Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Despite fear, young gay rodeo cowboy came out
to open arms in rural South Dakota

PJ Painter

Growing up gay in a rural ranch community made me who I am today.
I am emotionally strong, shamelessly confident and relatively successful. That doesn't mean I didn't struggle along the way. Actually, ‘struggle' is an understatement. ‘Struggle' implies the typical high school experience — balancing acne, popularity, sports, grades and parental control.
The ‘struggle' I speak of was an internal battle so fierce and destructible I was frequently left with severe nausea. I hated myself on a fundamental level. Before I could face my peers every day, I had to face myself. Perhaps the worst part was not being able to talk to anyone about it, not even my best friend. Even if I trusted someone enough to carry the secret capable of ending life as I knew it, I couldn't say it out loud. Saying it out loud would make it true. "I'm gay." I wanted nothing more than for those unspeakable words to be false.
I was the only son born to a fifth-generation ranching family in rural South Dakota. The nearest town had a population of 400 people and was a 25-mile drive on mostly gravel roads. Life was simple. I loved the ranch and my family — I still do. As a toddler, I wanted to be exactly like my father when I grew up: go to college, marry a wife as perfect as my mother and have a family of my own.
Of course we would rodeo, because that was what my family did.
That hope was dissipated when the first signs of being gay started to surface in the back of my mind before I ever even hit puberty. Of course I had no idea what it meant at the time. In high school I had my first crush, which I cast off to be nothing more than looking up to one of the star athletes. The feelings were not welcomed. I distanced myself from almost everyone, which proved difficult while competing in football, basketball and rodeo.
Convincing myself I was an independent person, I focused solely on what I could control: grades and respect from others. Respect was vital for me because I had little respect for myself. After all, I was raised to think being gay was detestable and an abomination.

Perhaps the worst struggle came from hearing my family and friends mock gay people. I would laugh at their jokes and pretend to agree with them when they made derogatory statements. On the inside I swallowed my heart along with the terrifying thoughts that I might be gay.

Each joke, each disapproving comment, each use of the term "fag" chipped away at my inner core. I became a master at bottling my true feelings. I always smiled to mask the emptiness and self-loathing. Over time I grew to hate myself on a fundamental level. The pain was endless. Even worse, I couldn't express the pain, because crying over it would make it real. The way I saw it, I only had two options: kill myself or force myself to be straight.
Source: Outsports, March 2, 2016
You can find PJ Painter on Facebook and on Instagram. You can also email him at


Bob Turner said...

Thank you for sharing this!

another country said...

These stories are life savers. That's why I keep posting them whenever I can.