Partial Transcript: Please tell us what life what like inside your childhood home and what it was like growing up in a small town in Maine? What was your family and community's attitudes about homosexuality?
Segment Synopsis: Mina discusses her upper class life that provided her and her siblings the opportunities to participate in multiple activities as children. There was tension between her parents which ultimately lead to a divorce once all three children left to college. The town she lived in hardly had any tourists and was a little more liberal since it is a college town. Mina states that she was brought up socially conservative but on the cusp of feminism. Her family was not accepting of homosexuality and her mother would panic is Mina became too close with any female friends.
Keywords: Childhood; Feminism; Homosexuality; Intolerance; Socially Conservative; Socioeconomic Class
Partial Transcript: When did you decide to be out with your sexuality?
Segment Synopsis: Mina discusses hiding her sexuality until her early 30's. She states that she tried to have relationships with men but after witnessing two people close to her come out, she worked through the painful process of coming out herself at her first job after grad school in Missouri.
Keywords: Alone; Coming out; Pain; Queerness
Partial Transcript: What was the LGBTQ+ community like when you arrived in Corvallis? How has it changed?
Segment Synopsis: Mina discusses how Corvallis was her first location where she was able to build connections to the queer community and her church has given her lots of support. While there is still work to be done for the queer community in Corvallis, she feels like the world overall has evolved to be more accepting of multiple identities.
Keywords: Acceptance; Coming out; Community; Queer; Religion
Partial Transcript: What are major personal life events that have shaped you into the person you are today?
How have you dealt with negativity in your life? Coping mechanisms?
Segment Synopsis: Mina talks about the experiences of adopting her two children and the positive effect that has had on her life.
For coping mechanisms she has many but music is something that started in childhood and has sustained her. Now photography, a skill she taught herself, allows her to feel present in special moments.
Keywords: Children; Coping; Family; Music; Parenthood
Paige Sim: Today's date is March 15th, 2019, and I am Paige Sim. This is an oralhistory interview with Mina Carson in Milam Hall 302E for the OSU History 368 Lesbian and Gay Movements in Modern America Oral history Project. Could you please state and spell your name?
Mina Carson: Mina Carson, M-I-N-A C-A-R-S-O-N.
PS: All right, so could you give a brief background of your childhood, includingthings like when you were born, where you are from or grew up, and what your family dynamic was?
MC: Right. I was born in San Francisco in 1953. My dad was a medical resident atthe time, so I believe that I was probably conceived in Portland Oregon where he was an intern at... St. Vincent's? It - that's probably wrong. Anyway, at any rate, and then we - I, when I was two and a half and my sister was about six months old, my parents decided to move to New England to set up a medical practice with some of dad's friends. And so, we moved in '55 - in the summer of '55, I believe - to Brunswick, Maine, and that's where I grew up, is in Brunswick, Maine.
My dad - you know, it was poss-[laughs] back in the day it was possible for afamily to have a, you know, have a pretty good life on one doctor's very modest income. When we kids were in elementary school my mom took a job as a secretary at the local college, which was Bowdoin College. And so, we really - we initially lived in town, and later we moved to a little old farmhouse out of town. But we really grew up around the Bowdoin campus and knowing a lot of professors and students and so on. So, I was kind of immersed in that academic atmosphere as a kid. We ended up to be... there was eventually three of us, three daughters. My youngest sister was born in 1960. So, that's kind of a beginning there.
PS: All right, so what was life like inside of your house?
MC: It was, um, that's a great question... I would say - and I've talked a lotabout my childhood with my sisters. Both my parents have gone. Dad died way back in '95 and my mom died in '07, and so we've kind of been able to speculate a little bit more freely on our childhood. On the one hand, we had a fantastic childhood. My parents, in particular, my mom was one of those moms who wanted to have her kids have the advantages. Again, back then the advantages did not cost an arm and a leg.
But we had, for example, a second house in Maine skiing country that my parentsbought as a shell of a farmhouse and my dad pretty much rebuilt over several years on the inside. It was rough and crude and absolutely wonderful, in the middle of an apple orchard. And then you could drive half an hour to Sugarloaf Mountain, which was the outstanding skiing mountain in Maine and that was about two hours from our house in Brunswick.
And so, we had that kind of thing. We teased Mom and she allowed us to go tosummer camp, you know, when we were in middle school. Um... we just - it was just a really comfortable - I had music lessons, we played sports; it was a real small town growing up thing. And in that town I would say, you know, we were upper-middle class. It was very comfortable.
On the other hand, my parents had, I would say, an increasingly fraught, tenserelationship. They stayed together until I believe until all three of us had left for college. And again, I really should be clear about that. Yeah, that's true. So, all three of us were out of the house and then they divorced.
So, we didn't have a really good example of a... a genuinely lovingrelationship. They cooperated with each other, they liked each other, they liked to do the same things, and that was really important. And so, by the time I was an adolescent, we had - and I went away to school; that's a whole other story - but when I would come home on the holidays we had wonderful evenings sitting around the table playing poker and laughing and just having a great time. We'd have friends over. So, all of that was really wonderful, really positive.
PS: So, growing up in sort of a small town, was it a more conservative smalltown or more open-minded [unintelligible]?
MC: That's a really good question. My first hit on that is that it was a littlemore open-minded and liberal, partly because it was a college town. Probably largely because it was a college town. We were surrounded by fishing villages, small agricultural villages, a few touristy villages. But again, we're talking about the fifties and early sixties, so really not overwhelmed with tourists, although, of course, we were close to, you know, Kennebunkport and Mount Desert, and a lot of places that did regularly attract tourists and summer residents, as well as skiers.
But I would say, given the college, we were probably a fairly liberal town. Andagain, back then we had - Margaret Chase Smith was one of our state senators, or a sena-a US senator from Maine. She was Republican, but quite a moderate Republican. Back then the Republican Party was different. There weren't the wildly confrontational divisions that you see today.
So, that's a long answer to say more liberal. I was brought fairly... in afairly socially conservative way, but again, we were really on the cusp of feminism and my mom wanted to do the right thing by her daughters. And so, she tried to get - you know, we... it was still the day when you had to wear, you know, skirts and dresses to school. I mean, there was no question. Girls could not wear pants to school. This is the era we're dealing with. Public school. And so, you know, and Mom wanted us to, you know, go to parties and wear the right shoes and so on.
And the older two of us were pretty tomboyish, very tomboyish, and we hated thatwhole rigmarole of learning how to be girls. And... I think probably deep in her heart my mom wasn't crazy about it either, but she, again, she felt she had to do the right thing, the right thing. So, in that way, it was relatively conservative. And I still... still, and again, in that era - because I was... I was a young middle schooler - was Kennedy was assassinated in '63; I began high school in '66, and so we're still talking about... we're still really talking about the olden days, you know.
PS: Yeah. So, when - being in a - I mean you said it was more liberal,open-minded, but at the same time still had those conservative things - so, when were you first introduced to homosexuality, and was that something that was accepted in your town or in your - within your family?
MC: I think it probably... the first answer is no. No, no, no, and no. There was[unintelligible]... I've been thinking hard about these questions and putting them in this, my personal historical context, and I think that we - I've wondered ever since we had - you know, my dad was in this medical group, a bunch of young doctors, very heterosexual, you know, raising young families, and again all of us kids were just a little bit... just a little bit edgy, just a little bit non-conforming, just a little bit, you know.
And my parents, my parents had left... they grew up in Ohio, and I actuallystill have relatives in Ohio whom I adore and who are quite, quite liberal, but I think they felt pretty - and each from their own families, they felt pretty oppressed there socially. So, there was that edge to my family's history, that that couple broke away. First, they went to the west coast to do Dad's, you know, he got his medical education in Ohio but then they went to the west coast to - for residency, internship and residency, and then way to the east coast to bring us up.
So, there was that edge. They were always liberal, skeptical. We watched thepathbreaking TV shows. You know, regular Laugh-In, and all those really, um, I really want to say... well... I'm missing my word right now, but anyway, they were television shows that really attacked the status quo, and we loved those, we watched those. But homosexuality, that was a whole different issue. That was something that only came up, I believe, in conversation in my family for the first time when I had my first crush on a girl. And you know, and I did not say, oh-I did not come home and say, "Wow, I've got a crush on a girl, isn't this cool?" But my mom could see how important that person was in my life and she freaked out. She was really scared for me. She said, "What are you"- I think she said, "What, are you a lesbian?"
And she - it was like it was the worst possible thing that she could ask me. Andof course, I didn't respond. Actually, I think I either said no or I didn't respond. So - oh, I know, the thing I was going to say was there was a - that my parent's friends had a friend named Jeremy [phonetic]. I can't remember his last name so I don't think I'm giving away any secrets. I mean, these people are... mostly have left the earth. And he was called a bachelor [laughs]. I've wondered off and on ever since if Jeremy was a bachelor, a heterosexual bachelor, or the other kind of bachelor we used to talk about. I don't know. I don't know, and if any of the people I grew up with see this, they're probably going to call me and up and say, "Are you kidding? Come on" [laughs], "He dated women all the time." So I don't know, but no, we didn't talk about it. We did not talk about it.
PS: So, and you had your first crush on a woman. What, like what kind ofthoughts were you having then? Were you thinking this is something that will just go away, it's just random, or was it deeper?
MC: Yeah, it was really hard because I thought oh, this must be what realfriendship is like, when you feel so strongly about someone and you think about them all the time and you want them to like you and you, you know, and you're really obsessed with them. Oh, then I must be having good friends. And you know, at the next layer I thought oh God, this is not so good. You know, this is, this is something that I need to moderate. This is something I need to hide. So - and as I was... let's see... I think 13, 14, 15, I went away to school when I was 14, so 12 and 13 maybe I had my first crush. It's a classic, right? School and summer camp. I mean, sports teams and summer camp.
And I really, again, tried to frame it to myself. As a young adolescent I triedto frame it to myself as well, this is, this is just - I just have these really intense friendships, you know. And of course in a sense - and I know this as a historian, that's not completely wrong. This is what - incorrect, I mean - this is what, you know, this is what we read about in class. This is what we, you know. It was very common in the women's colleges at the turn of the century that people spoke openly and in amused ways about their own crushes. They actually, they delivered flowers to each other, they - and so, in a sense, there was a history for that that I probably was not completely aware of.
What I was aware of in terms of gender was that I was deeply uncomfortable withthe life that was being handed to me by my culture; that I was a big reader, starting from whenever, starting from five or six, right? And I wandered into a lot of literature and biographies of people who, again, lived on the edge; artists and writers and nonconformists, and I thought oh, these people are so interesting, they have such cool lives. And I guess I'm going to be a secretary and study French, you know? And so, it was like I just couldn't quite put it together and it, it scared me. I couldn't look into the future with any kind of openness or excitement and say the world is open to me because it didn't seem to me.
PS: So, how long before you actually started to embrace that side of you andactually start dating women, even if it wasn't out?
PS: Just for yourself.
MC: Twenty years. Twenty years. Into my early thirties I finally came out tomyself and - no, came out publicly. And even then it wasn't very public... When I was... probably in high school but possibly even in college... I wrote - it was probably high school because it was a journal I think - and I wrote... I think I wrote... anyway, I said to myself as long as nobody else ever knows about these feelings that I have, I'll be okay, as long as I never tell anybody. So at that point, basically I consigned myself to a life of silence; to a life of not telling anybody the most... the core things about myself, about my feelings, about my need for affection, about my sexuality, I mean that was just all off the table.
PS: What c-like what made you decide that you could no longer stay silent aboutwho you really are?
MC: Times changed. That was really important. That was really important. I don'teven think I was aware of Stonewall when it happened, and I was an east coast person. I mean, by that point I was in... well no, but at that point, I was in - yeah, I was in prep school outside Boston when that happened. I don't think I was aware of it, but when the marches started happening that commemorated Stonewall; by college I think I was aware of those. Certainly in graduate school, I was aware of that.
But meanwhile, I had relationships with men. I mean long-term relationships.Long-term sexual relationships with men. And so, I think at that - again, I think I spent a lot of energy lying to myself. I really loved those guys, that was not a lie, but to have a life that was marriage and children at that point, at that point to have that life just seemed to me to be impossible. Not what I wanted. I wanted to be alone at that point. I wanted to be alone. If I - and I, I can say today that maybe I was thinking if I couldn't have what I wanted I definitely wanted to be alone, but I don't think I ever said it to myself that way.
The other two factors were my younger sister came out. I mean... and I thoughtwow [laughs]. I mean, I don't know what else to say. I thought wow, God bless her! You know? And my best friend in graduate school came out and we had, we had - she was - I just loved her so much. She was brilliant, she was funny, and we had nightly conversations on the phone about everything under the universe. In the universe, under the sun, whatever. And so, when she fell in love with another woman we talked about it like every night, you know, at length.
It was so interesting and I thought all right, who am I being in theseconversations? What am I, what... am I really going to stick to that pledge that I made to myself? Am I really going to do that? At some point, um... at some point, probably in my twenties, and maybe earlier, I pledged - you know, I'm not a - this is hilarious - I'm not a theist, I'm not a believer, but every so often I've had a, you know, I've sort of chatted with God and had a really good relationship with whoever I think God is, right? And so, at one point I swore to God that I would never eat another lobster because of the boiling them to death thing, right?
And so [laughs], you know, I think well, what... was that the kind of - was thatthe kind of, you know... was I as loyal to my pledge never to tell anyone about my feelings as I'd been to my pledge never to eat lobster? I mean, you know, this was nuts. And of course, the long-term answer is no. But it has been so painful, and... um, that was a very painful process of coming out. And I think that - extremely painful. Although I have to say not as painful as many, if not the majority, of coming out stories that I know and I've heard and I've read. So...
But... it was [sighs]... the irony was here I was, I was growing up on the eastcoast, I went to school outside Boston, I went to college in Cambridge, I went to graduate school in Cam-you know, all the - you know, the world was unfolding in these pointy-hatted places in the east. And then after graduate school, I had my first academic job in small-town Missouri. That's where I came out [laughs]. It was so, so ironic. That was where I had my first relationship with a woman, and it - by having that relationship, I came out. Now, was I an activist at that point? I was activist about everything else [laughs]. I was a feminist, you know, I was, you know, anti-racism, I mean every other thing you could be. Was I an activist for - in LGBTQ stuff? I don't think so. I doubt it. So, that's a long way around saying I came out finally when I had this relationship, you know.
PS: So, the relationship is sort of what pushed you to finally just come out?
MC: Yeah, it was, but on the other hand, I have to be honest, by then I waslooking for a relationship, you know. And I found a really, really nice one. Again, ironically in Missouri.
PS: Yes [laughs]. How did you end up in Missouri?
MC: When you're an academic - and this is still true, if not even more true now;it was true the whole time I was going through graduate school and of course it was in - thus it was insane to go to graduate school - I'm glad I did, no question - but it was, you know, practically speaking insane; you go where you're posted. You know, it's like the military because - I mean you know, it is and it isn't. Of course, you don't have to go anywhere you don't want to go, but if you want a job you go where you're posted. And I ended up, luckily, in this small regional Missouri school. It is now Truman State University. It was, at that point, Northeast Missouri State University.
And they were in the process of trying to become Missouri's small liberal art -a small public liberal arts college. And they achieved that, but one of the reasons that I was hired was [laughs] was because I was from a, you know, an Ivy League program and they wanted to build their Ivy League cred. So, so that's how I got that job. But I - and - I shouldn't but - and/but my colleges were great. They were real, they were compassionate, they were interesting, and because it was a small university with a fairly small kind of liberal arts component, I met and was close friends with people from all of the different disciplines. That - and that was really, that was really me. I was close to people in English, in writing, in philosophy, in Sociology and Anthropology and Political Science [laughs]. I mean, we're all in the same hallway. It was wonderful. So...
PS: And how did you end up meeting the woman?
MC: She was a college. Um... she was a college, and I think... and she was atthe time single. Um... and I liked her and was attracted to her, and I think - and this is not the usual thing in my life - I think I made the first move. Anyway, yeah, enough said about that. But yeah, so that's how we got together. And we - she had an awesome looking little bungalow and we actually... this was, this was interesting, and for me really a great illustration of how difficult my whole coming out process has been, and in some ways still remains; we had a contractor come and really literally build a second floor onto the house so that we had enough room so that both of us had studies, and I had a darkroom. So, and he did a beautiful renovation, but I just felt - and you know, he was always extremely professional, but I always felt so embarrassed that it was obvious that we were a couple and that we were moving in together. And I just... you know? It - I never got over that. Never... in some ways haven't gotten over that.
So, I attribute my extreme awkwardness about my own sexuality to the time I grewup in, and also whatever, you know, whatever personality lands inside us. I mean, I talk a good game but I'm... really cautious in many ways, really scared of not fitting in. And I don't fit in, and so it's... that makes for slightly awkward, edgy life [chuckles].
PS: And so, you said you guys moved into together, so that relationship lasted...
MC: It lasted until we got out here and... and my then partner was very generousin agreeing to allow me to look for a job. She was an academic, and a very successful one, and she had wanted to move into a related field, and so she took that opportunity to kind of move a little bit sideways at that point. But the transition was, for both of us, was very, very difficult, and the relationship kind of crumbled under the weight of that.
PS: So, that's how you ended up here in Corvallis?
MC: Yeah, we ended up here in Corvallis and... yeah, because I got hired here atOSU, which is [laughs] one of the very best things that's ever happened to me in my life. It's been a really good fit.
PS: How does the Corvallis community, the LGBTQ+ community specifically, compareto ones before you got here?
MC: I never had one before I got here. The one in my small town in Missouri waswe had a good group of - we had a good group friends, an extraordinary group of friends. And we had a... a really good time together. Um... but it wasn't - and it was, just as my friend groups have been out here - it was very kind of mixed. You know, gay, straight, you know, allies, questioning, whatever. And so, I really have never - until I was out here, I never had had a queer community, or been in a queer community.
And even out here, what it took - I came in 1989 - and what it took... was - I'mtrying to think - no, I was involved with the local... I was involved with the local organization before, I believe... maybe slightly before the ballot measures of the nineties. After 8 was formed, after Measure 8 which... put on the ballot - Neil Goldschmidt, Governor Neil Goldschmidt had issued an executive order against - or saying that you could not - that hiring in the executive branch of the Oregon government could not... you could not, not hire people because of, you know, race or sexuality, and he added the sexuality to, or sexual orientation, to that regulation. And the, I believe it was the Oregon Citizens Alliance already, put that on the ballot in '88 and it passed. I mean the - I'm sorry - who put rescinding that on the ballot, and rescinding it passed.
So, Oregon voters rescinded the executive order. And after 8 - and that wasright before I got out here - and after 8 was an LGBTQ group that met and started doing working literally to change the dialogue in Linn and Benton counties to... to publicize the lives of gay and lesbian people; to lobby locally and at the county and state levels for measures that protected people basis of their sexuality. The group started having - and this was, this was an amazing institution - started having the Harvey Milk dinner annually, I believe in the spring.
We had a local celebration. We hired one of the local churches that, um, I thinkit was... In the latter years, it was the Congregational Church out just, just out of town on Western. But I'm not sure if it started - if it began somewhere else. I can't remember. But we would give awards to people who had either locally or nationally done important things for the LGBTQ community. So for example, we gave an award to Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon from the San Francisco area.
We - it [laughs], it was a wonderful thing, and it was a wonderful thing becauseit built, and then built on, the political and social alliances that were formed around fighting the OCA's ballot measures. And they came in, you know [laughs], in rapid succession in the 1990s. So... that was a - it built community... Again, socially... there was one brief shining moment when I was - I sort of had a group of, you know, lesbian friends, a small group of lesbian friends, and we did everything together.
And then another group of lesbian friends who have been - we've been tightfor... 20 years? Longer than 20 years, probably. But our friendships have always spilled into the - they've always been... we've been fr-we don't have a sexuality test for [laughs] for our groups of friends [laughs]. So [stumbles], so the community has been, for me, more of a - there have been people in it that I've been really tight with - and I think that's true for most people - people in the community that I've been really tight with socially, and then just an awareness; an awareness that we have each other's backs. I think that's it. But again, in this community... it's been, it's been... allies. It's been a... it's been a marvelous place to live and to work.
PS: So, you came here in '89, you said?
PS: And that was right at the beginning of all these ballot measures coming about.
MC: Ballot measures, yeah.
PS: So, it sounds like too, like the communities were really starting to form atthat point. You kind of came in right at the beginning of that and-
PS: -had a chance to either be a part of it or at least some way connected to it.
MC: Yeah, yeah.
PS: So, how would you say the community has evolved? It's been 30 years nowsince you came here-
MC: Right. Right.
PS: -so what was it, or how is it different today than it was right at thatbeginning? Better or worse?
MC: Again, you know, you'd think that that was a really straightforward questionto answer, but it's not. It's a great question and I'm not sure I can... offer [laughs] a succinct answer. I can ramble through an answer, and it's an important question... You know, I go back to something that we discussed in class about the fading of the bar scene. Of course, there was, there was never really a bar in Corvallis. There was a coffee shop for a while called M's [phonetic], and that was really important to the community. Really important.
But it's like the history of the community here is kind of like the history ofthe bar scene in elsewhere in that... there really - there may be a community on campus with younger people that I'm not aware of, but among people in my generation and sort of close, you know, close to my generation, I'm not sure that there really is a community, per se. There are friendships, alliances, awarenesses. I, I'm aware of people who've been here a long time who are gay and lesbian and trans.
The church that I go to, Unitarian Universalist Church, has been a reallyimportant place. There are a number of local churches actually that have been really important [laughs] points of light, shall we say, in fighting measures, and coming together around supporting trans people most [stumbles], most recently, and making a safe space culturally, spiritually, emotionally, for gay and lesbian people.
So, I don't want to say there's no community in that sense. My experience - andthis is a human community like anywhere else, so there have been bad experiences for individuals in this community - my experience is among, let me say among the predominantly white gay and lesbian people who live here, by and large, it's been a pretty comfortable place to live, relatively speaking.
Now, for people of color, I cannot speak to that experience but I know that itis not comfortable. I mean, I raised a couple of kids of color, and even then I feel that - and they've been pretty open with me about their experience here - and even then I feel that I can't speak for the experiences of people of color in the, you know, in the Corvallis community. God knows I'm an ally but I - it would be wrong of me to speak for their experiences.
PS: How do you think Oregon State, specifically, has embraced the community? Doyou think it's gotten better over time, or...?
MC: I think it's been exceptionally good. And again, some people who may viewthis will say "Are you kidding? You don't know about this experience I had!" And in fact, we've had, in the 30 years I've been here, we've had some pretty hair-raising experiences. The gay and lesbian student group used to have - it's changed its name over a, you know, a number of times, and so I can't remember what we were called at the time - but the student group had a series of years where they had a sleep-in on the quad, and two times at least they've been attacked. I mean literally attacked. Once, someone shot a gun over the tent. Literally, they shot a gun over the tent. And another time I believe the tent was pulled down. So, there have been threats, but again - and I'm not mitigating those threats; it was horrifying - but this is a [stumbles], this is a human community and there's going to be bad guys here.
The institution itself has done really well for a kind of middle of the roadstate institution through all those years, under the leadership of - under the administrators and leadership and with faculty support, of course [laughs], has done a really good job at... I believe, and again, you know, you're hearing this from a middle of the road kind of cautious person, I think OSU has done a really good job at listening. At listening, at changing as the various communities, the various minority communities, and communities under fire have spoken up and said, you know, this isn't working for us, or we need this.
The cultural centers have been an institutional response. Administrativeoffices, administrative appointments have been an institutional response. The WGSS, the growth of Women's Studies to embrace Sexuality Studies has been, [stumbles] has been an administration response sparked by faculty and students. But in other words, it's been - and I, even through the horrific ballot measure periods when, you know, if they had passed they would have put some of us at risk because it talked about public schools and public education - we are nothing if not a public school - put a number of us at risk of not being able to teach our courses, and possibly being in jeopardy of our jobs. And there was never, ever a sense that "well, God, we're really sorry, but you know, if this passes, lie" [laughs]. You know, there was never a sense of that.
So again, I'm sure that some people viewing this will see me as a Pollyanna, andokay, but given the position of the school in the state, and dependent on state funding, given our constituents, you know... the university has done I think a really good job.
PS: Okay. You mentioned M's, the coffee shop.
MC: Oh, yeah.
PS: Has - have there been any places like that on campus, like gathering places,that you're aware of?
MC: Not that I'm aware of. Oh, how embarrassing. There probably are. They'reprobably a lot of secret notes. It's like when I talk about the community, you know, there's probably like people saying, "Well, don't tell Mina about the community." I mean [laughs], so I don't know. I don't have an answer.
PS: What about like Prism? We were - when we were looking through the archives Ifound that one Prism that was specifically-
MC: Oh, right.
PS: Have there been any magazines or any forms of communication that-
MC: Right, like-
PS: -that are LGBTQ?
MC: What do you call the little, the little magazines? Right. Um... I don'tknow... I don't know. The gay and lesbian, or LGBTQ student groups, have, you know, like any student group, have kind of had this kind of - and there have been years when they've been really active. Forming the Pride Center and having that as a gathering place I think has been incredibly important. So yeah, I'm so-so yeah, there's no place on campus except the Pride Center [both laugh], a whole house dedicated to the queer community. But other than that, there's no places that are... oh well. Yeah, that's been really important.
PS: How are things overall, not just specifically Corvallis? How are thingsdifferent today for homosexuality than like when you first learned of it?
MC: Like... I'd be tempted to say 180 degrees except for the reactionarypolitical climate that we're living in, and of course, I could go on and on in the abstract and, and pointlessly about how, you know, reaction breeds - you know, success breeds reaction and so on and so forth. Like when Ellen came out, you know, it gave lots of people tremendous liberation, and then her show was shut down. So you know, things - that's how it goes.
But boy, it's different. I mean... I'd love to say that I hope I wouldn't havebeen so chickenshit if I were, uh, if I were coming out today with the family I had because again, the students I speak with and the young people I speak with who do not come out, often it's because they're terrified that they're going to lose their families. Sorry [voice breaking], that they're going to lose their families, and I didn't, my sister didn't, you know, my parents struggled with our identity, especially two, you know, two kids in the same family, oh my god.
Like my, one of my - my first partner once asked my mom, "Well, Helen, what's itlike to have two gay daughters?" And my mom just sort of said, "Well, it's the sheer numbers." [Laughs] I have no idea what she meant by that but it's something that has come down in the family. There's - we just love that response, "Well, it's the sheer numbers," and dot, dot, dot. I have no idea what she meant. But she became a really, really staunch ally and activist.
And so, you know, my family evolved, and yet I look at young people and think,you know, the world has sort of evolved, but there are still many families in the United States and elsewhere who revile queerness, who are terrified - I mean, there's a whole spectrum, right? They revile queerness maybe, their religion tells them it's wrong, they fear for their children, and that, that in some ways is the most heartbreaking, but also the most corrigible. You know, I mean they fear for their kids and then they think okay, but my kid wants to be happy. My kid deserves to be happy. So, it's this whole range but it's just, it's still not easy to come out, and things have changed so much, but it's just not easy.
PS: So, how have major events surrounded the LGBTQ+ community affected you personally?
MC: The - I've already talked about the nineties and the ballot measures, andthose really, they really did affect me. In fact, one of the things I did, and in some ways I have - I have some regrets - is I got together with another partner and I was living, at that point, really downtown, and I put a campaign poster on my lawn and it got torn down. I mean, that's all that happened, is it just got torn down, and I thought wooo. And at that point, we had the opportunity to move to a hillside just outside of town. We did that, and it was partly - I think my reasoning was partly that this is too scary for me. It wasn't, nothing else happened, but in other words, there was that buzz of fear. There was that, you know, you almost wished you could go back into the closet. You almost wished - I, you know, I shouldn't say you - the other people like came out, stayed out, you know.
I did the marches, I did the demonstrations, you know, I stayed with After 8,and yet I always felt... apologetic about who I was. I mean, that's - I'm just interjecting something I missed of that, of that answer that might whole life has really pretty much been marked by feeling apologetic about who I am. So you know, if I'm given another 20, 25 years on this earth, knock on wood, it's one of the things I'd really like to get past.
But how have things affected me? When I was in graduate school and I was - Imean, here's another example: I was in New York City doing research for my dissertation, a beautiful summer in New York City, I mean it was just such a gift - because I'm a city kid, I mean at heart - I was walking around one day and stumbled upon the pride parade. [Laughs] it was so cool. I just stumbled upon it. And I stood on the sidelines and took pictures of the participants and cheered and yelled. And again, remember this is back in graduate school. I had not come out, and I just thought... when, when am I going to do this? When am I going to do this? And then I let it go again. I let it go again. I was - at that point, I was involved with another man and, um, you know, I guess the best I could say about myself was oh, I must be - maybe I'm bisexual. I mean, I don't know, maybe I'm bisexual, you know. Maybe these feelings...
But, so that was an example of a time when I ran smackdab into one of the signsof LGBTQ activism and I said oh, I'll just take a few pictures of you guys, and good for you. You stay out there. And then AIDS, AIDS, I was in Missouri when I really became super aware of the AIDS pandemic, and... and I think my response to it was horror that all of these men were dying; that men who - my generation of men, who were talented and - [laughs] or not talented - who were my age, I was in my early thirties, and they were, they were dying. They had so much time left on this earth and they were dying.
But as a lesbian... I... as a lesbian, I... didn't personally connect or feel atrisk. And I'm telling the truth here, and that may be - that may sound horrifying, but it wasn't like "Oh, thank God it's not me," except in the way that we are always "Thank God it's not me," you know. So - but I was hyper-aware of AIDS, hyper-aware of AIDS, and I think it was more generational almost than, than... related to sexual orientation, I think. And again, that's the early years when I was in Missouri and I... I'm not aware of knowing anyone there who had AIDS, but you know, we didn't always know.
PS: So, that's more past More current things, like the current presidentialadministration, what effect has that had on you, and have you felt more inclined to get involved with the community and/or current political movements and things?
MC: Yeah. It's had a huge effect on me, like most other people. And that goes...a large part of that is as a historian because I am so appalled and frightened at what's happening in the United States. I am, again, to use that word, I'm hyper-aware of the ways in which climate change is an - is already affecting and exacerbating inequality around the world, and how it will do so. I mean, we are looking at - we've already experienced, even in this country, disasters we... we have never experienced before, and in their - not just their scope, but in their frequency, and we're doing almost nothing to mitigate that.
And so, I fear for our constitution. I fear for our future because even moderatepeople, even people who are not wildly like - you know, Trump's is a terrorist administration, basically, but even people who are not... you know, in that camp, who are more moderate and say, "Oh, maybe some of the things he's doing are not so good," are not onboard entirely; are not - if they understand, then they are not doing everything they can to say you know what, this is first. People are ridiculing the Green New Deal. The Green New Deal is actually brilliant. It's actually brilliant.
So, in terms of [laughs], in terms of issues involving queer people, well, ofcourse, we're all human, so we're all going to be, you know, either burned up or flooded out, but yes, I'm appalled at the backwards movement. I'm appalled at the administration. [Sighs] again, I'm probably going to enrage a lot of people, but that, to me, is not the most scary thing because that's going to get backpedaled. That is not going to stand. And where we are in this culture, where we are in this society, this world, the stuff that the - the things that the administration has, you know, offended trans and queer people with, the real - I mean, the... the real losses and threats to individuals, I don't, I don't diminish those, but the idea that policy will be passed that will, that will turn the clock back in a significant way for queer people without its being turned around, I'm just not that worried about that. I am worried about women. I'm worried about abortion rights, I'm worried - I'm very worried about Roe v. Wade. I'm worried about the deep corruption that's entered the Supreme Court. So, all of that stuff [sighs], so maybe it sounds like I'm whistling in the wind, but - and it's not that the - the least of these is queer stuff, it's just that I just think that's going to get backpedaled. And maybe I'm Pollyanna, but...
PS: What movements or marches or protests have you been a part of or want tomaybe be a part of in the future in regards to those issues?
MC: Yeah, all of the above [laughs]. And I'm not a good - I'm not a good - Icontribute the way I can. When I have money, I contribute financially. I contribute with my photography; I try to help publicize what's going on locally. I am not a good phone caller. I am not a good - those are things that I fail at because again, my shyness, my embarrassment, my inability to sort of get in someone's face and say, "Are you going to do this?" and that makes me a bit of a weakling in terms of participating in, you know, in events in movements. But to be in a march, that's fun. To take pictures and publicize them, that's fun. So, that's kind of where I'm at.
PS: Have there been any personal major life events that have really shaped you?Like any moments in time that just have made you like stop and rethink, or just think about things a different way?
MC: That's such a great question. Um... oh boy. Um... here I sit silently whilethe tape is running [laughs]. Oh gee, major life events, I think... I think not - having my children. Having my children; adopting my children. I mean, that... that's the biggest. That's the - that's the, the biggest. I mean, I had a - when I - back away from that for a sec - I had a medical crisis when I was 20 and practically died, and I think just the consciousness of that, the consciousness of how lucky I was is always with me, and it makes me cautious about, you know, about, oh, things that happen in my body. Hmm, I better pay attention to that.
But that was a huge life event. I think my parents divorcing, even though I wasin my thirties by then, I think it was, it was confronting the difficulties in their marriage, and the courage that it took one of them to say, mm, that's it. But [stumbles], but the kids - and I say that - I'm not dissing my exes and how important our relationships were - but having the kids, wow.
PS: And you adopted them; what was that process like?
MC: That was really-
PS: Especially as a gay couple?
MC: Yeah, that was really challenging. I was partnered at the time, andinitially, I tried to get pregnant with, you know, AI, artificial insemination, and I was by then in my early forties. And it could have worked and didn't, and I'm just glad because now I have my kids [laughs]. But I want - but I really - I think this is an important - it's important to put that in the record. And so, we decided to work with an agency that would... whose process would allow us to adopt with minimal legal challenges. We were going to be an intact family, but the reality was - and this is the difficulty is being queer - you know, the reality was that it was going to be difficult; that we were going to have to do some misrepresenting of our family situation.
And we worked with an a-now, I'm not going to name the agency. It was a goodagency but that would not be fair. We worked with an agency that let us do a home study. I went forward as the adoptive parent, and we were able to adopt in Vietnam. And I probably said enough, I mean as much about that process as I should because this has been a really, really fraught issue, this issue of gay people adopting internationally. And of course, it makes me furious that it's that kind of issue, but it is.
My then-partner and I both - and so, so one child was adopted as a tiny, tinyinfant from Vietnam, and the second child was adopted domestically. And that was in some ways an easier process. It was a private adoption. But adoption is always - it's always incredible joyful and incredibly scary because [laughs], you know, biological parents don't go through - they go through their own hell in terms of the process, you know, in being scared and - but they don't go through these tests that you have to pass to be allowed to be a parent!
So, both of us adopted each child. And so, in Oregon, you could do that, invarious counties. It may be statewide now. I'm afraid I don't know. But we went through an attorney who helped us find a county where it was - it's completely legal, these are not fake papers - so, both children are both of our children, and I love that. It's so important.
PS: How long did it take from like the beginning of the adoption process?
MC: The process?
PS: Until you actually had your children?
MC: Probably a year. It may have been - and that's classic, actually. It mayhave been a little more than a year. I'm blocking out because it was so... it was so exciting and so scary, and when are we going to get our referral, when are we going to get a referral. That was the first child, and oh my god [laughs] what a joy. What a joy. The second child, it was much faster because it was domestic adoption, and so we didn't wait. We, we... got to know of this child and we wanted to adopt him, and so we didn't have to like go through this big waiting process where we wait for a child to be referred to us. So, that was... that was a lot shorter.
PS: [Unintelligible] that was an exciting process at the same time it wasdifficult. So, have you handled negative things in your life? Like what kind of coping mechanisms?
MC: [Laughs] denial, denial, and denial [laughs]! Um, I swear a lot, I'm veryimmature in terms of if anything goes wrong, you know, with my computer or, you know, or with anything in my life, I stomp around and I get very childish. I'm pretty good with other people, so I don't always do that in public, but... and I'm lucky, lucky, lucky enough not to have a depressive bone in my body, in terms of - I get, I get anxious, I get angry, I get pessimistic, but I can usually throw it off either through denial or through distraction... I'm thinking of the major stuff that I've faced, that we've faced. You know, breakups are hard. When your kids are hurting, there is almost nothing worse in the entire world than when your kids are having a hard time, and that, that takes me right back into my least mature self. It's one of the ways in which parenting can humble you. I mean, one of the ways in which parenting can humble you is when your kids tell you you've got everything all wrong. You know, and all kids do that. But the other way is when you're not quite sure. You want to make everything better for your kid, and you can't, and you have to tell yourself this is the child's life. This is their learning process, not yours. Not yours to fix. So, that's - those are some times when I just get really... I don't handle things well, shall we say.
PS: When we were doing the pre-interview stuff, you mentioned music. How haveyou used music as maybe a coping mechanism, or just-?
MC: Yeah. Oh my gosh, hugely. And I'm not - I'm really a hobbyist musician. I'mnot a great musician. I never have had the discipline to take my skills to the level that I would like them to be at, but apparently not well enough to practice three hours a day. But I'm a songwriter. My mom - and this is one of the incredible gifts she gave me - she figured I took piano lessons, that didn't take, you know, I was a kid, and then when I was in sixth grade she became aware that one of our friend's sons was taking guitar lessons and was getting pretty good on guitar, and she said, "Would you be interested in learning at guitar?" And I said, "Sure," and we went and watched him play and, you know, we talked with the guitar teacher.
And you know, my mom just said - she didn't want us to play band or orchestrainstruments, and that probably was a mistake, but she wanted us to have something that we could do on our own. And she knew I loved signing because I'd been playing ukulele and stuff like that. And this was back before the uke was really big, right? Like '63 or four or something. And so, she got me a guitar and a teacher, and wow. I mean, that was great. So, I just sang and sang and sang and sang and sang. I became, you know, this is like '64, '65, '66, '67, so I became one of the ones who always - you know, I took my guitar to camp. It was a, you know, it was the campfire stuff.
I had a little group. We went around and sang at events and like old people'shomes, as they called them at the time. And... it was important. So, as an emotional release, it meant everything to me. And then when I got to prep school I started... I started writing songs. I just out of the blue at 14, 15, 16 years old, I started writing songs. And I was no prolific. Let me say, I was not prolific. And that side of me that was really kind of emotional and, you know, and oh God, the world, da da da, um, is a great and a terrible place and a - and I was also an intellectual, and after I got out of high school - I mean, I was a big troublemaker in high school - and I took a year off before I went to college, and when I went to college I got into my intellectual side. The intellectual side was very, very reserved and focused on studying and reading and not having any of these relationship things going on.
So I would - I was playing classical guitar but I stopped writing for a while,and then when I got into graduate school and I was trying to finish my dissertation I taught myself guitar again because you do anything to avoid finishing your dissertation [laughs]. So watch out when you go to graduate school. Watch out for those little hobbies that creep in. So, I taught myself photography and I taught myself guitar. I mean, it wasn't all lost, and I did finish the dissertation, but - but then-
Anyway, so... when I got to Missouri I played a little bit, you know, five yearsin Missouri? Five years in Missouri? Yes, five years in Missouri. And when I moved out here and went through some relationship emotional stuff I started writing again. And at that point my writing became political. And so, some of the writing was about relationships, some of the writing was about political stuff, but that's when I was able, finally, to say okay, I can bring all of myself together. You know, the political stuff, the intellectual stuff, the musical stuff, the emotional stuff, and write these songs.
So again, boy, it takes me... now it takes me a very long time to finish a song.I've gone back into my self-critical place and it's like... But I'm still kind of eking them out, eking them out. I started writing other stuff because for some reason it seems easier to do that. But... and I started playing fiddle. When my son was six months old - and so this was crazy, it was absolutely crazy - my son was six months old, my daughter was two; I just, I had this vision one night that well, I should be playing the violin because, um, because I have pretty good tone recognition [laughs].
So I've been - I had to - I taught myself the fiddle and I got involved withsome people in town who play Irish fiddle. You know, Celtic they were, really; Irish, Scottish, you know, all those. And that has become one of my core social groups and social experiences. I'm out playing fiddle four times a week now, basically. So, it's been really important. I mean, I still beat myself up all the time because my skill level isn't what it should be, but anyway, that's beside the point. But, so the songwriting, I mean the songwriting was my way of, you know, kind of pulling these various pieces of myself together.
PS: And you mentioned photography as well. Was that sort of the same thing, ormore of just a hobby?
MC: Yeah, that... [Stumbles] that's a different piece of myself. That's right,and a lot of that came from my dad. My dad was a real gadget guy. I'm more temperamentally like my mom, but my dad has had a huge effect on my life, and he loved, he loved doing little technical things. He loved - and so, he took up photography. And he'd buy these cameras and I kind of got the bug from him. And we shared cameras and we chatted, you know, we read the - that - there was no internet then so we read the magazines and we, you know, learned all this stuff and so on. And so, off and on I did photography.
And as I say, when I was I think a year and a half from completing mydissertation, I was working in an undergraduate house at Harvard and they - there was an unused darkroom in the basement. And so, I got a key to it and taught myself, literally fitted out the darkroom, which wasn't all that expensive to do, and taught myself to develop and print pictures. I mean, I'm astonished now that I actually did that [laughs]. I mean, whoa. And then - so that, that - so, when I went to Missouri I used the university darkroom for a while, and then when I moved in with my partner and I had a, my own personal darkroom.
And so, then, that was... what changed everything. And then it kind of went on alittle, into a little valley because I didn't have the time or really the money to continue doing photography the way I wanted to while I was working here and so on. And then digital came along, and when digital became viable, I got back into photography big time. And so, I've done that since... oh, I don't know, '04, '05, something like that. I mean, really intensively. And again, the technical side appeals to me. I research, you know, into the ground. Oh, this camera or that camera, this lens, that lens, but I love doing community events. I love, I love being able to be part of the community by recording the community. It's so exciting to me.
I've done a few weddings and that's been, that's been fun. Nerve-racking. Youknow, if you miss that moment, you miss that moment [laughs]. But yeah, that's been really important. And the way I say it touches a different part of me is that frankly, behind the camera you can hide a little bit, you know. And so... people, people have [stumbles] - I do a lot of travel photography. It's all over my walls and so on, and you know, upload it to a stock company. And people say well if you're taking a camera you're not really in the moment, but I swear this allows me to be in the moment. I pay attention. I see things. The visual has always been really important to me and I cannot draw worth a damn. I've tried over and over. But photography allows me to understand the visual. So that's...
PS: So, kind of moving in towards the end I, while doing some backgroundresearch on you, I saw some of your professional involvements. Could you tell us a little bit about your research interests? And you mentioned your dissertation.
MC: Yeah. I think the most important thing has been the - I branched intopsychotherapy. I have been interested in psychotherapy since I was in my twenties. Or earlier, really. Didn't - I think rightly didn't have the chops then, the emotional chops, to go into it as a career, and I'm really glad I did not, at that time. And then when I moved out here, the - I had finished one, I had finished one project that was moving toward being a book and I needed to start another project and I was already working on the history of family therapy because my then partner was training as a family therapist and got me really excited about how it worked and what it was. I still am excited about that.
And I started studying psychoanalysis in the 1950s because of a close connectionbetween psychothe-sorry, between family therapy and psychoanalysis in the, and [laughs] psychoanalysis of serious mental illness in the fifties. It was a bizarre and interesting time. So, I started a project, and the project led me to believe that I really wanted a clinical credential. So in the early nineties, the university was nice enough to let me drop to half time and pursue an MSW, a Master of Social Work at PSU, at Portland State.
And so, I drove up there part-time for three years and was trained in, well, insocial work, more broadly speaking; social justice issues and so on. But also, I took their classes but also I trained myself and used supervisors here in Corvallis to learn psychotherapy. So, I did practice as a therapist in, um... at a local agency that focuses on domestic violence. So, I practiced with people there.
It was one of the most extraordinary times of my life. I learned so much. Ilearned increasing humility, but I [laughs], I learned so much about what I could and couldn't do and what other people survive and thr-and then learn to thrive after. I mean, it's just, that was amazing. That was great. But then I decided I wanted to be a mom, and having two careers and being a mom just didn't work out, so I came back to the books and the teaching.
PS: All right. Well, that's all I have.
PS: Any other comments or things you'd like to add?
MC: That's a good question, and you know I should be right on top of it sincewe've talked so much about the, about interviews and about... how they work... I don't think so. I think that what I've emphasized - I mean, I don't, I don't mean to end on a negative note about myself but I think that what has been really important for me, particularly in the last few years, is realizing that I owe my kids, my students, my friends, the people I come in contact with. I owe them honesty, and it hasn't always been... it hasn't been easy to come by.
I've been very cautious all my life and I'm not proud of that, but I think it'simportant to talk about it; to say, if not I'm sorry, then I realize, you know. So, and that has flavored my whole life. So, I can be adventurous, I do live outside the [laughs], a little outside the box, but I think that's my biggest regret. But it's also my biggest recognition, that - about myself.
PS: Do you think it's more important or equally important, to be honest withthose around you as you're honest with yourself? Like which one of those do you think is more important or [unintelligible]?
MC: I think it has to be founded on honesty with yourself. It has to be foundedon honesty with yourself. And we can't always be honest with others. Sometimes it's cruel to be honest with others, and so I've always lived kind of that way. But in terms of owning my identity, that's where I've cheated. You know, that's where I've... at both myself and others. So, eh, I hope I'm over it, more or less.
PS: Do you think if you could go back now, like this might be a clichÃ©question, but-
MC: No, it's a great question.
PS: -go back now knowing everything you know, like is there anything you wouldhave done differently?
MC: Yeah, I think I would have been bolder. I mean, I, I've done the gay andlesbian course - and we need to change its name, by the way; I need to change the name to queer history - but you know, I've taught this course for what, 20 years, and I think I needed to be more ahead of the, more ahead of the curve than I've been in terms of what's in the course. I mean, it's gotten better over time, but in terms of what's in the course, in terms of how the course can be used for on-campus, and for people to explore their own lives, I just think yeah, I think I would do that. I think I would be more bold intellectually if I could go back and do things over again.
I would be more bold intellectually, and thus perhaps more productiveintellectually [laughs]. Yeah, I think that's... I think that's right. For me, the academic life is about the freedom to read, the freedom to thing, the - and the obligation to help students be, be who they are and now that they have options to try to help them break away from the limits that they put on themselves, and that frankly, in many cases, their families have put on them. "Go to school and get a business degree," or whatever it is. That's the obligation and that piece I've been fairly true to, but I should have been bolder intellectually, I think. So, yeah.
PS: All right, well I think that's all we have then.
MC: Yeah, thank you.
PS: Yeah, no problem, thank you.