HOUSTON VOICE • FEBRUARY 4, 2000
VOICES AND ECHOES
A San Fransisco transplant finds the redneck within
by KIRK READ
As fate would have it, 1^
moved all the way to San
Francisco to get in touch
with my inner redneck. I recently 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 takes
place, I had the boots already, but the
only "boot-scootin' 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 cabdriver
wait while I changed belts.
See, I grew up in the Blue Ridge
Mountains of Virginia, so this two-step
business wasn't 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.
That Sunday night promised to be
either a personal reconciliation or an
On a stylistic note, 1 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.
1 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," 1 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 background, surely you can
understand that willingly subjecting myself
to Reba Mclntire and Wranglers was something of a noble challenge.
I admit, 1 can be a bit culturally stodgy. I
can't tell you the last time 1 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
by the 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.
So I arrived at 6 p.m. that Sunday night
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. Two
self-anointed society ladies whose mission it was to instruct Lexington's pre-
adolescents in the art of ballroom dance
made this class possible.
My sixth grade fox trots turned out to be
I recently broke my longstanding boycott on country-western dancing,
and it was so nice b see a room of gay men who weren't sucking in
their guts or puffing their chests out like some pre-op Dolly Parton.
an easier affair than the full-tilt kicking and
spinning line dances I was about to leam.
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 in any bar I've ever visited, 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
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 lo guarantee
Kirk Read lines in San Francisco and can
be readied at KirkRead@aol.com and www.
Wlwf will it take
for action on HIV?
To the Editor:
Thank you for writing frankly about
Mayor Lee Brown's failure to act quickly on
ihe I HV/AIDS front as he had promised
back on World AIDS Day ("Mayor stumbles
on HIV follow through," Jan. 21). Anybody
can give lip service to a problem, but a good
leader does more.
Before the November elections, I personally gave Brown the letter from Ryan White
Planning Council that declared this state ot
emergency. 1 le was notified about the very
high 1JIV infection rate in the African
American community and that we needed
black leaders to step forward immediately
and help us get a handle on this pmblem. He
saw things differently I le cared more about
thai arena project of his and his trip to Africa
than he did the crisis on his doorstep.
Since he received that letter, more than 250
African Americans have been diagnosed
with IIIV. And this is from infections that
actually occurred years earlier when the rates
were lower. How many black people need to
get sick before he and his team respond?
Does the black community have to suffer the
lessons and losses the gay community did
before massive action starts1
If a gay person did the same thing to the
gay community regarding this disease, we
would take strong action. Maybe if we tied
an arena deal into the response, Brown
might act faster.
Gary}. Van Ooteghem
Ri/an White Planning Council
Editor's note: The Ryan White Planning
Council will distribute about $17.6 million in fed-
era! funding this year to help county residents
already infected with HIV through seroices like
food banks, drug reimbursements, dental sennas,
counseling and hospice care. The money is
restricted to treatment; HIV prevention and education efforts are left lo the city's $5 million-a-year
HIV Prevention Program and private AIDS service organizations.
Shell's diversity training
includes gays, lesbians
To the Editor
I was pleasantly surprised by the interest
of the Houston Voice in profiling where the oil
companies stand with respect to workplace
issues pertaining to sexual orientation ("Fill
'er up?" Jan. 28). Overall you did a thorough
job, but I do need to correct one of the quotes
from my interview.
During the interview, I was asked if
Shell includes sexual orientation in its
diversity training. I had explained that
diversity training is prevalent throughout
the company. However, training specifically on the topic of sexual orientation is
spotty. Some parts of the business have
included sexual orientation in diversity
awareness training, others are looking at
pilots, and some parts of the companv
aren't there yet.
Shell Oil Co.
Editor's note: The article also incorrectly
listed the e-mail address of the company's gay
and lesbian employee group, which is
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