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Exclusive | Going My way: The World's Largest Gay Rodeo

Exclusive | Going My way: The World's Largest Gay Rodeo

What spectacular destination doubled for Wyoming in Brokeback Mountain and plays host to this weekend's Canadian Rockies International Rodeo? Calgary, Canada! Our very own Dennis Hensley is on the scene.

DAY ONE - FRIDAY, JUNE 29
Fergie likes to spell stuff, Pink has a man-body, and Madonna still blinks weird after all these years. I'm watching music videos on the seatback screen in front of me as I fly on Air Canada from L.A. to Calgary, Alberta to check out the Bud Light Canadian Rockies International Rodeo. I'm also going visit some of the actual locations from Brokeback Mountain and eat anything that's not nailed down. Wait, that's a lie. If I see a pancake that's nailed down, I'll eat that, too.

Yesterday, I went to eight stores in my 'hood of North Hollywood, CA in search of the new 2-disc DVD of Brokeback Mountain. I wanted to bone up, so to speak. No one had it. By the fifth store, I was feeling very oppressed. Asking for it by name felt like the equivalent of announcing to the clerks, "Hi, I'm Dennis and I'm an abomination." But I persevered, thinking, 'This is my Stonewall. I must find this DVD.' But I still turned up dry. The boning up will have to wait.

At least I have a cowboy hat. I bought a cheapie for a Brokeback-themed Oscar party back in '05. Remember how we all got cowboy-ed up in anticipation of a queer Best Picture win? Well, once Brokeback lost to Crash, I just felt like a big poser asshole in my hat and I haven't worn it since. I'm bringing it to Canada in the hopes that I can attach some happy memories to it, memories that don't involve losing to Ryan Philippe.

I arrive in Calgary, check into my hotel, the sleek and boutique-y Arts Hotel (www.hotelarts.ca) and some bad news: My cowboy hat got dented in my suitcase. Real cowboys carry on, it seems. On the plus side, I find my Brokeback DVD at the first store I try in Calgary, HMV -- yee-hah! So I'm feeling pretty triumphant in this picture.

I meet the rest of our gay group for dinner at the hotel restaurant Raw. The food's great but the highlight of the meal comes when our genial guide, Kelly, presents each of us with a white cowboy hat. It's a tradition in Calgary, he explains, to bestow white hats on visiting dignitaries and gay journalists. The hat has a Made in Mexico sticker in it. So it's a Canadian tradition that's Made in Mexico and going home with me to America. Yet we can't come together on an immigration bill.

I wear my hat to the rodeo kick-off dance at Symon's Valley Ranch (www.symonsvalleyranch.com), a down home restaurant, dance hall and rodeo grounds. It's very rustic. It reminds me of the barn the cyclists all end up at in the movie Spokes if you ever saw that.

The place is hopping with ropers and riders and bronco busters -- of both genders and a few in drag -- but since I have an awesome boyfriend back home, I just browse. Plus, I've already found my new Canadian love, my hat. I'm obsessed with it. I particularly love the way my shadow looks on the dance floor when I'm in my hat. I may just sleep in it. That's the cowboy way and I don't care if you think it's weird.

DAY TWO -- SATURDAY, JUNE 30
"Let's rodeo!" the announcer says at the outset of the 14th annual Canadian Rockies International Rodeo. I like that he uses rodeo as a verb. It goes with my hat. The atmosphere here is friendly and down-home, like a county fair with same-sex canoodling.

The first event is Team Calf Roping where one teammate lassos a calf around the neck and the other ropes the back legs. Our first lesbian joke of the day comes when a cowgirl named Ty gallops into the arena. "Ty's going for a pair of heels," the announcer says after Ty's teammate loops the calf's head. "It feels odd to say that about a lesbian."
Speaking of lesbians, while heading to the porta-potty, I spot a pair of gals making out behind a tree like Jack and Ennis on a fishing trip. It's like Jesus, get a tent.
At one point during the chute dogging, Madonna's "Vogue" comes on over sound system. I don't think this happens at straight rodeos, but I could be wrong.

The Grand Marshall of this year's rodeo is a veteran competitor named Jaime Cumberland. Jaime works for a local electricity company and won big on the Canadian Deal or No Deal. Jaime's nice enough to answer a few questions.

DH: Canadian Deal or No Deal is hosted by Howie Mandel, which I resent. I feel like Howie's cheating on America.
JC: Well, he is Canadian. I actually gave Howie a white hat like yours.
DH: I love my hat. Did you wear a hat on TV?
JC: Yes, but I had to wear it way back on my head so the cameras could see my face. My buddies called me Skippy the Cowboy. The banker also made me ride a mechanical bull covered in gold lame.
DH: How much money did you win?
JAIME: $131,000 and it's tax free because Canada's laws are different. I'm looking at buying a horse.
DH: When do you first come to the gay rodeo?
JC: When I was first coming out, like 11 years ago. I was like a deer in headlights. The ladies who work the door took one look at me and said, "Honey, there are 1500 men in here. Go have a great time." The camaraderie that you get here is incredible. This is Christmas to us.
DH: What's this drag event I keep hearing about?
JC: It's called Wild Drag. A cowgirl and cowboy bring a steer to the 90-foot line, and then a person in drag has to jump on the steer's back and ride it back. I'm the cowboy today. I've been the drag position before but I'm short so it's better if you're tall. RuPaul would be fabulous.

Before Wild Drag, though, we have to get through the Goat Dressing event where teams of two race to put a pair of briefs on a goat. It's fun to watch if you can avoid looking at the goats' faces. These goats are not having a good time. Of course, it could just be that they don't care for the dull tighty-whities they're being forced into and want something more fabulous. If the goats could talk, maybe they'd say, "What the fuck? The gays couldn't get Ginch-Gonch to kick in some free product?"

On the way out, I hear a hottie guy say to his buddies, "I don't think life gets better than when you're drinking with your friends in the sun." I love that sentiment. Still, I wanted to say to him, "It's even better in a hat."

DAY THREE -- SUNDAY, JULY 1
Today, our group is off to Kananaskis Country to visit locations from Brokeback Mountain. Like many of you, Brokeback Mountain moved me in a deep and powerful way so it's thrilling to be here where it all went down.

Our first stop is the footbridge where Ennis (Heath Ledger) picks up supplies from the supply guy. Our super on-the ball guide, Bart, whips open his laptop and we're able to watch the scene in the exact spot where it was filmed. This is really cool.

When I try to snap a few pics, I understand better why Jaime had to tilt his hat up on Deal or No Deal. You can't see people's faces when they have cowboy hats on. So how do they deal with this when they shoot westerns? Do they have bounce boards underneath the actors the whole time?

Next up is the creek where Ennis comes upon the bear, freaks out and loses his groceries. I'm going to resist making a gay bear sex joke here just as I resisted making a joke yesterday about the fact that someone's job at the Gay Rodeo is 'Chute Coordinator.'

I'm also not going to crack wise about the fact that one of the most prominent peaks featured in Brokeback Mountain is actually called "The Fist" because it looks just like one. This place is too beautiful for cheap shots.

Every place we visit is jigsaw puzzle pretty, but the highlight is definitely our lunchtime stop at the Kananaskis Upper Lake. This parking lot near the lake is where they shot the scene where Jack (jake Gyllenhaal) tells Ennis, "I wish I knew how to quit you," and Ennis crumbles to the ground in Jack's arms. The natural beauty of the site takes my breath away. Add in the emotional potency of that scene, well, needless to say, it's a picnic I won't soon forget.

To insure that, I take a lot of pictures; some with hat, some sans hat, some with hat tilted like in the Brokeback poster. I'm pleased to say that my special 2-disc DVD came with 8 collectible postcards, one of which looks like it was taken right here at this lake. On the back is a note from Jack to Ennis saying that he'll be "coming through on the 24th." I like to imagine that the execs at Focus Features got some unpaid intern to write the postcard as Jack after asking themselves, 'Who in our office has the gayest handwriting?'

Before returning to Calgary, a couple of my new gay journalist pals and I shoot some short videos where we reenact the famous Quit You scene. Since I'm the only one of us who wore my hat, I get appear in each clip, sometimes as Jack, sometimes as Ennis.

About the only line of dialogue any of us can remember is "I wish I knew how to quit you." The rest of the time we ad-lib lines about going down to Mexico and getting our needs met, etc. Then one of us as Ennis falls to the ground while the other as Jack holds him. Other visitors who are at the lake celebrating Canada Day don't bat an eye at any of this. We can't be the first gays to turn this beautiful spot into a movie karaoke contest.

Then it's back to Calgary. After a sumptuous dinner at the River Cafe in Prince's Island Park, Kelly takes us back to our hotel and gives me a second hat. I had asked him yesterday where I could pick up at hat for my boyfriend John Michael and Kelly explains he had an extra one. Sweet. Two hats. So we can switch off being Jack and Ennis. But make no mistake; North Hollywood, CA is no match for the beauty and wonder of the Canadian Rockies. Guess we'll have to use our imaginations.

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