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Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

     
The Western  
 
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While the Western images of Mizer, Bellas, Whitman, Quaintance, and Tom are substantially different, all use the heroic associations of the cowboy to construct homoeroticism in terms of healthy, natural masculinity. This construction intensified in the period of Gay Liberation, as gay men deliberately refuted negative effeminate stereotypes by creating hypermasculine styles of gender expression. Many gay bars used Western themes and names, and jeans and other elements of Western wear were combined in the styles of the macho clone.

When hypermasculine gay styles first penetrated the awareness of the majority in the late 1970s, it was in part because of the brief but spectacular success of The Village People--a disco band whose iconic masculine figures included a police officer, a construction worker, a soldier, a sailor, a biker, an Indian chief, and of course a cowboy. Mainstream audiences took an amusingly long time to realize that the group's imagery and songs reflected and appealed to a core gay male audience.

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The importance of the cowboy in the erotic imagination of many gay men has been evident throughout the development of gay pornographic movies. The gay cowboy hustler has been a staple of both subcultural and mainstream representations of homosexuality, appearing in John Schlesinger's film Midnight Cowboy (1969) and Mart Crowley's play The Boys in the Band (1969; William Friedkin's film version was released the following year). Andy Warhol's "Western," Lonesome Cowboys (1968), filmed on a movie set in Arizona, subverts the Western genre with campy, effeminate parodies of the masculine cowboy stereotype.

The beautiful cowboy has continued to be a subject of explicitly homoerotic visual art. Beginning in the early 1970s, the important oil painter Delmas Howe has made such figures the subject of a remarkable series of paintings blending Western and Classical themes, Rodeo Pantheon.

While the gay subculture often is thought of as almost exclusively urban, people who differ from the majority in sex and gender have asserted themselves in rural areas as well. One of the major social and cultural organizations created by sexual/gender minorities in the rural United States and Canada is a vibrant network of gay rodeos, the International Gay Rodeo Association (I.G.R.A.).

Country and Western music also has many sexual/gender minority fans in both rural and urban areas. In the last several decades some Country and Western singers, such as Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, and Willie Nelson, have begun to address same-sex desire supportively, and some, such as k. d. lang and Jeff Miller, have identified as lesbian or gay.

Western Gay Fiction

Perhaps the first explicitly gay Western novel was Richard Amory's erotic saga, The Song of the Loon (1966), whose popularity caused it to be followed by two sequels. These books and Andrew Herbert's 1970 film version of the first novel celebrate heroic Western masculine ideals, presenting passionate romantic relationships among frontiersmen and Native Americans.

Though not a Western, John Rechy's classic account of the urban gay underground, City of Night (1963), features cowboy hustlers among the various characters struggling to survive on the street.

More recently, passionate relationships between masculine Westerners have been the subject of the work of such fiction writers as William Haywood Henderson in Native (1994), Ken Shakin in Real Men Ride Horses: Cowboys and Indians, Outlaws and In-laws, Mormons and Other Strange Bedfellows in the Pink Desert (1999), and Michael Jensen in Frontiers (2000) and Firelands (2004.)

Henderson writes with subtle indirection and sophistication and subtly weaves in representations of his characters' memories and dreams, presenting the contemporary story of Blue Parker, a young Wyoming ranch foreman, who is competent, conventional, and respected, but who struggles with the intense attraction he feels to another young man, Sam, a hired man who works for him. Hostility and violence toward men who love men hold Blue back, but his situation is pushed toward a partial resolution by Gilbert, a Native American who understands himself as a latter-day berdache or "two-spirit."

Set in the New Mexican desert, Shakin's book is a collection of startlingly vivid, often witty stories, many informed by a strong sense of the history of the area and the cultural differences of those who live there, as well as their sexual and gender variations.

The two novels by Jensen are set in Ohio in its frontier period, at the end of the eighteenth century, and are based on extensive historical research and show a serious concern to reconstruct earlier attitudes toward sexually different men.

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