Craig Peterson – Identity and Awareness

“I did not meet a gay man . . . until I was 23.”

As many gay and lesbian people do, I had the sense of difference early, as early as six or seven, and had a better understanding by 13 but I just kind of buried that and just did what I was supposed to. By junior high or so [I was aware that I was gay], but I didn’t know what it meant to claim an identity as a gay man. The images on television and the media didn’t look anything like I saw around me at all. So, there was some sort of disconnect on some level.

My coping mechanism paralleled with what’s become known as “the best little boy in the world syndrome,” which was basically, “If I can overachieve and be perfect, in every area of my life, then no one will have any reason not to accept me if they were ever to—God forbid—find out.” My whole high school career was just about being perfect. All the accolades and things I could accumulate never really meant anything. That, to me, had to be a given. High school was tough, which is ironic, because now I talk to my classmates, they’ll reflect and say, “Oh, everyone loved you.” They just perceived me very differently—much more self-confident and established—than I ever thought of myself.

[With Holly,] probably my best friend through at least two-thirds of high school, I pretty much knew, but “didn’t know” [that she was a lesbian] in high school. She came out, probably my sophomore year of college. Then I really didn’t know of any others until I came out myself in my mid-20s. Through social networks, I learned later there were adults, other teachers, and stuff [who were gay in Deer Park]. But it was a pretty isolated experience at the time.

I didn’t meet a gay man, that I knew self-identified, until I was 23. Most of my friends laugh, but for someone to have not had any sort of romantic or physical encounters until you were in your 20s . . . I know some people, regardless of orientation, will talk about childhood experimentation or other things, but I had none of that. None.

I think answered one of the personals in the Spokesman Review. This was prior to the internet, at least in terms of its public use and awareness. They used to have a little section for personals. I think when I stumbled upon it, it was like, “This is an opportunity.” The gentleman, I think, was in the Shadle area. He was older, probably at least 15 years or so. It was just a social experience, just to try to talk, but it just felt kind of unsafe—not that he was unsafe or predatory in any way. It just felt weird in Spokane to talk about these things aloud.

I think he lived at home with his parent and stuff. It reinforced on some level that notion of marginalization—that successful people weren’t gay. At least in this part of the country. That there was a price to pay, in a sense. That you were either odd and marginalized or . . . I probably had some sense of the “down low” thing before: that it would not be spoken of, you wouldn’t know others, you might go out-of-town, or do things elsewhere. I think on some level it reinforced that notion of a heavy price to pay, for coming out

It’s amazing I made it to 23. I figured, I guess, that I could completely bury that part. You know, my mom was kind of a fundamentalist. So sexual desires and things—even in a heterosexual context—it was like sex was for procreation and all of that. I guess, on some level, I believed I could not think about it or incorporate it—that I could just go on with my life and redirect energies.


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.