Gay Farm Boys
When most people think of cattle, they probably don't think of gay men.Maybe they should, though. "I raised and took care of my own steer and pigs and dairy cattle," Dennis Lindholm, a gay man, said about his childhood.In Farm Boys: Lives of Gay Men from the Rural Midwest, author Will Fellows tries to bring readers to a better understanding of the diversity of gay men -- and the diversity within each gay men -- by helping gay "farm boys" from the Midwest tell their stories. That same boy who raised livestock also took up embroidery as a child."One time I told a kid from school that I would let him see my embroidery if he promised he wouldn't tell," he said. "I showed it to him and the next day in school he told everybody, which was disastrous."Perhaps a livestock-raising embroiderer and others like him are too much diversity for country-dwellers or perhaps country life was too much for many of Fellows' subjects, because most of the almost forty men whose stories are found in Farm Boys eventually left farms to move to larger cities. Some moved to escape the people in the country, but most left to learn more about themselves."If I had stayed on the farm, I would have never dealt with being gay," Richard Gilmer said. "I would have probably gotten married and had sex with men on the side."Larry Ebmeier, a pharmacist and writer, said his upbringing as a Catholic farm boy in south central Nebraska gave him preconceptions of how people should be and confusion because he knew he did not fit his own model of the ideal person. His confusion, he said, was not as much about his orientation as how he could handle who he was."What I accepted was that [being gay] was a fact of my life," Ebmeier said. "But how was I going to work around it? I knew it was something I would have to get control of and make sure that I kept under wraps."His confusion continued when he entered the gay community and found he really didn't fit in there either."After I started to come out and get acquainted with people in my late twenties and early thirties, it seemed like I was a peg that didn't fit. I wasn't a queen; I didn't like to dish," he said. "I knew I was gay but I didn't enjoy the banter, I wasn't into style, I wasn't into the things they did."Ebmeier knew he wasn't alone, though. "I knew there are a lot of people like me in the gay community, but I never met any of them, -- maybe because, like me, they are at home stewing over something."Fellows allowed many of the men to use pseudonyms so they could remain anonymous -- often because of the nature of the stories they told. One letter Fellows received illustrates why anonymity is often important. The man said "after all these years, I am still the victim of being a gay farm boy.""When I asked my dad to sign [college scholarship] applications, he tore them up and told me in no uncertain terms that college was for queers and draft dodgers," the anonymous man said.It got worse when the man's guidance counselor tried to talk to the father."My dad struck him and threw him off the farm," he said. "I was tied hands above my head [at the side of the barn], my pants were pulled down, and I was beaten with his wide belt until blood oozed from my back, buttock, and thighs. When my screams became too loud, he stuck his bandana in my mouth."Since most of these boys from he rural Midwest did not grow up to be writers like Ebmeier did, Fellows did not have the task of simply editing together a group of stories. Extensive interviews were conducted with most of the participants. Then, Fellows transcribed the interviews, rewrote and edited them into narrative form, and in some cases weaved in bits of the subjects own writings. Then, Fellows sent each man a copy of the edited piece and gave him a chance to review it for style and accuracy. Fellows, however, retained final control of each story in part to prevent subjects from softening harsh words or weakening strong emotions that showed through in the interviews."I have viewed this inquiry as 'research' only in the broadest sense of the word," he said. "I have not sought to quantify anything, nor to prove or disprove anything. My aim has been simply to assist the reader in understanding what these men have to say."The whole premise of these stories compiled and edited by Fellows does not work unless the readers come to trust the author's integrity. He had the opportunity to put any words and ideas he wanted in the mouth of these often anonymous people, but after reading his detailed descriptions of how the participants were solicited and interviewed, readers will come to trust him and perhaps be grateful for his contribution to gay history and sociology.On the pages of Fellows' work is a better understanding of all gay men through the stories of a few farm boys.