Dean Lynch – Coming Out

“A good 15-year process.”

[Coming out] was a good 15-year process. When I was at WSU [in 1972], the students of the social work program had the opportunity to go to Seattle, where there were different social service organizations that we could spend the weekend sampling. One of the organizations that I went to was a gay community center. That really was the beginnings of my coming out process. Afterwards, those of us who were 21 got to go to a gay bar. That was my first introduction to the subculture, the gay scene—at least that part of the gay scene, because that is certainly only a portion of it. [At that time, I] was not out to anybody and I was just struggling myself. I can’t say I was even out to myself. It was a safe opportunity. There were several of us that went. I don’t know if I had known anybody at college, at that point, who was out. It was all part of external exploration serving an internal purpose as well.

There were other options [in visiting social service organizations during that trip to Seattle]. I would say that [in visiting the gay community center] I was acting upon my subconscious of needing to understand who I was. I also had a very strong value system—that’s not the right word I’m looking for—but I enjoyed growing my hair long. I remember my parents’ friends, and [people] in the Quincy area [talking about] “those hippies.” I remember disparaging comments about young people, hippies, the war protesters, and that kind of thing. I liked the fact that I could grow a beard and let my hair grow—it was never really long, but let it grow—and go back and say, “I’m still the same person that I was when I left, six months ago.” You know, “How can you be so critical of me because I have long hair? You can’t judge all people [just] because they have long hair!” [I was] doing my fair share, being responsible to help society breakdown stereotypes. All those kinds of things. I think there probably was some of that in going to the community center.

I was probably between conscious and subconscious [at that point]—if there is such a space. There were hints. There were little things that weren’t making sense, but I had not made the leap that “I am [gay.]” But [there was] enough doubt or question. You know, “Why had I not had any long-lasting relationships that we all have in high school? That’s a generalization, I understand—but those kinds of things. I don’t remember having really strong feelings towards men over women, or vice versa, at that time.

I didn’t come out until I met my partner in ‘86. I was still in therapy. At that point, I decided that, if I was going to live in a relationship, it was time. My last [foster] boys were leaving in ’86. I wasn’t going to take in any more kids. So, it was easier to move out of the closet when that was done. There were several things that happened in my life at that time.

It was probably ‘87 [when I came out to my family]. I had taken [my partner] Michael [Flannery] with me to some family occasions like Thanksgiving, Christmas, whatever. So, they had known him a little bit, when I finally sat down with my parents. My mom cried and my father said “Well, if that is what you choose, then that is okay.” It was like, “Dad, this is not what I choose. This is not a choice. I spent thousands of dollars to not be this way.” I didn’t actually say that; this was my thought. Knowing my father, that was all he could say. That is what his knowledge base was. My parents then both warmed up to it.

My sister said that her daughters—she had three daughters—were never to know. Yet Michael was with me at all these occasions, all these holidays. But it was never discussed. It [was] hard. My sister has warmed up towards Michael.

My brother, we’ve never talked about it. We are very different people. We see each other and say, “Hi.” We are not close at all. Because we are not close, we don’t have conversations. I’m really not sure whether it has to do with sexual orientation, or that we are just totally different people. I played basketball, which was the glory sport in Quincy, and he was a wrestler. I was in the scholastic eleven and the honors society; he was barely passing. He hung out with a group that did more drinking and rebellion, and I was just the opposite. I went to the university and he got drafted and went to Vietnam. Our experiences are just vastly different. We don’t have a whole lot in common. My sister-in-law has been very accepting of Michael.

The [family member] who was the absolutely most accepting was my grandmother. She and her second husband—her first husband had died—had a motor home, just a small motor home that was parked in the driveway. Whenever we would go over there for a Thanksgiving and want to spend the night, she’d always put us up in the motor home. No questions were asked and she was always accepting of my partner.

Parents deal with the guilt: “What did I do wrong?” and all those kinds of things. Grandparents can see things from a different perspective. Grandma is 93 now [in 2007] and she was from a generation of live and let live.[1] She’s seen a lot and was raised very differently than my parents were.

[My grandmother] understood that people were different. That we’re not all the same. Her family had to struggle. As a girl growing up, as a child growing up, she had to struggle. As a young mother, she was struggling. She related to the time when they didn’t have any money, and grandpa worked in the company mill. The hardware store/grocery store combination would run a tab for them during the winter. Then, when they could work again, they’d pay it off. They did that for several years. I talked to grandma about that, and they didn’t do that for everybody. Not everybody had that kind of an arrangement. She knows what it’s like to struggle.

When she first accepted us, it wasn’t like, “Dean, I know you’re gay and that’s fine.” I never had that conversation with her. It was, “Dean, you and Michael are going to stay overnight at our place. There’s some other people here as well. Why don’t the two of you go out and stay in the motor home?” Acknowledging that we were a couple. That made it easy for us, made it easy for everybody. There was never any question. Situations where a young man may bring his fiancé home to see the family, and the family says, “Were you going to sleep in separate rooms?” She never made the assumption that we wanted separate beds.

Another time, there was something that was done on a piece of legislation. I don’t remember which one it was. And she told me! She said, “Well,” you know, “they passed that.” We had a little conversation.

For all of us it’s different, but for each new person I met who found out about my sexual orientation, it was easier for [me to let] the next one [know]. It just sort of becomes, I wouldn’t say second nature, but . . .

If I thought about it, I’m sure I could come up with a scenario in which I would still find it very awkward to say, “Yeah, I’m a gay man.” I would revert back to the old non-disclose-who-I-am routine. I did that for a long time.

[1]DL clarified: “My maternal grandmother was born in 1913 and died in 2012 at age 99.”


Sources: Two interviews with Maureen Nickerson [c. 2007]; transcribed by K. M. and Laura S. Hodgman; edited by Maureen Nickerson and Laura S. Hodgman; held in the Northwest Museum for Arts and Culture. Interviews with Laura S. Hodgman on 25 July 2013 and 12 September 2013.