There was always a rodeo at the county fair, but with all my anxieties about being a closeted gay farm boy, rodeo seemed like something that I couldn’t be involved in.” says Ryan Reed, 41, of his childhood in rural Homer, Illinois. Now Reed competes in International Gay Rodeo Association events across the country.
“I have to say it was a wonderful development to find that actually, I could be involved in rodeo,” he said. “And the other great thing about rodeo has been that I have been able to connect socially with other people who had similar experiences growing up.”
Now a resident of Maryville, Missouri, and a political science professor at Northwest Missouri State, Reed became involved in rodeo six years back when he was living in Sacramento. Friends involved in the gay rodeo there brought him out to a rodeo in Reno, Nevada, and by the following January, he was involved in a rodeo school.
“I liked what I saw right away,” he said. “The folks were so welcoming. I just kind of fell in love with it.”
Reed competes in seven to nine rodeos per year and will be participating for the first time as a member in the Missouri Gay Rodeo Association at the 21st annual Show-Me State Rodeo on Labor Day weekend — Aug. 29-31– at Lone Wolf Ranch Arena in Cleveland, Missouri (Show-Me State Rodeo).
On Aug. 10-11, Reed participated in Gay Games 9 in Cleveland, Ohio, where he was awarded a silver medal for Calf Roping on Foot. It was the first time that the Gay Games included rodeo events.
“We had upwards of a hundred competitors, involving both men and women,” he said. “It was fantastic. It was such a great experience. It seemed everyone else in the Gay Games [was”> very excited that cowboys and cowgirls were now involved. It was pretty awesome to walk into opening ceremonies with our matching red shirts and cowboy hats — people just went crazy.”
Besides Calf Roping on Foot, Reed also competes in Chute Dogging, which is a steer-wrestling event, as well as what are categorized as camp events: Steer Decorating, the Wild Drag Race and Goat Dressing.
Reed jokes that Goat Dressing is rodeo’s equivalent to a gateway drug, an event that seems easy and tempts spectators into getting involved as first-time competitors.
The two-person team event is a race against the clock. One partner must lift the rear end of the goat, while the other partner slides a pair of tighty-whiteys onto the animal. Then they both have to race back to the starting line, and they face disqualification should the goat’s underwear fall off.
“It’s silly, and the audience loves to watch it because it’s kind of funny, but people take it very seriously,” Reed said. “It’s actually very competitive. People who maybe feel like they’re not sure if they can do rodeo, look at that and say, ‘Oh, I can probably put underwear on a goat.’”
Steer Decorating, he says, is an event that’s not that decorative and is much more intense than it sounds. It’s a timed event where one partner holds a long rope tied to the horns of a 700- to 800-pound steer, while the other partner attempts to tie a 10-inch ribbon to the steer’s tail.
“And the steer,” Reed emphasizes, “doesn’t wait for this to happen.”
“There is a range of danger,” says Reed about the sport of rodeo, “I don’t usually see people get hurt doing Goat Dressing, but I pretty regularly see people get hurt Chute Dogging and Steer Decorating. Occasionally, you see someone go to the emergency room. These are dangerous events. You’re playing with livestock that are large. They’re not tame, and they have horns. We try to do it as safely as we can, both for the contestants and for the livestock, but just like any sport, it’s not completely safe.”
Despite the danger and competitive nature of rodeo, Reed says that those looking from the outside might not realize that “behind the scenes, we’re all friends, cheering for each other and mentoring each other. I have formed family with this rodeo. Friendships turn into family relations after a while. You look forward to seeing each other at the next rodeo.”
Reed is also looking forward to attending some of the ancillary events in Kansas City associated with the Show-Me State Rodeo. On Friday, Aug. 29, Hamburger Mary’s, 101 Southwest Blvd., will be hosting Homorodeo.com’s calendar signing and Cowboy Karaoke. Some of the models for the annual cowboy calendar will be on site. Saturday night will be a Cowboy Crazy Country Dance with the models of Homorodeo.com at Industry Video Bar, 3700 Broadway, and Sunday will be the awards party, where Reed hopes he’ll pick up some prizes.
Just added to the list of events is a screening of the documentary Queens and Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo by filmmaker Matt Livadary. That will be at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 27, at the Tivoli Cinemas, 4050 Pennsylvania Ave., in Westport.
Reed has shared the film trailer of Queens and Cowboys with several of his co-workers who will be cheering him on during Labor Day weekend. The trailer, he half-jokes, will serve as a primer as to what they should expect.
“Some of them have never been to a rodeo at all, gay or straight or anything else,” he said. “And some of them have never been to a gay rodeo. It will be interesting to see their reactions. I have had straight friends tell me that they’ve had a lot more fun at gay rodeos.”
As a political science professor and a spectator of politics, Reed says that “with the gay rodeo, the approach it takes is that our very existence is a kind of activism. We don’t have to go out and be overtly political. The fact that we exist and we’re doing rodeo, it has effects. And, we think, a positive effect.””