Homo on the Range

Walt Dudley

"Lonesome Cowboy," Collage by Robbo, © 2001


"Kiss, me."
"Well, get your ass over here and I'll lay one on you."
"But, I just got comfortable on my brand-new sofa . . ." "Jesus H., Walt, do I have to do everything for you? You're not that disabled. Don't be another whiney crip?"
"Oooh, Busdriver Bill, I knew you weren't one of those tight-ass politico correctos. Speaking of asses, how about getting that handsome heinie over here!"

In fact, Busdriver Bill had already hauled his derriere 100 miles just to get here for our annual "Thanksmas," a Thanksgiving-Christmas feast, a little get-together for a few dozen friends, gay and lesbian, from all across the state. We even had some friends of Dorothy from as far away as Fargo, way out at the other end of nowhere. Either this Thanksmas shindig was very, very special, or said gay and lesbian friends were very, very desperate.

You may have heard that the Dakota prairie can be a desolate place—especially for queer folk, but maybe I should fill you in on the peculiarities of this peculiar locale. The small college town of Dickinson, ND (pop. 18,000), lies two hours straight west of Bismarck, the state Capitol (pop 50,000). The journey takes you over the grassy, rolling hills identical to the beautiful, Dakota panorama seen just beyond young Lieutenant Dunbar's naked buns in the movie "Dances with Wolves," filmed a mere eighty miles to the south. Do I mean to imply that Prairie Men are prone to have good-looking posteriors? Damn right I do.

A couple of hours out of Bismarck, after passing by several sad, depopulating villages, you'll happen on the next hint of civilization: Dickinson sports a state university populated by about 2000 students; presumably it's got its statistically-correct share of gays and lesbians, but both town and college have closets in abundance, all tightly locked. Homophobia, denial, and malice are abundant, too. Relations between us queer types are always covert out here on the prairie, socially and certainly physically.

This particular Thanksmas, Bill accepted an invitation to be my house guest—enthusiastically accepted. We had met two years earlier at Thanksmas. Even then I was in my new super-deluxe titanium wheelchair. I'd of course pretended to be proud of it—but a wheelchair is a wheelchair. Still, the lean, Hollywood-handsome Bill must have liked something he saw. Or was he playing some kind of game?

Without prompting, he told me that my multiple sclerosis didn't bother him; he'd worked at a nursing home, he was "accustomed to disabilities." Being mature forty-somethings, we made our first order of business a discussion of procedure and protocol. Honestly, though somewhat coyly, we talked of mustaches, which good-looking newscaster was the "most likely to be," the fine art of fellatio and, of course, the subject of responsible intimacy.

But back to the sofa: finally, Bill moseyed on over and we got down to the other business at hand. It seemed that our lighthearted banter was sufficient to raise interest in our respective shorts. We quickly transferred our feverish cuddling on the cushy sofa to a close investigation of the plush new carpet below. And wouldn't you know it, my spastic legs decided to join the party. Although distracted by my inability to participate gracefully, Bill achieved satisfaction. At least Bill did. Before I knew it, we were hunkered down under a blanket and watching a movie.

The following day we set off for the Thanksmas feast a mere seven blocks away—in separate cars. That night Bill did not return home. When I saw him at a poetry reading the next afternoon, I learned from friends that Busdriver Bill had got mightily drunk and ended up at the local Holiday Inn with a stranger who had wandered in from the other side of the state. The next day when Bill came to collect his belongings, we had another discussion, this one neither coy nor honest: "But, I just got really, really drunk. I don't know where I stayed . . ."

What does all this have to do with our investigating, or more specifically, not investigating, my new carpet? Who could know? What does a titanium wheelchair have to do with just another one-night stand? One may never know—only be suspicious. And, of course, what I suspect, what I fear, is that the crip in the chair is good enough for a quickie at best, but nothing more. I get tired of the game called "who can do the handsome dude in the wheelchair?" This here dude longs for something more than a masturbatory roll on the cut-pile carpeting. I yearn for a real Kemosahbee, an honest soul-to-soul, mind-to-mind, 'stache-to-'stache, and maybe-more, connection. But out here in the Great Plains, the Buffalo commons? Who am I kidding?

This tale of a passing fancy hardly gives a complete picture of romance in the Dakotas for boys of like mind and heart, much less similar boys of disability. Pre-wheelchair in Dakota, I had fallen in love, done some heartbreaking and had my own heart broken. But that was pre-wheelchair. Even then, homosexual contacts, social, much less physical, were few and far between. Is there something about Dakota, this particular sector of the great American outback, that leads to a gay-population vacuum? Could it be the general population void, plus the not-so-coincidental out-migration of any gay population to greener, friendlier pastures?

To complicate matters further, while North Dakota may be predominantly Lutheran and Roman Catholic, it certainly behaves Puritan, as does much of the Midwest—as does much of America, come to think of it. You won't find many Metropolitan Community Churches in this neck of the prairie, which is why gays and lesbians travel from across the state to Thanksmas—to find community.

When I was younger, I remember my mother offering that All-American maternal pitch aimed at every son determined to conquer the world: "grow where you are planted." Years later I would write: "'Nord Dakodah'—as most old-country locals called it—land of my birth, land of endless, mindless prairies littered with buffalo memories, chaw-chewing cowboys and husky maidens, land I'd vowed never to return to, land of my rebirth."

My own piece of socio/psycho malarkey makes me wonder if "self prophecy fulfilling itself" is more than just a clever axiom. Maybe all this vacant territory and fresh air really do something to the brain. After all, I did spend years running around the world singing for Jesus, herding the millions into the kingdom (okay, okay . . . I was a gospel-rock prima donna), finding the bright lights and back alleys of Hollywood, then adopting hometowns the likes of Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Honolulu and Seattle. But now I'm back in little ol' Dickinson, North Dakota, thirty-five miles from the village where I grew up. No doubt about it, with all my arrogance, insecurities, talents, loneliness, doubts and fears, along with my new titanium wheelchair, I'm—home. With so few distractions at hand, maybe it's time to find answers to those questions about loneliness, disability, self-acceptance, time to find self- reconciliation.

And yet, all is not as melodramatic as it might sound. Just like with our annual Thanksmas, every Valentine's Day many of the same gays and lesbians gather for a public dance in the state capital, that city a hundred miles to the east where Busdriver Bill lives. I found that wheel-chairs move very well on dance floors; lord knows, dancers always give a wheelchair dude wide berth. But Bill does not attend the Valentine's dances in Bismarck. He drives a school bus there, you see. Maybe he worries that the Lutheran/Roman Catholic/Puritan school board members might frown on one of their bus drivers tripping-the-light-fantastic with friends of Dorothy—a reference said school board members undoubtedly would not comprehend.

I haven't seen Busdriver Bill for the better part of two years. In fact, the sofa-to-carpet episode with Bill was the last time I fondled, nuzzled and/or etceteraed with another man. However, last holiday season at Thanksmas, I suddenly found a cute nurse parked on my lap, begging for a birthday kiss. What could a wheelchair cowboy do? It was his birthday—and it was just a kiss.


Walt Dudley
is a disability rights activist and writer. Beginning in April, look for his book, “WE’re THE PEOPLE, Too: Tales from America’s Largest Minority” in bookstores or online at ChampionPress.com, Amazon.con, and Barnesandnoble.com.


BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/January 2001