Dean Speaking On:
I’d Like You to Know
Identity and Awareness
Mentoring and Support
Spirituality and Religion
Spokane in Perspective
There was this bar in town called The Zoo. The Zoo was on what is now Spokane Falls Boulevard and Main, kitty-corner from the school district building. The building still exists. The Zoo was a great place. It was considered the best dance club/bar in Spokane. You went in and it was bright. It was hopping. There was lots of people. Good dance music. My remembrance was that it was relatively clean. I mean, obviously it was smoky, which everything was back then.
The thing that stood out to me more than anything was, it was the dance bar in Spokane. It was very mixed. Men, women, gay, straight, it didn’t matter. That’s where you went to just dance. It was very accepting and very open. Just because you went there, you weren’t identified as a gay or lesbian person. It just wasn’t an issue. It was wonderful. During the week it was more “gay.” During the weekend it was much more mixed.
There was another bar called [Jack’s] Nite Hawk. The thing about it was it had two entrances, a front and a back. They were always aware of the potential of [police] raids. I don’t remember that being true at The Zoo, but the Nite Hawk had to be aware of it. I was never there when anything [like a raid] happened. There was just ongoing talk about it. And, of course, the fear that it could happen at any time. [In the 1970s, there was fear] and a distrust of the police.[Jack’s Nite Hawk] was on Riverside. It was very gay. The building itself was long and narrow. If I remember right, you could probably walk all the way through and not see anybody. There was a front section and a back section with the bar in between. And it’s like a hallway there. It was dark. Where the Zoo was much lighter, Jack’s was much darker.
You would go to The Zoo if you didn’t mind being seen. I think gay people who went to the Zoo were either more out, or they had less to fear of being disclosed to somebody. [It was also safer as a mixed dance venue.] Whereas in Jack’s . . . There were a lot of regulars. There were a lot of people who [wore] more leather. You had more people who would want to go into a dark place and hook up with somebody and hope that it wasn’t an undercover policeman. That you’re going to get [arrested]. Or [get] some kook that was going to blackmail you.[The Nite Hawk] wasn’t a dance bar. That’s a big part of the difference. You would go there and you would drink and visit. Meet people, drink, smoke, [and maybe hook up].
There were a lot of other bars around. Spokane’s had a lot. There was Sonya’s [Majic Inn]. There was Tin Ear. Signatures was a great dance bar and restaurant.
When Dempsey’s [Brass Rail] started in the late ‘80’s they had dance lessons for country dance. It was wonderful. It was an opportunity for us, men and women, to go and get together and dance in a pretty positive environment. They had a good restaurant there. We made a point of going there to eat at the restaurant and bringing straight friends with us.
***[Another] place of meeting other gay men was the parks. Parks were and still are a big meeting place. It wasn’t always [about a sexual encounter]. It could have developed into something sexual, but it didn’t have to be.
Manito Park was known as a place to meet men. Men to meet men. Coeur d’Alene Park [too]. You know, Spokane has “the Swish Alps.” The lower South Hill was “the Swish Alps.” So, going to Manito Park or Coeur d’Alene Park were two places where it was possible to meet somebody. Obviously, if you met someone there, you weren’t going to be having sex in the bushes. There weren’t a lot of bushes there for that to happen, but . . . [You could] meet someone and, you know, have a conversation. Develop a relationship, maybe.
Auntie’s [Bookstore] had some books on gay subject matter back then. There were the places where they sold books and video tapes, two or three of them. And you could get lube, rubbers, condoms and sex toys. So those existed [in the 1970-80s]. And there was the XXX Theater on Sprague.
People also met at the Davenport [Hotel]. The Davenport was a place where local men could go and connect up with businessmen who were staying there and coming into town. It was known for that.
I think [gaydar is] spottier today than it was. Sociologically there is this process that most people don’t understand, but in the ‘70’s and ‘80s—maybe even into the early ‘90’s—I could usually tell [pointing]: “That is a gay man. That’s a gay man. That’s a gay man.” Now it’s real hard to tell. I mean, I can tell [with] some people my own age, but it’s different.
There’s signals that one can consciously give off to help someone else’s gay-dar tune in. Gaydar was a useful and very real tool. If you were in an environment where you wanted the possibility of being recognized [as gay] by the right person, there were ways of holding your body, movements you could exaggerate in slight ways, so that those who were observant could pick up on it and no one else would. There were word phrases that one could say. You could overemphasize your gestures. There were little things that, if you wanted to let out to the people you were with the possibility that you might be gay, in case they might be gay, you could do that. Subtle little things that [would prompt people to think,] “Oh. Hm. What’s this person telling me?”
You get into this game . . . If two people meet, and they meet in, say, a workplace environment. The conversation would start . . . You know, pick a topic: sports. You might talk a little bit about, “What’s your favorite sport?” You have a little bit of an exchange about sports. Then you might say, “Who’s your favorite actor or actress?” And the conversation might go to Cher, or Bette Midler. Or, you might say, “Do you have a favorite comedian?” And they might say “Ellen [DeGeneres].” Okay, well then by my saying, “Who’s your favorite comedian?” and you respond saying, “Ellen DeGeneres,” I put out an invitation and you responded. Then I could [up the ante] to, “Yeah, yeah, I like her. You know someone I really dislike, is the guy who did “Braveheart.” I could go a little bit more and say, “You know, because he’s such a homophobe in his roles and in his life.” So I’m revealing something else by the direction the conversation is going. Then you would pick-up and we would be both doing this dance, this two-step. And if either one of us makes a mistake, or says something that would change the direction of the conversation, then, [I’d think,] “Okay, well, I was wrong.” [Or,] eventually you get to the point where, [you recognize,] “Okay. We’re both gay, aren’t we? Yes.” [Snaps fingers.] It can happen very quickly.
Now, I admit, my gaydar was not very good when it came to lesbians. I just wasn’t focused there.
Socially, I believe [the gay and lesbian communities are] very separate. It’s not totally separate, and it’s okay. People connect with people who have similar likes and have similar bonding experiences. You have the Older Women Lesbians, the OWL group, they do things together. That doesn’t mean I’m not doing things with them on an individual basis, but you have women’s groups and men’s groups and that is very definite today.
When I was on the Department of Social and Health Services LGBT Advisory Committee, one of the things that we did was created posters. We got posters that were put up in DSHS offices and around [the community]. The idea was that, “Okay, if I put up this poster in my office, I’m indirectly giving anybody who comes into the room a message.” Only the person who needs to see it knows that I’m giving that message. Everybody else [thinks] the message is, “Oh yeah, this guy’s for equality.” Well, I didn’t have to put that particular poster up here. I could’ve put any number of equality posters up, but I put one that had to do with an LGBT issue. For the person who’s looking for that message, they’re going to get it. Everybody else is up here on a different . . . Yeah, I’m moving my hand over my head. You know, it’s a different plane. They’re not uninformed or untouched, they’re just not operating on that level of trying to find a mate. I think that this happens with sexual orientation, but I think it also happens with finding your spouse, finding a mate, whether it’s gay, straight . . . It doesn’t matter. We do that. We do a dance. Find if someone’s compatible.
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.