As fate would have it, I moved all the way to San Francisco to get in touch with my inner redneck. Tonight, I broke my longstanding boycott on country/western dancing. It wasn't so much a boycott as it was something I thought was for the most part a good idea, but something I never got around to doing.
At the suggestion of a Sunday lunch bunch, I ran home to change and taxi over to the bar where such dancing occurred. I had the boots already, but the only "boot scoot boogie" I'd ever encountered was when I was too tired to pick up my feet and walk properly. I got halfway into the cab and realized I was wearing a black belt with tan boots. Naturally, I did what any self respecting gay man would do: I made the cab driver wait while I changed belts.
See, I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, so this two step business was not completely new to me. The thing is, the boys who clogged to bluegrass were often the boys who shouted "Faggot" at me in the school parking lot as their Ford trucks unleashed a torrent of exhaust and Hank Williams, Jr. They laughed their Yee Haw laughs and sped home to their respective hollers. Tonight promised to be either a personal reconciliation or an unmitigated nightmare.
On a stylistic note, I must say that I prefer men in flannel button ups to stretch nylon muscle tees. I tell you, looking around at a crowd of smiling gay men in cowboy regalia was nearly psychedelic. I grew up with these guys and their mother of pearl buttons. I remember all too well the clomp of boots and the tipping of hats. But as a teenager, I saw all this hillbilly stuff as my nemesis. The third string football players with perms and Bocephus T-shirts were not exactly thrilled with me; their openly way gay classmate had made it possible for same sex couples to attend their 1990 prom, naively themed "Stairway to Heaven." "I got that rule changed so you could take me to the prom, Stephen," I told one of the hallway cowpokes who greeted me daily with a murmured "Fag." From that moment on, Stephen was terrified of me.
Given this back story, surely you can understand that willingly subjecting myself to Reba McIntire and Wranglers was indeed a noble challenge.
I admit, I can be a bit culturally stodgy. I can't tell you the last time I played a Merle Haggard CD, and I've never been much for dancing at all. While many friends my age have relished circuit parties and drunken tea dances, I've been continually frustrated when I went out to clubs. I find the music mostly deafening and monotonous. When I hear techno tribal, it doesn't send me into a trance. It usually sends me for the door.
I arrived at 6pm for what my friends ominously termed "The Lesson." We learned the basic two step and the waltz. I'd waltzed at my small town's version of cotillion. This class was made possible by two self-anointed society women whose mission it was to instruct Lexington's preadolescents in the art of ballroom dance. My sixth grade fox trots turned out to be an easier affair than the full tilt kicking and spinning line dances I was about to learn. But I persevered. Worst case scenario: as I badly bruise the feet of strangers, I bat my eyes and work that "It's my first time" charm. But what am I going to say on my second and third visits?
I'm not trading my Levi's for Wranglers anytime soon, but the men were friendlier than any bar I've ever been, and I didn't see a single person doing bumps in the bathroom or stumbling around drunk. Not to wax puritanical, but teeth-grinding and nasal drainage are not all that conducive to conversation. It was so nice to see a room of gay men who weren't sucking in their guts or puffing their chests out like some pre-op Dolly Parton.
The men were admirably patient with me, content to push me around like a broom as veteran dancers performed complicated turns and dips to our sides. Every time I tried to add to the dance floor conversation, I'd lose the beat and stomp on four people, but none of my missteps required hospitalization. During my third dance with a particularly adorable bear, he whispered in my ear: "Don't talk, baby. Just follow." Which is indeed a charming thing for one man to say to another. Certainly enough to guarantee my return.
Kirk Read lives in San Francisco and can be reached at KirkRead@aol.com and www.temenos.net/kirkread