Marianne Dawson – Activism

“I just wasn’t afraid.”

When I finished my bachelor’s degree, I was in touch with Coming Home to the Heart. That was a support group for GLBT [individuals. That] is how I found out that there was other T’s out there and I wasn’t the only one. [Laughs.] I thought, “Well, shoot. There’s got to be a way for us to meet each other.” That was the dawning of a support group for transgendered, which is now called Papillion.

[The organizer for Coming Home to the Heart] told me how to get a hold of another [transgender] gal at Pumps II. I went on a night there was a drag show, because that’s when I was told I’d meet her there. I suppose that’d probably the one time I identified immediately with somebody else who was transgendered, because no one told me who she was or what she looked like. I walked in there. I said, “Are you Michelle [Flynn]?” And she goes, “Yes, I am.” I walked right up to her. The first person I asked was her, out of a whole bar full of ladies. I thought that was kismet. I talked with her about starting a group. She had attempted before and it failed. I said, “Well, I think it’d be a good idea. How about if we try?” She knew another transgender person named Kim [Winchester,]—the three of us started the group, somewhere in the fall-winter months of ‘94. The group started to grow, and it started to grow.

I also was in touch with the [LGBT] community center. They gave us a place to meet, at first. Eventually we had a place of meeting: that was Europa Pizza. That’s where we started. We would get together, we’d have pizza, we’d talk, and just enjoy ourselves. Eventually it turned into having a place of meeting, and then afterwards we’d go out and eat. The more cross-dressers that joined, the more focus became on eating.

Because of the group, and because some of us were transsexual, we did do research. We discovered the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care, which are now the International Harry Benjamin Standards of Care. We read through it. There was other folks, other transsexuals who were desiring surgery—even when I wasn’t—but I would help them with research for this. I’d do a lot of [looking for] places that do surgery, get information, print it out, and make it available. I would work with these individuals. Some of them were able to get their money and have their surgery. It was empowering that I was able to help somebody achieve the journey that they wanted in their life. The group was really a good thing. It was educational about things about cross-dressing, about things of transsexual. And “transsexual” [meant both] male to female, [and] female to male. There was both. Not very often, but occasionally, we did have a Female to Male in our group.

Papillion is such a specific oriented type group. “Come to us to discover yourself and be with other people who are discovering themselves.” That’s as far as it goes. But people mature, and there’s nothing for that. I tried to create that when I was facilitating that group, but it wasn’t what they wanted. I tried to start the Gender Information Center to supply that more mature aspect. “Let’s have classes on transgender. Let’s have classes on makeup. Let’s have classes on body movement, conduct, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And see if we can help some of these people on a more mature level than a “goo-goo, ga-ga, I’m-a-just-new-out-transgender person.” I tried to put something in there for those transgendered folks who [were] in second grade, and third grade, and fourth grade: Where do you go? What are you going to do? Are you going to still look like a man in a dress, and you walk into a country western bar, and say “Hey, let’s dance?” How do you spell “Kick-my-ass?!” You know, I mean, it’s going to happen to you. You want to be able to go to safe places.

Safe places were found out only because those pioneers—not that I’m going to toot my horn, but I’m one of them in Spokane—went out, dared to go into a place and be seen in public as a fairly new transitioning person, and found out where it was safe. You got to have the right attitude. You have to be able to be in public relations enough to be able to talk to people and not get in their face. [You need to] just say, “Hey, I have some friends that are like me. Is it okay if we come in and have dinner at your restaurant every now and then?” You know, just find out what’s cool and what’s not. Make sure it was safe. It wasn’t like I was so bold to storm in the doors and say, “I’m transgendered. Can I be here?” I would just go in and sit down, like any other customer would, and I would eat. [I] would, usually [go] with someone else—and we’d watch their reactions and see if we got service. [We’d] see if they sent the management out and say, “Your kind is not welcome here.”

[I stopped being involved with Papillion in] ’96, ’97. That’s only because I was becoming politically active. I was in-your-face kind of person. [Laughs]. Those that wanted to be secretive—to protect family and kids and that kind of thing—didn’t want any association going to that. I had to just separate myself from the group, to protect the community. The needs of cross-dressers are different from those of transsexuals. The transsexuals—they’re a lot more willing to be politically active, because they’re out their living the life, the female life. They’re living that, where cross-dressers [are] saying that, “It’s only during this time that I’m living this life. I don’t want anyone else to find out about it.” There’s that whole covert, anonymity thing, that, “I don’t want anyone to know, or to see me this way, because I might lose my wife, might lose my children. I might lose my job.” There’s a lot at stake.

Once I got really politically active, then I was no longer part of the group. Then I wasn’t very welcome, because I was so open. [Laughs.] I totally understood. I wasn’t offended at all. The majority wanted to stay protected. I understood that. And because I cared about all of them, I did not want to expose them because of what I wanted to do. So, I said, “I’m going to leave the group.” There was someone else who was very close in leadership skills to myself, if not even better at it. I had asked that person if they would be the facilitator. Then I left the group. I went on to do more politically active things, was out, and was in front of TV cameras. So I just wasn’t afraid.


I got involved with [the Stonewall Patriots].[1] Always when you’re involved in political activism you’re going to meet other people who share the same passion as you do and, because of that, you find some common allies. Some maybe who are more outspoken than others. Somebody will get the idea, “Well, I really want to make an impression. I want to see something happen.” Then the wheels start turning. They’ll recruit other people who wouldn’t mind supporting their idea of what they want to present to the community at large, or city council, or anything like that. That’s how I got drawn into it. At that time, I was the facilitator of Papillion. I was asked if I would represent the transgendered community. I said, “I’d be happy to.” The only thing that we really needed to do was just write up a little story, in which we can explain our feelings about how we feel we that should be accepted in the community as “normal” people. Because essentially we are. We just have a different lifestyle. Everybody has different kinds of lifestyles that they cater to. We’re no different. Just because some people look upon us as, “I wouldn’t do that.” [This] doesn’t mean we’re a lifestyle that should be looked [down] upon.

It was Dean Lynch who had asked me [to speak]. He was kind of like the orchestrator of that particular city council meeting. [At that time] was that we were pushing for equal rights for all. I think that he had arranged to have the city council pay attention to this because we were going to lobby for the city to adopt GLBT, as part of the [city’s non-discrimination ordinance]: so that partners have benefits and this kind of thing. Because that was going on, he was able to arrange a time to meet with [Spokane] City Council. It was televised on Channel 5 and that whole business. We all just came to talk about our own personal lives, our own experiences, and try to get them to see that we’re just normal folks. Different, but normal. I think there’s a lot of straight people who are “different,” but they call themselves “normal!”

[The non-discrimination ordinance for GLB individuals] did happen—they had to drop the “T” off. I know, personally, I was deeply offended by that at first. I quit being part of the committee, then. I went off to do other things. But I resolved within myself that that was okay to drop the “T” off. I didn’t like it, but it was better to get the “GLB” in there, and then maybe later add the “T” on [later].

I think, as a minority and possibly an oppressed group, in order for people to understand who we are and what we represent, we need to be vocal about it. We need to be visible. Closeted doesn’t provide for that. I’ve had the occasion of being around many different people who think just think I’m a real nice person, once you get to know me. It’s kind of like somebody with a maybe a mental or personality disorder, you know. It’s kind of this little weird thing about them. But once you get to know them, then they’re okay. You just set aside the disorder, because you understand it’s something they have to live with. You get to know who the real person is, and then they’re not so bad. I just think it takes time for the straight community to be able to observe this. So, at the time it was, “Okay, we’ll just add the ‘T’ later.”


[1]In 1997 the Stonewall Patriots went before the Spokane City Council to advocate for civil rights for members of the LGBT community. In 1999, a city ordinance banning discrimination against the lesbians, gays, and bisexuals was passed. Rights for transgendered citizens were not included.


Sources: Interviews with Maureen Nickerson on 18 November 2006 and 9 December 2006, held at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture; Interview with Laura S. Hodgman on 16 February 2013.