Wanted: queer eye for the rural guy

  When the aspens reached their peak color last fall, my friend Diane and I drove from our tiny, western Colorado town into the nearby mountains. We sat at the side of the road to enjoy the snow-dusted peaks, tumbling scree fields and golden-and-peach aspen forests.

Soon enough, a truck pulling a camper with Washington state plates stopped and a pair of handsome, well-groomed men emerged. Their truck had stalled in the high altitude, and they seemed disturbed by the prospect of spending the night in such an isolated corner of the world. We made some unsuccessful attempts to revive the truck while the men stood humbly by, and then offered them a ride to the nearest phone, located in a store about 15 miles away.

As the older man prepared to come with us, Diane and I looked at each other happily:

"They’re gay!" we gasped with the exultation that comes to, say, a Bedouin who has been offered his first sip of water in days. You see, tiny Western ranching-mining towns aren’t exactly magnets for gay men. I’ve lived in Paonia for about a decade, and while there is rumored to be a gay community around here somewhere, I have only known a single gay man, who tested the waters for a few months before fleeing. (In towns the size of Paonia, being single and heterosexual is a daunting enough prospect. As for our former gay citizen, he may as well have tried to find a partner on the floor of the Pacific Ocean.) But I’ve spent a lot of time in San Francisco, where my sister has an awfully good time with her gay male friends. They’re fun, they’re communicative; they’re attractive and stylish and blessedly off limits to my more complicated emotions.

So the presence of these coiffed, overtly lost men right in my own backyard made me as happy as a lark. While the men of our town might be handsome, hardly any of them are particularly well-groomed. They tend to be kind of hairy. And dusty. And they’re never, ever lost.

So up on the pass, Diane and I thrilled at our new position of protectors, nay, saviors of these stranded men.

As the older man bid his lover goodbye and folded his lanky form into my car, I happily ticked off the way the evening would unfold: We’d deal with the truck problem, then retrieve the younger man and go out for a big dinner, with martinis, all paid for by our grateful new friends. I’d make these guys comfortable in my rough and tumble house, which was built a century ago by miners, shock them with the Dickensian look of my ancient coal furnace, and introduce them to my sweetie, who would make them cookies. They would tell us barbarously witty things about life in Seattle. They would maybe subject my sweetie to a "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" makeover. Perhaps they would cure him of buying everything in a shade of forest green. Bless them.

So we drove down the bumpy road, merrily chatting about this and that. We talked about his growing interest in landscape photography, his kids in college and his wife. Excuse me? His wife? Yes, his wife, who induced him to retire early when she had done so, he said, smiling the fond smile of someone who loves their spouse and who, at that moment, missed her very much.

But, but, but…they were so willing to depend on us. By the time we got to the store with the telephone in it, my mood, and Diane’s, had darkened significantly. Fabulousness was not going to enter our evening after all; rather, we were going to spend a long time watching a straight man try to get organized. And "try" was the operative word. We listened to him procrastinate about every possible avenue for action. Then we listened to him try vainly to describe his wilderness location to a Triple-A employee in a town 50 miles away.

This guy wasn’t gay; he was merely urban. Call me out of touch with "metrosexual" men, but suddenly, I wanted this man to get a grip. Later, I would realize how simplistic and loutish my thinking had been and remember that all of my gay friends are adept at both auto mechanics and life in the outdoors. But all I could think in the moment was how much I wished there was a gay man somewhere in my town.

When the cashier in the store offered to drive the man back to his camper, Diane and I eagerly sped home through the evening, realizing that our gaydar had become severely uncalibrated through years of disuse. And I braced myself for the preponderance of forest green in my home.

Lisa Jones is a contributor to Writers on the Range (hcn.org), a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado, where she lives.