Craig Peterson – I’d Like You to Know

“They were completely unspoken rules.”

[I wanted to talk about] the small town rules and stuff. I know your project is focusing more on Spokane, but so many people that end up in Spokane come from outlying areas, so I think that dynamic still is real important to understanding how Spokane works. There is just that sense of “code,” I guess, about a lot of LGBT stuff. It goes back to this notion of, “Are you a friend of Dorothy,” or “Liza,” or those sorts of coded ways of communicating with each other.

Certainly within the larger community, they just had very clear, unspoken rules that it was growing increasingly okay to be gay, as long as you never talked about it. I think some of that’s still in place, to lesser degrees. The larger community would have all sorts of coded language about people who were “different,” or folks who were “friends,” or “roommates.” All of this evasive language to talk about it, which was really shaming in many ways, because it really made it very clear that this was not okay.

The larger emphasis that I really felt in Spokane and the area was, “We’re doing you a favor by throwing table scraps to you. You should be grateful for whatever scraps you get. You should never, ever hope for equality.” Even the notion of employment rights or other things: they were just beginning to try to wrap their minds around it. It’s like, “If you break these rules and become public, then you deserve what you get. It may be unfortunate, but you asked for it.” It was kind of the ethos that I grew up with here.

[What I mean by “scraps” is,] if you got incorporated into the social circles, political circles, business circles, or whatever, it was sort of condescending, like “Oh, aren’t we great because we have gay friends?” It’s a sort of bone they throw you. You’re sort of a novelty or party treat for them. Socially, it would be that sort of thing. It was very confusing at the time, because you felt like you were supposed to be grateful, except you felt the condescension and you didn’t internally feel grateful. There was just a lot of those sorts of experiences. There was very clear roles, or parts, that gay and lesbian folks could be cast in.

I had a conversation with [my friend Bob] from Deer Park yesterday.[1] He called me up later as he was reflecting some stories [we had discussed]. His best friend was a hairdresser in Deer Park, who was a flamboyant gay man. They loved him, because he fit the role of hairdresser and flamboyant gay. [Bob] did a bunch of catering, and they loved him because, again, he was a flamboyant gay who catered. They would give him gifts, use [the catering business], and just really affirm them, because they fit into the role that gay and lesbians were supposed to play. I was the enemy, because I didn’t on many levels.

They were completely unspoken rules: it never once was it articulated. Yet it was so crystal clear that those of us who wrestled with it knew. [So stereotypical “gay” behavior was tolerated.] “We’ll let you live here. We’ll go to your businesses. We’ll do these things—as long as you stay in your place.”


If you want to understand sexuality in Eastern Washington and Spokane, it’s all through the lens of relationship. As long as people here were talking about a son, daughter, cousin, best friend or neighbor, that’s one conversation. If you move into the abstract issues about gay marriage or whatever, that’s a completely other issue.

I think the way that the movement will continue to go forward is through the coming out stories and experiences here, and to make it as relational as possible.

This is where, if you look at Washington State as a whole, it would be wonderful to see a marriage commercial done: have a marriage conversation about two individuals getting ready for their wedding, and the family members who were excited for it. That would be the most impactful way of moving an issue like that forward in Eastern Washington. But those kind of commercials will never get made, because Seattle would look at that and say, “That’s a dumb idea. We need to talk about . . . whatever.” That Seattle/Eastern Washington divide also makes things harder, because Seattle doesn’t understand Spokane.

[1]“Bob” is a pseudonym.


Sources: Interview with Maureen Nickerson, [December 2006?]; transcribed by Maureen Nickerson and Laura S. Hodgman; edited by Laura S. Hodgman; held at the Northwest Museum for Arts and Culture. Interview with Laura S. Hodgman on 21 August 2012; transcribed by J. Zander; edited by Laura S. Hodgman.