The cowboy-- an enduring symbol of strength, independence, and courage-- has been an American icon for well over a century. He is a sweaty, sunburned, and unapologetically rebellious image of what many people would call "traditional masculinity". It's no mystery why cowboys have remained such potent fantasies for so many gay men throughout history. However, for many gay and bisexual men living in rural areas, the country western lifestyle is not an erotic fantasy, but rather a reality. The gay rodeo scene is an active subculture in the LGBT world. Long before Brokeback Mountain-- branded as "the gay cowboy movie"-- became an American critical and commercial hit in 2005, the first gay rodeo was held as a charity fundraising event in Reno, Nevada on October 2, 1976. In 1985, the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA) was formed. IGRA, dedicated to gay rodeo enthusiasts, is an organization comprised of numerous regional Gay Rodeo Associations from across the United States and Canada. IGRA-sanctioned rodeos throughout the season culminate in the World Gay Rodeo Finals, where the top 20 contestants in each event compete for the title of International Champion. With the original spirit of fundraising still strong, IGRA also assists in raising and donating thousands of dollars for LGBT-interest charities each year-- as well as helping to spread appreciation for country western culture. IGRA lists upcoming events on their website, and 2017 will see rodeos from as far west as Palm Springs to as far east at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with other cities (Las Vegas, Phoenix, Little Rock, and more) in between.
HomoRodeo.com, founded in 2002, is an on online community for lovers of gay rodeos and country western culture. HomoRodeo.com lists upcoming rodeos and other events of interest, and members can connect and chat with each other through the Profiles section of the site. HomoRodeo.com organizes mixers at these rodeos, where those members can meet up with each other in person. The men who brought us HomoRodeo.com have found a unique as well as titillating way to raise money and awareness for the gay rodeo culture-- while also pleasing those who still go weak at the site of a rugged man in a Stetson hat. They have created the popular pinup calendar Men of HomoRodeo.com. Proceeds from calendar sales help promote and support gay rodeo associations and help sponsor contestants to participate in those rodeos. Each year, the calendar features artfully photographed models. True to its name, the models are real members of HomoRodeo.com. What makes the Men of HomoRodeo.com series unique among beefcake calendars (and what makes them sell out each year!) is that models are fully nude, wearing no more than a cowboy hat and (presumably) boots. The calendars are sold via the HomoRodeo.com website. They are also sold at some of the gay rodeo events and other events, like Pride events, held throughout the year in different cities. At the exclusive calendar signing events, fans can buy an autographed and personalized calendar.
Harley Deuce is the founder of Homorodeo.com and the creative force behind the wildly popular calendars. The dedicated activist, who married his partner of 13 years this past July, took the time to speak with me about HomoRodeo.com, the Gay Rodeo scene, and the 2017 year's Men of HomoRodeo.com calendar, which promises to make for a very hot new year— whether you're in Palm Springs, California or Harrisburg, Pennsylvania!
JR: Hello, Harley! So, how did Homorodeo.com get started?
HD: Howdy Jed! In 2002, I went to my first gay rodeo in Denver. I met a whole bunch of people who wanted to stay in touch…. So, I created HomoRodeo.com. The rodeo people who you meet at gay rodeos are in a class all to themselves. In general, they are really outgoing and friendly. I don't know if it's the difference between city and rural life, or what... but for some reason there is just this amazing connection. Friends would say, "Hey, I'm going to the Austin gay rodeo. Are you guys gonna be there?" As a result, I created a website which used Gay.com profile names to be able to say who was going to be at which rodeo. Basically, that became Homorodeo.com. Later, we purchased software that would allow us to have our own profiles so that people could click on the person's picture and find out if they were going to the rodeo. That replaced the Gay.com profiles... so, it allowed members to be able to have their own profiles. This was way before Facebook! It was social networking before social networking became the new method of communication. So, it kind of just grew from there.
JR: How did the idea for the Men of HomoRodeo.com calendars start? They are very popular.
HD: In 2008, fuel was getting expensive for everyone. We wanted to help offset costs of contests hauling their horses to various gay rodeos around the country, and decided we’d try a semi-nude charity calendar. Proceeds were provided to ALL contestants participating in the Gay Rodeo Finals that year. It was such a success we did 3 calendars in 2011: Cowgirl Whispers (fully clothed), Cowboy Desire (semi-nude) and Cowboy Craving (fully nude). That was a lot of volunteer work and it almost killed us! So, now we just do one: the full nude calendar. We've learned what our audience wanted, and as a result we sell out every year!
JR: Congratulations on that! So, what is it about the calendars that make them sell out each year... besides the naked models, of course? (Laughs)
HD: Our audience focus is on rural gays: folks who may not have the same opportunities for social connections due to their geographic proximity. We may have some members and admirers of our charity calendars who don't make a lot of money. As a result, our price for the charity calendar has never changed in all these years. It's still just $19.99 plus S&H. And, for a charity calendar that's a foot by two feet, that's an amazing price!
JR: Yes it is. When I first saw it, I was impressed by the size. Most calendars are 8.5 by 11 inches, so this is bigger than the average wall calendar! And bigger is... well, you know!
HD: (Laughs) That's exactly what we intended. The calendar is 100% produced here in the good ole USA. It’s painstakingly photographed and designed to have more of an "art" feel to it, rather than just a "Here's a guy without any clothes on!" kinda calendar. Years ago, we moved the concept to a more "wall art" style-- so, the lower calendar portion shrunk down and the artistically photographed model grew, to make it more of a poster style calendar. As our audience has grown throughout the years, we know that the design, style and formula works. We know the right amount of calendars to create the demand, and sell out every year. PLUS as a charity calendar, we contract signing events at bars and organizations around the country as fundraising tools for the various Gay Rodeo Associations. Sadly, some Gay Rodeo Associations that consider our charity calendars to be "porn", so they won't have anything to do with them and lose out on all that FREE MONEY.
JR: That's too bad.
HD: Yeah, I understand there are those in our society that don't wish to have anything to do with nude imagery. We never judge. It's up to the Rodeo Associations to decide if they wish to sell them or not. And it’s not just Gay Rodeo Associations the benefit from our charity calendar sales. We also donate an additional ten percent of all our calendar sales-- whether online or at the calendar signing events-- to contestants to compete at the gay rodeos. PLUS, we donate fully autographed “Collector’s Edition” charity calendars to various other organizations to use in silent auctions in and outside the gay rodeo circuit. So, it is truly a REAL charity calendar!
JR: That's great! Well, I've seen the calendar, and it definitely works for me, even though the closest I've ever been to the “Wild West” is the West Side Highway in Manhattan... So, in our community, I suspect that a lot of rural gay men who identify as cowboys or farmers may feel underrepresented in the mainstream media today. It's usually the urban gay male population who get the most attention on TV, in the cinema, in advertising, et cetera... What would most people want to know about the "fraternity", so to speak, of gay cowboys or the gay rodeo community? Put another way, what makes it so great to hang out with these guys?
HD: Oh, gosh! That's a tough question! There's no way to really answer that question other than to tell people, "Go to a gay rodeo!" That's really the answer. I'm not saying ANY rodeo, I'm saying GAY rodeo. Let me see if I can give you the "Reader's Digest version" of the difference between a straight rodeo and a gay rodeo. The gay rodeos are almost exactly the same as the straight rodeos with the exception of the three Camp Events. The camp events are only done at gay rodeos. Have you ever been to a gay rodeo, Jed?
JR: Nope. Not yet, anyway! The closest I ever came was riding a mechanical bull at Johnny Utah's in New York City! (Laughs)
HD: Well, you're closer to riding a bull than most folks... so kudos to you! (Laughs) The three Camp Events are Steer Decorating or "Steer Deco", Goat Dressing, and Wild Drag Race. For Steer Decorating, let me quote you what the IGRA Website says:
This event requires a two-person team. One member stands ten feet from the chute gate holding the end of a 25 foot rope, which is looped around the steer's horns. The other team member stands 40 feet from the chute and has a 24-inch long ribbon. When the chute gate opens, the team must bring the steer out and across the ten-foot line. One team member tries to tie the ribbon on the steer's tail while the other team member tries to remove the rope from the steer's horns. When the ribbon is on the tail and the loop is off the horns, the ribbon-tier must tag the timer.” Steer Deco is quite entertaining! Being in an arena with a steer who has no intention be tied down, and with someone grabbing his tail-- well, there could be a lot of messy entertainment!
JR: Grabbin’ some tail! (Laughs)
HD: Then, there's what I’ve been told is the gay rodeo “gateway” event to engage people who wouldn’t normally think they could buckle: Goat Dressing. Goat Dressing is exactly what it sounds like… dressing goats. And again I’m reading from the IGRA website:
This two-person event was created specially for gay rodeo. The team stands 50 feet from the point where the goat is tethered. One of the team members has a pair of jockey-style underwear worn over their forearms. When the whistle sounds, the team runs to the goat. The team member without the underwear picks up the goat's rear hooves, grabs the underwear from around the other member's arms, and pulls it up the legs of the goat. Both team members must then race back to the start/finish line and cross the finish line to stop the time. The underwear must stay over the goat's tail bone until the timer is tagged by both members.
JR: I'm sure the goat is not very cooperative with it!
HD: (Laughs) Well, you know, trying to put underwear on a goat can be a bit of a challenge, to say the least! Then there’s Wild Drag Race. So this is the third of three “Camp Events”, and one of the wildest shows to witness. This is what IGRA’s website says about Wild Drag:
The Wild Drag Race is an audience favorite all across the IGRA rodeo circuit. Even though the competition is serious and the payoff sizable, a large number of competitors also believe this to be a very entertaining event for the audience. The drag costumes come from "Goodwill" stores, from second-hand stores, and many from raiding mom's closet. A team is made up of one male, one female, one "drag" (either male or female), and one wild steer. The steer, with a halter and a 25-foot lead rope, is in a bucking chute at the beginning of the event. The cowgirl holds the rope and the cowboy and drag stand 40 feet from the chute. When the chute gate opens, the team tries to direct (or harass) the steer toward the finish line, which is 70 feet from the chute. They must get the steer across the finish line, mount the "drag," and then ride back across the finish line. The "drag" must be mounted on the steer before the steer starts back across the finish line and must stay on the steer until all four feet of the steer have crossed back across the finish line. Sounds easy, but the "drag" may get bucked off several times before the event is ever completed!
I highly recommend to your readers to just check out the imagery alone at IGRA’s website, then drill down and read about its rich and daring history. They explain all of these Camp Events and MUCH MORE! Most importantly, a distinction of any gay rodeo is the quality treatment of the stock. Check out the page dedicated to “animal welfare.” Anyway, this should give you an idea of what it’s like until you can get to a gay rodeo. Or check out my website. Membership is free and there’s a tribute to those members who’ve met and fallen in love on HomoRodeo.com. We have information on our Meet-n-Greets, and we also have discounted specials for our members. The profiles side of HomoRodeo.com is designed to be more of a social network rather than a dating site. It's not designed as a “hooking up” site; it's designed for keeping in touch with people who you might meet at the rodeo.
JR: Well, it looks like I'm going to have to break out of my urban bubble and get to one of these events! Thanks for speaking with me, Harley!
This year's Men of Homorodeo.com charity calendar is called Cowboy HeART and makes a perfect holiday gift, whether you're a longtime cowboy lover or it's you're "first time at the rodeo"! Visit www.Homorodeo.com for more info!