Ride that sucker

Men in tight Wranglers riding bucking broncos, drag queens jumping on steers, goats wearing underwear. Gay rodeo returns to Reno after a 19-year hiatus.

Miss High Sierra Rodeo Association, aka Ana, and Mr. High Sierra Rodeo represent the transgender and gay members of Gay Rodeo Royalty.

Miss High Sierra Rodeo Association, aka Ana, and Mr. High Sierra Rodeo represent the transgender and gay members of Gay Rodeo Royalty.

Photo By David Robert

“So two guys run down the center of the arena—say 100 yards—and then one catches this goat that is tethered and staked to the ground. The first guy holds the goat, while the other puts a pair of men’s underwear on it.” Jake’s blue eyes sparkle as he recounts this bizarre rodeo event.

“In gay rodeo, that is what you call Goat Dressing,” he says with a laugh.

There are also the Wild Drag Races. In this event, one gay man, one lesbian and one drag queen run 100 yards and catch a 300- to 400-pound steer. Jake describes the scenario energetically, gesticulating while he talks, his arms waving in wide circles.

“Say the lesbian grabs the tethered steer ‘cause she gets to the steer first. She has to catch the steer and hold it still while the fag and the drag queen catch up. Then—and you gotta see this—the drag queen jumps up on top of the steer,” Jake says, miming someone jumping onto the back of the huffing and puffing beast.

“Then the fag and the lesbian have to pull the steer, with the drag queen on its back, back over the 100 yards! The first team to cross the finish line wins! Isn’t that hilarious! … If you have never seen it before, that is some funny shit, and it is one of the reasons I go to gay rodeo.”

Jake places his hands on his hips, looking satisfied that he has imparted a fascinating and true story.

True it is. And it’s also true that, on May 13-17, gay rodeo returns to Reno after a 19-year absence. It’s the High Sierra Rodeo Association’s Comstock Stampede “Back in Action” Rodeo 2004.

Gay rodeo started in Reno in 1976. Since then, it has grown to become an international phenomenon and a staggeringly successful circuit that has evolved much like the National Finals Rodeo Circuit.

“It is amazing how much it has grown,” says Mitch Gill, president of High Sierra Rodeo Association. “We now have 23 cities ranging from as far east as the Atlantic states (Washington, D.C., specifically) to Canada, and there are huge rodeos in Texas, California and Arizona.”

While gay rodeos include “camp” events such as Goat Dressing and the Wild Drag Races, they also include almost every major traditional rodeo event, including Bull Riding, Barrel Racing, Steer Wrestling and Bronc Busting.

“And, of course, men, men, men,” says Jim Anderson, a gay-rodeo veteran who attended the last Gay Reno Rodeo in 1986. “We love the rodeo and preserving Western tradition.” Anderson is not only a rodeo attendee, he also will compete in four events over the weekend, including Steer Decorating, Barrel Racing and Flag Racing.

Gay rodeo cowboys compete in real and dangerous rodeo events as well as “camp” events such as Goat Dressing and the Wild Drag Races.

Photo By Jill Wagner

“Rodeo folks, like at regular rodeos, are more down to earth, friendlier, and you don’t have to go to a bar to meet friends from around the world—and make new friends,” Anderson says. “More important, it is a great way to support rodeo, get out there and have some fun and promote the Western lifestyle. In addition to all the rodeo events during the day, there are some awesome evening events as well.”

The menu of events includes plethora evening and daytime activities at the host hotel/casino: Sands Regency. More than 150 rooms are booked, and each night there will be live entertainment, country line dancing and plenty of food and drink. Also planned during the five days of events are bar runs (where buses take guests to three or four local bars in a single night), a pool party at the Sands Regency, and a Survivors’ Breakfast on the final morning of the event.

All told, 3,000 guests representing all 23 international gay-rodeo associations will descend on the Truckee Meadows over the course of the event’s five days.

“I never rode a horse before,” says Ana, the current reigning Miss High Sierra Rodeo Association. Ana is a man dressed in a spectacular wig, evening gown and size-10 high heels. He’s a pretty drag queen, and as one of three members of the High Sierra Rodeo Royalty, she/he presides regally over the event.

In addition to Ana, there are a Mr. and Ms. High Sierra Rodeo—one gay male, one lesbian, and Ana, the transgender representative. Together, they travel the entire circuit representing the gay rodeo monarchy for the Reno/Northern California area. Last year, the royalty of gay-rodeo associations collectively raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities in their communities. The beneficiaries of all this fundraising include gay and lesbian centers, AIDS hospices, children’s charities and, here in Reno, the local zoo.

“Wherever there is a need,” says Ana, “gay rodeo will go.”

To become a member of royalty is no small feat.

“It requires participation in the Royalty Pageant,” Ana says. “We all have to compete in evening attire, Western wear and talent—and, of course, the final question, just like Miss America.

“And, of course, every contestant must ride a horse through a course unaided, and if you think it is easy, then you try it,” she laughs, a high cackle that is carried off in the wind as she rolls her head back. “It was not easy, especially for a city boy who never saw a horse up close. But I did it.”

The “I did it” spirit is prevalent among other rodeo participants, too. Many compete for thousands in prize money and prestigious trophies and belt buckles. Circuit competitors (those who travel throughout the 23-rodeo circuit) can earn several thousand dollars each rodeo, but the work is hard, and the earnings pale in comparison to the million-dollar purses of the National Finals Rodeo or World Bull Riding Championships.

Any notion that gay rodeos feature lesser athletes or silly events is dispelled with a visit to the animal stockyard. The bulls are huge; some weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. They have horns—enormous horns that can easily gouge flesh or tear human tissue. Even the steers for the Wild Drag Races are spooked easily and have horns up to 10 inches long.

“Last year,” says Jake, “I saw a drag queen in Las Vegas get hit in the face by a steer during the Wild Drag Race. It took a dozen stitches to close the wound, and he broke his nose and got two black eyes. This is not some joke—this is the real thing. … Last year, during the International Finals for Gay Rodeo, the first woman bronc buster competitor was slammed into the steel fencing and nearly broke her back. She had to be hospitalized!”

So, this is real rodeo—and more. There are hardcore rodeo events, nighttime excitement, danger, country entertainment, dancing, drinking and partying.

And, as Jim Anderson says, "Like regular rodeo, there ain’t nothing better than going to the rodeo and seeing a sexy man in a snug-fitting pair of Wranglers."