Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Anthropology

Committee Chair

Richard Sattler

Commitee Members

Annie Sondag, Bryan Cochran, Greg Campbell, Kimber Haddix-McKay


anthropology, closeted, LGBT, rural, sexuality


University of Montana


Often synonymous with the rural environment is a sense of a heteronormativity and pervasive homophobia. Despite stories of gay men fleeing rural, conservative areas for larger, more accepting cities, not all men have chosen to leave. Some have chosen to quietly maintain their identity, modifying their sexual schemata in response to the desire to stay within the rural cultural environment. It is known that homophobia and stigmatization of same-sex sexual acts regulate a person's ability to be open about their sexual encounters, but exactly how they influence the daily lives of down low men who have sex with men (MSM) remains unknown.

Influenced by schema theory and informed by queer theory, the current study investigated the role of the rural environment in shaping men's decisions to remain on the down low about their same-sex sexual activity and the impact of that decision on daily life. It sought to understand the influence of the rural environment on men's decisions to not be out about their same-sex sexual identity and in turn how that decision influenced sexual risk behavior and HIV prevention. The data gathered during semi-structured qualitative interviews with forty-five self-identified closeted men living in Montana was analyzed using a modified grounded theory approach.

Several reasons for remaining closeted emerged and the level that each man was affected by his decision to remain closeted differed. Overarching themes of isolation and depression emerged from men feeling as if they had no choice, but to remain closeted while living in a rural environment. For many, homosexuality is still viewed in direct contrast to these traditional ideals, leaving many men questioning how to maintain their place within the rural social environment. As Gerard Wright states, "being gay in `cowboy country' similarly involves tactics of sexual camouflage: To be gay in western states such as Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Montana is to know when and how to `butch up' or `cowboy up." One means of maintaining this sense of "camouflage" adopted by rural men is to remain on the down low about their same-sex sexual activity. A desire for increased social support and a more accepting social environment emerged from this research.

This dissertation provides a voice for men previously excluded from the literature on rural sexual minorities. It provides insight into men's everyday life experiences stemming from feelings of having to remain closeted about a part of their personal identity. This dissertation seeks to contribute to the literature on rural gay lives.



© Copyright 2012 Amee Marie Schwitters