"I think the basic [cowboy] tradition is manliness, bravery, perseverance. You've got decades and decades of imagery that say that's who it is. " The opening lines of the film Queens & Cowboys are given by Western historian Michael Johnson. A few shots later, you meet Wade Earp, a 45-year-old cowboy who runs a ranch and competes in rodeo.
"I live, eat, breathe cowboy," he says. "I just happen to be gay."
Matt Livadary's film screens at the Angelika Film Center at 12:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday as part of the Dallas International Film Festival. For his documentary, Livardy interviewed countless cowboys on the gay rodeo circuit with Earp's story as the anchor. Earp, a Dallas native and award-winning bull rider, admits that he was nervous about putting an entire year of his life on screen.
"At first, I was really worried about how we would be portrayed, I was afraid this was just going to be a gay movie," Earp says. "When I saw the final film, it's just a film about people's every day lives."
With the addition of a few playful costumes and different kind of rodeo queen, these are just your run-of-the-mill cowboys. But for decades they've been ostracized, bullied and persecuted by "real cowboys." In one scene, Livardy interviews cowboys at a traditional rodeo in Waco, where the hatred for the gay rodeo still runs strong. "They're not real cowboys," one man says.
"We're better than we were in the '80s, but we've still got a long way to go," Earp says. "When people find out I'm gay, sometimes they're surprised. They don't usually associate masculinity with gay men, they expect it to be feminine. But I'm out there riding bucking broncos just like everyone else in the rodeo. I'm tough, I'm strong, I get hurt and I get back up."
Even in a place with films like Brokeback Mountain and Dallas Buyers Club at the center of mainstream culture, the stories in Queens & Cowboys remain necessary and surprising. Livardy approaches his subjects with unblinking honesty, giving attention to the struggles of both the rodeo and the members of its community. When Earp watched the film for the first time, he recalls a mixture of sadness and catharsis.
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"In the movie, there are members of the community we lost along the way and I'm glad they we got their story out," he says. "Sometimes we suppress things for so long we forget how to process it. For me, the entire movie is a little emotional. It's that wound that's almost healed."
As the nation continues to push toward greater gay acceptance, one of the remaining holdouts continues to be the good ol' boy rodeo culture, but Earp hopes Queens & Cowboys is another step in the right direction.
"I think it just opens people's eyes. I don't mean to diss anyone when I say this, but the media coverage of the pride parades in Dallas or Fort Worth shows the scantily clad people and the drag queens, but the cowboys are at the front of the parade, carrying the flags on horseback," he says. "The film doesn't glorify just one thing, or one type of person. It shows the huge tapestry of people in the gay rodeo."
See Queens & Cowboys this weekend as part of the Dallas International Film Festival.