Gay Caballeros

           GOAT DRESSING. MY primary goal in attending the gay rodeo was to find out what the hell goat dressing was.

           Yes, my friends, the rodeo was in town last weekend. Leather chaps met leather dog collars as the Fourth Annual North Star Regional Gay Rodeo hoo-ha'ed into the Washington County Fairgrounds. I reviewed the itinerary for last Saturday. It included pole bending, wild drag racing, steer decorating... and goat dressing.

           I entered the pole barn where folks were still setting up little tables to hawk their wares. While I had never attended a rodeo, gay rodeo appeared to be your average hootin', hollerin' hoedown. Hardwood floorboards were laid out for square dance lessons, hot dogs were grilling, and the grandstands were packed with would-be cowpokes and cowgirls. I was disappointed, however, to find that tasteless, kitschy Western motifs had unfortunately infiltrated the inherent good fashion sense that I assumed would prevail. Across the back wall of the pole barn hung an array of T-shirts featuring oversized coyote heads and black bears roaming through the woods at twilight. The best one showed a cowboy riding a bucking bronc and under him the words "Cowboy butts drive me nuts." I did a little early Christmas shopping.

           Belt buckles the size of hubcaps were everywhere. My favorite one, I swear to God, had the Preamble to the Constitution on it, with room for not one, but two U.S. flags framing the text. It was a testament to our great land, as well as a hard-to-coordinate fashion accessory. Button-down shirts that had been ruthlessly assaulted by a Be-Dazzler were in such abundance that I feared so much nickel all in one place could shift the magnetic polarity of the earth and send us crashing into the sun.

           I calmed my fears with a Lite beer, the rodeo's corporate sponsor, and continued through the barn, passing by the American Express Financial Advisers booth, where a disgruntled-looking middle-aged gentleman was sitting on a folding chair, his arms folded across his chest. He looked like he had picked the short straw at the office that Friday. Checking back periodically throughout the afternoon, I found the booth empty every time.

           Further on I was treated to a massage by "specialty wellness" folks who laid me out on a mattress pad filled with magnets, which are supposed to do something to my electrolytes or neurons or something. I was comforted by the fact that the magnet mattress booth and the over-studded cowboy shirt booth were across the room from one another, thus avoiding the creation of some sort of magnetic field that would screw up my credit cards or leave me sterile.

           I finally ventured out to the rodeo arena to get my first taste of cattle rustlin'. Gay rodeo had its start in Reno in 1976, when an Emperor of the local Imperial Court, Phil Ragsdale, held an event to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association. What was to become the national Reno Gay Rodeo spawned the Colorado Gay Rodeo Association, and throughout the '80s, gay rodeo associations cropped up in Texas, Kansas, and Missouri, spreading across the country and into Canada. In 1989, the North Star Gay Rodeo Association was founded, organizing and holding rodeos in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

           It wasn't hard to get caught up in the action. Unlike professional rodeo, women can compete in any event that men can. "Hormone Updates" from the announcer's booth were given periodically, while "Homo the Clown," resembling "Rainbow Head" on a three-day Benzedrine binge, ventured through the crowd looking for a date for that evening's dance. I enjoyed some serious breakaway calf roping and expert steer riding, then ventured out and about again.

           I ran into Wayne, a.k.a. Mr. ILGRA, of the Illinois Gay Rodeo Association. Wayne was working the charity dunk tank, so I bummed a Buffalo Spirit (one of those hip get-cancer-the-all-natural-way cigs) and had a chat. Wayne was originally from Chicago, where his grandfather before him was a rodeo cowboy, and achieved his status as Mr. ILGRA by being the only male in the organization. He did, however, proudly display on his sash the numerous pins and medals he had earned on the circuit. While not participating in this year's tour (lack of financial support has left Chicago without a rodeo this year) he rattled off his chosen events: wild drag racing, bull riding... and goat dressing. If anyone could explain goat dressing to me, it would be Mr. ILGRA. He simply began laughing and told me I had to see it for myself.

           I finished my Buffalo Spirit, and wandered back to the arena, pausing halfway to wheeze and cough up a bit, then planted myself back in the front row where I had left my friend Karen and her partner. This was Karen's first rodeo, although she had watched the mesquite rodeos on television. Karen informed me that while I was talking to Wayne, I had missed the goat dressing. This is when you realize what a cruel, sick joke life can be.

           Basically, goat dressing, ironically sponsored by the grumps at the American Express Financial Adviser table, involves teams of two who must catch a goat which is tethered to a stake at the other end of the arena. Contestants then attempt to fit a pair of jockey shorts on the hind legs of the goat, run back to the line, and tag their timer before the goat drops its drawers. This is the kind of stuff you see at 3 a.m. on ESPN2, right between Street Luge and the Sports Babe.

           I was not going to miss the steer decorating. I was envisioning sequins and lots and lots of lamé. Instead it was a timed team event in which one member holds the front of a steer while the other teammate ties a little red bow to the steer's tale. Quite a letdown from goat dressing, I must say. Feeling thoroughly disillusioned at that point, which is easy for me, being in my 20s and all,
I decided to mosey on home, full of cheap beer and sunburned beyond recognition.

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