It was 1998 or 1999. I would regularly haunt a little dive bar, called The Cove, in southern Idaho.
Twin Falls wasn’t a tiny rural town, but it couldn’t claim to be large either.
It did have the tendency to be religious and conservative.
At the time I way trying to navigate my early twenties whilst being bi, Pagan, and depressed.
This particular bar had been around for decades and I had always enjoyed going there as a kid to eat greasy fried finger steaks and chicken strips.
So, I was naturally drawn to it as an adult. Only this time, I sat at the bar and not one of the dim booths.
I went there to drink, not party. There were other places better suited to that insanity.
I didn’t hide who I was here but I did not advertise it either.
As impervious as our twenties make us feel, I was no idiot. I didn’t want to fight, and most folks had guns.
I could handle your standard ignorant redneck. An angry asshole however was another matter.
Plus, I had better things to do than get in a scrape with a homophobic idiot.
‘This was a real cowboy’
I was not normally chatty, but get enough alcohol in me and I actually enjoy talking to whoever is at the next stool over.
On one particular evening, I over-confidently engaged in conversation with the Cowboy.
I never knew his name, but you always knew when he was in the bar.
When taking a shot, he would slam it down it on the bar so hard it made everyone jump.
This was a real cowboy, not some farm kid who listens to a lot of country music in his new Ford, but an actual ranch hand who worked at one of the local ranches.
He usually smelled faintly of horseshit and Stetson cologne. Chatty and affable, he liked to make the rounds at the various bars in town.
One night he planted his ass in the stool next to mine, flirting friendly with the bartender, and slammed down his first shot. He started talking to me, we bought each other a round, and nothing was out of the ordinary.
I do remember that I was not in a mood to be conversational. In fact, I had a dark cloud above me that day.
I would later learn these are not the moods to drink on.
But I sat there letting him engage me in conversation and trading rounds with him.
Feeling chatty, yet irritable, is not the greatest combination.
We started talking about LGBT issues, against my better judgement.
He maintained a ‘Queers are fine by me. They are just doing their thing, but if they try and hit on me, I’ll beat the shit out of them,’ stance.
This did not shock me. His attitude stayed consistent with the status quo of the time and place.
I blame the extra shots and beer for telling him I was bisexual.
I expected a fight, or at least some sort of angry straight guy talk. I braced myself.
‘You’re the reason everyone has AIDS,’ he said. To say I wasn’t expecting that would be an understatement.
He said it so nonchalant. I had no words.
I asked him to repeat, because I couldn’t have possibly heard him correctly.
‘You Bisexuals. You are the reason that AIDS is everywhere. Shit, even the women have it now. They wouldn’t have if they didn’t fool around with guys like you.’ He continued.
I don’t remember what I said. Something to the effect that the AIDS epidemic didn’t spread into the ‘straight world’ just because of us.
‘Yeah, doing drugs, I heard about that. It’s a damn shame too, but they fuck around with you half-a-faggots. If you’d just screw around with your own, then I would have to worry about it when I take someone home.’
His words remain permanently etched in my brain.
He continued his theory in drunken repetition, trying to convince me that AIDS wouldn’t have been a problem if it had stayed within the gay population.
He reiterated that he held no ill will towards ‘queers’ in a gesture of compassion.
I tried to explain to him just how ludicrous his ideas were. I wanted to inform him bisexuals were not a conduit for disease!
Then he said, ‘I’d get checked, if I were you. Hard to tell if you’ve already done some damage.’
That was it. I was officially done.
Was this the stigma we had to face?
My booze-addled brain meant I interpreted his statement as him personally blaming me for the entire epidemic.
I hit my tipping point. I wanted to knock this cowpuncher out right then and there.
While I did, and do, have my anger issues, I am not violent. At this point didn’t matter though.
I probably should mention that up until this point, I had never been in a fight in my life.
There would be no way I would win.
Gently I set my beer down, slowly turned in my seat, and stood up.
He had his back to me, busy flirting another drink out of the bartender.
‘Turn the fuck around,’ I told his back, but in the din of bar, he didn’t hear me.
Instead of waiting for him to turn around, better sense swam heroically to the front of my brain and told me to leave.
I stumbled home, feeling the heavy weight of his words.
Both the funk, and the hangover, stayed with me far longer than I would have liked.
While I haven’t come across anyone else who verbalized the same sentiment, I never forgot it.
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