Interview with Curt Westberg

Moscow, Idaho on March 6, 2023 | Interviewer: Rebecca Scofield

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Rebecca Scofield: This is Rebecca Scofield, and I'm here with Curt Westberg*. And it is March 6th at 10:13 am. Thank you so much for doing this with us. I appreciate your time. So can you tell me what year you were born?
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Curt Westberg: 1962, July 25th.
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Rebecca Scofield: And where were you born?
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Curt Westberg: Missoula, Montana.
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Rebecca Scofield: Amazing. How long did you spend in Missoula?
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Curt Westberg: My dad was a grad student getting his master's there, so I think we moved away when I... I have some memories, but they're real...two, two and a half, three, maybe.
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Rebecca Scofield: What was he getting his master's in?
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Curt Westberg: Organic chemistry.
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Rebecca Scofield: What career did that lead to?
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Curt Westberg: He was an atmospheric chemist at WSU, actually for...he got hired at WSU in '71 and retired from there in...I don't know, probably 2000 somewhere, you know, 30 or 40 years or something like that.
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Rebecca Scofield: Wow. So was there a place in between Missoula and Pullman?
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Curt Westberg: He got his Ph.D. in Seattle. So we lived in Seattle through first grade, and then he post-doc'ed in Edmonton, Alberta, for second, third, and fourth grade were in Edmonton. And then we moved Pullman when I was in fifth grade. I no, first, second, third grade, were in in Edmonton, and I moved to Pullman in fourth grade year.
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Rebecca Scofield: Wow. What was that like going from Missoula, which is pretty big and pretty rugged we'll say to Seattle to Edmonton.
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Curt Westberg: I was so little. I mean, I just, you know, it was...I don't...I didn't have any impressions of it or anything. I remember a little bit of that moving from Edmonton to Pullman, which was Edmonton was big city, too, and that was back in the days when there was so much freedom for kids. I mean, we used to run around Edmonton, just my buddies and I, fourth grade just everywhere up on campus and take the bus downtown. And, you know, it's amazing. I can't imagine my kids having that level of freedom. [laughs]
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Rebecca Scofield: So did you have siblings?
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Curt Westberg: I have a younger brother....a younger sister and a younger brother.
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Rebecca Scofield: Were you guys very close growing up?
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Curt Westberg: Yeah. I mean, we...
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Curt Westberg: We were close. We fought like, well, my brother was nine years younger, and so it was...I wasn't the best of older brothers. And my sister and I fought like crazy until we got into college. Then we got to be good friends. We're all really good friends now, so.
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah. Sounds pretty typical.
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Curt Westberg: Yeah.
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Curt Westberg: Watching my own kids, that was the case. They tolerated barely tolerated each other in teenage years and are super close now.
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Rebecca Scofield: Just got to get them through.
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Curt Westberg: Yep. Just got to get them through. Yeah. Just have to be adequate. That's what I learned about parenting. You don't have to be a perfect parent. You just have to be adequate.
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Rebecca Scofield: That's good advice. Much needed advice. So when you all moved to Pullman. So your dad joined faculty?
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Curt Westberg: Yeah he was an associate, then got tenure somewhere in there, probably late '70s. And he was he headed that laboratory for atmospheric research for a lot of years there. He's a super bright guy. And you know, brain works different than mine. Very, very locked on and focused and bright did a lot of really groundbreaking work. He did a lot of the early methane work, biogenic methane work with cattle and livestock and jungles and all kinds of things.
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Curt Westberg: So fascinating.
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Curt Westberg: Yeah pretty fascinating. I got to do a lot of research projects with them. And I put my actually when I was going through school, he'd get the consulting projects and I'd do the analysis on the gas chromatograph and stuff like that. So I learned a lot of skills that I had no theoretical background for, but [laugh]...I knew how to do the work.
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Rebecca Scofield: That's amazing. What's your mom do?
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Curt Westberg: She stayed at home until we were, you know, until my brother... They were high school sweethearts in Yakima. Grew up in Yakima and got married. My mom was 19 when she had me, which is just...it's hard for me to imagine. And then so she was she didn't finish college, stayed home. I think she always felt, you know, ashamed of that. And then she was a good mom and a really good mom; is a good mom. And then she went to work for a bank. She would started being a bank teller. And then she got moved. So she worked pretty hard for...till I moved away after I got out of college. I went to WSU and moved away after that. And I'm not sure quite when she quit, but, uh, but she had worked at Siefers for a long time.
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Rebecca Scofield: So where did you guys live? Like in Pullman or on the outskirts?
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Curt Westberg: We had a little house on Gladstone Street in Pullman, which is an easy walk to the university and lived there until...this is a kind of funny story. Lived there until I started riding. As a freshman in high school I needed to reinvent myself and fell in with the cowboys and started riding bulls because I didn't have a horse. Right? So I started riding bulls and my mom hated it. And my sophomore year for Christmas, they got me a horse. And so then we had the horse. Right. We were living in town in Pullman. And so between my sophomore and junior year, they bought a ten acres in Colfax and we moved over there. So I had a place for the horse and that was nice, actually.
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Rebecca Scofield: So then were you still commuting to Pullman for school?
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Curt Westberg: No, I went to Colfax. I graduated from Colfax High, so I spent junior and senior year in Colfax, which was a ton of fun. It was really fun.
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Rebecca Scofield: Did you keep your same friend group when you moved?
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Curt Westberg: Some. I'm still friends with a lot of them. We had a pretty tight...I, you know, a lot of us went to WSU and so we had a big kind of built in group that was tight. And we still...I mean, my best friend lives in Moscow. And we he sat down next to me in a health class when we were freshman in high school and I was an asshole to him. Can I swear on this?
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Rebecca Scofield: Yes. Absolutely. It's encouraged really.
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Curt Westberg: Yeah. I was not...because I was like, "I want a popular guy to sit next to me." I didn't know who this guy was. And then when we went to a party and drank together and talked about hunting and you know, we just...he and I had a ton of similar interests. And so we got to be really good friends all the way through college. Oh, still.
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Rebecca Scofield: So did you do high school rodeo? What were you...?
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Curt Westberg: I did junior rodeo and then I did high school rodeo and then I rodeoed in college at WSU for a couple of years.
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah. I was wondering if WSU had a team.
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Curt Westberg: They had a rodeo team and [Dolly ?] was the leader of that. Yeah, it was fun. I wasn't, I was never top notch talent, but...but it was a blast. I had so much fun.
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Rebecca Scofield: Where you guys travel to compete?
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Curt Westberg: Mostly just...probably the farthest we went was what used to be Treasure Valley Community College. Yeah. TVCC and Blue Mountain and Idaho had a rodeo and I don't know where else we went, but that was about as far, you know, regional.
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Rebecca Scofield: Did you ever go into PRCA at all and think about it?
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Curt Westberg: Never good enough. I hit a point in my sophomore year where it was rodeo was a blast and I was drinking way too much and I wasn't paying attention to school and it just kind of was like, "No, this isn't the path for me." I don't have the background, I don't have the skill. And I'm not willing to work hard enough to get the skill. And so I just concentrated on school and kind of quit rodeo and I still team rope. Team roping was what I like to do. So I still team rope on and off. But my brother actually was good. And he was nine years younger, so I'd already started all this stuff and kind of laid the groundwork and he really took it and ran with it and went to nationals but he never got his card either. And his kids, one of them, one of my nieces I think she has her card, and they were good enough. But they just, you know, it's, it's kind of like...
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah, it's a whole lifestyle.
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Curt Westberg: We come from a really academic family, and I never realized how pervasive that was until just looking back at the decisions I made. And it always kind of went not towards academics with me but just kind of, "That's fun and this is life," right?
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah. That it never felt like a career path.
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Curt Westberg: No. And I didn't have the desire or the competitive edge or the money. Frankly, it takes a lot of money to do that stuff.
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah. Absolutely.
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Curt Westberg: Unless you're a rough stock rider. And even then it then...I didn't like doing that so.
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah. Did you continue to rough stock ride after you got your horse?
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Curt Westberg: As soon as I could quit. Every time I got on a bull it was like an out of body experience. [laughing] I'd get tunnel vision and I just, you know, I couldn't keep [on]. I don't know how those guys do it. It's not how my head is wired or wasn't back then. And so now I just I like the horses.
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Rebecca Scofield: And so what was your degree in at WSU?
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Curt Westberg: Wildlife Biology. Loved animals, you know, and it was a little bit of...I realized it probably in my thirties that it never entered my head that I wouldn't get a Ph.D. Right? Because everybody I knew, right, my dad, all most of the people we associated with were professors or they were grad students, and everybody was working towards that goal. My dad never said it. I mean, I think he would have wished he was a hired man. He would have rather been a rancher. Right. And so it wasn't any pressure. It was just I never even considered not doing it. And so I remember the day I woke up and thought, "Thank God I don't have to get a Ph.D." This is after I'd gotten a master's and I'd been accepted to a couple Ph.D. programs. And I just had a moment of clarity that it was not...I wasn't going to...I wasn't in a mental place, you know, having watched enough Ph.D. students torture themselves for long periods of time, I just knew I didn't have it in me.
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Rebecca Scofield: So. So you said you were pretty avid hunter?
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Curt Westberg: Yep.
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Rebecca Scofield: Did that play into what you wanted to do?
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Curt Westberg: You mean for life?
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah.
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Curt Westberg: What I wanted to...
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Rebecca Scofield: I mean, in terms of wildlife biology.
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Curt Westberg: Yeah, I mean, that was part of it, certainly. My dad was a super good teacher, so super good teacher about respect. And he was a scientist; always questioning, "why is this..." "Why does this work the way it is?" "Why do you think this works the way it does?" And ecology. And it was just fun. And frankly, I had to get...I had to do something. You know, I was in school, and I needed to...I figured out...I started in engineering because that's where my dad said, "That's where the money is." And then I took calculus, said, "No, we're not doing engineering." [laughs] I was always good at math until that. That was a nightmare. And so then I kind of bopped around and it was always between English...It was always between...I love to read and I always kind of have wanted to write, never had the skill to or never had that whatever it takes, you know, whatever writers have to do that. But and I had a super instrumental, a couple of profs at WSU in elective classes.
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Curt Westberg: I took out literature of the American West class from a guy named George Watkins. And he was an old cowboy, smoked a cigar in class and just cowboy hat guy. He was funny and he's super bright and it was really it was a wonderful class and that and then I took a Shakespeare, a couple of Shakespeare classes, from Professor Bruce [?] over there. And that just opened my mind. But it was like, "What am I going to do with an English degree, right?" And so I finished. And I love I love the Wildlife Biology, too. And so I did that and then and then went to work for one of my dad's colleagues. He was at Washington State, and then he got hired at National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. So I moved after college, I moved to Boulder and he said, "Come down, I'll get you on the payroll for six months as a visiting scientist, and we'll see what happens." And, you know, I could have stayed there, and I could have I could have continued working there for longer than I did. And, you know, but I kind of realized that's where I realized, okay, I'm not a scientist.
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Rebecca Scofield: Right?
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Curt Westberg: I mean, caring, you know the old joke, caring more and more about less and less. Right. And I just couldn't generate... We were doing like the funnest science there was. Tenth percentile science. Right. Just trying to answer just the broad brush, big questions about the beginnings of climate change stuff, really. And it wasn't enough. I just knew I wasn't going to be good at it. I just couldn't generate...
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Rebecca Scofield: The enthusiasm?
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Curt Westberg: Yeah, the enthusiasm for it. So I did the prerequisites to get into a Lit program in Boulder and did a master's in Literature there. And, I loved it. Oh, my God, that was so fun. I was just a hick from Pullman, and going in, it was a heavily, heavily feminist department. And I mean, I thought I was pretty bright? [Laughs] I got in there and our first couple of classes I was in, I'd open my mouth and I'd have these women, scary women come tell me, "Just why don't you just not say anything for a little while? Just listen, alright?" They were great teachers. It was so fun to be surrounded by people that just had the same passion that I did about literature; it was awesome.
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Curt Westberg: And then I taught. [laughs] And I hated it. [laughs] I didn't hate it, but I just was...It was like freshmen comp? And it's just like there's three people in the class that care. Yeah. Right. And the rest of em are just in there checking a box. And it was just like...So I would show them... Finally, I just got frustrated and...how can you?... Plus, they can't...They don't have a background. You can't manipulate [their writing]. You're supposed to be helping them manipulate their writing. And you can't manipulate your writing if you can't write a complete sentence.
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah. Right.
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Curt Westberg: And so I finally just bailed and started... It was at Southwest Missouri State, and I went back there chasing a relationship, which is a whole different topic. And I just ended up showing a movie like I showed Harold and Maude. And we read A Modest Proposal, and I just had them write about those things and I made it through. But it wasn't what I wanted to do. I got accepted into a PhD program in Literature at Oklahoma, there was a guy there that I can't remember his name now, but there was a critic there or a professor there that I really wanted to study under. American West is what I would have done. Probably really early American West stuff and I TA'd for Patty Limerick. She wrote a book called The Legacy of Conquest, which was an awesome book. There's something about the West. I grew up here. It's in my blood. There's something about it that I love, and it's super interesting.
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Rebecca Scofield: Absolutely. And if you're working with Patty Limerick, you're right on the cusp of New Western Historiography and this...
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Curt Westberg: Redefining the whole discussion.
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Rebecca Scofield: Like away from wagon wheel [western history]
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Curt Westberg: Exactly.
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Rebecca Scofield: So that's super fascinating to be right in there.
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Curt Westberg: It was fun and the entire time I was drinking, right? And I wasn't taking advantage of the...I got some intelligent regret about my past. I mean, I think everything that I ever did got me sitting in this chair right now. So you can't second guess stuff. I really like where I'm at. But intelligent regret around missing the opportunity to just...I just can't imagine how wonderful it would be to go back to school and just have nothing to do but learn.
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Curt Westberg: I'm kind of old...getting to be an old fogy, but, it's wasted. It was wasted on me a little bit. I mean, I learned a lot and I learned a lot of social...I learned lot of stuff. But the opportunity and the time.
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Rebecca Scofield: What is the saying? Youth is wasted on the young?
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Curt Westberg: Youth is wasted on the young! It kind of was. And in a lot of senses with me, it would have been nice to have had... But then I also look at the people that were super locked on that knew and they missed out on youth really. So I don't know. What do you...what can you do about it?
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Rebecca Scofield: It's hard to ever see a path in which someone appreciates every aspect of life.
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Curt Westberg: Right. It's all that magical thinking about: woulda, coulda, shoulda, right? But it was interesting. And then, you know, I took a job as a...I went to work...Well.
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Curt Westberg: So while I was in Denver working and doing my masters, that's when I first went to the rodeo, the gay rodeo. I never even imagined such a thing was even possible. Right. It was early on. It was probably...it must have been around 86 or 87, one of the first Denver rodeos. And I went to it the first year. And then I'd met-ca-n I say people's names?--Dave Stinson, who I'd met him at a summer party, some friends through in Missoula, and he was wet behind the ears cowboy from Philipsburg, Montana. And I'd never met anybody quite like him. Still a really good friend of mine. We talk a lot and we'd been talking and he'd decided to come down and so he ended up pulling a couple horses down. It was so amazing, right? It was...I was listening when you guys when you had the talk and it wasn't this, "Oh, this is a political statement I'm making," it was just dang fun.
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Curt Westberg: I don't think kids. Kids? I don't think people nowadays know what it was like in the 80s. I did not have a single role model, period. Right. Everybody that I ever saw I didn't relate to. And I thought I was alone, especially in Pullman. And not out of the closet. I was not out and proud. And Denver was wide open. I remember walking there's a bar in Denver called The Foxhole. It had a Sunday afternoon beer bust, volleyball net. And I walked in there and there was 600 guys. And I was just...I mean, it was a bit of a spiritual experience for me. It was unbelievable to know that there was...kind of knew it it by that point that I wasn't [alone] but to see it in that kind of volume, it was so fun.
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Rebecca Scofield: So can I ask how you identify in terms of gender and sexuality?
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Curt Westberg: Well, I'm not sure I understand those terms anymore, but my gender is definitely male and my sexuality is 90...I mean, I had a girlfriend in college and it's 95% gay. I've never had a relationship with a woman after I came out of the closet.
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Rebecca Scofield: And how young were you when you came out?
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Curt Westberg: Twenty. It was my senior year in college, so I must have been 22 or 23. I'd kind of got to the point where it was: do this or I don't know what's going to happen if I don't. I couldn't keep lying. And I had two sides of my brain and they didn't talk to each other. And except when I was drunk. It just got untenable. I just can't deny it anymore. I have to do this. And it was interesting.
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Rebecca Scofield: So I feel like you have a very interesting background because you grew up in a really rural place, but also in connection to a university. And so what was your kind of feeling growing up? Were you afraid of coming out?
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Curt Westberg: Oh, my God. I it's the last thing in the world I wanted. I just I wanted to be...I wanted to be like... I wanted to just fit in, right? I was always kind of a weird kid. Kind of by eighth grade, I'd kind of learned the social skills to fit in. And I didn't want to jeopardize that. And again, there was no framework for it, really. The amount of change that has happened in 40 years. I never thought I'd ever see it. It's just astonishing. It was not a conversation. It's not something I welcomed. And once I came out, I had some really good...I had a couple of guys that were so kind and so gentle early on.
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Rebecca Scofield: Were you worried about your parents at all?
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Curt Westberg: Oh, hell, yeah. I never did tell em. I never did tell them I got drunk at a party and told my sister because she was feeling sorry for herself. And so I said, Well, what about this? And, and so she told them. My dad was...I thought my dad would be the one that had the problem with it. And neither of them had big problems with it. But my mom was the one who really had to work. My dad was just like...I don't know. My dad was not an expressive guy, let's put it that way. I never knew what he was thinking. He was incredibly kind with his time. And I knew...we never got told he loved me, but I knew he loved me because of the amount of--unbelievable amounts of time--that I was included with him. And I was in Denver right by that point.
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Curt Westberg: I was in Denver by that point. Two things were going on. I'd come out of the closet and I'd kind of figured out I was an alcoholic. I got down there and I just kind of I kind of just distanced myself from everybody. Maybe three or four times a year, I'd come home sometimes for Christmas or Thanksgiving or something like that. But but I was not an active part of their lives for many, many years, actually, which is another intelligent regret. Frankly, I have not had...I've had nothing really overt...I've had one good friend that I've never talked to since he found out. And that's it for me. Which I don't know whether...I don't know how to parse that really because I read all the stories, I hear about all this stuff, and it's just so not my experience. And I don't know why that is, and it's not like I've been not around. I've never really identified [why].
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Curt Westberg: That's not 100% true in Denver. It was wonderful. I had a big group of gay friends. But the reason we were friends, because we played basketball, we played volleyball. It was sports oriented. I've never really got into the whole...I don't know. I'll keep it at that. And then my ex I was with--I was married to a guy for 20 years, married for five, but with him for 20 years. We adopted kids real early on, in 2000. We were in L.A., I was in L.A. at that point. And so we were kind of on the front wave of the gay adoption. People had been doing it, but all of a sudden, a lot of people were doing it. And we had. And so we were like our own--I mean, we'd go through the airports in Salt Lake and all these places--we were like our own gay pride parade.
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Curt Westberg: I mean, it was impossible to not know. Somebody joked, "All you need is a Native American and you're going to be your own gay pride parade." Because our daughter's Black, is half African-American. Son is blond haired, blue eyed. Two guys. And people would look and they just...you could watch them try to figure it out. But we never got any...the only blowback I ever got was from the gay people, which is really interesting. I was thinking about this the other day. Really, most of the homophobia that I've experienced in my life has been from people in the community and not outside it. And it's there's this, I think there's this.... And mainly that's because I didn't I you know, I never...I don't know why. Never been able to figure it out. But I didn't I didn't try really hard either. And I don't know if that was threatening or what but...
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Rebecca Scofield: And so for those instances of homophobia experienced from from other gay people, where they upset about your kids?
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Curt Westberg: Mostly was around the kids. When my daughter was a month old, we went back to Family Week in P-Town with a bunch of friends, L.A. friends. And we just had a ball. And I was packing around Sophia and the Baby Bjorn and Kenny in a backpack on my back. He was 18 months old. We got some pretty...people in restaurants and clubs, gay people just kind of chipping, "Selling out, buying babies, doing all this stuff." That's the only really the only instances that I can think of that coming up in my life. And I I've lived in Oklahoma and South Dakota. I was just in South Dakota for two years, three years, and I was team roping with these rednecks. And it was awesome. I don't know. I guess one of the ways I put it is I didn't demand their respect before I earned it. And that's just been my experience is once they know who you are, then it's just you. And it's not...it has never proven to be that big a deal. But if I'm coming at of them before they know me and demanding that they respect me, or treat me different or whatever, then...I've never done that, so I don't know what would happen if I did that.
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Rebecca Scofield: So by the time you're roping in the Dakotas, did you have your family with you?
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Curt Westberg: We had divorced by that point. My kids were in college, they were older at that point. But it was obvious that I wasn't...I had a buddy that we're pallin around--a long story--but not a partner. And he's a straight guy. But we were always together. And I know they were all talking about it because I roped with the same club and I got to know them. And so they were like, "Why? Why is there no women around this deal ever?" I can just imagine the conversation, but never got any shade from any of them. It's interesting. I find that interesting, actually. I don't know how to parse it exactly, but I'm blessed. I feel lucky. Cause I know the horror stories. And I'm not dismissing, I'm not diminishing that, I'm not saying that I did something right and they did something wrong. I just I don't know why I've gotten to not have that as my experience.
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Rebecca Scofield: So what were you doing for work when you were in L.A.?
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Curt Westberg: And so I quit teaching school at Southwestern Missouri State and basically left that relationship and moved down--Dave Stinson and another guy, George, had gone into business training barrel horses. Breaking colts and training barrel horses. Futurity horses; basically running in the futurities. I just said, "Hey, can I can move in? I'll pay rent. I can feed, I can ride." And so I got to ride really, really high dollar horses for a year. It was super fun. We just had a ball. It was just an absolute blast. And I taught a couple more sessions at the community colleges and I canvased for the National Toxics Campaign. It's kind of where I learned that I was good at sales. And then again, it was like, okay, I could have stayed there. There was no forward direction. So I took a job with a family friend back in Seattle that had started a company and wanted some help. And I didn't need much. And so I could come in and work there for three years and kind of learned sales.
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Curt Westberg: And then I answered an ad in the newspaper for my career at a company that wrote and built software packages that sold to construction companies. Accounting packages for construction company; started out as a salesman in Seattle, moved, told them I was going to move to L.A. cause I'd fallen in love with my ex, and just said, "I can do this from home. I'll just work for you down there." And they took a risk back then and it worked well. I worked for that company until 2017 and ended up working sales manager, VP of sales, bought in--they offered me an opportunity to buy into the company in 2008. So I bought into the company and mortgaged everything I had and bought into the company and we sold it in 2017. So it worked out pretty well. Yeah, and was super fun and I loved it. I love sales. Sales is fascinating. It's the only thing that's kept my interest because it's always different. You never know what's coming. It's just talking to people, which I'm good at. And I like that.
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Curt Westberg: And I respected the heck out of the guys I worked with. And they're really smart and I was good at it. And it paid. You know there's a reason why salespeople get paid a lot. Because there's not very many people that can do it, which I learned once I went and tried to hire salespeople. And it just doesn't, right? I could never figure out why they were willing to pay me the money they were paying me, because it's just like all I'm doing is talking to people. This is like the easiest gig in town. And boy, when I started trying to hire them, it was like, "Oh, no wonder." It's kind of like how I never could figure out how I got A's and B's in college until I taught college and read the papers. And I really I could have wrote about anything. If you can write a complete sentence and sort of logically present an argument: A or B. Because when you're reading 40 papers that you can't decipher. It's just astonishing to me.
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Rebecca Scofield: So what was the if you don't mind me asking, what was the name of the company?
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Curt Westberg: Dexter + Chaney. We had 1,000-1,300 customers or so. When I left, the average sale was around $60,000 or $70,000 back then. And we ushered it through a lot of changes in technology. And it was really well run. It got bought by Bain Capital, actually ended up buying us through another company, but a company they owned. Our biggest competitor ended up buying us. And then Trimble, which is the big giant in the construction industry, bought them after that.
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Rebecca Scofield: So what took you away from L.A., then?
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Curt Westberg: Sales Manager. I got promoted and I needed to be--they were okay with me selling in L.A. and not okay with me being a sales manager in L.A. And so I commuted back and forth for a couple of years because we had kids. My partner had a job and so we had to make that work and moved to Seattle.
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Rebecca Scofield: What part of L.A. did you live in?
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Curt Westberg: Mid-Wilshire. San Vicente and Hauser. Walking distance to The Grove and La Brea Tar Pits. It was neat. I loved L.A. It was awesome when the kids were little. As soon as they hit school age, you are looking at back then, $12,000 a year for kindergarten for each kid, out of net. It's like, there's just no way. And the public schools were just not an option, right? I mean the elementary school they would have gone to is four blocks away and it had metal detectors for first graders. You know, it's like no, we're not doing that.
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Rebecca Scofield: So they spent most of their growing up in Seattle.
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Curt Westberg: They're Seattle kids. We waited until they graduated. We moved after we sold the company. Kenny had, my son. Had he or my daughter? Well, no, they were both...They both were done right around the time that we moved back there. And they both went to University of Wyoming. My son graduated. My daughter, she's kind of like me. She was like, "Why am I here and why am I wasting your money?" And so she bailed on her senior year and she'll probably go back... who knows, life takes you.
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Rebecca Scofield: And so what part of Seattle did you live in?
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Curt Westberg: Lake Forest Park. So just 140, about 145th, 155th in there. They went to Shoreline schools and that's where I started all this. That's why mainly since we had the kids, I mainly identify with other parents. In L.A., there was a big group of gay parents that had adopted kids at the same time. But when we moved away from there, the kids were old enough to make their own friends. You don't have any time to have friends or make new friends. It's like you went through this all has been a huge part of my story. And I got sober in '98. So I've been going to a lot of AA meetings and if you tie into that crowd, it's a serious social--you get a lot of friends fast. And so [I] mainly identify with sober people and identify with other parents. And that kind of describes it. Now I'm here, it's kind of the same here.
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah. So what brought you back?
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Curt Westberg: I'd gone to Rapid City to work for some friends and that ran its course and I bought a recruiting company. I'm a headhunter now. I bought a recruiting company and I could do that from anywhere. And so I started that. Well, I bought a franchise, so I started the company and did that and then met my current partner, Keith. He and his kids, one of his daughters was in Bellingham. His son was in Oregon. My kids were--Kenny was still in college and Sophie had moved back to Seattle. Kenny was going to move back to Seattle. And so we was like, "Why are we here? Right? We're 1,400 miles from our people." And we loved it. We had got at a ten acre place, an arena, horses. And it was a neat place. But it just was too far, too far away. We didn't want to be that far away. So we made the decision and moved back here and love it. Actually, that's really fun. I was a little worried about Keith. He came from Jackson Hole. He'd spent 40 years, had a career in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. And how do you top Jackson Hole? You can't. It takes a while to learn to love the Palouse. But once you do, it's really a wonderful place. And he's got the bug now.
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Rebecca Scofield: What's it like living in Palouse?
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Curt Westberg: I love it. It's a great little town. Yeah. It's like being back in the fifties. They blow the fire whistle every day at noon so people know when it's lunchtime. That was like when I was a little tiny kid that used to happen. And then I've never been in a place since then that did that. And every noon. And it's like 50 feet from our house because we....So just like every day at noon, it's like the fire bell goes off. And the people are wonderful. It's a really neat mix of--kind of like my life-- actually. It's a really neat mix of academics and old farmers. And everybody just seems to get along. I've never even had a negative interaction out there, you know, just super welcoming. They spend a lot of money on the city.
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Curt Westberg: We couldn't believe this: the pool is free if you live there in the summer. We're both busy, but we're trying to work our way in and give something back. And it's a neat place. I really like it. And it's, you know, 16 miles from Pullman, 16 miles from Moscow. We looked in Moscow and when we bought the market was crazy. And we had a budget we wanted to stay in and nothing in Moscow was working. And he didn't want to live in Idaho because he'd lived in Wyoming, which is apparently better than Idaho. Anyway, there's nothing wrong with here, but he didn't want to live in Idaho. He wanted to live in Washington. And neither of us lived in wanted neither was I. I lived a long time in Pullman, and I never felt like Pullman had much. It's never connected with the town. It's so dominated by WSU, it's really difficult to have its own soul.
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah.
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Curt Westberg: Moscow does. And so Palouse was a great. We bought a little farmhouse in the city. First time I've lived in the city for quite a while since Seattle and 900 square feet. Built in 1892, one of the original houses out there. It's really in great shape. It's super cool.
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Rebecca Scofield: The sort of political mix of Palouse, being from Moscow, I always hear Palouse is this great little tiny liberal dot. Does it feel like pretty welcoming to you?
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Curt Westberg: Oh absolutely. Like I said, I've never had anything that isn't just a positive friendly interaction out there. And I don't go looking for it, but it's so awesome.
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Rebecca Scofield: So what's your kind of take on that? You mentioned this earlier, and just like the amount of change that has happened for LGBTQ people over that span of 40 years? What's been your experience as things have changed? And do you think could things change back? You know, how do you feel about right now?
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Curt Westberg: Astonishment, basically, astonishment. Will and Grace, right? There's just been some...media has really I think one of the reasons and just basic human goodwill. It's like more and more people coming out and more and more people know peopl. It just took on a life of its own. The marriage thing was astonishing to me. I couldn't believe that that actually happened. And be careful what you wish for because then you get all the problems. [laughs] The law of unintended consequences.
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Curt Westberg: It was really a good thing that I couldn't that marriage wasn't an option or I would have been involved in more divorces; more than one divorce. And do I think it can go back? That's a big question. I think there's two narratives, at least probably thousands of narratives, but there's two major narratives going on here. There's the normal everyday interaction that people have, and there's what we're being fed, right? And the divide, the division and I think that the two are not conversant, right? And, frankly, I have problems. I have big problems with both sides, the fringes of both sides. And, you know, I think most people, when it comes down to other people are in the middle. Both of the extremes are walking around looking for a reason to be pissed off, right? To be offended, to be scared.
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Curt Westberg: And I don't think there's very many people in either of those camps. I'm reading a book right now that I'm kind of wishing I wasn't reading. It's a kind of a political...it's a near-future. It basically takes where we're at right now and rolls it out 15 years. Just takes the narrative through 15 years with climate change, with the politics that we're in. And it's frankly super frightening. I think humans have an amazing capacity to ignore the big picture--to ignore the forest for the trees. I have to always remember there's billions of acts of kindness happening every day right in the world. There's far more kindness and love in the world than there is the crap we read about. But all we see is that most not all, but 99% of what we see is the horror. And then you sit there and you get more and more insulated, more and more polar[ized]. And there are no answers for it, right? I mean, the far left scares me as much as the far right does, just for completely different reasons.
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Curt Westberg: But in the end, it all comes down to...I don't know. So I think a lot about it. In terms of me personally, I think Keith and I are going to probably...I don't see how they can roll marriage back just because it's gone far enough and maybe states can take it back. Maybe the Supreme Court will do the same thing that they did with abortion and throw it back on the states. And in that case, then it's like that's why we're living in Washington. Just I'm hoping that something somebody wakes up. And has a message. The thing I cannot believe is how out of 350 million people, the two people that are running for president are the best we can come up with. It's just...it's tragic. Right. But then who in their right mind would want that job? I mean, I figured that out a long time ago. If you want to be president, you're immediately disqualified. [laughs] There is something seriously wrong with you. I think it should be...nobody asked me. [laughs] I got a lot of ideas.
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Rebecca Scofield: So as you as you moved to Seattle and then L.A. and then back to Seattle, did you stay involved with rodeo?
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Curt Westberg: No. Once I left Oklahoma, I pretty much...just like in college. It was just like, "This is problematic. I don't have a horse." I lived in Seattle, all the rodeos were Denver east, pretty much. I could have kept doing it, but I got involved in relationships and life and work and life just took its own course. And you know what? Again, it was like, it's fun, right? It's fun, but it wasn't...And then actually it's so funny because Denver right before COVID. So 20--, it must have been 2019. I went to the Denver rodeo. It's kind of going the way a gay bars. It's like "we just call it rodeo." My kids are like, "It's just a bar. We don't call it a gay bar." There's no need. So they're not so much of a need anymore for that for the ghetto. For, "That this is a gay bar. And that's not a gay bar." Now, it's like my kids, I used to ask em, "Do you think that guy's gay?" They go, "Never thought about it. And why does it matter? Why would you even...? Who cares?" Right? I mean, it's so different.
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah.
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Curt Westberg: I went to their prom--I was a chaperon at one of their dances in high school, and it's like women, lesbian couples, gay couples. My kids have three or four friends that are transgender, that I watched play soccer when they were five. And it's just a different world for the next [generation], for the younger people. I try, but I'm stuck in the '80s thinking. My upbringing--'70s, '80s--and it's hard to imagine that it doesn't matter. And so no I didn't stick with the rodeo stuff until we went back to the rodeo and that was a blast. We had fun. You know, Candy Pratt, is a friend of mine. I knew her when I lived or got to be good friends with her when I lived in Oklahoma. And a bunch of the...a few of the old guys were still around. Dave Stinson didn't come. He's pretty much quit doing it. And you know, we're getting old. But we had we had a lot of fun actually.
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Curt Westberg: But it was a it was a kind of a shadow of it itself. I mean, the year before I moved away, Dave and I actually won team roping at the finals. And we did that a couple of years in a row actually. I was never all that good, but I was good enough. It's such a beast. It's such a beast of its own. And that's what's sad. It's inclusive in a way that you just go to a PRCA rodeo and there's no there's no inclusion there. Those guys are top athletes, are riding $100,000 horses. It's fun to watch, but it's not a participatory event. And that's what I that is both. When I first started the first rodeo I went to, they still announced the names of the horses that the people were riding, which coming from high school, college rodeo, kind of the hardcore rodeo scene, that was, "oh, this is a different place. This is different."
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Curt Westberg: Back then it was still in its beginnings. And there was just a sense of for me and I think it was pretty pervasive, there was just a sense of newness. And relief and gratitude and not a lot of politics. You know, I see you guys studying this stuff now. And it was interesting experience for me to listen to that talk because it's it was never about that. And some of the questions that, "What was their race?" Looking for things. Now, first of all, if you think about it, there's 20% of the population is African-American, and the filtering that goes down to having somebody even know what a rodeo is enormous. And so...but I never saw even hint of that anywhere there, Black guys were just guys. There's one thing I love about the LGBTQ community...or I'm not sure if it's still that way, I haven't been really involved in it for so long...but it seemed it just was there, just wasn't any of that stuff, at least in my experience.
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Rebecca Scofield: So you've talked about some identity categories like parent and salesperson.
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Curt Westberg: Yeah.
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Rebecca Scofield: So one question that I always ask is: do you consider yourself a cowboy?
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Curt Westberg: Probably. Just more in the what the ethic represents. Just a way of thinking. Do I get on a horse every day and go chase cows around? No. I think there's something that I admire greatly in the no bullshit. And there's a lot of ignorance everywhere. I think that some of the values that I that I've got and that I've identified come from there. Because those guys in South Dakota, they would never talk politics. We never talk to religion. And that's just my...they were willing...there is no way I was going to do that. I don't care. That's personal. That's none of my business. And it will interfere with our relationship because I'm going to say, how could you vote for that idiot? And they're going to say, well.... It's not a way to foster connection.
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Curt Westberg: And connection is one of my huge values.I don't have to have the people that I connect with think just like me. And I think that's a cowboy [value]...especially older. Wisdom comes with age. I don't know how to answer that question. I'll think about that question. Yes. Yes. And one of the things I dislike about-- I dislike this in anybody--is being in love with my own ignorance. And there's a lot of that, but there's a lot of that everywhere. So how do you filter that out from the...I like the good things about being a cowboy.
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Curt Westberg: And if I had to pick one thing, that's probably what I'd pick. Except I was sitting in...I'm an on again and off again vegan. I have all of a sudden fallen onto this Buddhist path that I didn't expect--came out of nowhere. I'm a team roper. I'm gay. There's one of me right now. If I wanted to feel unique, I could. I don't like feeling unique, right? I like being connected to people and noticing the similarities rather than the differences. So I've had some good teachers--some really good teachers--cowboys and others that really taught me I think what's important: compassion, love. Not: how do you talk? What are you? I get scared sometimes about the direction things are going in. Just everybody seems to want to be unique and recognized. I think there's some...I don't know how to...I got to do some more thinking about it.
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Rebecca Scofield: Do you think that it plays into American individualism a lot versus--I spent a year in Japan and there it is so focused on the collective. And so how in America do we balance this desire for individualism? But also when does it get to the point that then we have no meaningful categories?
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Curt Westberg: It's a legacy of conquest, right? It's hard to shake our Puritan roots and it's hard to shake our westward [movement], or "Give me room. Don't tell me what to do." And a lot of what I share, it's really hard, right? It's a great experiment. And I think we're in an interesting phase of the experiment right now because I think both sides are trying to do the opposite of that. The right wing is like, "Give me...I want freedom as long as it looks exactly like what I think freedom looks like I want to have freedom. I don't want you to have freedom." And the left is...we're going to get to where we can't have a conversation anymore without offending somebody. Probably doing it right now. [laughs] It's just not conducive to any kind of collective goodwill. What I'm trying not to do is just buy 40 acres in the mountains and get some solar panels, right? I mean, that's a such a temptation. I know I could live, right? There's days when it's just like, "Oh, Let's just do that. All right? Let's dig a well and get some solar panels and grow our own food."
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Rebecca Scofield: It's hard to keep opting in.
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Curt Westberg: It is hard to keep...that's a great way to put it. It's hard to keep opting in because we're not getting much back other than fear. Just seems like we're so dominated by fear, which is if you look at the big picture stuff like climate change and rampant capitalism, capitalism driven by quarterly earnings. Capitalism pointed in the right direction is an incredibly powerful thing. And it's so not pointed in that direction right now. It's completely out of whack. And I'm not a Marxist. I just think that what government's job is: to steward--in America anyway--a steward to capitalism. And we've missed the point on that. Because we've created a political class. It is so astonishing to me. You don't have to look very far in history, over and over and over again. What happens when you concentrate wealth? What happens when you concentrate wealth? What happens when you concentrate wealth? What happens? You guys don't end up well. You think you would have learned a lesson This time will be different, right?
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Rebecca Scofield: I mean, in general, they don't like history.
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Curt Westberg: No, that's fake news.
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Rebecca Scofield: It's hard to learn from it...
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Curt Westberg: French Revolution is fake news.
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah. I think it's really interesting that you've talked a lot about this very particular place you came from. I mean, were your parents religious at all?
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Curt Westberg: No, no, I still, to this day, have no idea whether my dad believes in God or not. He just did not...it was an absoluteā€¦I never...and our relationship was such that I would have never asked him that question. I think they felt like their parents weren't particularly [religious] either. Neither of them. My father's side anyway was teachers and college academics. And I just think that...I don't know what they believed, frankly. I think my mom and I have talked about it. I think she has a concept of a higher power. I don't if she's ever really defined it. We went to church on Easter and Christmas. I tried a couple of times when I was young to generate some belief and just never took. The questions were too great for me. I could never divorce myself from, "How does this really work? I don't quite get it." It just never it never passed the sniff test. And I got sober when I was 30, I guess I was 36, 35, 36, somewhere in there. And it's not a religious program either.
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Curt Westberg: But it does require something other than you. Alcohol, it's been your god. Now, it needs to be something else. It can't just be you because it's too strong a god. That's basically how to put it. And so I generated enough of one to put it in the place of alcohol. And I never really, couldn't go much further than that. I've tried all kinds of things. And that's basically what got me sober was a spiritual bankruptcy. I just knew there had to be something else to life and I couldn't get it. And AA lasted for a long time. And then just recently, it's still astonishing to me that there's these guys--that people that have been thinking about this stuff for 2600 years. Not about god, but about how the brain works. And why does this happen? Because it was always the big question for me is why does why does the same event have two different out[comes]? The same thing happens to two different people and they have two completely different [reactions]. I just I don't know. I've just gotten really intellectually, extremely intellectually, extremely interested in it. And it just appears true to me. With a capital T.
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Curt Westberg: It's like AA, they don't ask you to believe in anything, right? No, there's no god. It's: here's what I've found. Go try it yourself and see what happens. So it's exactly like AA, it's really interesting. I think that if I write anything, I'm going to write about that. So that's currently--it's kind of turned my world upside down. It's like I'm looking at things different. And really when it comes down to it, it's like all religions, right? Be nice. Love your neighbor. Religion--organized religion--has people involved. And once people get involved, right, then all bets are off. The basic teachings of all of them, I think--I haven't studied the Muslim religion, I haven't I have a little know a little bit about the Hindus; I know some about Christianity, and I learned a lot about Buddhism--and they're all saying the same thing, right? Love. Compassion. You're not the center of the universe.
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Curt Westberg: How do you how do you deal with this stuff? And it's seriously comforting to me in a way that I never thought religion could be comforting. It's just, "oh, okay. Well, I don't have to..." My marching orders are clear and I don't have to just be lost in trying to create some meaning out of whole cloth. I have absolutely zero idea where it's going to lead, but it's definitely... Just meditation alone. That's where it started with me was I meditated for a year, there's this program called Mindfulness in Recovery, which is a mindfulness based kind of in addition to AA. It's not 12 steps. It's like, no, this is about mindfulness. But the program itself is for people in any form of recovery. So if you consider yourself in recovery, you belong there. And it's 24 minutes of meditation a day. And I did it for a year. And I started it just [specific form of] meditation, just breaths, just calm, abiding, concentrated on my breath, trying to concentrate on my breath and watching what my brain does.
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Curt Westberg: And it's like, Oh, my God. It's like this thing is out of control. One of the teachers I listen to talks about it being like a horse. An untamed horse. Your brain is your thoughts, your ego, whatever you want to call it, is it just jerking around all day? You can't do anything with it until you tame it. She's like a horse. You can't take a mustang, throw a saddle on it, and expect it to run the barrels. You got to train the damn thing. And so it's really been interesting and it, like AA had for me, the effects it's having on my life are never what I expected. I always expect euphoria. Left to my own devices, if I'm not euphoric there's something horribly wrong with the world. And that's just, that's just insane thinking and it led me...basically what I've been led around by my most of my life, right? Is that nope, this is going to make me euphoric.
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Curt Westberg: And then you get the euphoria for short periods of time and then it's gone and then you suffer and you try to get it back and it just creates this grasping, right? There's more and more and more. It's the basis of some of the problems in our society, I think. Is it? I think we have a spiritual illness in this society. And, you know, and I don't know what the answer is, but I'm enjoying the journey I'm on at the moment and you know how that relates to anybody else. I don't even know. I know how hard I've had to work to get here. Just really the large chunks of truth I've had to swallow about myself. And if I would not have been going to die, I would not have. There's no way I would have done it. So I look at my friends and it's like, Yeah, yeah, good luck. Right? It's just tough. We believe what our brains tell us hook, line and sinker. Every single time, even when it's telling us to don't have a sandwich, you're fat, have a sandwich, you're hungry. And then the same voice, same brain gets in a big fight with itself about what you should do, right? It's like insane. It's like crazy.
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Rebecca Scofield: So you talked about how, you know, the way in which he really was not political. Right. And you talked about how connection is really important in that in the...
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Curt Westberg: I'm sorry to interrupt. It was political. It was a big fuck you. There was an underlying... It was: "No, we can do this. You can't tell us not to do this. Come try to make us not do this."
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Rebecca Scofield: Yes. Yeah.
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Rebecca Scofield: And I think that's probably what researchers will talk about is like even when it when it wasn't necessarily...
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Curt Westberg: We weren't in there feeling this self-satisfaction about being political. We were just having a rodeo.
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Rebecca Scofield: But that it had political implications.
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Curt Westberg: Oh, absolutely.
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Rebecca Scofield: And then you were talking about how you sort of avoided talking about things that are going to come in the way of connection with people at straight rodeos. You have to be like, "Why did you vote for that person?" Was it the same at the gay rodeo that you didn't talk about religion or you didn't talk about politics or? Or was or was there some sort of...
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Curt Westberg: It was a pretty homogenous community when I was doing it. We were all liberals. And I did talk about it back then. I didn't learn that until recently. Not to talk to people about that stuff. [laughs] I used to have a lot of opinions that I was willing to share with people. And we had such an overriding common theme. That it kind of pushed all the differences to the to the back. I mean, there were people that I didn't want to hang around and there was people that I didn't want to hang around. And half of it generated by sexual attraction. And, you know, there's always that. It was a place...It was a place. And by the time the last couple of rodeos I went to we were we were rock stars and I was young and, you know, young. I was young and I was young and....[laughs] It was really, really just ego driven fun. It was it was great time.
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Curt Westberg: And the gay community is cursed with substances. You can't have a conversation about the gay community without talking about substance abuse. You just can't. Not everybody in it is abusing them. But, I mean, all you got to do is look at meth in the gay community. I'm probably stepping on more people's toes. But but it's just tragedy, right? Because there is a sense of...Well, I don't know if it attracks. I don't know and it's everywhere. It's not like I don't know if it's any greater in the gay community than it is in other communities. But I've certainly noticed that in the gay community and being sober in that environment was strange. Yeah, it was weird.
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah, were you sober?
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Curt Westberg: I was not drinking. Because I knew I had a problem. And when I drank, I didn't know if I was going to stop. And I couldn't not for any extended period of time. Two things that make me an alcoholic. And so I pretty much didn't...I'd pick men that would take one look at my drinking and go, "We're not having this. If you want to stay with me, you're going to stop drinking." And so I'd quit, right? And I'd be increasingly miserable. You can't take away your medicine and not put something in its place. And codependency is not a good answer for that. So there were times when I did and times when I didn't. Generally, I'm not one of those people that every time I drink was horrible. No, I had a great time. It was just unpredictable.
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah. I mean, I would assume that's part of what drives addiction is because you do have a good time.
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Curt Westberg: Oh, it scratches that itch, right? That I want to be euphoric. I know how to be euphoric. Three martinis. Right. And I have a sense of euphoria, but it doesn't last. And then I chase it, and then I end up doing pitifully and incomprehensibly demoralizing things.
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Curt Westberg: I don't remember your question so well...
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Rebecca Scofield: When you look at the archive of of gay rodeos, there's a lot of focus on the parties or when I went to the 2021 Denver and they had the party busses running from Charlie's. And it seems like that was so much a part of the...
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Curt Westberg: I remember when Bud Light agreed to sponsors. Or one one of the beer companies agreed to sponsor and it was like huge deal, right? But that's everywhere. And we have such a weird relationship with it. But yeah, definitely, it was about the party, right? It was not a professional sport. It got to be more that way. I think by the time I was quitting and there was enough money in it. It was big enough that there was enough money in the jackpots, that it was starting to attract people that would have never gone to one before because they could win. And the competition was still...For the money, the competition was not the same as the other rodeos. And so we got to be more serious. But rodeo is not any bastion of mental health, just regular PRCA rodeo is not a bastion of mental health. It's a tough life and there's a lot of there's a lot of [substance] abuse. It's just the way it is.
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Rebecca Scofield: And certainly being...I was a young, straight woman around rodeos and they seemed like great places to meet cowboys.
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Curt Westberg: Oh, my God. Yeah.
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Rebecca Scofield: I mean, does it have that feeling of just sex and alcohol and a good time?
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Curt Westberg: Absolutely. I mean, can we get candid on this?
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Rebecca Scofield: Yes.
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Curt Westberg: Okay. I think that straight men and women and maybe gay women, maybe lesbians, too, don't understand what being gay was and probably still is like. Which is: I could get laid as much by just walking to the grocery store. That sounds egotistical, but it wasn't. I mean, I'm a decent looking guy. I'm not, you know, but I'm not the best thing in the world. And it was just never a problem. Right. And I guess just like, you know, I had a friend who used to say, women need a reason and men need a place. Right. [laughs] I'm not sure if that's offensive or not. But, it's, you know, I've had this conversation with my straight friends a lot over the years. It's like, "You guys just have to work so hard for that."
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Curt Westberg: Especially the single ones. You know what I mean? It's just this this whole dance where, you know, it's not the same. Yeah, that's exactly what it was about. But, but everywhere was...going to the grocery store was like that, right? I mean, going to any bar. There was really one..."Oh, I'm going to go for the camaraderie." No, you're not. Right. Well, let's not fool ourselves. [laughs] I don't think it was any...that was just a natural extension. It wasn't anything...And it was fun because there was more people that, if you like that kind of thing, there was more people there that were kind of concentrated.
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Rebecca Scofield: Did you see long term relationships, marriages, partnerships emerge out of that culture? I mean, that's a big thing in straight rodeo. You have like the buckle bunnies and, and lots of emphasis though on sort of eventual marriage and things like that.
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Curt Westberg: I don't think I saw anything any of that more than anywhere else. I don't think it was...I think "I want to go land me a cowboy." Right. I think and they landed them cowboy and then it has predictable results generally. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. It depends on the players. And so it's you know, it's but I don't... It just was about...most of the guys...shoot a lot of the guys who were competing, especially in the horse events, it was a way to get together and compete that wasn't available. That wasn't really available in other places. I mean, you could go to team opens and stuff and that's fun, but not with those people.
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah.
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Curt Westberg: Right. And so there was a tremendous sense of camaraderie and just shared purpose and fun around it that that was more around the rodeo--just being able to do this. Frankly, I was just absolutely amazed that...I was just absolutely amazed. I couldn't believe that it was even happening in the beginning, you know? And then it got serious. I mean, I missed the serious years, but I heard a lot of stories from Dave and Candy, and it got serious. There was a lot of money in it and big crowds. It's a little sad that it's not, you know, that it's run...And I don't know if it's run its course or not. I know Candy has been president and I know that there's still a community there for sure. But now it's more of a...I think from what I gathered from the Denver rodeo, it's more of a...it's not drawing new people in as much as it did. I think it's more like a team roping club, right? You know, people that do it and enjoy it and have fun and trade their money back and forth, and that's great. I mean, and who knows what will happen in the future, right? And I'm not that's not in any way a diss on the thing. And I don't think anybody's doing anything wrong to make that different. I think it's just it's just a function of of where we're at society wise, you know?
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah. You had mentioned that kind of the wages of success. But yeah, we no longer have to ghettoize or put in niche spaces. But there is a sense of sadness.
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Curt Westberg: Oh yeah, it would be nice to just go to a gay bar and know that it was like the old gay bars were. Right now it's like, well, not that I couldn't go to bars, but I don't. But and plus I'm, you know, Logan's run for gay people. You know, I'm 60. [laughs] I'm that guy. It's definitely a young man's game. Which is fine. That doesn't even bug me. I don't have a lot of interest in that anymore. And I think that's the reason--I think the young [people] they've got big groups of friends. They still may get ostracized by their parents and stuff, but not by their friend groups. Right. They just go to a bar.
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Rebecca Scofield: I think especially the emergence of apps, the ability to meet people online.
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Curt Westberg: Oh, my God. That changed absolutely...I mean, that's like, why would you go? It's insane for straight people. Why would you go anywhere? Right? Why am I going to go spend 20 bucks on a drink when I could just swipe left? Or swipe right? Or whatever you do. It's just...it's instant. It's like social...Absolute antithesis of those things or just the the absolute essence of those things. Just because we can doesn't mean we should.
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Rebecca Scofield: Well, I think it goes back to what you were saying about connection. And so it's like it gives us so much, but also...
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Curt Westberg: Well, after my ex and I broke up, I played on those things, right? And it's just like, it's super convenient and interesting. I mean, sociologists must just be having a ball right now.
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Rebecca Scofield: Well, so I really want to ask you, because you have so much background in this. I mean, you've you've read historiography on this stuff. You've read Western literature. A big question I always get it is like, can the cowboy be a liberal icon?
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Curt Westberg: A liberal icon?
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah. Is it too grounded in these really brutal histories about the legacy of conquest? Can it be an icon for inclusion and diversity and celebrating different pasts than all of these things? What are your thoughts on that?
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Curt Westberg: Well, I think individual cowboys can be that.
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Rebecca Scofield: Mhm. Mhm.
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Curt Westberg: I've never, I've never even entertained that thought. Could it be...? I think it could be... It could, I think it could move people back to the center. I'm not sure it's ever going to be the, you know, it's not going to be the...what are they going to call it? Cowperson?
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Rebecca Scofield: Cowfolks.
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Curt Westberg: Cowfolks
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Rebecca Scofield: Cowfolks comes up a lot at the gay rodeo on and off, I think particularly for women, even people who, you know, are trying to talk about all of gay rodeo, not just cowboys or cowgirls. They get tired of saying the same thing right.
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Curt Westberg: Cowfolk makes sense. There's nothing wrong with that. Although "folk" is on the Stanford list of words that you can't use now. [laughs] So just saying. Could it be? If it can get divorced from either side, then, yes, I think it could. I think there's the potential that maybe it could be a rallying point for some sort of sanity in the discussion. You know, there's good things over here. There's good things over here. We're going to land in the middle. We're not going to demand that everybody do everything exactly the way I think they should. And we're not going to think that everybody's exactly the same. And there's only two of these and there's only one of those. And so could it be that? I think cowboys are historically, "Don't tell me what to do." They're freethinkers. Right? In a lot of ways sometimes I just like any there's... they're people. So there's thinkers and there's not thinkers. And, you know, the sex appeal, it's going to be hard to maintain that in the face of...it really is an ideal looking at the past.
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Rebecca Scofield: Mhm.
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Curt Westberg: Right. Which was never true in the first place. Just read Lonesome Dove. I mean it's just like oh my God, what a brutal...what is the word...short, short, brutal...there's a saying about life. It was a brutal life. And they were just trying to live. You know, it's like a mountain man. They just idealized this mountain man. Tough, rugged, individual. They lived like forty years. And usually died horrible deaths. Right. It was horrible. That was George Watkins' big message. That everything you've read is bullshit. Right. It's not that. And I think that's true. You know, I think anybody who looks from the outside and says, "Well, this is the cowboy way," and all that kind of stuff. It's like, "No, there's not such a thing." And so, you know, is it as good an icon as any? You know, probably. I mean, in a could. Right.
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Curt Westberg: Who knows? I mean, people are astonishing. Right. Who knows what's going to happen...if social media takes it up and, you know, could be. But I don't think...I think that the days of idolizing that lifestyle are...there's too many problems. It's fine as long as everybody looks alike. Right. It's fine as long as everybody thinks alike. It's fine as long as they're cultural experience is homogenous. And it's not trying to go back there or trying to put a new one in its place. What does that look like? And can you morph it into that? No, it'd be a long slog. I guess, what is the reason for that? Is that are rallying? What is the reason to do that? Do we want it? Do we want to take something that used to mean this and then change it into meaning this? I don't know. They need their own. They need to come up with new icons. Let this stuff die a peaceful death. Because it's I guess part of it is we don't accurately view reality.
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Curt Westberg: And so we're continually making decisions based on a delusional view of reality. Right. We refuse to look at...We just don't want to. Our brains won't. Right. We can think about it for one second. Like this for example: death is certain, but the time of death is uncertain. So if you knew that, right? If you really knew that and could keep that conscious, how would you live your life? Well, you'd live it in a whole different way than you...I would live it in an entirely different way than I live it right now. Because what is important, right? That question just says, "Okay, if I was dying tomorrow, what's important? How am I going to spend my next 24 hours?" Well, you never know. Right. And so we can't do it. Our brains, evolutionarily are not, do not allow us to do that.
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Curt Westberg: Unless you just sit on a cushion for a lot [of time], but it's a full time job to just try to keep...I mean, I can keep that thought in my head for about 30 seconds and then bam, I'm off on something else. And so I just think that...I don't think there's much value in defining redefining something from the past. I think you're just you're always chasing...it's always going to be, "what isn't it?" What is it? What is it not? And so I don't know. I think, if you really look at the reality of it, it was never an icon in the first place. It was a short, brutish life led on ignorance.
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah.
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Curt Westberg: And everybody looked the same. There was mostly... And the ones who didn't, we killed. I mean, why would we want to rewrite...? And then it goes back to your question earlier. Well, do you think of yourself as one? Well, probably. What does that mean about you? Who knows? I like that...there's something about the individualist...Not that I can do everything myself, but that there is personal responsibility there. I do have a responsibility to others. And to myself and to the environment and to all these things. I think that there's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing that puts the cowboy out of that. But when you're, I don't know, trying to take it and make it into something else, I don't know. Where did that question come from?
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Rebecca Scofield: Some of my students ask, really, you know, because like, obviously I'm a lefty professor. Right. And but I study mythology and cowboy...
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Curt Westberg: The Virginian, Owen Wister, James Fenimore Cooper.
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Rebecca Scofield: Yes, exactly. How this all emerged and but I grew up in Idaho too, I grew up around cowboys. Like the pictures of my grandpa on the ranch with chaps. And my mom inherited that ranch. And so for me to I get asked this a lot with my friends and students of like, "Was this even an icon that that should be used by queer people or by...?" And so I think for me, I really liked what you were saying in terms of whenever we reappropriate things from the past, it's never going to be an actual image of what was the past.
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Curt Westberg: Well, because the past wasn't one thing ever.
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Rebecca Scofield: Ever. I mean, even if we look at cowboys, the conditions in which they worked would have been radically different in Texas than the Pacific Northwest. I mean, everybody's life is so full of nuance.
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Curt Westberg: Exactly.
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Rebecca Scofield: And so it was already an amalgamation and icons are always already constructed.
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Curt Westberg: Well, if you define it as people who chase cows around. It's a pretty select group. There was there never was very many of them in the first place.
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Rebecca Scofield: Especially open range, we're looking at maybe a 20 year time span.
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Curt Westberg: The 1850s, maybe the 1860s to 1890s, maybe in...
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Rebecca Scofield: Before barbed wire.
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Curt Westberg: Yeah. And then even if you put all the cowboys that have ever been...even if you define it liberally you put them in a room or put them in...I don't know how many it would be, but it wouldn't be that many.
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Rebecca Scofield: But I really like to quote this Ralph Lauren ad from the eighties that if you're an American man, somewhere deep inside is a little bit of a cowboy.
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Curt Westberg: Oh, absolutely. It's the Marlboro Man.
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah. The way it has spoken to larger groups of people who live outside of that, like working class lifeway.
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Curt Westberg: They want to feel some way differently than going into a cubicle every day makes them feel.
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Rebecca Scofield: Mm hmm. Right. Mm hmm. And a lot of people have said, I think it was a quote by a leatherman, talking about how Europe has Beowulf, you know? Right. They have these past...
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Curt Westberg: Vikings.
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah. Like, what is our past? Our past is the cowboy.
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Curt Westberg: Cowboys, right? Oh, absolutely.
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Rebecca Scofield: The way in which you construct your own identity based on shared ideas about the past.
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Curt Westberg: That's absolutely true. It's the overarching. Right. Where does that leave women? It's like, who's the woman's ideal?
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Rebecca Scofield: I don't know. Especially since even in rodeo women bronc rode all the time in the 1910s and '20s. And then that was completely expunged by rodeo queens in the '20s and '30s. And it completely sort of rewrote that narrative of like, well, women have never bronc rode.
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Curt Westberg: Oh, they were tough...I mean, I think a lot of that is come about that gender, the gender and what's the word? The gender fixity. Has come about relatively recently. I mean, women pretty much ruled the world for about 390,000 years.
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Rebecca Scofield: And the way in which all the markers tend to change over time. In some societies, obviously it's women's job to work in agriculture and other societies, no women can't work in agriculture. And so, it's all just so it's like you said.
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Curt Westberg: I wrote about this all my masters. I mean, Richard II was one of the plays that we read and I think it was Richard II or Edward. One of the...the guy who gets killed with a poker. Richard II, I think...the subjugation of women really came about, "Well, you know who your kids are? I don't know if those are my kids." And it came about with the with the concentration of wealth. I want to make sure that my genetics is getting what...I mean, this isn't radical thought, but. I think that homophobia was the same thing. It wasn't so much about...I think guys have always screwed around. It's not like this just came out. This just happened--as much as the Christians would like to think that it's because it's brand new. It's always been there. I hate to tell you, it just was never nobody ever until the class system. Right. And you could take a commoner and make them a noble. Right. And that was why they killed Rick. Not because he was gay. They killed him because he did that. He threatened the power structure. They could have cared less who he was fucking. I mean, it was just that he subverted. And I think that there's a lot of that.
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Rebecca Scofield: One of my good friends is the ancient historian, and you look at practice versus identity and yeah, people have had sex with other people of all kinds for millennia. But as long as it didn't threaten the power structure.
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Curt Westberg: The power structure.
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Rebecca Scofield: I think that is crucial to get students to understand.
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Rebecca Scofield: Well, and I think since the '50s, it wasn't as big a deal that I can tell from reading and stuff. It wasn't that big a deal until really until women started... until the '50s, really '40s and '50s--when the men went to work, the women stayed home. They were set, there was one income. And the two income thing is a hit on the power with power system. You guys have more chance to succeed than I do. And that's not going to happen. It's not going to happen.
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah right. Yeah. I think it's a some really interesting stuff about how we how we think about the past, how we construct our identities around them. And even I definitely, obviously participate in this a lot being from Idaho.
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Curt Westberg: It's like our operating system.
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah, absolutely. Okay, so my final question before I let you go. So Gay Rodeo is one of those interesting places that actually brought gay men and lesbian women together, which often didn't happen. You know, bars were segregated.
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Curt Westberg: They were segregated.
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Rebecca Scofield: And so how was it since you were there? Kind of as it was beginning...what were the discussions around that? How did women operate in the system? Did they feel super included?
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Curt Westberg: They ran it most of the time. Take everything I say worth a grain of salt. They had more energy, more organizational energy than most guys. Right? They were good at it. Not all of them. But you know what I'm saying? I mean, they just and they were willing to step up. Right. And it was wonderful. I mean, that was one of the best parts about it for me was the ability to not just know gay guys. Right. To not just have male friends. There's a lot of and that's probably where that came from because I didn't have a lot of...I didn't know any...Where would I ever meet them? I think actually that's really interesting. And I think that they talk about the gay agenda a little bit. Your question is he gay agenda. So when you all sat down and tried to come up with the gay rodeo theme, now, who got decided to do this and who got decided to do this? And there was none of that. I mean, you get three gay guys together and you can't decide where to go to lunch, right? I mean, it just happened, right?
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Curt Westberg: And the people who were willing to do it stepped up and some of them were lesbians and some of them were gay men. And so there was never this...there was people that definitely would go after the sponsors. I played on in a gay basketball league in Denver. And we actually played...No, it wasn't....There wasn't a gay league. There was...we just played in basketball leagues and we were a gay team and everybody kind of figured it out. But we played the police... that was a planned political statement, much more so than I ever saw around the rodeos. And I wasn't at the table either in most of it. I mean, I was closer by the time I quit, you know, in Oklahoma than I was...But I was I didn't want a clip board. I didn't want anything to do with that. But I know myself well enough that I can't keep my ego out of the way far enough to be an effective planner and those sort of things. And so I don't...maybe they did have meetings about that stuff... I don't know really. But I kind of I kind of doubt it.
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Rebecca Scofield: I mean there was definitely some discussion about whether to call it the Gay and Lesbian Rodeo Association or just the gay association. There's definitely some discussions about women's safety in the arena and things like that.
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Curt Westberg: Safety like...?
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Rebecca Scofield: Well, there's some men who talked about like, "Are women going to get injured doing this and then we're going to look like a bunch of bad guys?" So that came up.
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Curt Westberg: Why don't you let the women decide if they want to do that? Really? Are you making a decision? Are you, like, speaking for all women? [laughs]
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Rebecca Scofield: Yeah. I think that was the response of the women who were involved. [laughs]
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Curt Westberg: Yeah. I mean, I could see the gay rodeo just easier, right? I mean...should probably shut the mic off. It's just easier, right? It was just easier. And you didn't want to put...you don't have to have an explanation of the thing on the sign. When you say gay rodeo, it's assumed that or nobody's going to be surprised if there's lesbians there. I mean, and especially back then. And maybe that's probably way too simplistic. I don't know. I never heard any discussions about that. And I don't even know if they sat down and maybe they sat down and decided to call it Gay Rodeo. I mean, it just that's what it was. [laughs] I think it's a descriptor. It's not a title.
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Curt Westberg: Having felt disenfranchised when I first came out and really when society actually really did, you know, you have to be careful, right. Of where you are, what you're doing. And I'm starting to feel that same thing from the gay community and what's happening with the with the mass amounts...Not that it shouldn't, not that it shouldn't be inclusive. I don't know where to go, but I don't feel the same...I'm just a regular old 60 year old gay guy. I mean, I'm just like I'm just I'm like the straight guy of the gay world.
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Rebecca Scofield: Yep.
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Curt Westberg: I mean, is that...? Am I reading that wrong? I mean, that feels really...that makes me sad, right? I don't know how to have discussions about gender. I mean, I can. I'm not dumb. I mean, I can. And I don't care. Right? I have zero question about my gender and I have zero question about my sexuality. And both of them are like...it's like going back to foundation horse racing stock right now. It's like, okay, that's all old stuff? And now all this new cool stuff is going on, right? And I don't even know...I don't even know how to talk. I don't know when I'm offending somebody. I don't ever mean to offend anybody, but I don't know how to do it. I run into it in AA. I run into it everywhere now. And I try my hardest, right? My kids will tell me, "you can't say that." It doesn't happen very often. I mean, I'm pretty astute. Occasionally they'll give me that look and it's like, [sigh] I might want to think about that...my daughter, especially, "Ah, think about that one a little bit more."
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Rebecca Scofield: Mhm.
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Curt Westberg: I just feel, I guess, left...not left behind. But left behind. I'm probably not alone in that. I would guess, you know. So it'll be interesting and that's fine. That happens right. I mean it's great. I'm glad...that's why I was willing to come out of the closet in the first place. I didn't keep it serious. I knew what the ramifications of that were going to be. And I'd had hopes. That, okay, if I could do it, then maybe it'll make it easier for somebody else. And I'm not sure I ever had that thought actually, that's probably way too grandiose for what I was thinking at the time. I've certainly adopted that as I've gotten...as I've been in situations where it's easy to hide. It's easy for me to hide. I can hide, but I don't all the time. Sometimes it's in business, especially, sometimes it's just none of nobody's business.
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Curt Westberg: And I'm not asking them, "Who you're sleeping with?" You know, it doesn't come up. But if it comes up, I don't hide. Right. And so, I'm hoping that it makes it easier for somebody else, especially in AA. I mean, that's where I probably put far more effort into AA and sobriety than I do into being a good gay boy. I never like parades. I was in a couple of them I don't like gay pride parades or I don't...especially when I quit drinking. That really alienated me from the big events. Because it's fun for a couple hours and then it's like, I got to go home now. You guys are getting boring. So it's really interesting. It's interesting. Yeah, that's a whole nother topic. Getting old.
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Rebecca Scofield: Okay, Well, I want to be mindful of your time. So, is there anything else you want to mention before we wrap up?
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Curt Westberg: No. I mean, I'll be interested to read the work you guys are doing. Because it didn't seem like anything worth studying when it was happening. It was in a very tawdry way, it was very wholesome. There was a wholesomeness to it that...because the values...there is values in rodeo. It's a value driven...in a lot of ways. I mean, that's idealism. That's idealistic, of course. But at its base, it's spiritual. Even though I don't 100% agree with the spiritual nature of it, it is a lot of...it's spiritual and family and all of these things that are themselves, the values themselves are good values. How they're expressed is an entirely different thing. But the values themselves are good. Right. And it had elements of that...family was all of us. Spirituality was this nature of being free. And so, I mean, my memories of it are...I didn't do it until I got sick of it. Right. Which I think has happened.
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Curt Westberg: Like with anything but for me it was transformative, really. It was just like, oh, we can do anything. What a world we live in. As long as we're in a big city. And there's lots of us. There's lots of us. [laughs] It's all so wonderful talking about this stuff. It's interesting, a little bit broader conversation than just rodeo. Well, I think it's good. It would be nice if we could keep it could keep going because it does give a sense of community, but a sense of community that probably is sorely lacking right now. I mean, where do they, you know, now that we're all homogenized into it, where do we go? Maybe that's what we're seeking with all this differentiation, right? Is, oh, "I want that sense of community." And I don't know the answer to that. So I think I've gotten my sense of community from other places besides that. And so I guess and that's how, you know, those options are always open to anybody. But it was a good one. It was a really good one.
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Rebecca Scofield: Thank you for sharing today.
[01:54:26]