“It’s called the Gay Rodeo, but obviously it is not limited to gay people. It’s all-welcoming. That is the key.”
– Phil, competitor

The American West is home to many countercultures, and gay rodeo is one of them. It contradicts the prevailing idea of the cowboy, which typically does not include diverse roles or sexual identities. Born out of discrimination it has become the chosen family for many who do not feel at home in regular rodeos or whose families still do not accept their sexual identities. The carnivalistic drag culture is an essential part of it, and everyone is allowed to take part in any sport regardless of their gender.

I wanted to know more about this rodeo circuit and these people – “the rodeo family,” as I soon learned. Everyone had a story to tell and many shared theirs with me. I have been roaming the rodeo grounds for eight years, from 2011 to 2019, in and around the International Gay Rodeo Association’s Finals Rodeos in Fort Worth, Texas, and Las Vegas, Nevada, the Arizona Gay Rodeos in Phoenix, Arizona, and the Zia Regional Rodeo in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Bio: Karoliina Paatos has spent nearly two decades on personal long-term projects while also covering subjects for leading Finnish publications. Her versatile work spans photography, video, artist’s books, and installations. A graduate of Aalto University’s MA program in Photography in Finland and the University of Arizona’s MFA program in the US, Paatos exhibits frequently in solo and group shows globally. She published her first monograph, “American Cowboy,” with The Angry Bat in 2016, followed by her second photobook, “Heroes,” in 2021. Paatos’ work has garnered numerous awards both in Finland and abroad.