All over North Dakota, men are drilling into mudholes. Also, there’s a lot of oil industry activity going on. And, of course, whiny people are whining about both of these things. A journalist traveled to North Dakota to seek out gay men and catalog their whining; because that’s what journalism is about these days.
Attitudes are shifting, but the state’s socially conservative heritage still looms large. Same-sex relationships are often intensely private—if not wholly covert—affairs, and LGBT-friendly spaces remain exasperatingly limited. Online platforms like Grindr provide a means for some gay workers in the area to connect with one another. But the sorts of fleeting and—for the most part—one-on-one interactions they enable don’t do much to break the overall sense of solitude.
Homophobia never lingers far from the surface. “I was at a bar the other night, when this guy started calling me a ‘fucking queer,’” Jon Kelly, a burly 29-year-old real estate developer who moved to Williston four years ago, told me. “I’ve been out for ten years, and nobody’s ever said that to me.”
If you need a whole community of other gay people around you, maybe your place is West Hollywood, not North Dakota. I can’t escape the feeling that the actual gay men who’ve moved out to the oil fields are more comfortable with their environment than Mr. Big City reporter is, and a lot of the discomfort he is projecting is his own.