Dean Speaking On:
I’d Like You to Know
Identity and Awareness
Mentoring and Support
Spirituality and Religion
Spokane in Perspective
For the record, I tend to use “gay community” as being inclusive of gay and lesbian. I don’t always say, “gay and lesbian.” And sometimes it’s “lesbian and gay.” I try not to get hung up on that. Generally, when I use the term “gay,” it’s inclusive. I’m not trying to be exclusive—that is what [“gay”] means to me. If you want to be exclusive, it’s “gay men,” “lesbian.” If you don’t say “men,” then, to me that is inclusive. I’m not offended by “queer,” although I used to be. I’ve grown to accept that and can use it myself, in some settings.
I had not had same-gender experiences that a lot of kids have growing up. [Laughs.] How do I want to say that!? I didn’t participate in that kind of stuff as a kid, with boys or girls. In the fifth grade we used to perform weddings during our recess. There was a block house, [at] the back of the playgrounds. We’d go out and perform weddings. I was usually the minister and said, “Now you can kiss the bride.” But that was pretty innocuous.
I’m not sure I knew any [transgender people in the 1980s]. From a local perspective in Spokane, I think we saw a lot of what we would have called “cross-dressing.” I don’t know . . . I wasn’t aware. People have an ability to see what they want to see and, if you don’t know what you are looking at, then you don’t know what you’re seeing. [Laughs.]
Quincy had a population of about 3,600, and we lived on a farm five miles out-of-town. My cousins were a quarter-of-a-mile away. Quite frankly, I don’t remember any messages about homosexuality growing up. I just don’t remember that. I remember there was a kid in my class, a classmate . . . Now, I graduated in a class of 119 and 69 of us had been together since first grade. So, you know, I have 12 years of experience and relationship with many of them, more than half of my class. With this one kid—his last name was “Manley,” and he was the least manly person I knew. I do not recall him ever being teased. I mean, he was much more into music, art, acting, and all of those stereotypical things, but I don’t recall him ever being the butt of jokes. If it happened, it didn’t happen in my presence that I remember. I have tried. I’ve thought. I’ve gone back and tried to think about what messages I had learned. I just don’t have any recollection of any messages about homosexuality growing up.
I do know, obviously somewhere, I got the message that it was wrong. I have no idea where. I got the very strong message that you grow up, you get married, you live in a house with a white picket fence, and have two kids and a dog. I mean, that was the pop culture, “Leave It To Beaver.” I very strongly remember that. But we didn’t have television until I was a teenager, so I wasn’t exposed to that in younger years.
I was not in circles where we did a lot of talking about sexuality. You know, boys will be boys, and girls will be girls. But I didn’t have those conversations. Maybe it was because I didn’t have idle time with other kids my age. I loved going to school. I looked forward to going to school because that was social. The rest of the time, you know, I was home. I was working on the farm, involved in 4-H, FFA, athletics, and all those kinds of activities. There was very little idle time. Neighbors in the city would go play, or go in their room and house. We didn’t have people coming over, because we were farm people. We were working. I don’t remember having those kinds of conversations.
It’s just a funny thing. I don’t remember having any conversations with my parents . . . talking about the birds and the bees. We didn’t talk about sexuality.
In hindsight: I went to all those school dances and the sock hops. I was socially very active. More often than not, I took or went with one of my classmates that would not have a date otherwise. Whether that was my way of being a social worker, being friendly and reaching out to people, or whether it was a subconscious part of me directing me to people who I would not ever have a long-term relationship with . . . I was not ever dating someone who would be a potential spouse. I find that’s an interesting aspect of my adolescence.
I’m guessing there were probably times when adults were together and the kids are around and something is said that you don’t necessarily remember hearing, but it made an imprint. I know Michael, growing up and in the Catholic tradition, he had cousins that were molested by the priests. There was conversation about that. You know, there was a lot of hush, hush. But people knew that “You don’t leave your sons alone with Father-So-and-So.” They knew that. I wasn’t aware of that, where I grew up.
I was seeing a therapist when I met Michael. And had seen him that day, or the day before. I don’t know that I ever would have fully come out and accepted had I not found a partner. Maybe I would’ve, but it wouldn’t surprise me that—if I’d continued in the field I was in—I probably never would have let it be known publicly that I was a gay man, [if I had been] without a partner. I’d lived that life so long. You learn how to use the pronouns, how to protect yourself—and not answer questions, and not say something that will lead someone to ask a question that you don’t want to have to answer. I could’ve lived that life a long time. I don’t have the stereotypical features of a gay man.
I remember, at one point in time, Michael was one that really helped me come to acceptance. We were walking home from downtown and having a conversation. And he said something along the lines of, “When you see a beautiful woman and a handsome man walking towards you on the street, who are you attracted to?” That was very clear, that it was the handsome man. I mean, I can respect and observe a beautiful woman, but it was the handsome man that got my attention. And [Michael said,] “Okay! Well, what more is there to this?” That was very helpful.
No implication that he actually was gay is intended.
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.