ride the CCA (California Cowboy's Association) circuit. The events are stronger; it's more professionally run. This is more just fun, just a bunch of guys getting together.
  • ITFM: When you're in a straight rodeo, it's cool?
  • MEUNIER: It's never come up. I mean, people don't walk up to you and say are you gay or straight.
  • ITFM: But now that you've been in a gay rodeo, aren't you putting yourself in a position where the topic will come up?
  • MEUNIER: I don't care. Because if they don't want me then I don't need them.
  • ITFM: Did you just get the highest score?
  • MEUNIER: I don't know. I got 63. What are scores goirg?
  • ITFM: Nobody stayed on as long as you or was as popular with the crowd.
  • MEUNIER: It's not long. They only judge you on your first six seconds. You're judged firstly on your horse and then on how you ride. You can't touch the horse with your free hand. If you do, you get a goose egg. You have to hold on with one hand and keep the other up. I wanted to fan him but I didn't get a chance.
  • ITFM: Fan him?
  • MEUNIER: Take your hat off and fan his head. It spooks 'em, makes 'em buck. It's illegal to do it now... (Just then the crowd gets carried away in a great uproar, and Kevin is carried with them) Look at that horse buck! Look at that horse buck! Shit, he got a high score. He applauds with the crowd, but a bit slower.) If my horse bucked like that I might have gotten a high score.
  • ITFM: I'm told that as a rule, rodeo riders are gay. Is that true?
  • MEUNIER: Everybody likes to think that everyone else is gay, you know. I've been riding for four years and I met a couple of gay people, but as a rule, I couldn't say. We never really talk. I mean, I don't go to a rodeo because I'm looking for a hot trick! I go for the excitement.
  • ITFM: Do you do this for a living?
  • LMEUNIER: I do this for a pastime. But I'd like to do it full time.
  • ITFM: What do you do now?
  • MEUNIER: Right now I'm unemployed. I've been working for a lawyer in San Francisco. (O .J. Garrett, a photographer, is sitting next to us on the fence behind the chutes, alertly listening.)
  • ITFM: Do you have groupies?
  • MEUNIER: Oh me? Naw.
  • D.J.: Me!
  • MEUNIER: I wouldn't mind, though. (D .J. hugs him.) I wouldn't at all. He's my first groupie. Actually, they call them rodeo flies.
  • ITFM: Both guys and girls?
  • MEUNIER: Yeah. They're not supposed to but a lot of them come back in the chutes. Larry Mahan has a whole group of beautiful people that follow him. (Laughs.) He's a hot man.
  • D.J.: You're a hot man.

(Now turn to page 40 to see exactly how hot Kevin got when O.J. took photos of him bareback and bucking!) (webmaster's comment: Sorry, I really can't post those on this page. ;-)


Dave Wilson:

  • ITFM: What do you think of this rodeo?
  • WILSON: It's fantastic. I've done it a year. I won All-Around Gay Cowboy last year.
  • ITFM: Where are you from?
  • WILSON: Portland, Oregon.
  • ITFM: Were there any repercussions after being in the Gay Rodeo?
  • WILSON: I lost all my contracts. I used to train and sell horses; I was on the Show circuit. But after the wire services picked up my picture as the All-Around Gay Cowboy, all my contracts went. And my friends, they just kinda (clears throat)... walked away.
  • ITFM: Really?
  • WILSON: Yeah. Very redneck.
  • ITFM: These were friends?
  • WILSON: Friends.
  • ITFM: God, that's so... shocking.
  • WILSON: Very shocking. Two clients stuck it out with me, but that's not enough to make a living. People got where they'd say so-and-so has a gay trainer behind their backs, and they got worried whether the judge was going to be prejudiced, whereas judges don't know me from Adam, but its just the idea of someone maybe telling the judge, tipping the scales.
  • ITFM: The Real People cameras are here. Do you worry that they might exploit the event, zoom in on the most stereotypical, high-impact images?
  • WILSON: I kinda hope they do. Regardless of what kind of publicity they give us, it's gonna be good. It shows that you can be gay and a cowboy. A lot of people have two types of riders at this rodeo. Those with red numbers on their backs and those with white numbers. They make an announcement; you can take pictures of the people with white numbers but not the ones with red numbers...
  • ITFM: Because they're still in the closet?
  • WILSON: I can't speak for them. The official reason is that some of these guys are professional rodeo riders, and this is a non-sanctioned rodeo. If they are seen riding in it, they could lose their standing. Anyway, I'm not a professional rodeo rider but last year I wore a red number. When I won the title, I ripped off the number and said, "Take my picture." And my picture had every American wire in the country, and just that little bit helped to change things. Because where I come from the only stereotype people had of gay people was the limp-wrist.
  • ITFM: Then being in the Gay Rodeo is a political act for you.
  • WILSON: I take that as a by-product. For the first year in my life, I'm being myself. For 31 years, I've been lying to people; I've been , you know, hiding. And every time I wanted to do something, I had to lie about where I was going.
  • ITFM: Do you think you should move out of Oregon?
  • WILSON: Recently, yes. (laughs.) I can't train in Oregon anymore. I still judge the shows. I put on nutritional lectures in clinics in Washington [State], with forest groups and they don't seem to mind too much. They accept me because of my knowledge. It's also because I don't live there. See, I'm coming in just for a short visit and then I leave. A lot of people was wonderin' if I was going to do the Rodeo again, if I had the guts to return or if I was gonna crawl in a hole and try to pretend straight again. Well, there's no way going back.
  • ITFM: What do you think of people like Anita Bryant and Larry Falwell who campaign to keep homosexuals in closets?
  • WILSON: I see two things. Anita Bryant is doing the same thing that the Romans did to the Christians. But the more persecution, the more they came out. O.K., I'm a Christian too, and I love the Lord very much. I've been telling Christians all over that homosexuality is not the problem.
  • ITFM: Intolerance Is the problem.
  • WILSON: What Christians have to do is tell 'em Jesus loves 'em.
  • ITFM: I have a friend from Arizona, who is gay, who said when he was a teenager, he actually went out and beat up gay people. Did you ever do that?
  • WILSON: No, not against homosexuals. But against hippies that came through town, we used to rope 'em, roll their cycles dowh the hiil and shave their head.
  • ITFM: How do you feel about that now?
  • WILSON: It was a fun thing to do-which was very wrong.
  • ITFM: Do you feel you were always gay or that you "turned" gay?
  • WILSON: I had the tendencies ever since I was very young. I tried to get them out of my mind. I hid it, hid it for years. I was married for five years, was in the Army... Of course, I wasn't gay in the service even though... I kinda wanted to be.
  • ITFM: So when you entered the rodeo last year, it was like an announcement to the world....
  • WILSON: To myself. I actually came out a few months before the rodeo. I came out officially in Portland. Began to trick and went overboard, like everybody does. But it wasn't really complete until I came here. That's when I came out to myself and said, Yes, I am. This is my territory. Here at the rodeo I could meet gays that were cowboys. See, there's no cowboys in Portland. And here I finally met men like myself, who I could sit down with and rap about horses and cows. I met some people here who show horses professionally like I do. It's really neat; we correspond back and forth about the winnings and purses, and they're part of my family now.
  • ITFM: Did you tell your parents?
  • WILSON: My mother knows aoout it, for sure. And my Dad, I haven't confronted him with it. I wanted to several times. But he'll probably know after this weekend.
  • ITFM: What are your plans for the future?
  • WILSON: Right now it's up in the air. I think about moving, but I like where I live and grew up very much.
  • ITFM: Perhaps the freedom in San Francisco....
  • WILSON: I hate San Francisco! That's not my scene at all. I have to be outdoors. In San Francisco right now I'd have to be selling fertilizer and animal supplements.
  • ITFM: You're a real cowboy, huh?
  • WILSON: In the realest sense of the word, yes. A cowboy is a man who works with horses and cows.
  • ITFM: What do you think when you walk into a bar in San Francisco, say, and it's full of pretend cowboys?
  • WILSON: It bothers me. They're not being themselves. And I've come to value that a great deal in the last year. If I see a San Francisco businessman in a cowboy outfit, I think he should dress and act like a business person. Or else you have nothing to go on. I'm not into just tricking. I'd like them to apprecrate me for who I am, and me to appreciate them for who they are.
  • ITFM: O.K., on a lighter note, what are the telltale signs of the fake cowboy?
  • WILSON: Three things. The way they walk, the way they dress and the way they put their hat down. Fake cowboys just don't move right. They wear Lees, Wranglers or some of those other formfitted jeans that are coming out. Cowboys wear one brand: Levi Strauss. A cowboy will sell anything he has to get a good buckle. A cowboy's buckle is his image. You go to a horse show, that's the first thing everybody looks at. It's a sign of professionalism. The bigger, the better. Silver and Gold only. The third thing is the hat they wear. Wearing it back on your head is fake. It's sexy to show your forelocks; that's what everybody wants to do. But the cowboy hat has a big brim for a reason. To keep the rain from going down your neck and to keep sun out of your eyes. Pushing it back defeats the purpose. Now a lot of cowboys are switching to trucker caps because everybody is wearing cowboy hats. The big give-away is how they set the hat down. The way to put a cowboy hat down is to turn it upside down and put it down on its crown; so you won't disturb the fold of the brim. Now if you took my hat off my head, you'd see the worse expression on my face because you don't touch a cowboy's hat. That's them. That's part of their body. And you don't touch the body without permisson.
  • ITFM: That must all mean something incredible when two cowboys have sex.
  • WILSON: You bet.

Ron Brewer:

  • ITFM: Are you a professional rodeo rider?
  • BREWER: Yes.
  • ITFM: Some guys have told me the rules are not as strict here.
  • BREWER: If you're a professional rodeo rider, you follow the rules no matter what. The events are not as strictly judged but probably the peer-pressure is greater here.
  • ITFM: Peer-pressure?
  • BREWER: You got a bunch of queens out there, you want to look good!
  • ITFM: Isn't it risky for you to be at an unsanctioned rodeo?
  • BREWER: Yeah. I can lose my card. But it's time for all that to change. I just love to ride. I love rodeo. I love it to death. This is my first year at the gay rodeo and, O.K., maybe it's not grown up enough to meet the demands of professional rodeo, but I've had as much fun today as I've ever had at a rodeo.
  • ITFM: I imagine you deal with a lot of rednecks...
  • BREWER: ...Yeah.
  • ITFM: In a way, being in this rodeo is like making a public announcement that you're gay. You are gay?
  • BREWER: Oh yeah. 34 years worth.
  • ITFM: See, you're a person who could easily pass.
  • BREWER: But the time to pass is over.
  • ITFM: Do you think being here will strain relations with your colleagues?
  • BREWER: I enter a rodeo as a professional. They do too. If they happen to find out I'm gay-and it's happened a few times-for me, nothing. It's not a big deal at all. Look, I own a gay bar.
  • ITFM: No kidding, where?
  • BREWER: The White Horse in Berkeley, bought it three months ago, and it's the oldest gay bar in the West.
  • ITFM: Please don't say that because we'll get millions of letters from people claiming their bars are older.
  • BREWER: It's true. It is the oldest gay bar in the Western United States, and this is the first time it's had a gay owner.
  • ITFM: Where are you from?
  • BREWER: Originally from San Francisco. I spent all my summers on a ranch.
  • ITFM: What do you think of the glut of people who pretend to be cowboys.
  • BREWER: Kickers, I call them. Most of Texas, as far as I'm concerned, is kickers. They all have the right boots, all the right shirts, all the right hats. See this hat. It's a Stetson, traditional block, seven years old. And I prefer this to that-the guy in the second row in the white hat with the feather in it. It's an O.K. hat but, you know, it's styled, it's not real. They're real popular right now.
  • ITFM: Did you see Urban Cowboy?
  • BREWER: Yes. A very good friend of mine directed it. Jim Bridges. Great man; great, great man. I'm even immortalized in it. He calls somebody "Big Buck Brewer," which is his pet name for me. He also used it in China Syndrome. But Texas is O.K. I don't want to say it's a good place to be from because I'd just as soon Texans stay in Texas. But....
  • ITFM: You really have it out for Texas.
  • BREWER: Name one good thing that came out of Texas.
  • ITFM: Jerry Hall.
  • BREWER: Name another.
  • ITFM: Let's talk about the sexual power of cowboy clothes. Do you perceive them as that?
  • BREWER: Oh, I can't help it. We were talking about this last night. A man is referred to as "a stud," "a horse," "a cowboy." The cowboy is the American macho, but I think it's good. It gets to the origin of America, the pioneer.
  • ITFM: A lot of cowboys are right-wing, but I wonder if this applies to gay cowboys. Are you right-wing?
  • BREWER: Sometimes.
  • ITFM: Yet the right-wing is hostile to gays. Gay rights is a liberal concern.
  • BREWER: Sometimes I find myself in the middle. But it's a real world, and we have to start living in it. So we have to not compromise. We have to find the right answers. Now I come up against a lot of heavy rednecks. It takes time, a lot of work, a lot. You have to earn your position with them, and it's by example do ye teach. But it's important for us to do this. Not to say, O.K., you're a redneck, you 're a son-of-a-bitch. No, we have to deal with it and say, I'm gay, I'm bigger and more understanding. Separatism didn't work for the Jews or the Blacks; it's not going to work for the Gays. (He suddenly becomes focused on the rider out in the arena.) Goddamn, the horses are spooking today! He approaches the barrel and jumps off from it. Horses are getting real weird this weekend. The travel, the heat, the elevation. They need to come a couple of days before to acclimate. (Dave Wilson passes.) Hey Cowboy!
  • WILSON: Hey Ron' (He moves on.)
  • BREWER: See, Dave Wilson wears white. You know what he wore last year? Red. He's saying, O.K., I've done it-I don't have anything to lose anymore. And that's great. He's found it. And I hope to find that same peace. He's having a ball.
  • ITFM: You say you want to find the same peace? And here you are, you own a gay bar, you're in a gay rodeo.
  • BREWER: I'm not as close as he is. I admire him. I haven't lost anything. He lost his business. It's safer and easier for me to be here than him. I think the Catholics call it, "bearing your cross".
  • ITFM: Do you co nsider yourself a cowboy? Because you don't talk like a cowboy. You seem much more like the sort of modern man that can be found in Chicago or New York. Are you a cowboy?
  • BREWER: Oh yeah. I ride a horse, and I own property, and I keep the horse on the property.
  • ITFM: You just seem too sophisticated.
  • BREWER: I have a Masters in Business from Cal Berkeley; what can I do? I am sophisticated. and it cost a lot of money too. Shit' From Cal. man. What else can I sound like, you know? Cowboys are grown up and educated too.

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