Interview with Chuck Browning

Denver, Colorado on July 9, 2021 | Interviewer: Rebecca Scofield

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RS: OK, so this is Rebecca Scofield, and I'm here today with Chuck Browning. It is July 9, [2001.] And we are in Denver for the Rocky Mountain Regional. So can you tell me what year you were born?
CB: Born in 1963.
RS: And where were you born?
CB: I was born in Casper, Wyoming.
RS: Is that where you grew up?
CB: I grew up in Casper, Wyoming, through 4th grade, moved to upstate New York 5th through 10th grade, back to Wyoming for my final year of high school, then up to Montana for college, then ended in Phoenix, where I've been for 34 years.
RS: What did your parents do while growing up?
CB: My stepfather was an electrical engineer, so he did a lot of the high-powered power line constructions. So we would move where the work would go to. So, we traveled for most of my adolescence.
RS: And what about your mom?
CB: Uh, my mom did some accounting work, she did work as she could, and she also helped my dad with his company.
RS: And did you have siblings?
CB: I have four older siblings, two older sisters, two older brothers. I had two older stepbrothers and older stepsister and two younger stepbrothers.
RS: Wow.
CB: Yah.
RS: I'm really impressed right now [laughs].
CB: I'm impressed I can remember all that. [laughs with RS]
RS: And can you tell me a little bit about growing up, what your family dynamics were like?
CB: Yeah, growing up in Wyoming, things that I remember is going to the fair and the rodeo and seeing the troopers, which is a drum corps, being very influenced by that. It was kind of like that whole cowboy culture. In the springtime, we would go out to Hat Six Ranch, which was a friend of my uncles who had a cattle ranch, and they did roundups. We watched the castrations. We watched the Rocky Mountain oysters. We watched all that going on. I was probably anywhere from four to six years old. So participating in that, I didn't do. But seeing it definitely kind of affected me, my whole culture at that point in time.
CB: Moving out to New York, uh, upstate New York, uh, completely different culture, they thought that we still fought with the Indians, you know, I mean, it was just that whole transition of that. We called, you know, a Coke, we called it pop.
RS: Mmhm.
CB: They called it soda. So, you know, that whole evolution thing. So then we kind of transferred all the way to their culture and then melded with that, you know, more hockey. It was more about soccer, is more about lacrosse, you know, rodeo? Nobody even knew what rodeo was. So it wasn't really until we got back to Casper, which was my final year of high school, that, you know, and not really then did I get interested in rodeo, it was a little bit even later after college, but yeah, it was kind of a kind of a big change.
RS: And growing up in such a big family. Did you get along with all your siblings and step-siblings?
CB: Well, it was most of just the five, the initial five, three Scorpios, a Taurus, and a Leo. And so if anybody knows, you know, that part of you know, it's power signs. So uh, three scorpios alone, the oldest and the last two. But, we did get along. I mean, we because we moved a lot, we had to rely on each other for that transitioning and building friendships. When we moved to New York, we found out that families had eight to 10 kids, you know, so it was like, you know, this guy and well, you know her sister and you go to school with the brother and everything. So it was kind of, kind of nice in that way. When we did move, we did travel a lot. But then my older brothers went to college and it was my sisters and me and, you know, then my sister, we kind of moved back to Montana and Wyoming. So it was we always had that and we're still very close. So.
RS: So in, you know, middle school, high school, as you're moving, did you form any really close friendships that you still think of today?
CB: Actually, I have two very close friends in upstate New York, Michelle Rose and Maxine [Jibo]. Michelle is from Chadwicks and Maxine was from Malone. Malone was where I went 7th through 10th grade, so that was probably the most impactful part of you growing up. Maxine, actually I reconnected with her on Facebook because I had lost touch with her and she actually came out to Phoenix and I met with her and I met her partner and talked about, you know, the fact that we both had alternative lifestyles, which was probably why we connected so well. So that was just kind of liberating, I guess you can say. But other than that, I haven't really kept close friendships, even from people in college. I think that maybe just because I'm used to moving and relocating, but I do have a lot of good friends in Phoenix, because I've been there for 34 years.
RS: And can I ask how you identify in terms of gender and sexuality?
CB: Gender, I'm a man, a he or a him. Sexuality, I had sex with women in college. I prefer to have sex with men. So I guess I'm gay, I guess I'm bi, I guess I'm whatever anybody needs to label me as, that's, I'm good with that.
RS: That's great. [laughs with CB] That's perfect. And so growing up did you struggle with that at all? Were you aware of that? Um, concerned about it?
CB: I think when I go back to it, I had a teacher when I first moved to Chadwicks, New York. And he was Italian, dark hair, you know, muscular. I look back at that and I was like, there was some reason that I was, you know, there was a connection. I didn't understand it then. But now I look back and I'm like, you know what, that probably was what was going on, but I was just too young to know that. I think I really resisted any of that. Of like seeing guys and saying, God, they're attractive or, you know, or things like that just because of where I grew up in Wyoming and what the talk was and how people that were in the community at the time that identified as being gay and how they were treated. And, you know, it was fear, it was fear-based. And I was like, and I really, those that I did know that were gay, I really wasn't like them. And so I was like, OK, is this black and white? I gotta either be this way or that way because I'm not that way.
CB: So there was that struggle, but there was also that uniformity with the culture and the expectations that you're going to have a girlfriend and you're going to get married, you're going to have kids. So I kind of bought into that, I think, probably until I got into college. So, I was in college when I started, uh. I was a lifeguard and was coaching a swim team and hung out with other lifeguards and met a couple other that were gay and lesbians. Started realizing that there's a whole gambit of different levels of this alternative lifestyle. It's not just this way or that way.
RS: And where did you go to college?
CB: At the time it was called Eastern Montana College. It's now called MSUB, so outside of Billings. Right in Billings, actually. Yeah.
RS: And what was your experience like in college and in such a red state?
CB: Well, again, because my friends at college were from all different areas and it was kind of like I still hadn't grasped my sexuality. I think I was starting to understand that there was a lifeguard, his name was Jack, and he was open and free about it. And, but he wasn't like the flamboyant type either. So that when I was like, okay, wait a minute, this is a little bit more uh, broader than I kind of thought it was. You know, there were guys that I found attractive, but I really never reacted on it because I was still dating women. I dated two girls in college, you know, and thought, you know, everything was fine until I probably moved to Phoenix and then and realized that I was a trainer at the time.
CB: And one of my clients who I didn't know at the time was gay. And, you know, he knew that I was new to town. He says, hey, there's a bar in Phoenix that you should come out and just kind of hang out with us. And it was Charlie's. And, you know, I was like, how did he know? How did I know? You know, I sat in the parking lot for an hour before I went in because I was like, oh, I [inaudible] guys going in there, but. You know, I think that was the turning point for me, and I was like, just just go in there, had a great time.
RS: That's really great. Do you think um, if you hadn't had, you know, such a good friend to kind of prompt you, do you think you would have started grappling with it eventually?
CB: Well, it's funny how things work out and how life just kind of works. And I think that's what happened. I mean, he, not that I don't perceive myself to be flamboyantly gay or, you know, just broadcast it. Maybe I do, I don't know, maybe I'm confusing myself. But he obviously knew. He obviously knew. And I think he kind of guided me at least that way to find people more like me. And coming from Montana, Wyoming, into Phoenix, which at the time was a big city for me, to actually go into a gay bar and see guys dancing and start to talk to guys and, you know, then start to go to other gay bars and see that there's, you know, country bars, there's the disco bars, there's whatever, you know. Yeah. The leather bars, all that stuff. It was just, it just opened my eyes even more.
RS: So when did you graduate college?
CB: Graduated college in 1987.
RS: And what took you to Phoenix?
CB: Warm weather [laughs]. I, I had a girlfriend, I guess you could quote that and uh, I used to teach aerobics in Billings at the [inaudible] Fitness Center and one of the girls there was coming to Phoenix to see her sister. So she invited me to come with her and it was in November. So in Montana in November, you know, it's cold. And we came down to Phoenix and it's 80 degrees and I'm like. Oh, my. Oh, my. This is paradise. So I was about ready to finish college and I just thought, where am I going to go? My brother actually lived down here at the time and I just needed a new adventure and wanted to get to a big city, probably because I was trying to. Just, you know, open up, so, that's why I decided to go to Phoenix.
RS: So 1987, would have been right in the middle of, you know, the Reagan years and the AIDS epidemic?
CB: Correct.
RS: How did that affect your life?
CB: Well, I got into Phoenix in November of '87. My grandmother had just passed away. So on my trip down, I stopped in Casper got there. You know, this is when I was kind of like, trying to find jobs. I was, you know, I had my degree was kind of a personal trainer at the time. So I found a couple of jobs doing that and then started to go to the gay bars and then starting to hear about this gay cancer, and all about everything. So for me, it was, it was scary because I didn't understand it. I didn't really know what it was about. I mean, I'm just like getting into being gay and hearing this, and it's like, what the hell? So I befriended an older gentleman. His name is Gary. And I met him at Charlie's and on Friday night and we went to a place where everybody goes for breakfast and we were just chatting and.
CB: He was getting ready to go to Flagstaff to work on some people's houses, kind of like a handyman, so he asked me, he said, listen, I need someone to look at my house for the summer. Would you be interested in just staying at my house for the summer? Like what? So I literally did and I mean, and he knew I was from Montana and he told me, he said, listen, I know that you're good people and I'm still good friends with him. And I think he was another person that kind of helped guide me into that and everything. So it was, it was still scary, it was still unknown. I wasn't sure what was going on. But again, because I'm new to all this it was also there is some political stuff going on in Arizona at the time with our governor and Ed Buck and. All that stuff, so it was, you know, it was just crazy. Yeah, but just literally crazy.
RS: And, you know, when you started going to Charlie's and opening up more, did you talk at all with your family about it?
CB: I did not. In fact, let's say that was in '87. I started going to the rodeos in Phoenix in that January, I think it was '88. I volunteered in '89. I thought these guys were crazy. Greg Olsen was the big rodeo cowboy at the time and I went to L.A. to go to the rodeos so he got stepped on by a bull and a lacerated liver these guys are frickin crazy. What the hell are they doing? But I kind of got into that whole rodeo thing and ended up going to Denver. And in Denver, I apparently had a little too much to drink and got into a situation that was not good. And I don't remember a lot of it except for about six months later, I went and had tested and was HIV positive. So being 26 at the time, being new to all this, and everything else - uh, it was just, it just happened. And, you know, it was unfortunate. My family still didn't know about me being gay. And then in 1990, I met a doctor that I was dating and I'm like, you're crazy, you're dating a doctor, you're HIV positive. You know, he's going to find out.
CB: He's going to freak out. And it was that whole stigma with it, because literally every time I would date somebody and they would find out, they were like, you know, they just ghost you. They just didn't - and I can't blame them, because they don't understand it. But, so I was dating, this doctor's name is Ken Cross, and, you know, we were -we met at Charlie's, actually. Our friends brought us together. My friends physically picked me up and carried me and stood in front of him and said, you guys need to talk to each other. We talked for three hours. We didn't move. We never talked about a relationship, it just developed. And we started just doing things together. And he had a place in Deer Valley and I had my condo. We would spend certain places and nights with him and he'd spend nights with me and we had it all worked out, he had a sister. But one night we were just sitting there talking. He said, listen, I need to talk to you. I said, Well, I need to talk to you, too. And he said, well, let me go first.
CB: And he told me he's HIV positive. And how ironic that anybody would find, what I want to say, good in that? Because I did and he did because when I told him, it was like, how did, why, how, who, what? You know, just how could this even happen? And so to me, that was liberating, it was like, oh, thank God to this stigma thing of, you know, trying to date people and figure that out. But um, he was an emergency doctor in L.A., so he was working at the emergency hospital. And a lot of this was going on and. I was told when he was draining an AIDS patients lungs, they had to switch the bag out, the needle got stuck and ran back into his finger and so, I don't know the specifics of it, but to me, it was like listen, it doesn't matter. It is what it is. And so we were together for two years and in June of '92, he passed away from AIDS. Which is really tough. It was a time when I was lucky to be allowed to be in the hospital with him.
CB: So that was tough and my parents had just arrived in Phoenix the weekend after he had passed away. And again, my family know nothing about me being gay. They know nothing about the fact that this is my partner. They, I know. It was just - [inhales] so I'm trying to show my parents a good time and, you know, and everything and so I was with my mother that I finally kind of told her everything was going on about that was just about being gay. I did not tell her about being HIV positive. That came out years later. But, that was the first step. And she was fine with it, said there was no issue and. Eventually kind of rolled it out to the rest of the family who have never had any problem with it. So, yah.
RS: So, when did you actually start competing in events at the rodeo?
CB: Started in 1995 at the Phoenix rodeo, which was in February at that time.
RS: So, you know you were aware of it, you've been going to it, you've been on, you know, the edges of it, dating, losing loved ones. What pushed you over the edge to start competing?
CB: After I lost Ken, it took me a couple of years before I really started dating again. And then I started dating guys that were positive. And then I lost about three other friends that were guys that I was dating at the time and, you know, which was really difficult to deal with. I mean, it's like, what - you know, and I, when I was diagnosed in '90, January of '90, basically my doctor said, you probably have five years, so you probably need to get your affairs in order. And I was like, OK. Family still doesn't know about that, but um. I think what happened is I started thinking about what do you really want to do if you've got five years, you know? And I thought, you know what, I always wanted a horse.
CB: I always wanted to compete in rodeos. Maybe this is something I can do. So, one of the girls I was working with at the Scottsdale Princess, um, lesbian, open about it, awesome, had a brother who was gay and she was telling me that he competes in rodeos. So she kind of connected me with Chris, and then Chris was talking to me and he found me this horse, and, you know, so I got a horse, like probably about six months before the rodeo and started learning how to ride and do all that stuff. And basically in January of '95, I entered my first rodeo and I think that's when the bug hit. I was just going to do horse events - I was not interested in anything else. But, yah, it's just again, the right people at the right time and how that worked out, I don't know.
RS: And can I ask, how did you cope with um, being told you had five years to live and losing so many people you were close with? How do you even begin to cope with that?
CB: I journaled. I have a journal and I go back to it. And today when I go back and read, it brings me to tears because it was pretty dark. It was really dark. And to have that documented and I'm already getting a little bit, whatever right now, [inhales] um. It, again, because my family wasn't aware of my medical stuff as they were of being gay, my roommate at time, Gary Harry, was very supportive of that and probably the one that I leaned on the most. And I guess you just move on. You have to be able to say, listen, this is what happened. Are you going to get sucked into the black hole of all the what, why, when, how, poor me, or are you going to move forward, find things that you want to do, enjoy life and, you know, take control of that? And I think that's what I did. So I kind of got myself into rodeo.
CB: Work was really good work was where is was at the time and that gave me the ability to kind of start working with rodeo, meeting really good people and being able to travel and have fun and yeah. So, I think that's just how I coped with it, but my journal was my big thing for me to just write down every day, kind of what the hell happened, and how you were feeling. And, yeah, and it wasn't always good. I was like, you know, I'm ready, I'm ready. I'm done with this. I'm ready - [laughs] which is crazy. But yeah, I know it's kinda - I lost a lot of friends, you know, and it's just uh, [exhales] yeah. I guess I'm fortunate, very fortunate, blessed, whatever you want to call it. But I do work very hard to take care of myself and took control of that, and my, you know, my medical care. I don't just do what the doctor says. You know, I research. I challenge.
RS: And were you open at work, did you feel supported at work at all?
CB: Not initially, in fact, in Arizona, you could be fired for being gay. So I literally had a doctor who would create an alternate being for, and you would pay cash for everything, because you didn't want anything going to your insurance companies, which just is crazy that people had to do that in order to get the care that they needed. And thankfully, you know, although it probably was illegal with the doctors at the time, they had to do something for these people. And, you know, some of them didn't have that, and then when their employers found out not only were they sick and needing help, they were unemployed.
RS: That's really devastatingly scary.
CB: It is, it really is.
RS: So as you started to get more involved with rodeo, you said you started with some of the horse events. What did that look like?
CB: That's barrel racing, pole bending, flag racing. Barrel racing is a traditional women's rodeo event, but in gay rodeo, women and men can compete in all 13 of our events. We don't - we open that up for them. So I was competing in those three events. I had a friend that was coming in that I was going to compete in Steer Deco, I can't forget. I don't think I was doing Wild Drag at the time I wasn't doing any roping. So it was just those three or four events. Goat Dressing is just a fun camp event where you run down and put a pair of BVDs on a goat. And, you know, it's crazy as hell, but it's fun and yeah, it's probably one of the most entered events.
RS: Um, did you work with one horse in particular?
CB: Yeah, it was a four year-old mare that I bought, her name was Sugar, from Chris. Chris [Eisenhet]. And she was a little smaller than most horses, but she was uh, she was out of [Justalina and Dockbar], which is great horse lines, you know, just she just had a heart of gold and just loved what she can do, so yah.
RS: So if you were living in a condo at the time or were you still? Or essentially I'm asking where did the horse go?
CB: Initially I was boarding him at Chris [Eisenhet's] place. So he's the one that found her for me, so he was going to take care of her and everything. So I basically would go down there and ride and then when we went to the rodeos, he'd haul her for me. In fact, one that year, he hauled her out to Atlanta, Georgia, because they had a rodeo out there, so yah. It was awesome because he kinda took care of all the hard work, basically, and I just kind of, you know, showed up and jumped on.
RS: Well I've heard before that there might be some divides at times in IGRA culture between the horse people and the non-horse people. Is that a real thing and did you ever feel that at all?
CB: [breathes in] Well, there was a term called FHP, which is some people will say his "favorite horse people," but other people use the other acronym for the F word. Um, you know, it exists. It exists because we as horse people, who make large investments in our animals and their care, we don't want them injured, you know, so arena dirt conditions to us are very important. We do not want hard packed dirt. We don't want it where they can slip and fall. We want a safe environment for them, as with anybody who has a pet. If you're doing anything with them in any type of competition. So, you know, I crossed the line because I was in, I started doing rough stock events, I did the camp events, and then I started adding roping events - so I basically competed in all 13 events.
CB: I can kind of see where certain contestants that, you know, are the rough stock riders. They just kind of come in with their gear bag. They put their gear up and get ready to go and they jump on the animal. They do their event, they're done, they're gone. But they also want the arena to be a little bit soft because when you fall on that, it hurts. And, you know, when it's rock hard, you, your hip doesn't - yeah, well, if you're twenty-five, it's probably OK. But as you get older it's, you know, and people falling off of horses are et cetera, et cetera. So horse people are a little bit, you know, persnickety because they care for their animals and those are expensive animals. And when you have an injury, it's expensive to take care of. Yah.
RS: Have you ever experienced any protest of gay rodeo from either, you know, people saying that rodeo shouldn't be gay? Or from PETA and people concerned about animal welfare at all?
CB: Both. San Francisco, Sacramento, Vegas - all from PETA, understandably. And I respect them and I understand where they're coming from, it is out of concern. But it's more of an educational thing. They just don't understand things to the point where somebody was like, oh, my God, they blind the horses with these things over their head. And it's like, you do know that's a fly mask? And that literally is to protect them from the flies biting their eyes. Oh! So, you know, it is about education. It's like you can't just look at something, you know, when they flank a bull or a bronc to buck. You know, it has a fleece-lined flank strap. It's like cotton, guys.
CB: I mean, it's yes, they want it off, but it's not harming them in any way. You know, when you're trying to move a fifteen-hundred-pound bull through the chutes to get them in there, sometimes they're stubborn and they don't want to move. Well, sometimes you got to slap them on the ass or something to do that. And we went from Hot Shots, which are just little electrical things. But you know what? It's just you can hot shot anybody, it's not that bad. But it does get them to move or it gets them out of a dangerous situation. So we try to adapt and move to beaded paddles, which is a paddle full of beads. You know, they get smart.
CB: They're like, I ain't movin, you know, and it's kind of - so definitely I understand that. I respect it, I respect their right to do that. As long as they respect our right to do our sport and realize that we take very good care of our animals. They are very well taken care of. From the gay aspect? Yeah, there's been a couple of pride parades that we've been in as rodeo associations that we've seen the protesters line up and all that. Which, you know, again, it's America, everybody should have the right to express themselves and we don't deny that, they're free to do that. But, you know, we're also free to live our lives the way we want to as well.
RS: So when did you meet Brian Helander?
CB: Brian started rodeo in the same rodeo I did. I knew Brian because I met him at Charlie's one night and, you know, he was a little older than me, maybe 10 years, but [laughs]. He'll, he'll be pissed off with that, but that's OK. And, you know, I mean, back then, he was very attractive and I was attracted to him, but he had a boyfriend. So to me, it's like there's no chance of that. But the gentleman that I was supposed to rodeo with in camp events that first time ended up not being able to get down to the rodeo. So I didn't have anybody to partner with. I didn't partner with Brian at the time, but I partnered with another guy from Chicago and I rodeoed, did camp events with him for that first year. But, Brian and I had met each other knowing that we were doing the rodeo and we're talking and it was in '96 that we decided to do all the camp and team roping and everything together and just be kind of rodeo partners. And travel together and everything, so.
RS: That's amazing, and I'm sure Brian will love that you noted his age. [laughs with CB]
CB: That's OK. It's bittersweet [laughs with RS].
RS: I mean, he will appreciate that you called him attractive.
CB: Well of course! I, I, - you would be surprised. I've seen the pictures, I'm like oh my God.
RS: So I want to drill down into some of the events. What do you think is the role of camp events in IGRA?
CB: They're really designed for fun to bring people into the rodeo arena that don't have a horse or don't want to do rough stock. Just want to come out and play and kind of just get used to that. We think that that'll bring them in and get them maybe interested in a little bit more.
RS: Yah. What was or has been your favorite camp event to participate in?
CB: Probably goat dressing. You know, Brian and I, for twenty-six years, we've got the whole non-verbal, verbal everything down and you know, to the point that people have tried to videotape us and see how we're - what we do to that underwear, you know, and it's it's just funny. And, you know, we've been successful in that event. We've been successful and Steer Deco too, Wild Drag is fun, but lately the animals have been a little bit rougher than usual, so. Being, you know, rather old myself, [laughs] you know, it's kind of like I'm not sure, but it really was intended to have fun. And we - I think we need to refocus on that. But definitely goat dressing is our favorite.
RS: So can you, so in Rough Stock which Rough Stock did you participate in?
CB: I actually competed in all: Bull Riding, the Steer Riding, the Bareback Bronc Riding and the Chute Dogging.
RS: And can you walk me through what, sort of, preparations before you get on a bull and then what that experience is like? Obviously ride would be different, but just sort of, how does that feel bodily to do that? How do you get yourself ready? And then live through it?
CB: Yeah, well, definitely being in good physical condition is good. I, you know, it was a personal trainer. I worked out as much as I can in my entire life, and I will continue to do that, you know, so strength to a certain extent is good. But it's more about center of gravity. It's more about stretching and flexibility and making sure prior to my ride that I was stretched out. Uh, as far as preparation, you know, from strapping my boots and jeans up to put my spurs on, to my chaps, to my vest, to my, you know, I didn't wear a helmet at the time. It was not the thing to do and knock on wood. I somehow escaped any, you know seriou- well, maybe not. Maybe I've had a few head, head-bumps. But, you know, once you get focused on all your preparation and that for me, that was what it was about to where I wasn't thinking about my ride or how big the animal was or look at those horns or, oh, my God, he's only got a left horn. Nothing.
CB: I really didn't want to see my bull. I didn't want to stock contractor to come tell me, he traditionally comes out so circles to the left or the right, and sometimes they'll tell you that because they're unpredictable. And if you are set to think they're going left, and they go right, you're already gone. So for me, it was about I focused more on my preparation, stretching, flexibility, equipment, getting everything ready, burning up the rosin on my rope, getting the handle rosined up as well, making sure my glove is good, getting my wrist taped, having my mouthpiece, everything ready to go, having my poller and my safety set up, you know, so when my team and my bull came in, in the preload shoot, I would go rig them up myself because I want to make sure my riggin' was right the way that I want it. Although Brian was very good at that. And Brian, majority of my rides was always there - I learned that he would do that for me and he wanted to and I was good with that.
CB: You can rig it backwards, and I think maybe that happened once or twice, but I always told him, I said, just drop the bell over left [laughs]. I told him don't drop the tail, because for me, that's bad luck. But, you know, you get all these, you know, he can't wear yellow. You can't put your hat on the bed. You know, you can't wear a buckle after you rent it until two rodeos later. But anyway, I digress. But it was really about focusing more on everything that I needed in my equipment and [inaudible]. So when I got up there, it was it was still the focus. Get on, get centered, get your riggin' where you want it, move it up under his armpits, you know, get the bell centered. It was all a process. For me, the more I stuck to the process of what I was doing, to the point in time that I was ready to go and I would nod my head, then it was stick on your spot and just stay with it and just not tense up.
CB: But use my arm as my strength and keep my feet wrapped around him. I was pretty successful at it. I don't know why. Everybody told me as big as I was or like, you can't ride bulls, you're too big. And I'm like, "Oh well, we'll see." So for me, I think keeping focused on the preparation and the steps of everything I needed to do, kept my head out of the fact that you're sitting on a fifteen-hundred pound bull and this could happen, this could happen, this - you never think about that. And even to the point when you hear the buzzer go off, you pull the rope, you look over, for me because I'm left-handed, you look over your left shoulder. You flip your right leg over, he'll throw you up and you'll land on your feet. I mean, you just had that all figured out to where. It didn't always happen that way, ya know, but yah.
RS: What does it feel like, is it, you know, is it like being on a roller coaster or in a jet plane? What is that? The spinning and the going up and down. Have you ever experienced anything else like that?
CB: Uh, I did the Fremont experience zip line. And initially, when they dropped that gate down in your coming out there and I did the one where you kind of do the Superman position thing, and it was kind of like that. Now I want to do some of these like Brazilian ones where it's like forty miles up and that, you know, it's that feeling of that adrenaline when it hits you and you're just like, oh, my God. And then it just hits. And you're like, this is amazing! And it was for me, it was just the feeling of, you know, just keeping my spot and keeping where I need to be. And, you know, and then it was done. And that adrenaline and that feeling to me, you can't match it. Yeah, that was my drug of choice.
RS: And did you ever have any serious injuries at the rodeo?
CB: Well, luckily from bull riding, I only had a fractured ankle, which, you know, and it was because six weeks earlier I had fractured my ankle in Bronc Riding in Vegas. And so, I probably didn't let it heal up. And as and it wasn't because he stepped on me. It's because I got off on my left foot wasn't right. And I rolled it and I refractured it, which just a small hairline fracture. So knock on wood, Bull Riding, no serious. Steer Riding I broke my right arm, both bones, and it was Oklahoma City. Brian was riding steers at the time and I'm trying to walk out of the arena with my arm hanging because it's broken and he's yelling, "I need the vest! I need the vest!" Because he was still riding [laughs], but it was like oh don't worry about me. So they got him the vest. But it was, [chuckles] just the things we deal with. So I'm in the back behind the chutes waiting for him to finish up the rodeo with my wrapped up arm.
CB: You know. I had two titanium plates put in, probably the worst one for me. And it wasn't really bad. It was in Albuquerque finals. In Wild Drag, my friend Mickey Montoy and I, there were there were a couple of lesbians that were doing a documentary on us and it was awesome. So they were, you know, we were like, hey, we're going to dress up in drag for you. So we put lipstick on. We did the whole thing. And mind you, we don't do drag per say like drag-drag like professionals, but leave that to them. But, you know, so we went out in Wild Drag, my steer, just as I was going over the line, did a quick turn, and I rolled over in the back hook, caught my lip and ripped my lip down to my jawline.
CB: So I had you can't see it, but there was a scar there. So I got up, you know, and everyone was like, "Oh, my God, you're bleeding." And I'm like, "What?!" Well, you know, again, your adrenaline's high, you don't know what's going on. So I just kind of grabbed it, not thinking that I have shitty dirty gloves, but, you know, anyway. So we go over to the medics and the medics are like trying to get it cleaned up and they're like, "You're going to have to go to the hospital. You're going to need stitches." I'm like, "But wait a minute, I got flag race left. I gotta finish flags because this is finals! I qualified!" So I said, "Dude, tape it up, whatever. I got another event to do!" So they taped it up and crazy as it was, and uh, finished flags.
CB: And Brian got me to the hospital and on the way, he's like, "You've got to get that lipstick off. You've got to get that lipstick off." Because you don't go to the hospital and say, "Hey, I was just in a rodeo," because your insurance will freak out. But so, I'm trying to hold the flap and pull the lipstick off, you know, and do everything I possibly can, but. You know, we eventually got to the hospital, they didn't ask too many questions, but it was just like, you know, that they were just they probably knew, but they're probably. "Well, what happened?" "Well, we were just practicing for Halloween dress up and we had an accident and I slipped and caught my lip." And, you know it was, uh. Yeah. I've hit my head several times, you know, not too seriously, but other than that, I think, you know a couple gores, you know, from the bullhorn or whatever. Oh, I forgot New Mexico two years ago, in Wild Drag, I had the rope and the steer was crazy. And so they, I was dragging on the ground, literally it was Wild Drag.
CB: So I grabbed the rope and pulled em, and the steer turned around. Well he saw me and he was aggressive and I was just getting up and he came after me and I took his right horn right above my right eye. And everybody said it sounded like a watermelon exploded. It didn't. It just cut it open. But the blood was coming into eye, I thought I had lost my eye. So I stood up with the flak jacket that had fallen around my legs because the straps had come undone. And I proceeded to probably say every fowl word there was in the book for about 20 minutes. And Brian, who's a nurse, knows that sometimes that happens when that [inaudible] [laughs]. But the poor medics were trying to hold it on there and, you know, get it cleaned up and I ended up going in for stitches. But I'm sure the crowd was like, "Oh, my God, this man is crazy!" because I just everything. So I'm not proud of that moment, but [laughs] what else could I do?!
RS: What are you competing in this weekend?
CB: All the roping events, all the speed events, and Chute Dogging and Goat Dressing and Steer Deco.
RS: Can I ask? What is - what's really the difference between Bull Riding and Steer Riding? In terms of experience?
CB: It's, Steer Riding is more for entry-level people to come in, but it's actually a little bit more difficult to do, because they're smaller, they're quicker and they're really not trained in the event. But it does give our contestants a less dangerous event, I guess you could say, to see if they really want to move into Bull Riding or not. But, yeah, I mean, it's for me, it's harder to write a steer because they're smaller and they're squirmy and they belly roll and, you know, so it's a little bit more challenging.
RS: Have you ever competed on any of the royalty competitions as a Mr. or a Miss?
CB: I have not. I think I did a fun Charlie's Miss Rodeo fun thing, whatever, one time, so. But that was it, yah.
RS: Um, are you close with anyone who does royalty at all?
CB: Actually, Brian and I were, in the earlier years, the royalty have to do a horsemanship video. So we were always there to help them with that and get their horsemanship videos on our horses. So, yeah, we were you know, that's where we felt we could contribute to that.
RS: That's really great.
CB: Yah.
RS: So, as you've been a member for, twenty-five years, thirty-five years?
CB: Twenty-six.
RS: Twenty-six years - I'm good at math.
CB: It's OK [laughs].
RS: History PHD over here [laughs with CB] How have you seen the association change over time?
CB: When I first started going to rodeos before I was competing, especially like L.A., it was amazing how many people in the community came out. I mean, we're talking 10,000 people. Not all of them came for the rodeo. They came because there were dance tents. There were cloggers in this tent. We had country line dancing here. We had two-step over here. We had disco over here. So it was like every, you know, gambit of the whole LGBTQ+ community [laughs]. Uh, you know, so it was it was exciting to be a part of that. And going out after the rodeo and the bars were crazy and, you know, people were having fun. You know, it kind of went through a lull, I'm going to say probably in the early 2000s. And then I kind of pick back up and then we started losing contestants, mainly because we're not bringing in younger contestants and we're all getting old, because time does that to you.
CB: So I think we're suffering from that point. I think we're really wanting to bring in some younger people, to not only do the rodeo, but get involved in the associations, how are all non-profit. We all do it for charity. And initially it was all that money was going to help a lot of AIDS patients. Now we do it for cancer. We do it for, you know, the community. The rodeo community gets to choose who their beneficiaries are of that. So it is about charity. But, but you know, yeah, I think we're struggling right now and then especially with Covid, you know, and having that lull. This is our first rodeo coming back. So we're excited to see who's coming back and see what I can do.
RS: Yeah. So my first question would be, why do you think young aren't joining?
CB: Well, I think that, and this isn't a bad thing, I think. Just overall, people are becoming more accepting of it. I think a lot of the younger kids don't see the need to go to a gay bar. They go hang out with their friends, whoever their friends are, whatever their friends are, they don't care. They don't do labels. It's just interesting for me to see what's happened. And it's kind of like, we've been fighting for this for years and it's happened and we're all like, oh, crap. [laughs] We didn't expect this is a side effect. So you can't be upset with them, you know? And maybe we need to look at it, and I think, you know, there's been discussion. Maybe we need to take the gay out of our rodeo associations and just make it more about inclusive and, you know, non-discriminative or, you know, just whatever we can do - because we allow everybody to compete.
CB: We don't care if you're gay or not. But we had the gay games in Akron, Ohio, and the facility where we had them, I was the contestant, kind of support person, the lady that ran that said, you know, all my writers here are so happy you guys are coming and we're going to do everything we can. We know we can't compete, you know, but we're okay with that. But we want to help in any way that we can. I said that you can compete. She's like, but we're not gay. And I said, that's okay. There's nobody that checks for that. [Laughs] There's no way to really check for that unless that, no. But anyway, so it is that stereotype that we can't get over.
CB: But, you know, just for me, if I went to, hey, there's a straight hockey league, I'm going to be a little bit hesitant about it because I'm gay and it is about how you label it. So we've had the discussion at our conventions for several years trying to figure out a solution to that. We've not come to a point where we can get the majority of the assembly to really change that. But my suggestion years ago was drop the gay and put in a deeper, diverse. The International Diverse Rodeo Association - something. But uh, until we do that, I think we have to understand that, we're going to have to explain to people - we're not, you know, exclusive to just gays. Yeah.
RS: And how is the association historically been split between, you know, men, women, non-binary people? What is it historically looked like?
CB: We always had a strong male leadership. I think we've had a couple of female presidents, including Candy, our current president and Linda, oh I forget, Linda Frazier. But other than that, it's mostly been men, even the board of directors has been traditionally more men, although we have more female trustees coming on board, which is good. Um, [clears throat] you know, as far as, what their sexuality is and that? I know that we've had straight people in those roles. Lori comes to mind, she's from Vegas, and she's kind of a straight ally. But it wasn't about, again, being gay or whatever. It was just like, be a part of us. So I don't think we necessarily look at leadership from sexuality in any way. And who knows for sure? Because I don't ask them. I'm like, what are you? "Well I'm -" ya know [laughs]. We just assume you're here and, you know, you're going to bring something to the table and you're going to help us promote things and build the association.
RS: In the late 80's and early 90's, what was the sort of a country-western scene like? Was Charlie's filled with, um you know, gay men and lesbians? Were the bars separated? What did that look like?
CB: Charlie's was more male. I don't think that they really discriminated, but I th- they might have at the door. I've heard that, which I think is sad. But there was a bar called Cash-In, in Phoenix that was mostly the lesbian cowgirls. And again, it was like, why? You know, why can't, you know? And I'd been to the Cash-In before and they never gave me any problem, you know. But it was kind of their space and their place and we didn't want to be disrespectful or whatever. And they probably thought the same thing. But it was really ridiculous, when I look back at it, it's like, why? Why would you do that? Both good supporters of gay rodeo. I know Charlie's traditionally has been very strong in supporting gay rodeo, which is wonderful. But we also need to make sure that we're allowing other not just bars, other organizations to come in and be a part of that and support it, but. Yah.
RS: So, you know, moving forward, what do you see both for your own continued future in the association and then what do you hope for the association?
CB: Well, for me, you know, I take it pretty much one rodeo at a time. I've got my seven-year-old mare that I've trained, and this is her first rodeo. So for me, this is all about her. This is all about creating great experiences for her. The trailer ride up went great, getting into the stall went great, you know, getting the arena today went great, getting in the roping box went great. Tomorrow's a whole different possibility because there's going to be music and noise and announcers and things that she's not been exposed to. So, uh, she's my priority right now. I know what to do for the events that I'll use her in, but I'll be using her in the speed events and then the roping, too, which is a lot to ask from a seven-year-old, but she's very smart, she's just like her mom. So, you know, for me, if she's willing to do this and she's good and, you know, I'm good with that.
CB: Again, I'm just taking it one rodeo at a time. Maybe another year, maybe two? That Brian and I talked about this 20 years ago, like, you know, there's going to come at a time when we decide that we're going to probably have to transition. And we're like, OK, transition to what? And we always talked about, probably being judges, rodeo officials. So, you know, for the association, um, it's a lot of struggles and it's a lot of struggles because the bars, the gay bars are struggling. And that was our support. So we've got to find other support systems to help us, but it's really about supporting us because then our associations can get back to the charities and their community. And I think we need to do a better job of that. If it's looking for grants, if it's writing more grants or finding somebody who can help us write grants, then that's probably something we need to do.
RS: Um, so. I forgot my question. [laughs with CB and Unknown] That happens a lot because I'm listening.
CB: I forgot the answer, by the way. [Everyone laughs]
RS: I wanted to ask if, um because, you know, I know that Brian's your rodeo partner, but I wanted to hear if you had ever had a part - a partner or partners in your personal life?
CB: I have. I'm not one of the lucky ones that finds the golden egg and that you know, you're there for 25 years, but I still try. I've had a few rough ones, you know, which it's unfortunate, you know, that there's people out there aren't truthful, but, you know, I weather it and I move on. And for whatever reason, if I just like I said earlier, when life kind of just guides you and directs you, you sometimes can't blame yourself for, like picking the wrong person, you kind of just have to realize that listen, is this going to go or not? But if it's an unhealthy situation, then by all means, you need to get out of it and I want to make sure anybody that's in that situation knows that. And, you know, I have hope. I mean, I've extended my life beyond '95, which was my expiration date, and my health is exceptional. And I'm going to continue to drive it out and you know, and I know that eventually I'll find my, my twin flame or my soul partner.
RS: I think I might be your twin flame [laughs].
CB: Hey! [Laughs with RS].
RS: I shouldn't say that, that's inappropriate [laughs]. So, uh, my follow-up question to that is, as a competitor, I know that rodeo weekends can be really intense, but were they also places that you were looking to find love or did find love even if it didn't last all the time?
CB: Well, it is. It's a possibility. You know, there's been opportunities for some, you know, one-night stands or flings or whatever, and that's fine. I mean, you know, I don't judge people. I know there's people out there. However, whatever they want to do, it's none of my business, you know, and just as you know, what I do is not necessarily everybody else's business. But, you know, I do believe that I really want that that soul mate, you know, to settle down with. And I have a lot to give and a lot of love and. I look forward to that and I keep that forward thinking and keep it in my vision. But you know, it any rodeo, gay or straight, it tends to be about, you know, people hookin up! And that's just kind of a [inaudible] But that's a music festival, that's a NASCAR race. You know, that's that's anything that just kind of is what it is. [laughs with RS] And we're just natures, er, you know.
RS: Yeah. Did you know anybody who met a rodeo and stayed together for a long time?
CB: Uhhhh, yes. [pauses] I want to say, can Sean Eddings and Kirk Carter. Live in Texas now, Kirk was from California, Sean was from New Mexico. And they had known each other in rodeo for a long time and they're still together. Great guys, love them to death and that's a, that's a good match there. So, yeah, they're find people that meet and um. I'm trying to think - there was another couple that I know that met in '95 and they're just I'm drawing a blank right now but.
RS: Yeah, in terms of the social life of rodeos, how do you or did you during like the last twenty-six years, do you compete, go to the bars, compete, or is it competition all weekend?
CB: Well, earlier we used I used to go out, you know, I don't - I like drinking. I'm not a, you know, a heavy drinker, you know, especially now I've kind of learned to keep in moderation. But, you know, there - some people function well under the influence. So if they drink a lot the night before, they seem to do better the next day, maybe because they're a little more relaxed. That may have worked for me earlier on. I don't know, it doesn't anymore. So I, I'm not a big drinker, I you know, I'm like I'm I have like one good quality margarita a week and I'm good. I look forward to that. But, you know, I had one yesterday [laughs with RS] and I'm like, yay! You know, but one is good for me. But yeah, I tend to on rodeo weekends between Saturday and Sunday, I tend to not drink. I tend to focus on my hydration and getting all my electrolytes back up and get my vitamins in me and everything else because I'm not twenty-six anymore [laughs].
RS: Um, can you talk about how last year with Covid-19 has affected either you personally, or the association, and what this rodeo could potentially mean?
CB: Well, it drew us all from the association into a tailspin because we didn't know what to do. You know, we have an annual convention to do. We have our royalty competition that is in conjunction with finals. We knew that, you know when Arizona had theirs in February, which I was at that rodeo, and then everything hit. And then we finally made the decision of what do we do? We have to reach out to a parliamentarian to kind of help us look through our bylaws and figure out that the probably the best thing to do is to merge the two years together. Well, that means we didn't have a convention. That means our royalty team is going to roll over for two years instead of one year, you know, and then we're in the predicament now of like, well are you going to do 2020, 2021 and 2022? But now we're kind of doing a little bit different. So it's it's I think some decisions have been made, which aren't correct. But, that's just my way of thinkin'. Maybe a few other people, but not everybody thinks that, but.
CB: The main thing is to get our rodeos back on. And so having this one, having Santa Fe, having Vegas is good, you know, and that's four rodeos in the last, what, two years. And then we can add that to 2022 and kind of get things rolling. So I think a lot of associations lost their support from their community and their bars, not because people didn't want to give, but because everything shut down. So a lot of the associations are struggling and that's why they had to cancel the rodeos. Not only that, because our rodeo in Canada can't get people across the border. If they brought the officials, they'd have to quarantine them for 10 days. So, yeah, it's for me personally, I just miss my rodeos. I mean, that was my expression. But I just kind of had to hope that things were, you know, would come around. For me, working from home was great and it still is. Saved me a lot of money on gas and travel, and time. But, you know, I still have my horse. I still have to work with her and get her trained and everything. So if it, if anything, it's giving me more time to train her to get her ready for this experience.
RS: OK, so I kept you for about an hour.
CB: Oh, wow.
RS: Is there anything that we haven't touched on that you would like to talk about?
CB: Um, I don't think so. Um. No, not unless- Do you have anything you like to follow up on?
RS : Yeah, just like a couple of questions. But you um, you talked about how you got into rodeo, right, when you were dealing with the fact that you were trying to save your own life, basically by yourself without your family. You've been given this diagnosis of five years. You lost a partner. Do you think that there was something specific about rodeo and maybe the danger of rodeo or the physicality of rodeo, that something specifically about rodeo that helped you through that point?
CB: Well, you know, I think it was more about when, you know, the people in the rodeo were looking at me based on not being HIV positive. And again, because I I chose to take control, I chose to do a lot of specific things for my health care that were not traditional. You know, I had a naturopath and was working with that right away. So if I'm understanding your question, which I hope I am. It, it was a way for me to to push further into life rather than pull back. And I think that maybe that's what it was, and again, having the right people in the right place at the right time, you know, I mean, I really was going through enough dealing with losing my partner. And I think one of the hardest part was the family wasn't really kind of, the father was OK with me the mother was a little struggling with it, my partner's mother. And the fact that they - I was allowed to be a pallbearer was really devastating to me.
CB: So with all of that, I think I needed. To get into something that would get me out of that and not dwell on it, so again, I'm grateful for the power above or whoever guided me to the right people at the right time to make those decisions because it was life-changing to me, you know, and again, I I don't know what my expiration date is. Nobody ever does. But I was given one which sometimes feels like, hey, at least you have one. But it's like yah, but it's way the hell back there. Can you give me a revised one? Because, you know, it's hard. It's hard to see people get up and go through the crap of, like, you know, and it's like where is? Just, just give me the button, you know, I'm out [chuckles]. But yeah, I think the right people at the right time and the right influences helped push me into, "Go live." And that's what I wanted to do.
RS : And I guess just too, like hearing you talk about preparing to write a bull. Like it seems so all consuming, like you're not about anything else. Is that an aspect of it that maybe keeps you grounded or centered, like it almost - do you meditate? I'm just was wondering if there's a similar mental space you go into to take care of all those ropes and harnesses and physical things, it seems overwhelming to someone like me who is just hearing about it.
CB: Well, again, because, you know, my first steer ride was in Oklahoma City and I borrowed Cheryl Wains [inaudible]. Cheryl was an awesome bull rider. She was probably 5"2, and she probably weighed 100 pounds. And I mean, she was just amazing, you know, but she would get thrown off that bull and she'd hang on her, get tied up and she'd swing around that thing. And I'm just like, this is crazy. But I had influences like Scoot, Dennis Terrell's brother, who's straight, and he competed in the rodeos and he kind of gave me some hints. So I picked up little bits from people. And for me, I'm a processor. I'm analytic. I have to have a flow-chart, if you want to say that. To me, that's what I do at work.
CB: So I think I was able to take this process over here and when I mentor certain students, I do the same thing. I'm like, this is what you need to do this and you need to repeat it every time. And it becomes muscle memory and it becomes automatic and you know what you're doing, but it keeps you out of thinking what could happen and it keeps you away from the fears, because that's in everywhere in life, you know, and you're going to, you're going to have failures and you can go back and analyze it. And I usually do with my kids that I mentor. Alexander's one of them. And I'm like, when he gets off ride again, tell me what tell me what's in your head. Relive it, rethink it. Go through it. See where you lost your focus. But, yeah. Did that answer your question?
RS: Yeah. Thank you.
RS: So I did think of a follow-up, I'm sorry. When it comes out when it comes to living through this pandemic. You know, I have kids, I am just the absolute horror of this past year of being afraid, and I'm wondering, as someone who has lived HIV positive, you know, what was it like watching the rest of the world kind of grapple with their mortality or the mortality of their friends and family in a way that, you know, the gay community had to do in the 1980s while other people looked on in judgment and, or ignorance or completely ignored the situation? What did that feel like for you?
CB: Well, you don't wish any ill will on anybody for sure. I think there's a lot of people out there that really don't understand what happens with the AIDS epidemic. They'd have to dig into to go research it. But kind of being on the front lines of that with my partner and seeing everything that happened, it was, it was just horrible. You know, there were, there were angels who came in to help people where not even these men's families would come to their aid and help them. Not even a place to bury them. I mean, you know, to me, it should be taught in history, but it probably won't. But, you know, hopefully, hopefully some kids will take an opportunity to look at that. So when this all started, of course, you know, I'm HIV positive. I'm also diabetic. So I was like, oh, shit. But I was also told from work to go work from home and I did not go out. I mean, I wore two masks when I went shopping if I had to. But I went shopping, I went to the pharmacy and that was it. And I went home and I worked. And you didn't do anything. I did work with my horse because I had the capability to do that, you know, without anybody else around. So that was good.
CB: But, you know, I, I. We need to look at what it can teach us. We need to look at the lesson. We need to look at what we can do in the future, what we can do better. And I still see some people that are resisting it. And I don't understand it. But that's, again, that's part of America. People are free to believe how they want to believe. And it's like, could you please just validate your resources before you make up your mind? Could you please just go to some of these organizations that will validate what's being said and if it's accurate or not? And but you know what? You're, you're educated from your family. And I see these younger kids that were brought up in these rural communities, and it's kind of what they were taught and it's scary. And you're like, when are you going to learn to go outside and do some of your own investigations and make your own mind up? I think that would benefit everybody, but it's going to be that way.
CB: It's something that we have to live with and we're going to have to expect, because if there's a right side and a left side, you're never going to bring the right to the left or the left to the right. And if there's a way to find a middle line somewhere in there, then that's what we can do. But, you know, I, I - it still scares me that some people are not getting vaccinated. You know, I wish them well. I'm concerned, especially with the Delta variant, you know, so. Has, has history taught us anything? I don't think so. Now, the nice thing about it, if there is one, the nice thing about wearing masks, not Covid, the nice thing about wearing masks is the number of flu cases that went down. So can we look at that? Can we start to see that this isn't just about Covid. This is about what can we do to protect everybody all the time?
RS: That's great. OK, well, I'm sure you're exhausted, but thank you!
CB: Oh no! I could talk forever. [laughs with RS].
RS: And we can always do follow-ups.
RS: And thank you so much for your time!
CB: Oh, thank you guys. I appreciate it.