Article by Maya Vukovska

The world loves cowboys. They may smell of dung, leather, and tobacco, and yet, few people can resist this potent, sexual aroma. With their tight jeans, checked shirts, and suntanned faces, they are the embodiment of masculinity. A survey among single women from back in the days showed that they believed cowboys are better in bed than businessmen, and that they’d rather live in a little house in the prairies with a stinky, but potent cow whisperer than in a fancy condo in the city with some wealthy stockbroker. This all sounds very romantic and somehow naive, but after the release of Brokeback Mountain in 2005, the image of the ultimate cowboy rapidly started to change, and he became the legitimate wet dream also of many gay men around the world. However, Ang Lee’s iconic movie is far from being the first one to confront the reinforced stereotype of the genre as one hailing straight male bravado. Over the decades, other filmmakers had also approached the topic of latent homosexual appeal in Western movies. Here are 5 of the gayest Westerns that came out before the groundbreaking Brokeback Mountain.

Red River (1948)

John Wayne, whose real name was Marion (Duke) Morison, is an icon of rugged, all-American masculinity. But was he really THAT ultra-masculine as he looked in the Western movies from that past Hollywood era, or was it the camera that butched him up? Offstage, the actor was a chess player, a dancer, and quite femme in posture - a visual pleasure for both men and women. In “Red River”, John Wayne as the headstrong cattle ranch owner Thomas Dunsond is very much attracted to Matt, his young partner, and protégé. The intense eroticism between the two evolves into violence, and Tess, the girl in the picture, tells them to stop fighting because “anyone with half a mind would know you love each other.”

Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (1969)

Today, some would label the portrayal of the relationship between the main characters, a pair of outlaws on the run to Bolivia, as “queer baiting.” And they would be right in a way, because the bromance between the two of the most handsome actors of all times, Robert Redford and Paul Newman, is teasingly balancing on the edge of becoming "something more." They have intense moments of tenderness and they have rows just like a married couple and maybe that’s why the audience finds the dynamics of their relationship confusing.

Song of the Loon (1970)

Based on the most popular erotic gay novel of the 60s and 70s of the same name, that is the first gay soft-porn Western created by and for gay men. The plot follows the adventures of the 19th-century muscular, blond frontiersman Ephraim in his travels through the wilderness. And also his sexual encounters with men…

Zachariah (1971)

The story begins as Zack (Jack Rubinstein) and Matthew (played by the gorgeous, young Don Johnson) decide to be outlaws and become the most fearsome and fastest draws in the Wild West. For this purpose, they head off to learn the “trade” from the notorious gunslinger Job Cain. The latter pits them in what is supposed to be a friendly competition. Zack realizes that at some point in the future they will end up in a situation where they have to kill the other for real, and refuses to play. But since Matthew is still game, it becomes clear that their paths must part. Then, Zack utters three little words nobody would have expected to hear in a classic Western. “I love you,” he says. “We said we’d stay together.” “Zachariah” is considered the first Wеstern movie to feature two cowboys declaring openly their love for each other.

Zorro, the Gay Blade (1980)

Out of the night, out of the past, out of the legend… and out of the closet. Who’s that? Zoinks, it’s Zorro, the Gay Blade! Many of Zorro’s dedicated fans will agree that this Zorro movie is the best of them all - because it is fun and intelligent at the same time. The legendary swordsman and womanizer Zorro has passed on his sword, his duty to justice, and his trademark mask to his son, Diego (George Hamilton). But after the latter suffers an injury, his twin gay brother, Ramon (again George Hamilton), agrees to take on the guise of Zorro. Ramon, who, by the way prefers to be called Bunny, adds flamboyance and personal flare to the character with his glittering costumes and a whip instead of the sword. After seeing this movie, one cannot but wonder: Isn’t Batman actually gay in some other universe?
May 24, 2023 — Andrew Christian
Tags: Gay Culture