Over the last 14 years I have lived in New York City, I have had repeated conversations with people I meet that follow a particular, unwavering script:
Person: “Where did you grow up?”
Me: “I’m from Wyoming.”
Me: “No, Wyoming.”
Person: “Oh... that’s weird.”
I understand why they think it’s weird: to outsiders, Wyoming, the least-populated state in the nation, seems impossible, remote, obscure. Its entire population has not yet hit 600,000, despite being a gigantic trapezoid of land plopped in the middle of the country. When I lived in capital city Cheyenne, for the first 18 years of my life, it seemed like a big deal when we hit 57,000 citizens. Now it hovers around 64,000, and when I go back to visit my mother and the rest of mi familia, Cheyenne feels developed and advanced, a shining mini-metropolis from whence I came. My family, like many others across Wyoming, migrated from Mexico with promises of jobs on the railroad. By the time I came along it was pure hell for someone like me, who espoused passionately progressive politics even as a kid, but it’s gotten incrementally better. I was gone by the time Matthew Shepard was murdered in Laramie—a college town, arguably Wyoming’s most progressive place—but my best friend, the only out gay person in my high school, lived there then and it shook us to our cores. (He lives in New York City now, too.) But last year, in 2017, Cheyenne held its first-ever Pride Parade; my little cousin helped organize it, and I was as proud of her as a dream.
So when I first heard that Kanye West was recording his new work in Wyoming, I was lightly annoyed, but reserving judgement; I didn’t automatically go full Anne Helen Peterson with it, but I wasn’t optimistic, either. (As of this morning, I have listened to a total of 58 seconds of “I Thought About Killing You,” the first song on YE; I turned it off because I’m not particularly interested in hearing an expressly right-wing man orate about his impulses to murder “the one [he] loves” in a casual fashion.) Besides, saying you’re recording in “Wyoming” when you really mean Jackson Hole is like saying you live in “Los Angeles” when you really mean Calabasas: Jackson Hole and all its luxury skiing and spas and rich people and celebrities are about as far from my Wyoming as I can conjure. It’s the domain of the wealthy, to my mind largely divorced from the bison ranchers of the southeast, or the rugged intellectuals of Sheridan and Laramie, or the Shoshone and Northern Arapahoe of the Wind River Reservation, or the people my mom works with at the horse track, or RuPaul’s husband Georges, or even the aggrieved miners of Gillette.
But at the same time, with Kanye’s recent pro-MAGA turn, a Wyoming-based album somewhat makes sense; it’s a dyed-in-the-wool red state, and probably will always be. Despite being home to a small but resilient multiplicity of marginalized communities of color, Wyoming gave us the demon Dick Cheney and the absolutely dreadful Mike Enzi, both of whom are recognizable to me as archetypal Wyoming good ol’ boy stock, and purely hateful. Wyoming is, more than anywhere I’ve ever been (I haven’t been to the Dakotas), a place where the aftereffects of violent Western Expansion can still be tangibly felt. The aftereffects are its pulse. It took me a long time to untangle my complicated feelings about my home state and get to a point where it didn’t feel like a physical manifestation of alienation, but I finally came to a point of complicated love and appreciation, and knowledge that my own mettle and hustle was ingrained not just because of my mom and family’s immigrant experience, but because they had that immigrant experience explicitly there. It was a hellish place to grow up, but it was a great place to grow up, and the horizon is still more beautiful than anything else.
All of this is a long-winded way to say that Kanye’s new Wyoming merch, a compendium of sweatshirts tailor-made for Supreme stans and going for $65-$145 is extremely annoying for someone who, routinely for going on two whole decades, has been repeatedly made to justify why being from Wyoming does not mean I rode horses to school or shot guns or like to climb rocks. (I have ridden a horse one time—you have to be rich for that shit!!—I despise guns, and I fucking HATE rock climbing.) The merch is extremely annoying for someone who has tried to get my friends to come with me to visit my mom for years, and then yet some of those friends who haven’t done so (yes, it’s personal) just happened to pop on a private jet to listen to an album by a guy whose new best friend is Candace Owens. It’s extremely annoying that Kanye is trying to make Wyoming ~the concept~ some hot new kitschy hypebeast shit, after I’ve spent my entire life trying to parse my complex relationship with my particular home state, and now the cool teens of the cities are going to think that Wyoming is cool, while the actual weirdo teens of Wyoming are gonna continue to be gripped by ennui and throwing tiny concerts at the community center and maybe, if they’re lucky enough to live in Cheyenne, smoking weed at the skate park and dreaming of another, bigger life. Where was Kanye when I was 17?! The entire scenario irks in an entirely personal fashion, particularly when I think about my baby cousins, my sisters really, back in Wyoming now, saving every penny of their meager paychecks so they can just get out.
Anyway, if you’re interested in a Wyoming t-shirt at a more affordable price, here is a University of Wyoming bucking bronco shirt for $12.99, in the team colors of brown-and-gold, the latter of which is also known as Gen Z Yellow, and is really very cool right now.