Dean Speaking On:
I’d Like You to Know
Identity and Awareness
Mentoring and Support
Spirituality and Religion
Spokane in Perspective
I think the community is vastly healthier [now, in 2007] than it was in the ‘80s and the ‘90s. There was a period of time when it seemed like I knew every gay man in Spokane. Now, that obviously wasn’t true. And I knew that, but that was the perception. Nowadays you go to an event, and I may know a fourth of the people there—maybe not even that many.
Part of it is new people moving into the community. It’s also other people who have learned to come out. And, just because you’re seen at gay film night doesn’t mean you’re gay. You know, there’s that safety there for people. But it’s also, “So what?” If someone else sees you there, what are they going to say? They’re looking at the same movies that you are. [Laughs.] By people feeling safer, it makes [it] easier for people to be out. And the more people who are out, the safer it becomes.
“What comes first? The chicken or the egg?” With equality comes integration, or with integration comes equality? I’m not sure which comes first. I tend to actually think that integration made it easier for people to get to know us, which made it easier for equality then to happen. So, it’s on a multiple level, one baiting the other and vice versa.
The sense of loss [of a gay subculture], I think, is something that . . . I can only speak from my perspective. I’m guessing it is something that is going to be experienced more from those who are 40 or older, and experienced less by those who are younger. Again, I may be totally wrong on that base but, when we were struggling, we created a sense of community. That is why Castro developed. That is why the Chinatown, Japantown, Little Korea . . . All those communities developed around a sense of familiarity, about commonness, about safety. Castro is the same. Broadway in Seattle, the same. Capitol Hill in Seattle. Those things happen. We needed that, to help us know that we were okay [and safe]. I’m not so sure that young people today, who see more openness all the time and around them, have the same community identity. So, therefore, [they] may not experience the same community identity loss.
Speaking about it from a personal level, I actually have done some reflection on that this summer . The first year Michael and I met, I remember going to a pool party, and the guy is no longer living, but [his place] was up on the north side. He had a big, huge backyard and a big pool. There were probably 40, 50, 60 people coming and going. Mostly gay [men], but there were some lesbians and some straights. I just remember the camaraderie of that many gay people together in one spot. So, when [Michael and I] wanted to have a pool party this summer, you know, inviting some gay men to come over for it, it was like I realized that I could not recreate that experience that I had 27 years ago. The need’s not there. I almost felt like, “Why are we only inviting gay men to this pool party?” It’s 27 years later. The men we invited, most of them, were probably there 27 years ago. You know, we’re not meeting new people.
The biggest [generational] difference is visibility. For me, there were no role models that I’m aware of. I didn’t know the term. I certainly was aware of homosexuality in animals growing up on a farm. I had seen that. I think that the biggest thing is that there was no knowledge, literature, stuff, that was readily available for me in a form that I could recognize. It may have been there, but I didn’t access [it], I didn’t know it was there, or how to—all those kind of things.
I think now . . . Well, “Will and Grace,” which is several years ago. But “Modern Family” and homosexuality is portrayed on television, and in the media, and the movies. Sometimes quite realistically, sometimes not so. But it’s there. Anybody who’s aware would see it.
I read recently a book that a woman wrote. It’s about raising a transgender son, or raising my “rainbow child.” The child is five years old! This mother—there’s no reference to a father, so I don’t know about that—has known from maybe the time the child was two that he has a gender orientation identity that is evolving, and may very well be quite different from what his physical gender is. [The book’s about] how she’s dealt with that, letting him play with . . . It’s not Barbie dolls today . . . It’s whatever the latest fad is. But, I mean, allowing him to pick his own colors, to wear pink, and referring to himself as “her.” She’s allowed him to do those kinds of things, and 50 years ago? Oh! That would be unheard of!
Now, that doesn’t mean that all parents are that in tune, accepting, and okay with it. I still think there are a lot of kids growing up in very religious fundamental[ist] homes who—even though they see the positive images, and they may be able to put terminology to what they’re experiencing—they may need help to identify with it. In some ways, it may be even worse, because they’re seeing, on one side, that homosexuality may be okay, but they’re hearing, on the other side, how it isn’t. That may make it more difficult for some kids today than it was when I was growing up.
The conflict that some kids are having to deal with on a day-to-day basis . . . With the knowledge that’s available to them, they can identify, and maybe from the head, get it. But from the heart, from the love, and from the family, they’re having this totally different message. Growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, there wasn’t a lot of hell and damnation about homosexuality from the church in the pulpit. I don’t think there was a lot. I think there is now. In some ways, for some of those kids being trapped, it may be more difficult. It may be a more horrendous experience than what I went through.
I don’t recall suicide being a big issue of adolescence when I was growing up. I knew of one suicide. Suicide is a big issue now. I don’t know how much of it has to do with this conflict that kids are experiencing—not just over their sexual identity—but other things where society is giving you permission to do one thing and your family, church structure is giving a totally different, diabolical view. It’s difficult to figure how to navigate through those things, when you’re 14, and you haven’t got the life skills and experiences to be able to do that.
I think the information that is available now is too fast and furious. There’s just so much. There is just so much more out there than most people can integrate. It’s hard enough for a 25-year-old, but for a 14- or 15-year-old, or 13-year-old, who does not yet have the life experiences, the coping skills? I think it’s very tough. I’m guessing that maybe it is tougher for them than it was for us.
The television show “Will and Grace” ran from 1998-2006; “Modern Family” began in 2009.
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.