John Howard reports on cute boy cowboys and gay rodeos in Fort Worth.
The handsome daddy cowboy, somewhere in his late 50s I would guess, and the cute boy cowboy – 20s? – huddle together for a photo backstage, though I’m sure it’s not called backstage, at the Mesquite Arena in Texas. It stinks of manure, there are flies, endless announcements, bursts of music and a plus-size drag queen in a Stetson walking around in high-heeled cowboy boots.
You can’t help but imagine daddy and boy cowboy making out, in some cheesy porn kind of way, they’re both so hot, and if they did it would be no big deal because this is the Gay Rodeo Finals. Which would kind of explain the drag queen in the Stetson. And the fact that the bursts of music seem to be mainly Britney.
We’re in Fort Worth, a decidedly Western – as in Country ‘n’ Western – town just a stone’s throw from the money, art, gastronomy and modern architecture of Dallas, a ‘blue island in the middle of the reddest state’. Blue means Democrat (or liberal) while Red means Republican, or Trump, by the way. And the Reds tend not to like the gays. Not as much as they like Jesus and guns at any rate. But Fort Worth seems somehow different. They even have a vegan café with a rainbow flag outside (the Spiral Diner – very hotly recommended). Oh and a cowboy-themed gay club with drag queens and everything.
Back at the rodeo, a group of drag queens are now competing to try and sit on a bull as it’s released from a pen. They’ve already gone bewigged-head to head to try and dress a goat but we’ve moved on from that and we’ll soon be watching rookie rodeo riders bust out of the compound riding steers, which we think means young bulls but we’re ready to be corrected. One of them is Breana, who we originally thought was a boy, so handsome was she, but it turns out she’s in from Malibu and has always been obsessed with riding bulls. Which might be a lesbian thing. Again, we’re ready to be corrected.
It may seem vaguely fake, this whole cowboy thing, but it seriously is how people carry on around here, even if they do ramp it up a bit for the tourists. You’ll see people wearing Stetsons and cowboy boots with their suits to work, just like they used to in the TV show Dallas, and most of what they say sounds just like it comes out of a movie.
For a drink, they might go down to Billy Bob’s – ‘The World’s Largest Honky Tonk’ – for some light line-dancing. It may not be gay but it’s certainly camp. The night we’re there – a Thursday – the floor is crowded but then that’s because there’s nothing going on in the in-bar mini-arena out the back, where actual bull-riding goes on at weekends. Don’t forget to check out their Country Music Hall of Fame with memorabilia from some of the huge country stars who have performed here… including namesake Billy Bob Thornton and his band. They even do country-themed murder mystery evenings. Of course they do!
Billy Bob’s is in the middle of what’s known as The Stockyards, a country ‘n’ western area of town that does feel a bit theme-parky with people in costume and staged bar brawls that spill out onto the streets, but which is no less enjoyable for all that. It’s the place to pick up some cheesy cowboy-slogan T-shirts or maybe some boots and, of course, a Stetson. Just watch out for the horse-drawn carriages that seem to be careering about.
And so to Urban Cowboy, Fort Worth’s biggest gay bar, where they manage to mix the Western flavour with big, dirty drag queens and group viewings of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Most of Fort Worth’s gays will go to Dallas for a big night out, to the gay scene that is grouped round Cedar Springs and which includes everything from huge G-A-Y-style bars like JRs to the Round-Up Saloon, where, like here, they mix Rihanna records with a whole load of ‘Yee-haw’.
At Urban Cowboy, the place is actually quite spacious and glamorous and the people so hands-on friendly we can’t make out if they’re trying to make out with us or steal from us (turns out the former, thankfully).
But you would be silly to come this far to enjoy the cowboy goings-on and not make it to Dallas, bearing in mind it’s only half an hour away. This is the flip side of Texas, where the buildings are tall and glossy, the shopping and the food scene world class and where so much money has been spent on art and galleries and symphony halls and what have you that it’s actually, scientifically the biggest single art spend in the whole of the US, like ever. Again, correct us if you can. Well, that’s what happens when you have oil money and people who like to see their names on the sides of buildings.
Dallas is also where JFK was shot, so if you’re into that, you should visit the museum, the spot where it happened – marked with a big X in the street – or maybe even take an E-Frogs Tour with a big, beary, very gay-friendly driver who will chug you round in an open electric vehicle showing you where it all went down (and where the gay stuff still goes down).
Meanwhile, back at the rodeo, there’s some sort of ceremonial moment going down and the Britney has been replaced by one of those songs they sing with their hands on their chests. Then the cowboys ride out on horses that kick up the red sand with huge stars and stripes flags fluttering behind them. It’s just that at this rodeo, the rainbow flags are even bigger than that!