Filmmaker Matt Livadary set out to create a documentary on the "badass country folk and iron-clad American values" of the rodeo world. He wound up finding it with the International Gay Rodeo Association.
Livadary, who is straight, said his year on the gay rodeo circuit was eye-opening.
"My experience on this film has shown me that no matter how open-minded we might consider ourselves, we can all use more exposure to lifestyles and cultures that differ from our own," he wrote as part of a Kickstarter campaign to help raise the money needed to complete the documentary, which he's titled Queens & Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo.
So far more than 100 backers have pledged about $11,000 toward the $35,000 that Livadary needs to launch. That ought to be encouraging.
But no matter how it turns out, Livadary has a long list of favorite moments and images. In the following pages, the Los Angeles director shares his first-person account of what it was like to follow the gay rodeo and what made him conclude that IRGA is "one of those rare organizations that make you want to be a better person." — Lucas Grindley
“Today I met a bull rider named Reno. He won all-around rookie his very first season last year and has the jewel-studded belt buckle to prove it. But what drew me was he too is a city boy. And his best event? Bull riding. Where did he learn? YouTube. Either he’s a natural or maybe bull riding isn’t as difficult as the world perceives? Must look into this ... ”
March 5, 2011 — Los Angeles
“Only 6 weeks into the project, and this is the new way the online ad world is beginning to perceive me. My Google ads are beginning to reflect the shift in my recent correspondence. It’s the first time I’ve ever noticed the firsthand effects of institutionalized labeling.”
March 13, 2011 — Dallas
“Everyone moved slow today after an epic night. After the rodeo, I tried homemade moonshine for the first time ever. And apparently I tried it continually. Because this morning, while stumbling through the hotel’s continental breakfast, a strong hand squeezed my shoulder, trailed by a noticeably male voice: 'Have fun last night, Mr. Matt? Sure seemed to enjoy yourself.'
"When I turned my heart sunk into my stomach: a man I have never seen before in my life calling me by name, intimately rubbing my shoulder with a familiarity that immediately swore me off moonshine for the rest of my life.
'"Don’t worry, sugar, I’m hungover too.'
"My mind struggled to remember just what the hell was in that moonshine.
"'Uh, I’m sorry?' is all I could manage to whisper.
"I couldn’t recall a single post-moonshine detail from the evening. Don’t panic, be polite, get more info. 'I’ve been meeting so many people this weekend, I seem to have forgotten your name.'
'"You must really have had more to drink than I thought!' he laughed. I sweat. Some faceless diner shouted out that I was a rascal. 'Matt, you idiot, it’s Shilo. Slash, also Brian.' I took a closer look and recognized the same facial structure of the friendly drag queen who’d kindly taken me under her wing all weekend. But with no more highlighted wig, heavy eyeliner or the Nerf-football-halves stuffed in a bra, she was now very much a man. It was my first drag-dupe.”
April 10, 2011 — Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“Recently I’ve been sensing my parents might be searching for a deeper meaning behind my random adventure — to be fair, I recently left a great production company job and split up with a girlfriend of two years only to announce that I would be spending a year filming gay cowboys. So I guess I can understand their suspicions ... but apparently not enough to prevent me from exploiting these suspicions for the sake of filmmaking.
"I just called Mom and Bob from the rodeo and said I have something important I need to tell them in person when I get back to L.A. — and if they’ll let me, I’d like to film it. They agreed. It’s going to be two more days until I’ll see them and already I can feel their anxiety stewing. But when I get home, I’m going to set up the camera, sit us down on the couch, and announce to them my big news: I’m going to compete in bull riding.”
May 30, 2011 — Las Vegas
“The IGRA is officially one of those rare organizations that make you want to be a better person. All year long, I’ve been filming its enthusiasm for raising money for local charities, but tonight witnessing the IGRA’s generous spirit was a privilege. When one of the IGRA’s own cowgirls discovered she had cancer, her friends at the rodeo quickly came to her aid to help pay for chemo treatments — through an impromptu auction and 'drag dance,' they raised a couple thousand dollars in a matter of minutes, and all with their friend on speakerphone.”
June 18, 2011 — San Jose, Calif.
“The verdict is in: Bull riding is officially the hardest thing I’ve ever tried. Training at a stock contractor’s ranch, I got bucked off a feral, 1,500-pound beast named 007. Only when I got bucked, my hand was still stuck in the rope, and now I’m fairly certain my wrist is broken. I need to practice. Or maybe start watching YouTube.”
July 10, 2011 — Denver
“Char has more passion for bull riding than anyone I’ve ever seen. She is an encyclopedia of bull riding technique and history, and has three different bucking apparatuses on her front lawn so she can practice.
"She’s also endured some of the most unheard-of trips to the emergency room. (I’m fairly certain she’s made more of metal than bone at this point.) I met Char when I filmed her bicep being flattened by a bull at the Vegas rodeo.
"But in her 16-year bull-riding career, I was astounded to learn Char has yet to win an IGRA bull-riding buckle. She had a hard time containing her giddiness as she tried to explain the unparalleled thrill of riding a bull.
"Despite the injuries and heartaches she repeatedly subjects herself to, Char feels lucky to have found something she’s so passionate about. I realized I’d just learned the meaning of life from a woman with an apparent death wish.”
To learn more about Queens & Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo, watch the trailer below or visit Livadary's Kickstarter page.