When he was growing up in the town of Hallettsville, Gene Mikulenka thought the word "gay" meant that you smoked pot, that you were cool. One day a couple of guys came into the restaurant where he worked and asked Gene if he was gay. "I did it a couple of weeks ago," he responded, "but I'm not going to do it anymore because it hurt my throat." Gene has come a long way, baby. The confused kid who didn't know a homosexual from a hemphead has grown up to be an openly gay cowboy, representing the queer community in the most macho, hetero, conservative world of all: the rodeo circuit. And he has certainly represented them well. Gene has won the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo three times and earned three world titles in pole bending. And the American Quarter Horse Association has named him to its top-ten list six times. He even did some time as a bareback bronc rider, getting bucked off and stepped on with the best of them. Gene Mikulenka is no sissy, but this cowboy is also not afraid to cry. He gets a little misty when people ask him for autographs or coming-out advice after the occasional MFA screenings of the indie documentary about his life, American Cowboy. "Thank you, Gene," his friends and fans say. "You're riding for all of us."