Interview with David Hallwood

Austin, Texas on November 19, 2016 | Interviewer: Rebecca Scofield

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Rebecca Scofield: This is Rebecca Scofield and I'm here with David Hallwood. It's November 19th at the International Gay Rodeo Convention, 2016. So, would you tell me where you grew up?
David Hallwood: Pardon me? Oh, I grew up in...a small town in the middle of Michigan. I'm the oldest of five, oldest of two. I do have some step-brothers, or half brothers and sisters, and that stuff. Grew up in a single-parent household basically and stuff, in a small town. Grew up on my grandparents’ farm for the first part of my life. And then after my grandparents passed, we got our own place and and that stuff. Mom wanted her own house for so much, she finally got the money saved up and we actually built it ourselves, and that stuff. So, most of our time as kids was basically swinging hammers and that stuff. Yeah, it was a great experience because I learned a lot of stuff about repairing my own home now that I'm older, and all that stuff. But, yeah, that's basically my life in a nutshell.
RS: Did you go to college?
DH: I did about a year of college, and from there went into the military. Was in the U.S. Navy for about four years and was a hospital corpsman.
RS: When did you go in? What year?
DH: Back in ‘80, ‘82.
RS: ‘82. And did you like your time in?
DH: Oh, I had a great time in the military. A lot of ups, I think most people... it's like Israel. In Isreal you’re required to do military service, I think the same thing should be done in the United States. I did a lot of growing up in the military. Whereas I... I went in when I was 22. So, I was just wandering away not having any real direction in my life, and after that got out, I got started. You know, got back to getting my life on track.
RS: And did you go back to Michigan when you were out?
DH: Oh yeah, yeah. When I went out, went back home. Then started working in the automotive industry, or automotive repair. I've worked for car dealerships for 38 years now. In the service department, where you drive your car in and say, “My car's doing this.” And I write it all down. I'm the go-between between the technicians and the customer, and that stuff.
RS: So, good people skills?
DH: Oh, yeah, yeah. You know, it's like… Let's just say it's an interesting job, it's never boring. It's like there's always something new.
RS: And do you identify as gay?
DH: Mhm, yeah.
RS: When did you come out?
DH: Oh, to myself, back when I was like sixteen. To my... then I went through my “trying to straighten out my life” period, with the church and all that stuff. That didn't work. And then I went in the military, and then, finally, when I was in the military, I finally said, “Oh, hell with it.” But, that again, like Lisa said, that's back during Don’t Tell, and all that other stuff. So, you had to be, you still had to be closeted in the military. But I was out with my friends. I actually got thrown out of the military because I was gay. Someone had turned me in, and went through a couple months of hell and that stuff, and finally it was all over.
RS: Were you already out to your mom and siblings?
DH: Oh yeah, my family knows and has known for years. And those in the family that don't know, oh well. I'm not going into the priesthood like Grandma wanted.
RS: And when did you find out about the gay rodeo?
DH: Oh, it was… A friend of mine was moving to Denver and they were putting, and Denver was putting on the rodeo that weekend. So, I rode out with Jody when he was moving his stuff and we went to the rodeo. Well, I sat and watched and it was a lot of fun. And then a buddy of mine, named Jim Brown, I got back home, he came back from LA, and he was involved with the LA rodeo. So, we decided to start the Michigan group. And there was probably about nine of us all meeting in this one bar, this one night, and said, “That sounds like a great idea!” Little did I know it would take over my life. It's like, I still see those people, too. You know, we still keep in touch and that stuff. But I've been doing this, oh, since 2004. So, when we first got started in that stuff, and we put on about six different rodeos throughout the year, and that stuff. It's kind of hard up in Michigan, because it's getting the money together and raising funds, and all that other stuff. And it gets expensive to do, but every time we have done it, we've always had a good time. And a lot of the same people come back and that's stuff and help. And I've made a lot of friends through the rodeo.
RS: Will you guys be putting on a rodeo in the next couple of years?
DH: Possibly. It's like, I won't let them do it until they have the money.
RS: That's probably a good idea.
DH: Yeah. I don't want anyone going into debt or anything like that. You know, and it's usually me. ‘Cause then I go, “Okay, here's a check, take this, take this.” And you know. But, it's, like I said, the comradery is the main thing. I consider these people my family. When I was, when I lost my job, because of the downturn in the economy and that stuff, flew out to Arizona, had a place a stay, had a job the next day. Had people helping me with whatever I needed out there, and stuff. Plus, people I knew, and all that stuff. I was also asked to come to Philadelphia, Washington DC, LA. All of my friends were saying, “Come out here, there's jobs out here, come out here.”
RS: That's amazing.
DH: That was, that's one of the good benefits of it and that stuff. Like I said, likely I've worked the chutes crews since I was... Well, I started out on the arena for a couple of rodeos, and then one day, a friend of mine she says, “Come work the chutes with us.” And I'm going, “Okay!” And from then on, I was hooked. So, you know, I don't get to travel, I don't get to go as often as I'd liked to anymore, because of the job, and that stuff because I work a very demanding job. And every other weekend. So, if it doesn't fall on my weekend off, I don't go. But, like I said, it’s... I'm the trustee now for my organization for the last nine years. So, I try to make all the board meetings and all that stuff and I've always worked the production end. I've never competed or anything like that. But still, there's parts, like when you're on the chute crew, it's like you have family. I mean, Minnesota, Lisa, Sandy, and I, we all share a room together and just had a blast. I learned a lot of things too. But no, it's like I said, it's hard to describe unless you're actually involved in it. People around here always want to know what's going on in your life. And we may not see each other for six months to a year, but it's just like old home week when you’re together and that stuff.
RS: Is convention a particularly joyous time?
DH: Convention is a chance where you get to bond a lot. You don't have the rodeo going on, ‘cause, like I said, when rodeo is going on you're busy. You're constantly going 90 miles an hour, all day long. Where, at convention it gives you a chance to sit back and discuss things. You may not agree with each other on things. But it’s just like any other family, you're still family. And we get things worked out and that stuff so.
RS: Do you like going to other types of rodeos or is this?
DH: I've only been to one other rodeo performance that wasn't a gay rodeo. And it's, like I said, I was sitting in the stands watching and I'm going “God, this is boring.” It's, like I said, I was used to being down in the middle of things and if you're not in the middle of things, it's kind of boring. I mean watching the first couple times, I watched, it was really fun. But then, once you get involved, you're... It's like I always say, it's hard to go sit and watch a rodeo for us now, cause we like to be down and get our hands dirty and that stuff.
RS: Be a part of it.
DH: Right.
RS: Did you ever want to to do judging or anything like that?
DH: I was a chute coordinator for about, oh, five, six years. I volunteered for quite a long time and then finally someone said, “Why don't you get certified?” So, that took about three years to get through the program, and once I got through the program and I was, you know. Another friend of mine from LA, Tom Brennan, he got in and he got his chute coordinator, too. And so it was basically we were, essentially we were getting invited everywhere. Either I would be assistant, and he would be the coordinator, or I would be the coordinator, he would be the assistant. So, we were a good team and we had a lot of fun. I used to have a lot of people from my own associations since we didn't put on rodeo's all that often. They would come and volunteer at the other rodeos around the country and that stuff, working chute crews and arena crews and that stuff.
RS: At any of the rodeo's you've been at, have you experienced any blatant forms of homophobia from the community at all?
DH: No. Course, if I did I didn't notice. I'm kind of one of those big old happy guys that everybody's afraid of. I come in, I’m know I'm kind of scary. They’re not really going to say anything unless they have a crowd. But, no, I've never experienced that at all.
DH: In fact, we've had some of the straight kids come in and compete. Like in Kansas City this year, we had a straight bronc rider and he got hurt and it was like, when he woke up on the ground, all the sudden there was all these people around him that are concerned on what's happened. We were up there blocking off from the audience while we were looking at him making sure he was alright and that stuff… He woke up and he was underneath Denise's knee, and Denise is like “Are you-” and stuff. And he just thought that was just so weird, cause usually at the straight rodeos if he fell off his horse and got hurt, they put him on a stretcher, roll him out, take him off to the hospital, and that would be it. After, cause he was injured quite badly, so after the rodeo a lot of the people from the Missouri association that lived in Kansas City were coming to the hospital to make sure he was okay and all that kind of stuff. And he thought that was just, so much different, you know.
DH: I mean, we've got some girls from Texas that are straight women bull riders. And one of the women is here this weekend, and she says, “You know, it's really-.” You know, because they, she's faced a lot of stuff from straight cowboys. A woman riding bulls is just not done. And she says with our group everybody encourages her and cheers for her. And she thought that was just so different. Which, talking with other facilities that host rodeos and that stuff, they always say that we're you, they always like to have us come in because we're so much different and that stuff. We are sort of friendly you, we clean up after ourselves, we try to help out whenever we could. If something goes wrong we're not ready to fly off the handle and all that other stuff so. So, IGRA is a great group to belong to. Like I said, I'll probably remember doing this til the day I die. But it's like, I always know that I'll always have friends and family.
RS: Is there any other type of gay group that you belong to?
DH: I belong to the Meltantin Trailer Campers which is a camping group up in Michigan. I belong to other different small things, and that stuff. But it was like, this is the group… This is my vacation, my time, my hobby, my gets we away from my normal job so I can get my head clear and all that other stuff. It's like, I may go back a little exhausted but my boss is always glad when I get back because I'm so focused on everything that I do.
RS: And would you consider yourself a cowboy?
DH: Not really. No. I'm just a person. I'm just you… I have cowboy friends that have ranches and all that other stuff. Not me, no. I live in a suburb. It's like, I do have a pickup truck and two cars, but… as far as…. I grew up on a dairy farm and that's, and I really didn't get to experience all that stuff of running it and stuff as I was a kid. It was a big playground for us. But when we, and when grandpa needed help, that's when we were there with what we could do. But as far as being a cowboy, no. No. I like to ride, but trail ride. I don't compete and all that stuff, but I do like to have fun. Let's just say, I'm a gay guy that likes to have fun with the gay cowboys. But like I said, I've been involved, like I said, when you're involved with the production side of rodeo there's a lot of different things you do than being a contestant and that kind of stuff.
RS: Is there any particular production that you were involved in that you were just the most proud of?
DH: Well there's a lot of different things, and they all run together, okay. As far as being absolute, when I was a chute coordinator I loved the job. It was... I liked having my crew. It's like after the rodeo we'd all go out to dinner together and catch up and that stuff. And I knew of the people that were on my crew that I could ask them to do anything and they would, and that stuff. The hard part was worrying about them, that they were going to get themselves hurt or something like that, you know. You know, Aaron Couple in Palm Springs, last year, a stock contractor told me about this bull, it'll charge. And I saw it coming down the thing as I'm walking back to get out of the way, and all of the sudden it charged at me. Fortunately, living with a rodeo clown, I learned how to turn out from the bulls, and all that stuff. Something you do for your own survival and that stuff. But as far as being proud of things. I'm proud of the accomplishments that my association has done. The things they are doing now, the people they have in now, our association, since it's hard to put on rodeos, we do other social things together. They'll have picnics, they'll have dinners, they'll have, if we have a bar night, then pretty much everybody tries to show up and help out with it. We've got two miles of road in Westland, Michigan that we clean up, and there's a sign that has our name on it and all this stuff that we are responsible for, two miles of roadway. So they’ve become more of a social group and that stuff so.
RS: And you said you had a roommate who was a rodeo clown?
DH: Yeah, that was Jason, when I was down in Arizona. He, Jason, works as a clown. Jason works as the manager of the trailer, people who haul their trailers down and stay in Arizona. Jason's also rodeo clown, he's announced, he does sound equipment and photography and all that stuff. That's his thing. So, he did learn a lot of stuff from the bullfighters, like how to get out of the way, and we always talked about it.
RS: So, where are you living now?
DH: Now I live in Fruitport, Michigan, which is between Muskegon and Grand Haven, right on Lake Michigan. So, I was in Arizona for eight years, then went back home, cause I'll always probably be living in Michigan sometime in my life. But, I got too bored with the scenery in Phoenix. It's all beige and I needed some color and that stuff. I'm one of those people, I don't mind winter, never have.
RS: So when did you move back?
DH: About three years ago. But my mom's getting up there, so I'm the typical gay son. Living at home with mom, taking care of her, but I think it's more the other way around. Cause she runs circles around me. Even though she's…. let’s see mom’s 87 this year, but she still gets out and mows the lawn and snow blows the driveway and all that. You know, she may not do it as fast as she used to but it still keeps her going and that stuff.
RS: Seems like a tough lady.
DH: Well like I said, she built her own house with two young boys... She's a depression era baby and she grew up on a farm. And you learn to do it for yourself.
RS: Well, is there anything about your experiences with gay rodeo that you want to talk about that I didn't ask about?
DH: No, pretty much I'd say that's about it you know.
RS: Well thank you for taking the time.
DH: Alrighty.