Last weekend the boyfriend (Jesse, for those who didn't already know) and I went "back home" to Kaycee, WY for his dad's 50th (and cousin's 16th) birthday party. What's that? You don't know anything about Kaycee? Well, the population is around 250 people. There are 2 main streets through town, both of which are also highways. It's about 50 miles or so from my hometown (Wright) and is about an hour north of Casper. Ranching and agriculture are a large part of the community, as is mining/oil/natural gas/minerals. There's a general store, but no supermarket. There are two bars, a couple of mom-and-pop restaurants, a motel, etc. It's very small town America, and sits right on the interstate. It's also in a different time zone...around 25 years in the past.
Where else can you reserve a public hall for an event that has "No smoking" signs posted on the walls and cabinets in the kitchen labeled "Ashtrays?" Where else can you hear the Eagles followed by old school country, mixed in with "Happy Birthday Sweet 16?" Where the whole town is working together to fundraise for a statue in the new park...dedicated to the memory of the hometown local boy made good (Chris Ledoux)? Where the party included keg stands, and even some of the grey-haired party-goers were upside down?
To say that I had flashbacks to my own life growing up would be an understatement. We went out to one of the family's ranches outside town to see the buffalo and so I could see the ranch. Even stepping into the restroom reminded me of all the ranch houses I grew up visiting. There had been a late night fight resulting in an ambulance call while we were there. By early the next morning, the grapevine had the information spread across town. Over the course of the weekend I overheard several different versions, and the story grew with each re-telling.
The party was open invitation, and we had seating for around 100 people (yes, that's almost half the town). Just about everyone showed up, I think, and it reminded me of the family/town functions that I used to attend as a kid. A fish fry out at the Marquiss ranch when the hunters from Florida flew in. The annual Reynolds dance in Gillette at the K of C Hall. Brandings. Town festivals. Family reunions. Folks gettin' together who've known each other forever and probably know more about you than you'd like.
It was interesting watching faces as Jesse introduced me to people. Sometimes it was "I'd like you to meet Jim Osborn." Sometimes it was "this is my partner, Jim Osborn." Naturally I took my cues from him, but the reactions were, at times, priceless. Seeing someone process the term partner, then their eyes opening slightly as they found it in their mental rolodex. Watching someone's eyes narrow or their lips purse as they shook my hand. Seeing a devilish little twinkle and broad smile as they realized Jesse's "gay lover" had come to a public family/town function in the middle of nowehere, and that they were so happy he's seeing someone willing to do it.
Sure, Grandpa made a comment or two that might appear a bit backward. But he didn't bat an eyelash when telling Jesse and I we would be in bedroom with the double bed so we MIGHT have enough room. Jokes or slurs like "cocksucker" were overheard, but they weren't directed AT us. The only comments I heard about ME came from a couple of high school or college-age guys who were administering the often-mandatory keg stands. "He sure is a BIG guy, iddn't he?" I simply smiled, as I knew this meant I wouldn't be required to invert myself while sucking cheap beer through a communal hose.
In other words, things really are changing out there, even in the smallest towns in the most rural places left in America. Even the good ol' boys are adjusting to someone showing up to the party with his boyfriend. Sure, we didn't kiss or dance or grope each other in front of the crowd, but nobody else was doing it either. And isn't that what equality is all about? The right to be boring and normal with everyone else?