"Out West" in the American popular imagination means wide open spaces, boot and saddle leather, and freedom. Of course, there were, and are, only so many freedoms allowed women and sexual minorities anywhere. This post looks at LGBTQ folks in the American West, past, present, and future.
Upright Women Wanted by Hugo Award-winner Sarah Gailey is a rollicking adventure through a dystopian Southwest. Esther has run away to join the traveling Librarians so that she doesn't have to marry the man who was engaged to her best friend and secret lover, Beatrice, hung for having Unapproved Materials. As Esther discovers, the Librarians are hardly the paragons of patriarchal virtue they appear to be, and are probably the source of Beatrice's contraband. There are ambushes and gunfights aplenty in this page-turner, which will hopefully be the start of a series.
Sebastian Barry's Days Without End follows two Irish immigrants who join the Army of the 1850's, fight Indians, get mustered out and then back in again to fight the Civil War, and finally settle down in Tennessee. Thomas and John love each other, even if the rest of the world doesn't get it. Thomas narrates, and while unlettered, he (and Barry) is a storyteller as eloquent as any the Emerald Isle has produced in this epic, romantic tale.
Two women, at least a century apart, are The 19th Wife in David Ebershoff's novel of Mormon polygamy. Ann Eliza Young is a junior wife to Brigham Young, the effective ruler of Utah. She leaves the faith and her husband, doing lecture tours and writing books about her experiences. Beckylyn stands accused of killing her polygamous husband in modern-day Arizona, and her ostracized, gay son tries to clear her name. The meanings of freedom and community are explored in this work of literary fiction.
Of course, who could forget Ennis and Jack, the romantically linked cowboys of Annie Proulx's novella, Brokeback Mountain? They meet herding sheep and reunite periodically, not willing to acknowledge that it's anything but sex. Jack and Ennis get married and have families because that is what cowboys do, but their relationship with each other becomes the most important thing in their lives, seeing them through hardship and violence. This novella is as haunting and brutal as the landscape of the West, and was turned into an Oscar-winning film.
Have more tales of sexual minorities in the American West? Tell us in the comments.