Yesterday I was out in the woods with my wife of 15 years, riding our mountain bikes through a rough, stony trail. After a few hours of riding we were dirty, dusty, muddy, and mosquito bitten. Burs from the long grasses coated our legs, and we kept wondering how many ticks we were picking up during slow slogs through fields. We rounded a turn in the trail and poured down what turned out to be a deceptively long and steep hill, with plenty of loose rock and branches to trip us up. “Yahoo!” cried my wife as we barreled down the hill. “Why don’t we do this every day?” Later that night over dinner and a bottle of wine I looked at her and said “Man, am I glad I married you. I couldn’t live with a dainty woman.”
Not surprising to me, today I finished Victor J. Banis’ classic gay cowboy novel, Longhorns, over breakfast.
Longhorns is at its heart a great cowboy story. A young Nasoni Indian, Buck, rides into the Double H ranch at roundup and finds work as a cowboy. He is fun, gregarious, attractive, and brings joy to every life touches. Buck also doesn’t shy away from letting the cowboys around him know that he wouldn’t mind a ride in bushes, if you catch the drift of his saddle blanket. The cowboys in Banis’ world don’t worry too much about this, as they all have taken a poke or two in the woods on lonely nights, but generally prefer fillies to broncos. The Double H segundo, Red, quickly takes a liking to the boy, and while they make regular trips behind the woodshed, Buck has his eyes firmly set on Red’s pard, a somber trail boss named Les.
Buck turns out to be the best cowboy of the bunch. He can tame any horse, ride faster, shoot better, and it turns out Buck can cook up a cowboy meal that can bring the boys back for seconds and thirds. There is some sex in the book, of both the cowboy-on-cowboy and cowboy-on-soiled dove variety, but it isn’t wall to wall and for the most part isn’t terribly explicit. Longhorns is mostly about men being men in each other’s company, eventually coming to terms with the notion that they are uncomfortable in the presence of women and can find what they need, all that they need, with each other.
Now I’m not a particularly manly man, but I get this. What I want in my life is someone who can share my musings and adventures, not someone who waits patiently at the homestead for me to return. Come with me and get dirty in the woods, and when we are clean and well fed our love is that much better.
Historical novels have a hard time making this happen. If they are true to history, the women folk will daintily knit and sew while them menfolk go a’roving. Some writers string together an extravagant tale of how their female characters ended up as the rare gunslinging gal, but it is hard to pull of convincingly (thanks, Peter Brandvold, for giving it a try with Louisa Bonaventure, "The Vengence Queen” of the Lou Prophet novels). For this to work, where you have two historical characters that live their lives together, adventure, explore, and share an occasional intimacy in a way that feels genuine, sometimes you have to have two dudes. And those dudes have to get it on.
Rest easy, pard. Reading something off of the Brokeback shelf won’t suddenly make you gay any more than all that girl-on-girl porn you secretly watch has made you a lesbian. And if you like it more than you thought, well maybe you learned something about yourself in the process. Stories about two cowboys in a tangled romance always make my heart sing a bit. They remind me of times past, hiking some rocky trail to the heavens, stopping to take in a view, and slipping my arm around the form of the woman I love.
Love is love, pard. Love is love.