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Farm Boys

Lives of Gay Men from the Rural Midwest

Collected and Edited by William D. Fellows

Publication Year: 1998

Homosexuality is often seen as a purely urban experience, far removed from rural and small-town life. Farm Boys undermines that cliche by telling the stories of more than three dozen gay men, ranging in age from 24 to 84, who grew up in farm families in the midwestern United States. Whether painful, funny, or matter-of-fact, these plain-spoken accounts will move and educate any reader, gay or not, from farm or city.

     “When I was fifteen, the milkman who came to get our milk was beautiful. This is when I was really getting horny to do something with another guy. I waited every day for him to come. I couldn’t even talk to him, couldn’t think of anything to say. I just stood there, watching him, wondering if he knew why.”—Henry Bauer, Minnesota

     “When I go back home, I feel a real connection with the land—a tremendous feeling, spiritual in a way. It makes me want to go out into a field and take my shoes off and put my feet right on the dirt, establish a real physical connection with that place. I get homesick a lot, but I don’t know if I could ever go back there and live. It’s not the kind of place that would welcome me if I lived openly, the way that I would like to live. I would be shunned.”—Martin Scherz, Nebraska

     “If there is a checklist to see if your kid is queer, I must have hit every one of them—all sorts of big warning signs. I was always interested in a lot of the traditional queen things—clothes, cooking, academics, music, theater. A farm boy listening to show tunes? My parents must have seen it coming.”—Joe Shulka, Wisconsin

     “My favorite show when I was growing up was ‘The Waltons’. The show’s values comforted me, and I identified with John-Boy, the sensitive son who wanted to be a writer. He belonged there on the mountain with his family, yet he sensed that he was different and that he was often misunderstood. Sometimes I still feel like a misfit, even with gay people.”—Connie Sanders, Illinois

     “Agriculture is my life. I like working with farm people, although they don’t really understand me. When I retire I want the word to get out [that I’m gay] to the people I’ve worked with—the dairy producers, the veterinarians, the feed salesmen, the guys at the co-ops. They’re going to be shocked, but their eyes are going to be opened.”—James Heckman, Indiana

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This work is about the lives of gay men who grew up on farms in the midwestern United States during the twentieth century. I have done this work in the interest of promoting a fuller appreciation of the varied origins of, and perspectives within, the population of gay men...

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pp. xiii

The idea for this project was conceived as the result of conversation over dinner with my friend Karl Wolter. Clarification and refinement of this original idea were enhanced by conversations with many others, especially Doug Bauder, John Berg, Fran~oise Crelerot, Joanne Csete, Carlos...

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How These Stories Were Discovered

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pp. xv-xxv

Interview subjects were recruited by publicizing the Gay Farm Boys Project through press releases sent during the summer of 1992 to twenty-six gay and lesbian community publications in the midwestern United States...

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Farming Glossary

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pp. xxvii-xxx

Farming has its own terminology, some of which may be unfamiliar. This glossary explains the meanings of potentially unfamiliar words used in these life stories. Farming involves raising crops and/or livestock, and relying largely on the use of harvested crops to feed such livestock as dairy cattle, hogs, or poultry. By contrast, ranching involves raising livestock-such as beef...

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pp. 3-28

I HAVE VIEWED this work of inquiry as "research" only in the broadest sense of the word. I have not sought to quantify anything, nor to prove or disprove anything. My aim has been simply to collaborate with gay men in telling about their lives, and to assist the reader in understanding...

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PART 1: Coming of Age Before the Mid-1960s

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pp. 29-33

DESPITE PROFOUND changes in the character of U.S. life from the early 1900s to the mid -1960s, there was little change throughout this era in the kind or quantity of information about homosexuality accessible to a farm boy coming of age in the Midwest ...

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Cornelius Utz, Missouri

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pp. 34-46

I AM DEEPLY saddened by the sociocultural pressure that's put on homosexual people. We're human beings and it just happens that the genes worked this way for us. I didn't learn this until I was practically eighty years old. Internalized homophobia affected my whole life in a...

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Robert Peters, Wisconsin

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pp. 47-58

OLD CRIP DANCED on spurless legs, making deep-maw proprietary sounds. Once the hens were eating corn and chortling, he fed himself, keeping a wary eye on us. We selected a large Rhode Island Red, one no longer laying. "Now," Dad said. "Point the barrel at her eye; then pull the trigger slow." An olio offeelings: I did not want to shoot. I did...

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Henry Bauer, Minnesota

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pp. 59-67

EVERYTHING I DISLIKE in myself is from my German side. My dad's family was German and my mother's family was Norwegian. A lot of the things you hear about the Germanic culture were true of the men on my dad's side. They were aggressive, arrogant, boastful. My Norwegian side is more docile and placid. But when I was growing up, we were closer...

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Harry Beckner, Nebraska

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pp. 68-75

I'VE LIVED A heterosexual life, but it was a facade. In 1957, I wanted to get away from home. What do you do? I got married, which was the appropriate thing to do in that day. On the wedding night, I was wishing I was going home with a man instead of a woman. I looked at all

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Jim Cross, Iowa

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pp. 76-83

WHEN I HEAR some of the stories people tell of their childhoods I think, my god, I must have been really protected. Maybe I missed something. My parents were very open, very nurturing, tried to let us have as much rein as we dared before they would pull us in if they saw...

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Dennis Lindholm, Iowa

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pp. 84-92

I FEEL VERY angry and bitter toward society for robbing me of much of my life. I spent so many years denying and subordinating and hiding the fact that I was gay. A lot of unhappiness and some severe depression were the result of that. Until I came out, I didn't realize what I had...

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James Heckman, Indiana

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pp. 93-102

I WAS FOUR years old when my brother Richard was killed getting off the school bus. I liked him very much, we were good buddies. One evening we had our pajamas on and were playing together. The next day he got off the school bus at home and a car hit him. From that time...

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John Beutel, Wisconsin

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pp. 103-111

THE FIRST TIME I fell in love with a man, when I was twenty-six, I realized that I wasn't going to walk down the aisle with a woman. Through my late twenties and thirties I had a lot of friendships with men that I thought were relationships, but I was insecure and wasn't capable of focusing. I would lose interest and have to stray and have more...

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Myron Turk, Wisconsin

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pp. 112-114

MY DAD USED to tell me I was a mistake-that I was supposed to have been a girl, but something went wrong. Since I was treated like I was supposed to have been a girl, I was really confused about what I was supposed to be and how I was supposed to act. Dad spent all his time with my older brother, teaching him everything. I just couldn't work...

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Norm Reed, Ohio

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pp. 115-123

GOING TO CHURCH was my own choice. For a while, my father was basically a drunk, and my mother was a run-around whore. It was us kids who felt the need to get involved with church. It was kind of a haven, a nice place to be on Sunday mornings, away from the fighting that Mom and Dad were doing at the house. My parents were...

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Ronald Schoen, Minnesota

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pp. 124-126

I ENJOYED living on the farm, but I absolutely hated all the work that was involved. My father still jokes that when he would come in one door of the barn, I would go out the other door, heading out to the woods or down to the river. By my late teens, I had made up my...

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PART 2: Coming of Age Between the Mid-1960s and Mid-1970s

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pp. 127-131

THE BLOSSOMING of America's sexual revolution and counterculture movements represented the beginning of the end of what Henry Bauer referred to in his interview as "the dark ages of sex." Life attempted to shed some light in a 1964 article, "Homosexuality in America,"...

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David Foster, Wisconsin

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pp. 132-142

I LOVE TO go to straight bars, but I don't cruise per se. I just like to look at guys. I usually run into somebody that I know from work and that makes me feel confident-if anybody is wondering why I'm there, he'll see that I'm talking to one of the gang, so I'm okay. One time...

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Doug Edwards, Indiana

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pp. 143-153

MY EXPOSURE to gay life has been limited, but I've been around and observed enough that I've drawn some conclusions. One is that a lot of what people perceive as gay personality-lispy talk, faggoty manners-is affectation. Guys are that way because they're around other...

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Bill Troxell, Indiana

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pp. 154-155

ANYTIME I NEEDED to get away to think my own thoughts, I'd go walking through the woods. Often the cows would be in the woods somewhere, and part of my wandering was to connect with them. When I'd eventually find them, over a ridge or down in a hollow, I'd sit down...

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Larry Ebmeier, Nebraska

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pp. 156-159

WHEN I WAS thirteen or fourteen, Mom and Dad took my brother and me into one of the bedrooms at the far end of the house ro tell us some of the facts of life. In this particular lecture, they told us that situations existed when two men would want each other and get together and have sex. I couldn't imagine how two men could have sex, but they made it...

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Martin Scherz, Nebraska

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pp. 160-169

WHEN I GO back home, I feel a real connection with the land-a tremendous feeling, spiritual in a way. It makes me want to go out into a field and take my shoes off and put my feet right on the dirt, establish a real physical connection with that place. I get homesick a lot, but I don't know if! could ever go back there and live, and the place that I remember doesn't...

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Richard Kilmer, Wisconsin

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pp. 170-179

IF I HAD stayed on the farm, I would have never dealt with being gay. I would have probably gotten married and had sex with men on the side. I think a lot of gays don't leave the farm, so there's probably a lot of people out there who are doing that. So many people there are alcoholics,...

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Heinz Koenig, Wisconsin

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pp. 180-181

DAD WORKED US so hard that all my brothers had run away from home or joined the army by the time I was sixteen. My sixteenth birthday was marked by a demand from my dad that I drop out of school and help him on the farm . Since school was my only pleasant time, I begged...

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Tom Rygh, Wisconsin

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pp. 182-190

SOME GAY MEN from the farm want to completely erase that part of their lives. I've been through that phase. After high school, I couldn't make tracks away from the farm quickly enough. I didn't even tell people where I was from . I thought that the only way you could have any class was to be urban. My big goal was Madison or Chicago...

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Dale Hesterman, Ohio

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pp. 191-198

ON THE FARM, there is a different sense of life that has more depth and understanding to it. You see animals born, you see them die, you butcher a cow and that provides meat on your table-and that's okay. When you ride on the tractor with your dad, cutting the hay in the field, and you cut into a rabbit's nest, you feel badly about that-but it's...

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Frank Morse, Wisconsin

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pp. 199-201

MY FATHER WAS a section foreman for the Milwaukee Railroad, so he worked away from the farm five days a week. After work, he'd go to the bar. As far back as I can remember, Mom would wake me up early in the morning to go out and do chores before school...

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Mark Vanderbeek, Nebraska

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pp. 202-205

MY BROTHER DAN is the heir to the throne of the family farm, and he can have it. I have a feeling my parents would have been pretty thrilled if I had wanted to farm, since I'm regarded as more of a perfectionist. According to my dad, when we went out to do fieldwork during planting...

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Everett Cooper, Indiana

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pp. 206-214

DADDY WAS ONLY too happy to finally have a son, but I think there was something about the gentleness of my nature that frightened him and he just pushed me away. I was a model child, really responsible. It wouldn't have occurred to me to back-talk my parents or not do something...

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John Berg, Minnesota

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pp. 215-218

WATCHING THE TV movie of Cinderella, with Lesley Ann Warren, I was very taken with the handsome prince and thought how lucky I would be if I were Cinderella and could land him. Sometimes when my parents weren't around, I would get into my sister's wardrobe and put...

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PART 3: Coming of Age Between the Mid-1970s and Mid-1980s

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pp. 219-223

THIS ERA SAW major mass-media attention to homosexuality, in print and on television. Sergeant Leonard Matlovich's discharge from the Air Force after he made it known that he was gay became a Time magazine cover story in 1975. Superimposed on the cover photograph...

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David Campbell, Ohio

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pp. 224-227

ANYBODY WHO KNOWS me knows I'm a mommy's boy. Sometimes I rebelled against what she'd tell me, and we fought, but for the most part it was a good, close relationship. My mother always had a large vegetable garden, and flower gardens, and I was always so happy...

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Jahred Boyd, Minnesota

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pp. 228-230

I'VE LIVED IN the Twin Cities, and I think so many gay men's lives there are so superficial. They are so concerned about things that don't really matter, like where they live and what they wear. I'm real content with where I live, and if! have a clean tee-shirt and jeans on, I'm fine-I don't feel awkward at all, no matter where...

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Steve Gay, Wisconsin

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pp. 231-233

MY MOM AND dad are from the old German straight-and-narrow school of thought. I haven't had much of a relationship with them since my oldest sister took it upon herself to tell them I'm gay. I talk to them, but I don't get invited to holidays or anything with the family because they don't want Jim there. I let it be known that if Jim was not welcome...

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Rick Noss, Iowa

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pp. 234-242

EVENTUALLY, I would like to live on about five acres outside of town, so I could have a couple of large dogs and maybe even a few farm animals. Farming doesn't interest me, but life on a farm does. I like the openness and solitude, but I would have to be in driving distance of an active gay lifestyle. I wouldn't give up growing up on a farm...

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Richard Hopkins, Indiana

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pp. 243-250

I GREW UP in a big, old, two-story farmhouse. Having the finest house on the road was not important to Mom and Dad. What was important was that you worked hard and everybody was taken care of and you ate and did what you wanted to do. Growing up that way made me realize how hard it is to get things and to maintain what you want...

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Lon Mickelsen, Minnesota

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pp. 251-259

YOU HAD TO be the oldest boy in the house to become pals with Dad, the guy that he would discuss farm things with. When Ben, my next older brother, moved out of the house, I moved into his place, even at the dinner table. We'd all shift around the table. Now I was the oldest...

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Steven Preston, Wisconsin

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pp. 260-268

I NEVER KNEW my mother. She left us when I was one and killed herself when I was nine. My brothers and I don't know anything about why she left, because my dad would never talk about it. She and my dad had separated, and one day she just left us with the babysitter and...

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Connie Sanders, Illinois

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pp. 269-280

MY MOTHER CALLED last night and was telling me about all these people she knew who were sick or dying. I told her I had just come from visiting a very sick friend at the hospital. She asked what was wrong, and I said, "He has pneumonia, and I think he has AIDS-actually, I know...

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Randy Fleer, Nebraska

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pp. 281-283

AS A YOUNG child, I had vivid fantasies about rough-housing with my uncles, riding on their backs and shoulders. In adolescence, I really didn't have any thoughts about girls or boys my own age. I was interested in men. My sophomore year of high school, about the time of Anita Bryant's big campaign, I started hearing the word...

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Ken Yliniemi, Minnesota

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pp. 284-291

THROUGHOUT growing up, one of my goals was to please my parents, and by working hard on the farm I pleased them exceedingly. I was not a rebellious child and I tried to maintain the best relationship possible with them by doing all the right things. I thought it was...

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Clark Williams, Wisconsin

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pp. 292-293

MY PARENTS WERE pretty open about sex. It was never something to be ashamed of or to hide from. We all had "the talk," and if we needed birth control, that was fine, we could have it. But homosexuality was . never discussed. As much as my parents allowed us to explore who we were, being gay was not an option. When I was nineteen, I was walking...

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Joe Shulka, Wisconsin

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pp. 294-303

MY BEST FRIEND Mike, who lives here in the Twin Cities, I've known since kindergarten . There were six of us who hung together from almost the very beginning, and five of us are gay. There were also peripheral friends who liked to hang with us because we had a lot of fun together, and all of them are gay. They were all town kids, so after school...

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Todd Ruhter, Nebraska

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pp. 304-310

BEING GAY HAS never really bothered me-there it was and that was it. I'd always been different in every other way from everybody I grew up with. What the hell was one more thing? And nobody else around me had ever been perfect. I still couch it in terms of, "Okay, I'm not perfect,...

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pp. 311-316

IN THE COURSE of working on the Gay Farm Boys Project, I happened upon a book titled Farm Boy, by Archie Lieberman.1 A photographer for Look magazine, Lieberman became acquainted with a farm family in northwestern Illinois in the mid-1950s and gained their cooperation...

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pp. 317-322

"What storytellers, and what stories!" a man in Nebraska wrote to me after reading Farm Boys. Although he had grown up in a small town on the North Carolina coast, he wrote, "the emotional experiences these guys describe sound very familiar. Their crushes and loneliness and...

E-ISBN-13: 9780299150839
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299150846

Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 1998