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The Lesbian Mastermind behind The Dinah: An Interview with Mariah Hanson

This interview was published over at Huffington Post on October 13, 2014. I have shared it here for my WordPress friends.

I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Mariah Hanson who runs The Dinah each year in Palm Springs. As confirmation of her lifetime of success, Mariah will be honored by The Center in Palm Springs with its first ever “Legacy Award” to recognize exceptional work on behalf of LGBT people living in the Coachella Valley. I met her this year at The Dinah and she was charming. I was lucky enough to get to ask her some questions well after the dust on the event settled.

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Tell me about yourself.
I am a very passionate woman interested in all aspects of really discovering all the ways we can grow and be the best person we can be. My event reflects that, working my weekend is like going through EST or a seminar. We really lay the groundwork for people to see how they can make a difference. How they can reach out to people who are on the edge, heartbroken, maybe in crisis, or in mourning. The vibe with my staff is really about making a very welcoming amazing first impression with people and then letting that experience flow throughout the weekend. Think about a fancy restaurant with a famous chef. The first course is fantastic. Then you have to go to the bathroom, excuse yourself, and you go in and it’s disgusting. How do you feel when you walk back to your food? Doesn’t matter how good the chef is now. I may be the face of Dinah, but everyone is important. Even the janitor.

I am definitely an event producer, who loves what I do and feels incredibly honored to do what I do. An individual who, as I grow older, is really enjoying the opportunity that we all have to grow and be kind and make a difference. Making a positive difference in our lives is really important. The journey that we have to take has a ripple effect. I love what I do. And then I ride horses. I am a cowgirl. I drive a Chevy. People wouldn’t recognize me.

How do you feel Dinah has developed?
I think it’s seen an incredible growth trajectory. It started out as a pretty wild three-day party focused around drinking and DJ driven. 24-25 years later it is an international lesbian music festival with film, comedy, live music, and charity. It just has become this amazing event. We gave feedback forms last year at the film festival and the feedback was more events like this – mostly from women in their 30s and 50s. As the event grows there is room to do different stuff during the Dinah.

How do you manage to top the year before?
Well I will tell you my goal isn’t to get bigger every year. The goal is just to throw the most amazing event for lesbians in the world. Other events are changing, more talent that is recognizable because gay events set the bar.

Do you see other event promoters as competition?
No. I see it as a win-win. You are in New Orleans and at that beignet shop – you know what I am talking about – there is a line around the block. [Cafe du Monde] Someone comes to NOLA and sees the line and thinks, wow they are making a lot of money; I want to open a beignet shop. But they aren’t as good at making beignets. So they revert to competitive tactics and send the health department over to the other shop. The other option is to see the line and think that this town loves pastries! Let’s open a bakery and make almond croissants. Second scenario: Everyone in NOLA is going to get really fat and be eating a lot of beignets and croissants. First: competitor will go out of business, not everyone is a beignet baker. Not everyone is nightclub promoter.

Favorite memory from the past 24 Dinah’s?
I’ve got a couple. One is listening to the Pussycat Dolls sing Don’t Cha. Another is talking to Katy Perry’s manager about Lady Gaga; I felt this presence behind me as I was talking to him. It was so strong and I turned around – it was Katy Perry, listening to everything I was saying to her manager. She is absolutely stunning and deserves her success. She has a good heart and is really funny. I was really blown away by her. Mary Lambert this year was spellbinding. I was so moved by her.

Me, too. Have you noticed a change in the crowd or any shifts?
I started producing independently in 2006 and that meant that I could make sure everyone was invited to the party and embrace the diversity of our community. If you go now it is incredibly diverse, people from all over the world, different pockets all over the US that are not as accepting as they could be, but at Dinah something different happens. It’s like walking through the door to Narnia and they just embrace the diversity. It is the most positive vibe over the weekend. It is amazing and thrills me. Look around. Look to your left and look to your right. This is amazing. We have 5 days of the most diverse and beautiful people. I’d like to invite the United Nations to come to Dinah and take notes. We can get along. Our differences are so small in the big scheme of things. It happens organically, but we are picking the seeds that we plant. I don’t allow my staff to be rude; if they are rude, they don’t come back. Customers aren’t allowed to be rude either. Positive seeds – treat every customer like gold. We are planting seeds that foster that kind of garden. So there is a stage that is set, and then it happens organically. Valuing and honoring people who attend the event. We appreciate that they are there and want them to have a wonderful weekend. I can’t take responsibility for the weekend, only for the stage.

I’m not so sure about that, Mariah. Who’s on your dream line up?
P!nk – been trying to get her forever. Bring Katy Perry back. Ok, here is my dream line up: P!nk, Katy Perry, Earth Wind & Fire, Chrissie Hynde, Justin Timberlake, and Dolly Parton. Challenge is that you have to stay relevant.

What is one thing people don’t know about you?
I am a bookworm. And, I do a Christmas poetry slam every year.

How fascinating! We talked about this for a few minutes. Mariah and her best friend recite poetry with each other to celebrate. With that, we moved on to the Lightning Round. Yes or no answers, no elaboration needed.

Favorite beer?
Stella, not a beer drinker. I prefer it on draft. I am a wine drinker – big reds.

Cars or motorcycles?
Cars, unless you say Vespa – in purple.

Rather be hot or cold?
Hot, hate to be cold.

Prefer to wear silver or gold?
Gold, I like silver more than I used to.

Books or movies?
Books. If you ask me fiction or nonfiction, then biographies. Why am I reading fiction when the lives of these people are so much more colorful than anything someone made up?

Straight ties or bow ties?
Bow ties, I have to go with eccentric. But, I am more into dresses and if she wore a tie.

And, with her last answer, I sat up a little taller, straightened my bow tie and thanked Mariah for her time. I have to say that I was expecting her to be different. I don’t know how exactly. Maybe less personal. A little more full of herself. After all, she runs the biggest lesbian event in the world. She gets huge talent to come to the desert to sing for several thousand women. Every year. She is a legend. But not as in old, just as in – it’s The Dinah! She has been running The Dinah since it was actually a golf tournament, with a party on the side (as opposed to the week-long party it is now). She wasn’t full of herself, though. She was funny and charming, and hot. I really enjoyed our talk. I can’t wait to go to The Dinah again next year.

It’s Butch to create something that gives so many lesbians joy, year in and year out. Thank you, Mariah. That’s very Butch. Be Butch.


Butch’s Guide to Remaining Sane During a Break Up

There are lots of break ups right now. Colleagues, friends, family. It happens to everyone – even to those who think they might be pretty damn close to perfect. Lesbians, even butches, break up. And breaking up sucks. No doubt about it. But it happens. It happens in bad situations (cheating), and it happens in not-so-bad situations (new job in a new city). We’ve all been there, and probably all hope to never be there again. But, if you suddenly find yourself in a break up, maybe these tips will help – at least a little.

1. Help Each Other. If possible, and you are mature enough, work together. I can’t imagine it working if there’s an affair or any severe incident. But, if you both decide that you aren’t right together and there is plenty of love, you can actually lean on each other for comfort. Could be the dreaded LBD (Lesbian Bed Death: passion gives way to comfort, love and friendship – no more sex); or could be you’ve grown in different directions; or maybe you’ve decided you just aren’t right for each other. In all three of these circumstances there might still be lots of love. Imagine how nice it will be if you are crying and she can comfort you and vice versa. Even if you want the relationship to be over, you are still mourning the loss of something good, familiar, or comfortable. Your day-to-day life as you both know it is over, the good and the bad.

When you can be right or kind, choose to be kind. Especially now.

Communication and kindness will be key if you try to do this. “But, Butch, we didn’t communicate well during our relationship, how are we going to do that now?” Well, you may find that the pressure has been released after you’ve chosen to split. You may be able to communicate really well. Surprisingly well. Don’t confuse this as a reason to get back together. Remember here, you are trying to work together for the common goal of splitting with the least amount of damage done to each other and the most love spared. Be kind. Don’t cause any new hurt or scars. If you do that, a friendship can blossom.

You were most likely already best friends and if you pull apart suddenly like Velcro it will be excruciating and the gap left by the ripping apart (ouch!) can easily be filled with anger and resentment. Working together allows you to build a friendship going forward. Unless you actually hated each other, you’ve already got this, and with some care and kindness, you can nurture it. It will be a great comfort to you both if you pull it off. And, imagine how much easier it will be on your friends! They won’t have to take sides if the two of you remain friends. If you still like each other, you can both be at the same parties – and you don’t have to divide friends. Imagine avoiding: “I’ll take the toaster oven and Brad and Angelina, you take the computer and Barak and Michelle.”

Perhaps best listened to on repeat for now.

2. Avoid Love Songs. Duh. But, what to do if you cannot? And it is hard to avoid them. Every song is either “I love you so much I want to rip your clothes off,” or “You hurt me and now I hate you so much I want to rip your clothes off.” Then, try this: imagine that the love song is about you discovering your own special self and singing to yourself, rather than to her. Maybe create a playlist of songs that are good for you, your old favorites (i.e. Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The Time, A-Ha, KD Lang, etc.), things that are feel good for you and not connected to her, and upbeat stuff. Or, you might create an empowering playlist full of songs that are about how strong you are. Think Melissa Etheridge’s “Giant,” Fat Boy Slim’s “Because we Can,” Pink’s “Blow Me (One Last Kiss),” or David Guetta’s “Titanium.” I suggest you avoid the Indigo Girls, Tori Amos, and Sarah McLachlan. Those amazing artists might just push you over the edge right now. If you are into speed metal or country, you are on your own, but the good news is that I am sure there are lots of songs that equate to “I can make it on my own!” in those genres.

3. Write. Even if you don’t write for others, try journaling. It can really help purge the things that you are feeling. Something about a pen on paper and writing whatever comes to mind is very cathartic. Plus, there can be lots of cross outs, angry exclamation points, and underlines. So there!!!!!! It’s hard to do that on a laptop. Therapists will tell you that this is super good for you. Also, if you get stuck or you try to out think yourself, put the pen in your opposite hand and try writing that way. It will be messy, but may be more honest.

This journal is just for you, so you can be honest with yourself. Don’t write it as if it’s a brilliant monologue that you will read, or she will find, and then magically she will change her mind – or your words will fix whatever is broken. You aren’t trying to do that. You are trying to move through this. Of course, you can share some of what you learn with her if you like, but the journal should be yours alone, and not motivated by trying to sway anyone – especially yourself.

4. Yoga.Or some other fitness activity that you like. Working out is super good for you and releases positive endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. “Happy people don’t just shoot their husbands,” or so says Elle Woods of Legally Blonde.

I do yoga and Pilates, and the room is full of hotties.
– Madonna

I suggest yoga, and here’s why. Yoga is amazing because you have to concentrate on your breathing while contorting your body into crazy poses – and that forces you to clear your mind. If you are trying to get your leg up over your head while putting your forehead on the floor (yes, really), you have to focus on breathing steadily and deeply and on your balance. You will have no time to think about her. I promise. If you do, you might fall over and then the pain or embarrassment of the fall will likely dominate your psyche – rather than her. Success any way you look at it.

Plus, side bonus: yoga studios are filled with limber, lithe, mostly female yogis. They frequently wear very little, or what they wear is skin-tight. There are lots of pony tails – translation, if they are lesbians, they are probably femmes, or at least sporty spice lesbians. Also, they are some of the fittest people – as a whole – that I have seen. In addition to the benefits of breathing, endorphins and clearing your head, if you start to realize that you are alright and that there is a world after her, a yoga studio can be a healthier version of a strip club (see Number 10).

One negative to yoga for me is that it is hard on the Mohawk. My favorite position – resting pose – ruins the hawk by making it all flat in the back. But, it is a small price to pay for inner peace.

5. Do Something You Like.  Maybe something you have never done before. Not to spite her, because that’s immature and below you. But because it’s good for you to focus on yourself. Having a partner has tremendous upsides – no doubt, but there are also compromises in every relationship. “Baby, I’d like to learn to play the drums.” “No way in hell, it’s too loud.” Well, now’s the time! Say you’ve always wanted to juggle, learn Italian, or practice your glass throwing abilities, but you haven’t had time – or permission (yikes), then take a class at the community college. Doing something new helps you redefine yourself without her, and in a positive way. Note that if you always wanted to smoke or become a knife juggler, this is not what I have in mind. Stay away from stuff that’s bad for you.

You have to know when to tell yourself no.

6. Just Say No. That last point leads me here to drugs, smoking, alcohol (yes, even fantastically good craft beer), cheesecake, In-N-Out Burger and Ben and Jerry’s. All of these things are intoxicating, delicious, mind-altering, and alluring. Some are illegal. Whatever your poison, these things are bad for you. Except for the illegal stuff, everything in moderation, right? The problem is that when you are grieving the loss of a formerly-perfect relationship, sometimes your decision-maker (that thing that keeps you in balance) is broken. It has lost its fluxie. If you start in on any of these tempting things, you might not be able to stop. And that means excess. Excess drinking, excess smoking, excess eating, excess ice cream. Which, in turn, means excess weight and lower self-esteem. If you are like most of us, your self-esteem is probably already at an all-time low, so lowering this is not what the doctor ordered. Plus, getting fat will not help your post-break up social life.

7. Avoid Her on Facebook. This doesn’t apply if you are able to take the steps in Number 1 above, but if not, take heed. As you know, Facebook is a slightly distorted version of reality. The last thing you need is to see that she is off skydiving, having dinner with gobs of friends at hipster places, or buying a house. She may be doing those things, yes. Or she may not be. Is everyone always honest on Facebook? She may be doing those things, but only because she is so distraught over the breakup that she must keep herself busy. And, when was the last time you saw someone post on Facebook, “my girlfriend left me and I can’t get off the couch where I have sat in a puddle of my own misery in my disgusting sweatpants for three days”?

Plus, if you aren’t ready, when she starts dating again, this will just drive you over the edge. Oh, and don’t even think of signing into her account and checking things out. This is Facebook stalking and it is bad form, women. Don’t do it. You may have changed all your passwords, or not, but regardless, do not give in to this temptation. It will only lead you to hurt. Do you really want to see what she is saying about you (if anything) to her friends? I, for one, only want to hear things that people choose to tell me. Not everything is meant to be shared with everyone.

8. Don’t Purge Everything. Sure you can throw away the sex toys, that recent silly note she wrote you, or delete the voicemails on your phone, but don’t go grab your memory box and all the cards you’ve ever exchanged and throw those out. We tend to think that getting rid of everything that is “her” or “us” will make us feel better. But it won’t. And, you may regret throwing away all of those memories, all of those pictures, later. After all, it is part of your life. She is part of your history, and if you throw all of that away, it is like throwing away a piece (maybe a huge chunk) of you … of your life. A year later, when things are settled, you may wish you could see those pictures of you in the Tough Mudder run. You threw them away because she was next to you at the finish line. Now, you are screwed. Can’t recreate that, and if it’s anything like what I have heard, you don’t want to do it again. What if she was by your side when you graduated from college, got your first car, traveled the world, or brought home your favorite puppy? There are other parts of your life together that you might want to sift from the rubble. You won’t be able to do that if you light it all on fire in a trash can – tempting as it may be.

9. Skip Big Changes. This is related to number 8. Do this at least for a while. If you are distraught, it is not the time to quit your job, move into a new place (unless you have to), get a tattoo or piercing, chop off all your hair, or decide to move to a new city. None of those things will assuage the pain you feel, and they will just add to your stress level – or create a possibility for regret. I really liked my hair, why did I do that? A giant Minnie Mouse tattoo, what was I thinking? You may think that a new city will be a fresh start for you – no memories of the two of you together, and you may be right. But, that new city will be there in a month or two when things have calmed down for you. Change is good, yes, but you are already going through lots of change. No need to pile on.

Bottom line is to make sure that you are not running away from her – from the house, the job, the look, the friends that you had with her. If you have something to run to, I suppose that is different. In other words, I am not saying to turn down some cool opportunity just because you are struggling through a break up. What I am talking about here is the desperate search for change thinking it will make you feel better.  Odds are that it won’t and the fact that it didn’t might make you feel even worse.

10. Strip Club.Have your friends take you out. Maybe a strip club isn’t for you (why not?) and if that’s the case, have them take you out somewhere else. Reach out to your friends. Your family – not for the strip club, mind you. But you need to have some fun, get off of your couch, and eventually get out of those sweatpants.

Use your imagination to embellish. I try to keep my posts and pics safe for work.

If you do go to a strip club (good for you!) or a bar, take heed of the other pointers here, and don’t get smashed. You’ll end up doing something stupid (why do I have this g-string in my pocket?) and regretting it, or you will end up at home on the floor of your bathroom crying like a baby about how she would never have let you do this to yourself. All things in moderation. Oh, and if you haven’t been to a strip club before, bring lots of singles and sit in the front. I am available to act as your guide if needed.

11. Butch Down. This is the opposite of butching up – toughening up and handling something. That doesn’t work in this situation. It’s not a broken window, a tire that needs changing, a door that needs opening, a spider to kill, or birthdays to be remembered. It’s your heart and you should treat that gently – no matter how butch you are. Cry. Scream. Pout. Whatever. Your emotions are right for you. If you are so butch that you don’t want to show anyone this side of you, then do it alone. But, it sure would be good if you could let at least one friend in. It takes a very strong person to show weakness. Are you butch enough to let people know that you aren’t made of stone?

Breaking up sucks. No matter what you do, it’s going to suck. Nothing but time and moving forward will help to take the pain away. But, maybe, just maybe, a few of these pointers will make it suck a little less.

Butch down and get through it. Be butch.


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