Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Gay Cowboys

The proverbial manure has hit the fan, and will continue to, over the movie Brokeback Mountain, because of its depiction of homosexuality on the open range. Queer Thoughts ~ News for the Gay Community has reviews and will have the Christian Conservative response to the movie on his blog. I left him this comment, without links, so I have added them here and expanded on it.

Whats interesting is that gay cowboy culture was first mentioned in the CD and Book Who Built America a working class history of the U.S. and caused such a fuss that Dick Cheney's wife, Lynn, when she was head of the Endowment for the Humanities under Bush I,attacked it. Now I am not saying this was the only mention, the Journal Radical History also had a good article on Gay Cowboy culture, History of Manhood in America by Bruce Dorsey in 1996. But it too came out after Who Built America. Lynns fury over the gay cowboy section of this CD caused Apple to pull it at the time, they were including it in a bundle with several other encyclopedias for the Mac.

The real Cowboys.

The truth is stranger than friction to misquote T Bone Slim, and such is the case with the John Wayne, John Ford, Hollywood and Zane Grey's fictional characterization of cowboys in the North American prairies. Cowboys are not merely an American phenomena but one that stretches from Mexico to Canada. Their real story is the story of Capitalist expansion westerward after the Civil War.

Home on the Range: Richard Phillips

The cowboy of Western mythology rode the range during the heyday of
the long cattle drives in the l860s and 1870s. Despite the individualism
emphasized in myth, most cowhands were employees of Eastern and European
capitalists who raised cattle as a corporate enterprise to serve a growing
appetite for beef in the U.S. Cowboys were overworked hired hands who rode in
freezing wind and rain or roasted in the Texas sun; searched for lost cattle;
mended fences; ate monotonous and bad food; and suffered stampedes, quicksand,
blizzards, floods, and drought. The work was hard, dangerous, and often lonely;
pay averaged from $25 to $40 a month. Many became cowboys for lack of other job opportunities; one of every three cowboys was an African American or Mexican. In
the late 1930s writers employed by the Federal Writers Project in Texas interviewed more than 400 cowboys, providing some of the only firsthand sources
about late 19th-century cowboys. In this interview, cowboy Richard Phillips
offered a firsthand glimpse of the hard life that awaited the men who trailed
cattle to market.

And like the masculine/male relationships in pirate culture why should we should be surprised to discover a gay cowboy culture, or even a female drag culture ( Annie Oakely comes to mind) in the North American west? For that matter why should we assume that all cowboys were white? In Alberta the first cowboy of renown was John Ware, a black cowboy and rodeo legend. Cowboy culture was far from the red neck stereotype so affectionately embraced today. And we can expect to hear the gnashing of teeth and the whining from the right wing as yet another historical fiction bites the dust.

For those who don't know the story of Mr. John Ware, he rightly deserves
his reputation. His cowboy skills were legendary, and contrary to the popular
Hollywood image of cowboys, he was a gentleman, led an honest, moral life, and
was a loving father. His work was extremely difficult, as the working conditions
were as harsh as could be possible, and in those days there was not much in the
way of assistance if he became injured or disabled. Cowboys were responsible for
the well-being of cattle as they were moved from ranch to ranch or from
pastureland to pastureland. They had to protect them against poachers and from
wild animals, and they had to keep them from wandering away from the herd (in
the days when the great plains of Western United States and Canada were not
fenced off).


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