on the Range
"Lonesome Cowboy," Collage by Robbo, ©
"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
You may have heard that
the Dakota prairie can be a desolate placeespecially 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 guestenthusiastically
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 itbut 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
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 awayin
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 knowonly
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 Midwestas
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 Thanksmasto find
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 itland 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
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'mhome. 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 Dorothya
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 birthdayand
it was just a kiss.
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.