Gay Cowboys? Sure, Pardner.

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A FILM about two cowboys who ride horses, drive pick-up trucks and fall in love with each other has delighted Hollywood and sent a shiver of horror through America's religious heartland.

But real-life gay cowboys and Wild West historians say that the plot of Brokeback Mountain -- an Oscar favourite after topping the Golden Globes nominations -- is nothing new.

And in a claim that is likely to outrage many rural conservatives, they say that homosexuality was an unspoken norm on the American frontier, where men were close and women were scarce.

''There they were, a couple of men, alone together in isolated frontier country, for weeks or sometimes months at a time,'' says Randy Jones, 53, who was the stetson-wearing, lasso-throwing gay cowboy in the Village People and who acted as an adviser on the film.

''The thought must have passed through their minds, even if they didn't act on it, because men are sexy animals. If that wasn't the case, there wouldn't be so much homosexual sex in prison.''

There is growing evidence to support Jones's theory. As far back as 1882, the Texas Livestock Journal wrote that ''if the inner history of friendship among the rough and perhaps untutored cowboys could be written, it would be quite as unselfish and romantic as that of Damon and Pythias''.

In Greek mythology, Damon offered to be taken hostage by the despot Dionysius I so that his condemned friend, Pythias, could make a final visit home. When Pythias returned to be executed, Dionysius was so impressed by their trust that he spared both their lives.

''There have been gay cowboys for as long as there have been gay people,'' says Brian Helander, a 51-year-old nurse from Arizona and president of the International Gay Rodeo Association. ''It's always been a part of the western frontier lifestyle that wasn't talked about. It was just there.''

Jim Wilke, the cowboy historian, agrees. ''Many circumstances contributed to personal closeness on the ranch and trail,'' he wrote in a 1997 article. ''Cowboys commonly bedded in pairs, sharing bedrolls with their 'bunkie'.''

Wilke also points to the tradition of the all-male stag dance, where cowboys could be found entertaining themselves with polkas, waltzes and quicksteps. He says homosexual acts between young, unmarried cowboys were euphemistically known as ''mutual solace'' in the 19th century.

In a 1948 study of rural homosexuality by Alfred Kinsey, the controversial zoologist, it was noted that ''there is a fair amount of sexual contact among the older males in western rural areas''.

His report added: ''It is a type of homosexuality that was probably common among pioneers and outdoor men. Today it is found among ranchmen, cattlemen, prospectors, lumbermen and farming groups in general. These are men who ... live on realities and on a minimum of theory. Such a background breeds the attitude that sex is sex, irrespective of the nature of the partner.''

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John R. Maass - 12/21/2005

So for evidence this article cites the cowboy from the Village People, an 1882 cattle industry journal, and a few people talking about stuff that "wasn't talked about." Hmmmmm....if this is what passes for evidence these days, writing books and dissertations just got a whole lot easier!