I lassoed queer joy in a rodeo-loving town, despite my assumptions about rural life
My first Pride celebration happened in a small town in central B.C. But then, why shouldn’t it?
This First Person article is written by Tait Gamble, who lives near Williams Lake, B.C. For more information about First Person stories, see the FAQ.
After graduating from university in Vancouver, I applied for an internship and moved sight unseen to central British Columbia for a year.
Aside from disclosing to my internship manager that I was gay, suggesting implicitly and perhaps prejudicially, "please consider this as you place me in a rural community," I didn't think much about my queerness as I anticipated my move.
I was just relieved to have some semblance of a post-grad plan, and too busy purging my worldly possessions on Craigslist, scouring the internet for a car and playing Life in a Northern Town by The Dream Academy on repeat.
All I could gather about life in Williams Lake, B.C., from my quick Google search, was that it was home to one of the largest professional rodeos in the country. Meanwhile, I am extremely allergic to horses.
I also stalked the Williams Lake Pride Society on Facebook. Their many posts about events and gatherings happening in town were reassuring glimmers of hope, outshining the rather cynical picture some online forums had painted about life in the town of nearly 11,000.
Soon after my arrival, the distraction of settling into a new, unfamiliar place quickly wore off. I found myself in a log home, 20 minutes outside of town, living a cabin-fever dream of commuting, working and texting my family back in Toronto photos of deer on my lawn.
In Vancouver, where I came out in my second year of university, I would take the 99 bus to Commercial Drive, a historically queer neighborhood, and share knowing smiles of camaraderie with people like me. I craved moments of feeling seen in Williams Lake that I'd felt in Vancouver. Watching the pendulum swing for reproductive, trans and queer rights in the United States and in pockets of Canadian political and social discourse made me feel all the more isolated.
As for rural dating? My first post-move date and I matched online, but she was 80 kilometres away. In Vancouver, this distance would've been incomprehensible. Now, it was practically convenient.
In June, the Pride Society put a call out for volunteers to help with our August Pride festivities.
I was early for our first meeting, so I called my parents from the parking lot. It had been months since I'd gathered with my queer friends and community. I'd realized, in all of my introverted glory, that if I wanted to feel more connected and at home as I navigated this new place, I needed to find community and allies here, too. As I watched other volunteers arrive, I felt the distant joy of queer camaraderie bubble up inside me.
A few months later, at a park in town, I led the crafts station for our Pride. As the sun set, I walked alongside local politicians, businesses and community members in our parade. The turnout was much smaller than the Williams Lake Stampede parade that I'd attended the previous month from a strategic, horse allergy-conscious distance. But the enthusiasm of walkers and onlookers alike was matched, if not exceeded. All day, I grinned at the rainbow-clad joviality around me.
I couldn't believe my first proper Pride was happening in Williams Lake. But then, why shouldn't it?
That night, my friends and I danced with a small crowd at an outdoor concert. We cackled with laughter as multi-coloured projections flickered around us. It was triumphant.
Still, I began to feel the wear of living in a place where cisheterosexuality was often assumed. I nursed a disappointing burn when an acquaintance dropped microaggressions over dinner. While not an issue unique to smaller or rural communities, our rainbow crosswalk in town was defaced. The mayor spoke out against the vandalism, and city hall was quick to clean it up.
Fall came, and I'd purposely take that same rainbow crosswalk on my way to my knitting circle. In the frigid cold of winter, I beamed from the audience as I watched a feminist, lesbian love story onstage at the local studio theatre. In the spring, while reckoning with the unknown that awaited me once my contract was up, I harmonized with the Indigo Girls' Watershed while driving along the winding Cariboo Highway.
I learned to talk back to my own perceptions about small and rural areas — queer joy is not inherently urban, but blossoms and belongs everywhere. I learned to carve the feeling of being seen and known within myself, and held on to moments and friendships that made me feel seen for who I was. I learned that to feel seen, I had to gather the courage to show up as myself, too.
This summer, just over a year later, I'll drive 4,400 or so kilometres back to Toronto for grad school, where there are entire queer neighborhoods — some with populations twice the size of Williams Lake. I'll miss the evergreens, wide open skies and my friends. I'll keep crossing rainbow crosswalks on purpose. I'll never stop harmonizing with the Indigo Girls.
I'll have a small town in B.C.'s Interior to thank for helping me claim my queer joy and for teaching me I bring it with me wherever I land.
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