I didn’t associate with anyone who was queer [in high school]. I was homophobic then. I was like, “Those are weirdos. There’s something wrong with them. They need therapy.” That’s where my head was at the time. I didn’t know anybody who was gay or lesbian, or [who] identified as such. Either they weren’t [gay] outwardly enough, or they just weren’t in my little cliques. The whole school was heterosexual as far as I was concerned.[Homosexuality] may have existed at the school. I just isolated myself from that because [of] the people who I hung out with. I don’t think [people] would’ve even been out so much then, because of discrimination, bullying, and that kind of thing.
I don’t know how many times people say, “Well, I don’t know anybody who’s gay.” They don’t know it, but they do. I think that was the situation for me at Shadle [High School]. You know, I just go out on the hill behind the building—we called it Smokers’ Hill—and we would sit there and puff on our cigarettes. We used to make jokes about “fags,” you know, being cigarettes and being gay. Because in Britain [cigarettes are] called “fags.” In America, a “fag” is a gay person. That was a word association, We used to make jokes about it. You know, very discriminatory. Very hurtful things that we’d joke about regarding gay people. I was very cruel towards that culture—which is amazing, [given] how I turned out. [Laughs.]
I know I certainly got my share of it when I transitioned. I know how it feels. I guess maybe there’s some atonement there. It’s kind of, “Oh, the shoe’s on the other foot now.” I can’t take back what I said. I didn’t target anybody specifically, because I didn’t know anybody specifically. I was just targeting the group of people who called themselves gay. It was just wrong, to do stuff like that. [I thought] it was men on men that was mostly wrong. You know, to a heterosexual man, a woman on woman is erotic. That’s okay.
I think I’ve gone to two [reunions at Shadle]. The first reunion, I hadn’t transitioned yet. That might’ve been like the 10-year reunion. Then, the next one I went to was, I think, my 40-year reunion. [My husband] went with me. I had already transitioned. When those persons who contact you regarding the reunion, did contact me, I had to explain to them that I had transitioned, that I wasn’t that person anymore. I was this person now. [I said,] “If that’d be a problem, I won’t come to the reunion.” But, no, I was really quite embraced by those who formed it and even sat at the table with them, chatted, and it was very well done. Had a group picture and everything. Those people that I hung out with [in high school] just weren’t there. I know that there was one [who was]; I was told there was another one, but . . . I didn’t really recognize anyone. And they certainly didn’t recognize me.
***[Cross-dressing] had its moments where it was [scary]. But for the most part, no, [it wasn’t]. From living downtown and doing all kinds of business downtown—going to the malls or whatever—I was a downtown person. I knew about the street people. I knew where to go, where not to go—whether I was dressed or not. I felt comfortable, because I felt I could hold my own. I also knew that, when I was dressed as a woman, I had to think like a woman. A single woman walking in the streets downtown at night needs to be very aware of what’s going on. I developed kind of a Tourette’s Syndrome when I walked. You know, just did a spin every now and then, to make sure I wasn’t being followed and everything was good. I always took the best lit ways home. If there was a business that was open, I made sure I walked that way, so that I had a place to flee to, if I needed to get help. Someone’s not going to try and mess me up if I’m in McDonald’s or something. I was very careful about what I did.
I had a time [late at night] when some guys that were in a car drove by and saw me. They whistled, they stopped the car, and [said], “Hey baby. Want to get in and party with us?” And I said, “No.” I said, “I’m just out for a walk, thank you.” They left me alone, but I got to thinking about “What if they didn’t leave me alone?”
The only other time I encountered a similar situation was when I was coming home from work one night. The best lit street was Sprague. So I would walk down to Sprague, and four guys in a car ask me if I was “working.” I said, “No. I just got off work. I’m done, thank you very much.” I walked and I got to thinking, “If they didn’t want to accept ‘no’ for an answer, the four of them could get out and . . .” This was pre-surgery. I got to thinking, “If they got that far, they would feel like [they] were fooled.” Guys don’t like to be fooled, because it messes with their ego something terrible. But I was left alone.
Most of the time, I just ignored anything and just kept walking. I made it home every night. Somebody looking out for me up there [indicating towards the ceiling].
I hung out at Dempsey’s a lot, and Pumps II. That was where I could go to fit in—where it’s safe for me. I felt really safe. It was very safe for me during the early part of my transition and during my transition. I got no ill feelings from anyone. Very much well accepted. I got along fine up until the point where I knew I was going to have surgery. Then I heard about, but did not experience, a group of, I believe it would have been, gay males, who would consider me like, a body mutilator. They wouldn’t associate with anyone who would go and rearrange their bodies. But I don’t know who those people are. I never encountered them. I [just] heard of it. I didn’t know who it was. I still don’t.
I’m not aware that there was any [racism in the LGBT community]. I wasn’t cultured in any kind of cultural diversity at the time. [I] hadn’t learned anything about that. If you’re white, you’re white. Well, there’s a lot of different cultures that are white, okay? As far as African-American, I think there might have been one or two people [in the gay community]. As far as I can see, they were pretty well accepted. Then you have those that may not be all together upstairs: I did see somebody who wasn’t that accepted. I reached out and became good friends. [The person] was a hermaphrodite, or intersexed, which I didn’t know until later on.
It seems the gay community is a safe place. If there’s anything different about you that straight people won’t accept, then that’s where you go. So even the intersexed [people] would do that. A majority of people that I saw would just stay away from this person—not because they were intersexed, but because they weren’t probably put together too well mentally. I’m just a bleeding heart person. It’s just like, “That isn’t really cool, sitting there at Dempsey’s”—there, on the mid-level, on the staircase, they have a video game. This person would spend a lot of time there, or dance alone on the dance floor. I thought this wasn’t right. So I went and made friends.
How can you prove discrimination? It has to be rather blatant. It gets even more tricky when it comes down to transgendered, because some people feel that [if] you’re living in a persona you identify with, but you haven’t made any physical changes, that you’re actually still considered how you were biologically born—even though you’re living with your identity. It complicates things. I knew a transgendered gal who transitioned, was taking the hormones, but hadn’t had the surgery yet. [She] was not allowed to use the women’s restroom at work. [She] had to use the men’s restroom, which made her feel uncomfortable, and it made the other men there rather uncomfortable. Okay, so they are forcing an uncomfortable situation by staying with rules. [They say,] “Yes, you can use the ladies room, but you have to have the surgery first.” Not every transsexual wants to have surgery.[During my transition] I worked for a janitorial company—one I had worked for many years, five years or so. The thing that I really wanted to do [there] was to work on the floor crew. That was a matter of pairing up with somebody: you went out to different businesses and you took care of their floors, or their carpets—anything to do with the floor. It was fun for me. I liked doing it. I worked really hard to get to where I could get onto that crew.
I was [on the floor crew] for maybe a year and a half or so. I was very androgynous when it came to the work place. I did finally tell the manager that, “I’m transitioning. I’m going to be this way full time, and I want you to be aware of it.” They were telling me, “Well, there’s certain things” that I can’t do. [They’d say,] “You can’t wear earrings.” And I go, “I wouldn’t want to.” I wouldn’t want my earrings to get caught in the machinery. I was fine with that.[The guys] had different opinions of me: “faggot,” “queer.” [They’d say,] “I don’t want to work with, or be seen, with them faggot.” Another one of them thought I was a clown. [He’d say,] “You’re acting really funny to me. You’re a clown.” They were more or less forced to work with me. There’s 12 of us, and 11 of them said, “If you make us work with this individual, we’re all going to quit.” So, as a manager, would you keep that one on and let the 11 quit?
At the time, there’s nothing protecting me; there’s nothing protecting GLBT. So, I was transferred back to doing janitorial work, which was what I did for five years to get where I was at [on the floor crew]. They told me they wanted me to do that until they hired a woman to work with me. They did hire a woman, a biological woman. I was told, “So, in about a month of training, she should be ready to work with a partner and you can come back [to the floor crew].” A month went by, and the guys are having a great time working with her, and I never got hired back on [to the floor crew].
It was a union shop. I decided to quit and go to school, because I’m deeply offended by this. This is discriminatory and there’s nothing I can do about it, okay? To make a long story short, it turns out that, since it was a union shop, when I did quit, I went to the union. I explained to them what had happened, why I’d come to the point of quitting. They decided it wasn’t “quitting.” It was “forced termination.” The company wasn’t going to pay the unemployment. But they did [end up paying it], because they lost [an arbitration]. I just happened to have all my ducks in a row: all my paper work, and all my documentation. I had everything. As much as I hated a journal and [to] keep logs, I had to do that. I had a paper trail—so that I could prove to people this is exactly what happened. [I’d kept track of] who I’d talked to, and phone numbers: all that stuff. It’s a real pain but, unfortunately, that’s what you need to do, if you want to protect yourself. So then you have all this information; when you go to get some legal assistance, you have facts to back you up. And then what I call the perpetrator gets screwed. Yay! [Laughs.]
I got my Master’s degree [in social work], and I’m still not working in my field. Early on in my transition I was always quick: “Well it’s because I’m trans, it’s because I’m trans, it’s because I’m trans.” I’ve moved away from that now. It might be because I’m old [laughs], and not so much [because I’m] trans. I’m not a plain obvious read. But I’m not born female either.
I think my life could’ve been so much different if I had some more staff people at Eastern Washington University assist me as a minority to help me get into a proper practicum, so that I might be able to do something with my education that I paid them for. I did not get that. Now I’m eight years post-grad. I’ve had lots of interviews. I pictured myself as being one of those people who would be able to go to an employer, sit down, and have a conversation: “This is what’s going on with your employee. This is what they’re going through. This is how you can help them.” I wanted to be that mediator. I wanted to be that person. Not just with transgender, but even with the GLBT community, and the community at large. I had high hopes for myself. Of course, it never played out.
I would join [the transgender support group] Papillion every once in a while at this restaurant. Whoever was managing it had turned it over to a family member, and that family member just said, “You’re outta here. Don’t ever come in here again.” [Papillion] had already been meeting in that restaurant for three or four years. The waitress that served us—she was a kick in the butt. She loved us all, you know. We tipped! We like spending money. Just because we’re transgendered doesn’t mean we’re cheap.
I remember a story about a pre-op transgender person who had been living in that persona for years, had an automobile accident, was pulled from the car—jaws of life and all—and was injured. When the paramedics had cut the pant leg open, in order to tend to whatever injury was on the leg, [they] had noticed that she had a penis. Then, apparently, they just broke out in laughter and they just didn’t touch that person. That person died because they thought it was too hilarious or something. I don’t know. This was in New York. Many, many, many years ago. It was stories like this that those of us who were [transgender] would share. Some of us belonged to news groups. I belonged to a transgender chat line. Some of them would share their experiences about, you know, “I went to see the doctor today and he was really mean.” As a transgender person, we look for people who have already seen people like us, because we know that we’re going to get treated with more respect than [we will by] somebody who hasn’t never seen one of us before and thinks, oh, we’re just this year’s joke.
***[As part of my work with the Hate Incident Response Team of Spokane, I know that] there are certain criteria that the Spokane Police Department looks at for hate crimes. What I remember Rex Olson [from the Spokane Police Department] saying [is] that most of the malicious harassment involves gay people. Most of them. There are others; there are some racial incidences, you know. But the malicious harassment, it can’t be just like name calling and that’s it. There has to be an actual threat [against] property or life. Once that happens, then it needs to be reported. If it’s not reported, they can’t do anything. A lot of times if you’re a closeted queer you’re not going [to] really want to talk about it. You’re not going to say anything to anyone—therefore nothing will get done. Then, even though [malicious harassment is] a felony, there’s nothing that can be done about it. So, it’s important [to report it]. I’m guessing at this point. Washington State has taken on sexual orientation as a protected class of people. Once that happened, [I think] then it became a felony then to have any malicious harassment against the GLBT community. Once that happened, then even I have felt a relief in that [Governor Christine Gregoire] signed this. I don’t feel like I have to be as protective of myself. I can be more open about who I am.
The area is known for prostitution. In 2006 Washington State adopted a gay civil rights bill; it included protection for transsexuals.
Sources: Interviews with Maureen Nickerson on 18 November 2006 and 9 December 2006, held at the Museum of Arts and Culture; Interview with Laura S. Hodgman on 16 February 2013.