top of page
outriders banner.jpg


Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2023. 

Campy and competitive, gay rodeo offers a community of refuge that straddles the urban and rural. Since the mid-1970s, gay rodeos have provided space to both embrace and challenge the idealized masculinity associated with the iconic cowboy of the US West. Slapping Leather traces the history and growth of gay rodeo over the decades, demonstrating how queer cowfolx have fought to build a community where LGBTQ+ people can escape discrimination in both mainstream rodeos and broader society.

Yet not all LGBTQ+ groups have found full acceptance in gay rodeo. Originally formed by gay men for gay men, the rodeo has at times perpetuated historically problematic ideas about the US West, the iconic cowboy, and the meaning of masculinity. Despite the gay rodeo's credo of acceptance, its history reveals complicated relationships with straight rodeo, gender stereotypes, and women competitors. Drawing from multiple archives and over seventy oral history interviews, historians Elyssa Ford and Rebecca Scofield demonstrate how amid these tensions, participants, volunteers, and spectators continue to redefine the performance of the cowboy and national belonging.

Southwestern Historical Review 126, no. 4 (April 2023): 494-516.

For the past several decades, thousands of young people have competed at an annual steer auction where a single animal could sell for $600,000. This money has been framed as an avenue for a state education for underserved youth. Yet, drawing on the longer racialized history of agriculture in Texas and the cultural narrative of the auction, this article demonstrates the mechanisms, racial, financial, and emotional, organizers have employed to control the competition and the educational benefits winners received over the past eighty years. Representing both a specific borderland history and a broader American investment in neoliberal education, this auction’s past and present teaches children the basic concept of American education: “ain’t nothing free.”

Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2019.

Rodeo is a dangerous and painful performance. Marginalized people have starred in rodeos since the very beginning. Cast out of popular western mythology and pushed to the fringes in everyday life, these cowboys and cowgirls found belonging and meaning at the rodeo, staking a claim to national inclusion.
Outriders explores the histories of rodeoers at the margins of society, from female bronc-riders in the 1910s and 1920s and convict cowboys in Texas in the mid-twentieth century to all-black rodeos in the 1960s and 1970s and gay rodeoers in the late twentieth century. These rodeo riders not only widened the definition of the real American cowboy but also, at times, reinforced the persistent and exclusionary myth of an idealized western identity.

Journal of American Studies 54, no. 1 (February 2020): 105-130. 

From 1931 until 1986, at the annual Texas Prison Rodeo, incarcerated people performed before massive crowds. In this negotiated space, prison officials, audience members, and imprisoned riders welded together a performance of violent range labor with a discourse of social rehabilitation. Responsible for funding all educational and recreational programs for the incarcerated population of Texas, the rodeo purported to save lives even as it risked them.

Western Legal History 30, no. 1 & 2 (2019): 33-44

While Idaho was an early adopter of women’s suffrage, passing a constitutional amendment in 1896, historians of the state have tended to give the topic only perfunctory attention. Yet, the intersection of the state’s most important early industry—mining—and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) immigrants, the influence of both temperance-minded reformers and anti-temperance agitators, and the combined efforts of both national and local activists, made for a complex story.

The Journal of American Culture 40, no. 4 (December 2017): 325-340

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, cowboys became chic. The rising popularity of western wear and mechanical bull riding coincided with one of the most significant American political shifts of the twentieth century, the rise of the New Right. This article takes three figures, the mechanical bull rider, the fashion designer, and the politician, and analyzes the ways these disparate characters created a narrative about American masculinity.

‘Nipped, Tucked, or Sucked’: Dolly Parton and the Construction of the Authentic Body

The Journal of Popular Culture 49, no. 3 (June 2016): 660-677

Over her fifty year career, Dolly Parton has expended tremendous effort to physically and narratively construct her body. This article argues that Dolly Parton has rhetorically employed her body’s artificiality as ultimate proof of her authenticity as a “country girl.” Deploying heroic self-narrative alongside humble self-deprecation, Parton has presented her active reconstruction of her body as a tactic with which she has triumphed over adversity.

In “Fashioning the Global City,” ed. Claudia Brazzale. Special Issue, Streetnotes 20 (2012): 111-133.

This study, supported by public observation, interviews, and analysis of Japanese fashion and nail magazines, looks at the role of the Tokyo nail industry in the shaping of Japanese women's bodies. I particularly investigate how, through the lens of the nail industry, issues surrounding class, race, and femininity are played out in Tokyo today. The visible gap between women who can afford, either economically or socially, to wear extreme forms of nail art publicly marks women as culturally acceptable or socially transgressive. This article was republished in The Fashion Reader, third edition, edited by Linda Welters and Abby Lillethun (New York: Bloomsbury, 2021).

Principal Investigator 2016-Present

The Gay Rodeo Oral History Project is dedicated to collecting and preserving the personal stories of the men and women involved with the International Gay Rodeo Association. Gay rodeo started forty years ago in 1976, sparking decades-long debates about masculinity, sexuality and the cowboy. Today, active members who can recall the early days of gay rodeo are passing away or becoming less active in the association. The experiences of these western gay women and men are at risk of being forgotten. We work directly with the rodeo association’s archives committee to conduct, transcribe, and archive their oral histories.

Online Exhibit 2016-Present

Partnering with the International Gay Rodeo Association to collect and preserve people’s experiences as LGBTQ+ westerners, this project seeks to protect endangered histories and relocate LGBTQ+ people back into the American West as people continue to build resilient communities.
The Gay Rodeo Oral History Project was created in 2016 with the aid of a University of Idaho Seed Grant which purchased basic equipment and funded travel to several rodeos over the course of a year. Having conducted archival research on the International Gay Rodeo Association at the Autry Museum of the American West, I was struck by the precarious future of the association, the deep commitment of its members, and the rarity of public-facing projects engaged with rural LGBTQ+ communities. I quickly discovered that interviewing at a rodeo presents its own special challenges. Rodeoers often have only 20 minutes to spare between bronc-riding and barrel-racing and rarely is there a place that provides optimal recording conditions. Wanting to capture people’s everyday experiences, I sought a wide cross-section of members: old-timers and newcomers; members of all sexual and gender identities; and competitors and organizers.

bottom of page