Queens and Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo
Distributed by Alexander Street Press, 350 7th Ave/Ste 1100, New York, NY 10001
Produced by Matt Livadary, Erin Krozek
Directed by Matt Livadary
DVD, color, 92 min.
Gay Liberation Movement, Discrimination, Gender Identity, AIDS/HIV
Reviewed by Neil M. Frau-Cortes, University of Maryland
Date Entered: 11/5/2015
American rodeo "is a tradition of manliness, braveness, and perseverance in that Old Way." Certain qualities are simply incompatible with the traditional discourse of cowboy life, and certainly homosexuality is one of these sensitive issues. This documentary film follows a year in the life of four members of the International Gay Rodeo Association. Unlike mainstream rodeo, IGRA is organized by Gay and Lesbian participants, and distinguishes itself from other similar organizations because it allows women to compete. In this way, it recovers an old tradition that dates to the beginning of this sport-spectacle. Gay rodeo is run entirely by volunteers and its objective is to raise funds for charity. This documentary follows the association as it is deeply affected by the financial crisis, which has a stronger effect when there is also a draught that increases the cost of hay, which is the basic food source for the lifestock. IGRA's membership and the number of its local chapters are shrinking. Contestants are getting older and there's a growing need to involve younger people if the organization is to have any future.
One of the merits of this documentary is that it presents the daily life of these rodeo participants alongside the struggles they face against an environment that is laden with hostility, homophobia and discrimination. Queens and Cowboys skillfully intersperses excerpts from anti-gay document films from the 1950s and 1960s with more contemporary short interviews with homophobic characters of mainstream rodeo and narratives of discrimination in the deep South. Some of the more veteran participants relate how they have even suffered attacks and physical harm, in addition to the relatively common last minute cancellations by rodeo venues. A number of these venues still refuse to host gay rodeo events, because after all gays can never be "real cowboys." Participants in gay rodeo sometimes have to hide their involvement or risk being ostracized and excluded from mainstream rodeo events.
Most of the characters portrayed in the film live in places that are blatantly intolerant of their sexual orientation. Some of the participants find that they are the only out gay person in their small town, and share suicide-attempt survival stories. In light of all of this, they still have the will to fight for acceptance and purposely come out as role models for queer kids in small town America.
The portrayal of the gay rodeo participants in this documentary is deeply moving. They are strong fighters battling against discrimination, illness, and adversity. The documentary successfully defies stereotypes of LGBT people as being weak. It also opens a window to a community of caring individuals, thus reconstructing the values of traditional "cowboy code" and creating a true "rodeo family." The ceremony of the Rideless Horse is a powerful reminder of the AIDS crisis that took the lives of a number of the rodeo participants in past decades. Some of these unsung heroes lose their battles in sport and in life: Wade discovers he is HIV positive after losing his partner, while Ty, a long term cancer survivor is finally overtaken by the illness. However, all these struggles and bittersweet moments are woven together in this documentary film as a celebration of human resiliency against all odds.
With excellent tempo and narrative dynamism, the director successfully weaves the stories of the main characters and shows us the backstage scene of the rodeo and of the daily life of its participants. The scenes are engaging and beautifully filmed, with a skillful balance of action shots and moving intimate close-ups.
This documentary film is suitable for general adult audiences as well as college students of queer studies, gender studies and sociology.
- Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Best Documentary 2014
- Atlanta Film Festival, Pink Peach Feature Grand Jury Prize 2014
- Arizona International Film Festival, Best Documentary Feature 2014
- Dallas International Film Festival, Audience Award 2014
- QCinema 2014 award
- American Documentary Film Festival, Best American Documentary Feature, 2014