Christopher Lawrence – Discrimination

“That redneck is a part of God too.”

We [hippies] weren’t violent in any of our demonstrations—any of the ones I was involved with. We didn’t actually suffer much violence. I mean, people threw things occasionally, but I never got hit with anything. It got more violent later. By the time I moved to San Francisco, for those few years [1986-89], there was definitely more violence. That was the first time where I got so pissed off that I pounded on the hood of somebody’s car. This is at Castro and Market Street. The corner of Castro and Market, that is the intersection for [the] gay district. I’m crossing Market, and I’m with several other people, in the crosswalk on Market. This convertible, four high school kids, or young college kids, guys, started calling us “queers” and “faggots.” I guess I had just had enough. I had already been working with HIV in the community for a long time, and I had just had enough. I just walked right up to their car and I pounded with both fists several times really hard. I called them “breeders.” I screamed at them: “And you’re fuckin’ breeders. Get the hell out of our territory!” And they did. [Laughs.] I wasn’t very smart to do that, but there were plenty of us around. I doubt we would have ended up being the victims. I think that’s the first time that my rage actually just came boiling out. And it did just come boiling out. I’d not ever had a reaction like that before.


I was talking to my next-door neighbors, who are very devout Christians, and they were asking me about being gay and about some of the gays who are in-your-face. [They asked,] “Doesn’t it bother you that they’re . . .” When I said, “Well, people are focusing on the ones that are the most obvious, the loudest, and most stereotypical. They’re just part of the fabric. That’s not all of who we are. We’re very diverse.” I said, “I don’t resent them anymore. They’re just who they are. I would rather they felt more balanced, and more centered, and didn’t feel like they had to act out in the ways they do, but that’s who they are at this point in their lives.” This light went on in her face, in her head, and she said, “Sort of like the Christians who embarrass us!” I said, “Exactly like that. [Laughs.] The ones who are preaching hate, and divisiveness. Exactly like that.” They got it. Right then, they got it.

[I said,] “Okay, so this visibility thing really isn’t about forcing themselves upon us. It’s about being allowed to be who they are, no matter who they are. If they didn’t feel like they were marginalized, that there was something wrong with them, they probably wouldn’t be reacting like that.” There’s always going to be a range of feminine to masculine. That’s a natural way of being, in all animals, whether you’re mammal or not. That’s a natural way of being, from feminine aspects, because we made those up. We put them in it together into groups. I said, “There’s always going to be that range.But the ones that are really out of range, the ones that are so far from the center that they seem so stereotypically odd, I really do believe that that’s part of the ‘dis-ease’ of homosexuality. Not the ‘disease,’ but that ‘dis-ease’ of being a homosexual—that fear that you’re not good enough, and you’re not alright.”

I was part of that [marginalization of others within the LGBT community]. I realized it just about the year before I joined OutSpokane. I was working on that for that full year. I realized that I had started looking at transgenders as people who were really gay, and just didn’t know it. I started looking at drag queens as people who were just acting out. I had started doing that myself: the marginalization, from within my own community. When I had that epiphany, then I began to root it out. I began to, every time I saw it, every time I heard that voice, I’d say, “Oh, that’s not the right voice! [Laughs.] That’s not the truth.” But yes, I think there’s a lot of that within our own community, and within the greater community. That’s one of the things that we’ve really tried to work on with OutSpokane and the Vision Committee is saying, “No, we’re welcoming everyone.”

The reason I joined OutSpokane was because it was being run by just the obvious dykes and the drag queens, and I didn’t want that to be the representation of the community. I was still in that spot though. When I got into it, I realized: but they still do represent our community. So, I immediately did a turnaround on that, and said, “Okay. Now, we are not dis-including these people.” It wasn’t all lesbians I felt that way about, of course, it was just certain ones, the ones who were just marginally stereotypical. [Laughs.] I had all the same bullshit going in my head that everybody else does around the prejudices.

I’ve been a feminist my whole life. It wasn’t really the lesbians that I had a problem with, even though I felt like they were being more masculine they had to be: they were acting out or they were overcompensating. It was more the drag queens. I had a real thing then about the drag queens. Admittedly the drag queens in this town are not very talented, and they are not very good looking, compared to other places I’ve been. I think I had a particular discrimination toward them from my background in professional theater, because in my life I’ve seen . . . Christopher Peterson was more what I was like used to in my life, when I saw female impersonators. His live show is the thing. It’s amazing, because he is really professional. He uses his own voice. He sings in his own voice, he has arrangements done for himself, he makes his own costumes, he changes on stage, he has patter that he uses. My first gig professionally was working with drag queens. I was the choreographer at a gay bar. It was the first thing that made money for me, and kept me in school. I had a partner who used to be a ballet dancer, with Royal Ballet of Winnipeg, so I could do lifts and ballet with her. Talk about impersonation . . . [Laughs.] It was really smooth. She looked like a ballerina.

When I saw the stuff I saw when I came here, I immediately just put up my nose to it. I still have an attitude about it. I’m getting better about it, but I still have professional attitude about it. You know, “Come on, guys. Grow up and do this as a professional, if you’re going to do it.” I don’t know that I will ever really lose all that, because [laughs] in theater that’s what you have to expect, or else you get crap. [Laughs.] You know? I worked hard when I was in theater, and I wanted to be professional. I wanted to be smooth. I wanted the illusion to be an illusion that was so good that people forget who they are, where they are, what they’re doing. All they do is they come into the illusion that you’re creating, the story you’re giving them, the picture you have created, the whatever-it-is. That’s the whole point of theater, is to take somebody out of where they are, and let them be in a new place. If you besmirch that illusion by being sloppy with it, and not caring, and sort of spitting on it, like some of the drag queens do, it’s not professional. It’s not doing the thing that I worked so many years to perfect. It’s more of a sideshow.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, to not be “other than.” You have to know that you’re “the same as.” It’s a really, really difficult thing to internalize that I am the same as that redneck. And that that redneck is a part of God too. It’s really difficult to internalize that. It’s much easier to internalize that I’m part of God, and he’s a loser. You know? It just is.


[Some neighborhood kids] were starting to mess with our car one night. I saw them there, and I went out the front door, and I was ready to kill them, because I knew they were the ones [who had been harassing us]. I was full of hate. I was full of hatred. I was full of hate and anger and I was ready to kill. I literally could have throttled them. So, I was after them. Luckily they were on their bicycles and they got away from me. But that’s the only way they got away from me. I was at a flat run, and I was still a dancer, a dancer’s body at the time, and I can run fast. [Laughs.] Scared the crap out of them! I told them that I’d kill them if I ever got my hands on them. They never came back after that; their family moved away shortly after. That’s the worst experience we’ve had in our home. The only really bad experience.


Well, [my partner] Kevin was beaten up in front of Dempsey’s, and he wasn’t even going in.[1] He was just walking past one time, and had to go to the hospital for stitches. That was, I think, 1990. Or ‘89.


[I think Spokane is a safe place] in general. I wouldn’t wander at night in the Hillyard area, or some parts downtown. I wouldn’t be afraid to walk in those areas by myself. But I wouldn’t wander there. I wouldn’t recommend people wander there. I think in general Spokane’s a fairly safe place.


Gay men who don’t get feminism . . . That pisses me off. It really does. I [unintelligible] a nun who wrote this wonderful book about feminism as being the cause of homophobia. It’s a great book.[2] She really nailed it. She just nailed it completely! I reviewed it, of course, for the paper. Whenever I get stuff like that I try to do that. That’s the best part of it.


People feel [your fear]. They can see it. What I learned when I was young was, when you walking down the street in New York and you don’t want to be beaten up, you walk you like you can handle yourself—like you could kick the shit out of anybody. You walk down the street like you have a place you’re going, and you’re attached to it. You know? [Laughs.] You can stop and look around, but when your intent is there, it’s clear. But you have to create it. We do that by what we believe, and what we think and feel, and we have choices over that. It’s been very helpful to me.

Most of us go through life thinking we’re victims of our lives. And it’s true, life does happen. But, you know, it’s just like the lemons: it is what you do with it. The thing people don’t really get is how powerful they are. They’re powerful enough to make themselves into victims. They don’t know that they’re doing it. They’re powerful enough to have all these things happened to them, and they don’t know that they’re doing it. [Bad things happen] to everyone. What was it my mother said? She denies this now, because she’s 85 and very proper. “Life is fair. Everyone gets screwed eventually.” [Laughs.] You just know that’s what it is, and you go, “Okay, this is what is. Now, if I did help create that, then I need to figure that out, and then I need to get myself in a place where I’m creating what I want.”


What I had figured out years ago was that there were people in our community who were racist. I was raised that, that’s not okay. I was just raised that’s not okay. I was a Kennedy child. It wasn’t okay! [Laughs.] It was only later that my mother picked up a little bit of prejudice from her husband. Not much, just a little.

My understanding from a few [people of color] that I know, is that there is an obvious [racial] division, at least amongst the [gay] men. I never heard Bridget [Potter] say that. I do believe there is to some degree, just because we are in a redneck society. You know, when I moved here, it was less than 3 percent people of color. I think we’re up to 7 or 8 percent now. It was almost a year before I figured out what was wrong. I was working in Dr. Corell’s office, we got our first black patient, and I went, “Crap!” I mean, suddenly it hit me. I had the vague feeling there was something not right. It just [snaps fingers]—like that!—hit me like a ton of bricks. When she walked in, she was very sophisticated. She was a lawyer, I think. Her husband was a doctor or something and—so no stereotypes at all. I just thought that was very interesting. Then she was fun to talk to and working on her ting points. Of course, in an hour and a half I get to know people. Yeah, it just was like, “Oh, my God! How did I get into a place that’s just white toast?” It was white bread; that’s what this place has been. It is improving but you don’t see very many people who are of color in the [gay community]. We see more “of color,” but not very many Black. You see there is more a little more Asian, which is really becoming much larger on the coast, just hugely larger on the coast. I think soon, they’re going to be a majority of people of color, instead of people who are white, and that’s fine with me. I think that’s absolutely fine. But it’s not so much the Black, it’s more Asian and Hispanic, and some of the Middle East countries. That’s fine. I was raised that this is supposed to be a melting pot. I was never inoculated the other way.


[1]Dempsey’s Brass Rail was a well-known gay bar.

[2]Suzanne Pharr, Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism, Little Rock, 1997.


Source: Interview with Maureen Nickerson, 8 August 2007; audio held in the Museum of Arts and Culture; transcribed and edited by Laura S. Hodgman.