For decades, Dennis Creamer lived in the closet. A retired Air Force serviceman in north Florida, he was married to a woman he met while serving in Germany, worked as a fish and wildlife biologist and was a self-described Star Trek and space fanatic. But when his wife died in 1987, Creamer started dressing in modest pumps and turtleneck sweaters, wearing leopard-print nighties to bed, and using dating websites to find men.
Creamer, who turns 81 later this month, is one of three subjects in Before You Know It, a documentary about the over-55 LGBTQ community in the U.S. In 2012, Creamer moved to Rainbow Vista, an LGBTQ-friendly retirement community in Gresham, where he says he's rediscovered the companionship and happiness he lost when his wife died.
Before You Know It opens Friday, June 13, at the Clinton Street Theater. On June 18, a post-screening Q&A will feature Creamer and director PJ Raval. WW spoke with Creamer about cross-dressing, Gresham and gay marriage.
WW: In the film, you describe having to suppress your desires to cross-dress while you were married. What was that like?
Dennis Creamer: I've had these inclinations since I was 5. The very first time I put on a dress, I was 10. I did it because I had difficulties at school. I fought with other kids all the time. I grew up pretty alienated and felt at 10 years old that if I was a girl, I wouldn't have to fight. To me, putting on the skirt represented escape, a feeling of freedom. I kept everything suppressed while I was married, but when my wife died, I was devastated. I felt totally lost. I remarried within a year. It only lasted six or seven months. It was a mistake on both our parts.
How was your relationship with your first wife?
I met her in Germany, on a train. I spoke some German, and I approached her. I was young and brash. We had a very good relationship. We fought, but we never stayed mad at one another. After 30 years, you become very attached. If she was still alive, I'd be there.
What about gay marriage? How do you feel about the ban being lifted in Oregon?
I think there should be a level playing field, but I have no intention of getting married. I'm too cranky for people to put up with me.
How does Portland compare to Florida?
It's a much more accepting city than Niceville, Fla. I'm much happier in Portland, especially when we have nice weather. I've gone to the city several times—as long as I don't have to drive. Every time I drive, I get lost. But the bridges are something else. There's supposed to be a trans festival next Saturday [editor's note: The Trans Pride March starts in the North Park Blocks on Saturday, June 14, at 11:30 am]. I'm thinking about going.
What will you wear?
Probably wear a turtleneck, to hide all the wrinkles. I like turtleneck sweaters. I just picked up a skirt for $3.96 at Goodwill. They have codes—yellow, green, blue, purple. This one was 50 percent off.
Did you have any unusual experiences while being filmed for the documentary?
Once, when I was coming back from Panda Express, the film crew was walking next to me. A lady stopped her car, looked out and said, "Are these young men bothering you?" I let her know that it was for a film. "This is a film that is supposed to cover old people," I said. I didn't mention the gay part. Gresham is a nice little town, but it is pretty conservative. We'd probably be better off in the Pearl District.
In the film, you say you your life hasn't had an impact on anyone. Has that feeling changed?
Some people have felt I was an inspiration. I'm glad to see the modern-day acceptance. Gay men can also be hostile to cross-dressers, but I just shrug my shoulders, smile at them and go.
What was your favorite part of the movie?
I loved the bridge scenes. I didn't look that bad, I thought. I looked like someone's grandma or great-grandma on steroids, but not half bad.
SEE IT: Before You Know It opens Friday at the Clinton Street Theater. A Q&A with Creamer and PJ Raval will follow the June 18 screening.