Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Gay Cowboy Movie

People seem to be shocked and whispering about "Brokeback Mountain" which recently received several Golden Globe nominations.


I have not yet seen the movie but it has received good reviews, obviously. Evidently it is about cowboys who fall for each other and is set in the early 60's in Wyoming where such a thing...well, was not accepted. No matter what anybody thinks, gay people have always lived among us and always will. Anyone who has ever read this blog knows I hail from Montana and yes, we had gay people there when I was growing up in the 60's and I knew a gay cowboy.

I wrote about my friend, Kent, on this blog a while back around November 9.


Kent was not the only one. Some of you, my old high school friends, who read this blog will recognize some of these folks. Helena was not a big town and my Dad was principal of the Helena Junior High so he knew all of the teachers in the city. My mother to this day is friends with former teachers. My 2nd grade teacher, Miss W., and my third grade teacher, Miss J., were room mates. They lived as a couple for decades and were inseparable. My mother was involved in several social groups with them and she believes as do I that they really were a couple. They were terrific teachers and they taught me to read and write and care about others. One of them has died now and the other must be in her late 80's.

Mr. H. was the art teacher in the Junior High. Actually, he was a fabulous artist but a terrible teacher and he eventually left the profession. He had a home in Butte, 75 miles away from Helena. He would stay in a hotel during the week in Helena. My Dad was friends with Mr. H. and in fact, Mr. H. invited our whole family to his home in Butte for dinner. I was a very little girl but I remember his lovely home filled with beautiful things. When I was little, I guess I thought that he wanted to live in Butte because he wouldn't want to leave his pretty house but that is not why. He had to hide. Butte was and still is a wild, rough and tumble mining town but probably there was a spirit of live and let live and minding your own business there.

My Junior High 9th grade English teacher was one of the best if not the best teacher I ever had. One of the advantages of being the principal's kid was that I was placed with the most capable teachers all through school. Mr. V. was a handsome man but he never married. My father admired his considerable abilities....but he knew. We had a gorgeous female student teacher when I was in the 9th grade and my Dad placed her with Mr. V. I never knew if it was for her protection or if my Dad was trying to tempt Mr. V. Many years later, when I was in my 20's, I discussed Mr. V. and Mr. H. with my Dad and he confirmed what I suspected. In fact, Mr. V. died a few years ago after battling the horrors of AIDS during his retirement years.

Back to the gay cowboy. Actually, my husband knew him better than I did. When I was a sophomore in high school, the two most popular boys in school were twins and they were seniors. I will call them Josh and John. Josh and John grew up on one of the biggest ranches in the entire state. One of them, John, was the student body president of Helena High School. These two boys were not identical twins but they were both handsome and all of the girls in school were always a twitter about them.

My family knew them because they went to our church. My husband's family knew them from the social circle they belonged to. You see, around Helena, the big ranchers would own a home in town so the kids could easily go to school. Montana is a huge state with a lot of "the middle of nowhere" and gigantic ranches spread far and wide. These families would have to have a house in town or they would be completely isolated with no access to anything during the winter months. So, we went to school with ranch kids and our high school actually had a rodeo club.

Those families who were not ranchers still had their boy children work on ranches. My brother was sent to work on a ranch for an entire summer when he was about 15. Likewise, my husband was sent to work on a ranch near Wisdom, Montana when he was about 15 and then periodically, he helped on John and Josh's ranch which was nearer to Helena. When I was about 12, I stayed on a ranch up the Gallatin Valley for about a week with a good friend of mine. Since I was afraid of horses and very inept, they didn't wake me in the middle of the night to head into the mountains to herd cattle but my friend, even though she was a girl, was required to do her family duty. Every hand was needed.

My husband stayed in the bunkhouse with Josh and John. He recalls never being so sore in his life as he was after herding cattle with them. Dressed in full cowboy regalia and being on a horse for hours was the toughest physical job he has ever had. Josh and John had a sauna on this ranch. After a very hard day's work, they would sit in the sauna and depending on the time of year, run naked to jump into a snow bank or the small swimming pool-sized horse trough. Josh and John were tough athletic cowboys, terribly good looking, champion skiiers, locally famous and wildly popular. Their family was and is very prominent politically and economically in Montana.

Every girl in our high school was in love with both of them but especially John. He was just a smidgen better looking than his twin. At that time, I was a volunteer candy striper in the local hospital. Among my tasks of serving juice to patients and doing errands, I found myself in the lab. I noticed speciman jars on the shelf and my curiosity got the best of me. Ok, my Dad had been a science teacher so I was interested in what was in those jars. "Oh my goodness!" And I jumped back because right there on the shelf and pickled in a jar was Josh and John's Mom's uterus. I was the slumber party star with that kind of information. My friends were amazed that I had seen with my own eyes the very place where this incredible duo was created. We tried to imagine why her uterus was pickled and concluded that it certainly warranted scientific study to find out how and why it produced such dreamy twin boys.

A couple of years later, my now husband was my boyfriend. Josh and John were off to college when we heard startling news that broke the hearts of hundreds of girls. It was the early 70's by this time, and...John, the athletic cowboy, came out. Josh was not, but John, the slightly better looking twin was...gay! Since my boyfriend had spent a lot of time with Josh and John in rather intimate, clothes--less situations in horse troughs and so forth, I asked if he had any clue. Nobody was more shocked.

In fact, after I heard about this new movie, "Brokeback Mountain", my husband and I talked about John again now 35 years later. All he could say was that John certainly did enjoy sitting in the sauna and jumping into snow banks with the ranch hands.

But he never would have guessed that John was a gay cowboy.

UPDATE: I just googled John (not his real name). He is successful and has published articles on a varitey of things. Currently, he is working on a Phd and his bio says he is a Montana rancher by heritage and committed to sustainable agricultural practices. As a result, his family ranch has won awards for stewardship of the environment.