December 7, 2021 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

GAY LA: The Queer Frontier

Literary lesbian Willa Cather may have found Long Beach in 1929 to be the most “hideous and vulgar place in the whole world,” she was in the minority. Even before Hollywood was in full developmental swing in the 1920s and ‘30s, queer people had been coming out West to seek their fortune for decades.

Some of them came alone and found a community. Some simply found a new place to hang their hat. Others found absolute freedom from the things that were dragging them down. 

Take Charley Parkhurst, the daring stagecoach driver who rode from San Francisco to Los Angeles during the hairiest days of the Old West. It was only after Parkhurst’s death in 1879 that his trans male identity was discovered. In the days of the Gold Rush, it was treacherous for women to travel by themselves. Folks whose gender identity didn’t fit neatly into the two boxes provided had to take destiny into their own hands. 

Parkhurst wasn’t the only one. In the cutthroat world of the Wild West, folks of all genders had to toughen up if they had any hope of survival. Sharpshooter Laura Bullion was one of the original “Wild Bunch” crew and one of the most notable female sharpshooter Annie Oakley. 

 The cis boys, meanwhile, were having just as good a time. There were gay cowboys who performed “bachelor weddings,” in which two partners would be joined together in unofficial matrimony. While some scholars suspect that the comradeship between cowboys wasn’t as sexual as modern audiences might assume, fragments from the time tell a different story. In 1915, writer Badger C. Clark published a poem written in the voice of a cowboy who’s lost his partner:

“WE LOVED EACH OTHER IN THE WAY MEN DO

AND NEVER SPOKE ABOUT IT, AL AND ME,

BUT WE BOTH KNOWED, AND KNOWIN’ IT SO TRUE

WAS MORE THAN ANY WOMAN’S KISS COULD BE…

I WAIT TO HEAR HIM RIDIN’ UP BEHIND

AND FEEL HIS KNEE RUB MINE THE GOOD OLD WAY.”

 In the Old West, the division of labor looked a bit different. The lack of female companionship “drastically altered divisions of labor in which men took on tasks that womenfolk would have performed back home,” according to scholar Susan Lee Johnson wrote of the Gold Rush era in her book “Roaring Camp.” Since life in the wild meant a different relationship to domestic labor, cowboys found themselves taking on more traditional “female” tasks at camp.

 “When the miners at Angel Camp in southern California held dances, half of the men danced the part of women, wearing patches over the crotches of their pants to signal their ‘feminine’ role,” writes Johnson. “Men routinely shared beds in mining communities and on the range, and cowboys and miners settled into partnerships that other men recognized (and sometimes referred to) as ‘bachelor marriages.’”

 With cowboys were busy getting down and female outlaws were spending their time sharpshooting in the mountains, the Old West was a place of pure gender anarchy. At least, for a few good decades. 

Related Posts

WeHo’s 31st Annual Toy & Food Drive

November 30, 2021

November 30, 2021

The City of West Hollywood and the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station are partnering to help give back to those in...

Congregation Kol Ami To Host World AIDS Day 2021 Event

November 30, 2021

November 30, 2021

Progressive, Reform Congregation Kol Ami will mark World AIDS Day with a special interfaith observance, combining awareness, remembrance, and speaking...

Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Culinary Arts Program Served Hundreds For Thanksgiving Holiday

November 30, 2021

November 30, 2021

The Los Angeles LGBT Center Culinary Arts program served nearly 900 people Thanksgiving meals making it the largest undertaking so...

The Center Long Beach Older Adult Service’s Rolls Out In-person & Hybrid Programming

November 30, 2021

November 30, 2021

The Center’s Older Adult Services Program rolls out in-person activities and adopts a hybrid programming model.  Socially distant, outdoor in-person...

WeHo Wins ‘Most Business-Friendly City Award’ from the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation

November 30, 2021

November 30, 2021

The City of West Hollywood has been awarded the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation’s 2021 Most Business-Friendly City Award....

The Center Long Beach Will Participate In Giving Tuesday

November 30, 2021

November 30, 2021

The LGBTQ Center Long Beach will be participating in Giving Tuesday, a global day of generosity taking place on November...

WeHo Commemorates Transgender Day of Remembrance 2021

November 30, 2021

November 30, 2021

The City of West Hollywood commemorated Transgender Day of Rememberance through a virtual event.  Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) is...

TransGiving Dinner 2021

November 30, 2021

November 30, 2021

The 21st annual Trans-Giving Dinner was held on November 20th at the Unique Woman’s Coalition (UWC) in West Hollywood.  The...

LGBTQ Center Long Beach Adds New Staff

November 16, 2021

November 16, 2021

The LGBTQ Center Long Beach has added three new members to its board of directors as well as the new...

34th Annual AIDS Walk Long Beach

November 16, 2021

November 16, 2021

The 34th Annual AIDS Walk Long Beach, a benefit for the LGBTQ Center Long Beach and other local providers returned...

LA County Addresses Disproportionate Amount Of Women and LGBTQ Populations In L.A. Jails

November 16, 2021

November 16, 2021

On Tuesday, October 19, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a motion that the board hopes will do...

County Board Of Supervisors Approves $3.6 Million To Serve LGBTQ Foster Youth

November 16, 2021

November 16, 2021

L.A County Board or Supervisors has passed a supplemental budget to its fiscal year 2021-2022, which includes an allocation of...

City Council of WeHo Approves Draft Ordinance to Implement a Citywide Minimum Wage

November 10, 2021

November 10, 2021

The City Council of the City of West Hollywood has unanimously approved a draft Ordinance to establish a citywide minimum...

WeHo Approves Resolution Recognizing November As Native American Heritage Month

November 10, 2021

November 10, 2021

The City of West Hollywood City Council has approved a Resolution recognizing November as Native American Heritage Month. The Resolution...

WeHo Halloween Carnaval 2021 Cancelled

October 31, 2021

October 31, 2021

The City of West Hollywood is reminding the community and the region that the City’s annual Halloween Carnaval will not...