How Mariah Hanson Created the Dinah, the World’s Biggest Lesbian Party

“I’m a Dinah Virgin,” a T-shirt proclaims, worn by first-time visitors to the five-day annual party in Palm Springs, attended by 15,000-plus queer women from all over the world keen to party, dance, drink, and meet others under the blazing sun around a buzzy swimming pool. Mariah Hanson, who founded The Dinah (full name, the

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“I’m a Dinah Virgin,” a T-shirt proclaims, worn by first-time visitors to the five-day annual party in Palm Springs, attended by 15,000-plus queer women from all over the world keen to party, dance, drink, and meet others under the blazing sun around a buzzy swimming pool. Mariah Hanson, who founded The Dinah (full name, the Club Skirts Dinah Shore Weekend) in 1991, laughed when asked what the first-time visitor to the multi-day bacchanal—made globally famous by being featured in Season 1 of The L Word—should do.

“Dinah virgins always make the same mistake. You have to pace yourself,” Hanson said with firm, well-worn wisdom. “It’s a five-day event. A lot of times people get there and say ‘Oh my God, this is amazing,’ drink too much, then sleep through Lady Gaga’s performance. I’ve heard that so many times. I slept through such-and-such. You have to drink a lot of water, pace yourself. And we use the air-quote motto: ‘If you see something, say something.’ We have to take care of each other.”

Hanson, speaking via Zoom from her light-filled home in Sonoma, California (that was once her grandfather’s), said this year’s event—running Sept 20-24, the largest and longest-running music festival for queer women in the world—had “come together so perfectly.” Yet, she reveals to The Daily Beast, she is contemplating giving up the running of the event, and organizing a new, less frenetic party for older women in Wine Country.

For now though, the party is very much on. For the second year running, the Dinah will be held at the Margaritaville Resort Palm Springs, having moved from the Palm Springs Hilton. “It’s really one of the first times several artists approached us to say, ‘We want to play the Dinah,’” Hanson said. “That felt incredible—that we had gotten to that point of showing the importance and significance of the festival. Artists have said, ‘We want to play this festival’ before, but it’s happened quite a bit this year.”

“For years, it was very difficult for me to book LGBTQIA artists,” Hanson said. “They didn’t want to get pigeon-holed into being associated with just the lesbian and women’s market. I feel like that period is so far behind us. Young artists now celebrate their queerness, and they’re doing their music and careers on their own terms—not what some media or music mogul is telling them: ‘This is the formula.’ I think the formulas are getting thrown out, and people are living out loud and saying, ‘This is who I am, so listen.’ I think that’s really powerful, especially for women.”

This year Princess Nokia and G-Flip are this year’s headliners. Does that mean Chrishell Stause, her star-of-Selling Sunset wife will be with her? “That’s what people are saying, who knows?” said Hanson, laughing, with a look that said she totally knows, and the mystery is very good for pre-festival hype. This year there will be a “celesbian” dodge ball event. “A lot of celebrities will be taking part (no names divulged), and it’s the funniest event we do,” said Hanson. “It’s a not-to-miss.”

A photo illustration featuring pictures of guests at Dinah party.

Scenes from the day time pool parties at Dinah.

The Daily Beast/Courtesy Photos

The effect of The L Word’s Season 1 scenes showing the Dinah was “huge,” Hanson told The Daily Beast. (This year’s event will feature a recreation of Dana’s Bar!) The show first contacted Hanson through an intermediary long before filming had even begun, she said, to say Showtime were making a show called Earthlings (The L Word’s working title), and sent show stars Katherine Moennig and Erin Daniels—then relatively unknown—to promote it.

Hanson laughed. “We actually charged Showtime a sponsor fee to send them out, then it turned out to be such an astronomical hit we spent the next ten years begging Showtime to send them back,” Hanson said laughing. Moennig has made several visits since, and is a “good friend” of the event, she added. The appearance in The L Word season one did the trick, though. “Our numbers catapulted, and it certainly helped us become internationally known,” said Hanson.

That show, and The Real L Word and others have shown Dinah to be a few days of total hedonism, with drinking, partying, and hooking up, and various dramas happening riotously under the Palm Springs sun. Hanson insists this as an image of the Dinah past; today—she says more than once—it is a more a powerful experience of women simply being together.

Yes, there is drinking there, but mostly it’s a really powerful experience of inspiration and community and living out loud—buzzwords that take on new meanings at the Dinah.

“As myself and my team have grown older and wiser, we have realized we have to offer a really powerful platform to our community,” Hanson told The Daily Beast. “Our attention has shifted. You can feel that at the event. Yes, there is drinking there, but mostly it’s a really powerful experience of inspiration and community and living out loud—buzzwords that take on new meanings at the Dinah. The thing I hear mostly at the end of the weekend is: ‘The energy here is amazing.’ Our team is committed to making sure women from all over world feel seen, heard, and valued in a way that they do not find anywhere else, because we do it in our own Dinah special way.”

So, the Dinah is no longer queer women go wild in Palm Springs?

“That was probably about 15 years ago. It’s different in spirit now,” Hanson insisted. “Back then, the Dinah wasn’t a music festival. We had musical acts. Now this is a first-class music festival. Now major agencies contact us, compared to 2006 when I would have to call them three or four times, and they’d be like, ‘What?’ like I was some kind of annoying gnat. Luckily, we made some choices that showed what an amazing music festival we are, booking artists who were on the cusp of fame.

“The Pussycat Dolls played the Dinah right before their Top 10 hits,” Hanson said, also namechecking Katy Perry, Pat Benatar, Chaka Khan, Lady Gaga, Lizzo, Kesha, Iggy Azalea, Bebe Rexha, Chely Wright, Natasha Bedingfield, and Meghan Trainor. “I’m proud that the Dinah is now taken seriously by the music industry, which understands that women buy music and can help catapult careers. That’s a big feather in our collective community hat.”

There is a war right now against women and LGBTQIA people in this country being waged by a conservative, very frightening movement. It’s a very scary time. All of us are on red alert, and if we’re not, we should be.

Hanson said she was determined, once she took control of the event fully in the mid-aughts, that the images promoting the event featured a diversity of images beyond conventionally glamorous women.

If the Dinah stands out as an iconic event, it does so at a time when lesbian venues are in decline. Hanson says queer people generally feel more comfortable in mainstream venues than ever before, which has made it difficult for queer-defined venues to thrive.

“We need to be careful,” she said. We have our own culture, our own sense of humor, and our own coming out process. Nobody understands ‘it’ like we do. People need to realize that, and help queer women’s spaces to thrive. There is a war right now against women and LGBTQIA people in this country being waged by a conservative, very frightening movement. It’s a very scary time. All of us are on red alert, and if we’re not, we should be. Spaces like the Dinah are incredibly important for people to get away to, and feel strength and safety in numbers.”

A photo of Laurel Holloman, Leisha Hailey, and Kate Moennig with Mariah Hanson at Dinah.

Laurel Holloman, Leisha Hailey, and Katherine Moennig from ‘The L Word’ pose with Mariah Hanson at Dinah.

Courtesy of Dinah

The Dinah, said Hanson, has people from all over the world from different cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, ages, and ethnicities.

“There is no fighting, everyone is getting along,” Hanson insisted. “It’s a powerful weekend lovefest. It’s a really powerful experience of women coming together—and yes, it’s fun. It’s a pool party and night party, everyone is having a blast, but it’s not over-the-top drunk. We have 70-year-olds there. When they were the average age of the Dinah-goer, 28-29, they were in the closet. It’s pretty amazing to have older people come, even if it’s just once, to see how far we’ve come. That’s one of the pluses of Dinah. Every imaginable type of person is there, young and old. We celebrate the diversity of the event because that’s our community.”

I might have been bit of a hustler when I was a kid

Hanson, 62, is the second youngest of seven children, one of two siblings born in Walla Walla, Washington state—the other five children were born in San Francisco. Her Greek Orthodox mother was reading a book by James Stewart called The Storm and wanted to name her daughter “Persephone” after the Greek goddess. But a constituency of nuns tried to veto the name choice on the premise that it was a pagan name and consequently would send Baby Mariah straight to hell.

The family lived in Mill Valley in Marin County. Her father was an English professor, her mother “felt very strongly about social injustice and got very involved in the civil rights movement.” In opposition to segregation, her mother used to bus Mariah to the ghetto elementary school in protest. (After her parents divorced, Hanson said, her mother almost married a Black man “who was like a second father to us,” but the prejudice against interracial relationships worried him and so they did not marry.)

Her mother was an “incredibly graceful woman who believed we could and should all do better, and that’s how she brought us up. Dad was twitchy, difficult. I might have inherited a bit of that. I’ve had to do a lot of work on me.”

Cara Delevingne with Mariah Hanson at Dinah 2src21.

Mariah Hanson, left, with Cara Delevingne at Dinah 2021.

Courtesy Dinah

Hanson said she grew up poor but happy, remembering happy camping vacations (today she goes camping while riding horses). “The city is a rat race. People forget how stressful it is until they leave. I live in the country, living in a way that aligns with the kinds of lives we’re supposed to live.”

Hanson said she grew up in the “Me Generation of Mill Valley. Parents abandoned their kids for hot tubs and peacock feathers. I grew up in a very interesting time with parents who left us to our own devices. I was a latchkey kid and the second youngest. There was a hierarchy there, and I was not even in the middle of it.”

Hanson’s entrepreneurial spirit was forged young. Dressed as a cowboy, aged 5, she would stand out in the middle of her neighborhood street and demand a quarter from cars driving by. Next, she stole $3,000 worth of soap her mom had for years accumulated in her garage after having joined a pyramid scheme, and sold it at the local flea market.

“I might have been bit of a hustler when I was a kid,” Hanson conceded, laughing. “It came from my grandfather who was a Greek immigrant. He became an oil wildcatter. He was definitely very savvy and very scrappy. I completely idolized him. I wanted to be just like him.”

I grew up on my grandfather’s stories. At 5, he was selling bubblegum in front of the Ferry Building. I identified with him. Early in my life I just wanted to be successful.

Hanson smiled. “He was a powerful guy, a dealmaker. I used to see him making deals in church. That sounds really, really questionable. He wanted his fellow congregants to help build a Greek Orthodox church in Marin. We were using the Catholic church, St Vincent’s, at the time. So, on a Sunday afternoon he would meet with other wealthy Greeks, and ask, ‘Come on, are you in for five grand?’ The church he helped build is still there today. His own father helped build the Greek church in San Francisco. I grew up on my grandfather’s stories. At 5, he was selling bubblegum in front of the Ferry Building. I identified with him. Early in my life I just wanted to be successful.”

Hanson’s talent for organizing parties began when she turned 21 at university. She asked for permission from her dorm manager to throw a party in the cafeteria. “He said, ‘OK, but no booze,’ and you can’t charge.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry, I’d never do that,’ and then charged $5 to get in and had seven kegs of Lone Star beer.” She did exactly the same the following year, this time in a local coffee house.

This hustler spirit combined with Hanson’s “whole activist element and desire to make a difference. It’s really important to me create an environment you can have fun in, but not forgetting the community you are part of.”

A photo illustration featuring four pictures of performers including Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Meghan Trainor, and Lizzo performing at Dinah.

Celebrity entertainers like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Megan Trainor, and Lizzo have all performed at Dinah.

The Daily Beast/Courtesy Photos

Her mother was active in the battle for Black civil rights, when—in her early thirties—Hanson came out to her, and said she and her then-partner were thinking of having children. “She looked at me and said, ‘How could you think of doing that? That child will have such a hard life.’ And I looked at her and went, ‘Mom, are you kidding me? That’s the same argument you were faced with when you were my age. Are you kidding?’ She got really mad, and left the room because she knew I was totally right.”

Her mother was “an amazing woman, but all of us need to continue excavating our -isms, because they’re there. They may be tiny particles of prejudice or belief that we need to think about and address. The best of us suffer from it, and those who are incredibly ignorant suffer from it. It was a good reminder for me to be always on my toes about my own belief system.”

‘Oh my God, I like women of course!’

Prior to coming out “big time,” Hanson said she was “one of those tricky personalities. I told myself, ‘Why should I have to come out when straight people never have to say, ‘I have to tell you something that might affect how you feel about me. I’m straight.’ I used that argument when I was younger to not have to come out. It may have been a good soundbite, but it was really just a way for me not to be courageous. It took me a few years to say the truth.”

It was a difficult and different time for LGBTQ people, Hanson recalled—with few people out, and much homophobia and lesbophobia, rather than visibility, in pop culture. “I had the same discomfort that others my age had, and a fear of ostracism. I think that it was harder to come out back then. I also think it’s hard to come out now. It’s easier but not that easy. If you live in San Francisco, LA, New York, and Chicago, culturally vibrant places with lots of different stimuli, maybe it is. But if you’re growing up in the Midwest I’m sorry, it’s not that easy. We’re going in the right direction, but I think we have to have a lot of empathy and awareness that our experiences are not everyone else’s experiences.”

Her own mother “came around I called her out immediately, and I think she realized she was caught in an ideology that was conflicted. She came to the Dinah many times, and she loved it. Maybe she was against the idea of me bringing up a child with a woman because of her experience of people’s responses to her interracial relationship. It could have been borne of compassion.” (Hanson did not end up having children, “although I have lots of nieces and nephews who fill that void for me.”)

I walked into Clementina’s with her, and that was it. I felt like I had been bit by a vampire. Or maybe something more positive.

Hanson came out publicly at 32 on the Jenny Jones chat show, “so I knew it was time to come out to my family, some of whom had seen it, some knew and some people thought the girl I was with at the time was my roommate.”

It was the culmination of a tough and winding journey to self-realization. “I had a lot of boyfriends, but something was just amiss. I was folding clothes at an Esprit de Corps store for five dollars an hour. As an English major, there were no jobs for me. I was about 24. The girl working with me was experimenting with women, and she must have had a better gaydar than I did. We were good friends, we played word games with each other: ‘What does ‘loquacious’ mean?’ One day in 1984, she asked, ‘Can you come to this bar, Clementina’s, with me. (Clementina’s Baybrick was a San Francisco lesbian venue in the 1980’s.) I walked into Clementina’s with her, and that was it. I felt like I had been bit by a vampire. Or maybe something more positive. I thought, ‘Oh my God, I like women of course!’”

“It wasn’t easy,” said Hanson of recognizing her true sexuality. “It was internally tumultuous for me. I had to come to grips with an entirely new identity. It wasn’t like I knew I was gay. I didn’t know. I just knew I had boyfriends, but was never madly in love. The connection was there, but it wasn’t deep. I didn’t want to get married. I didn’t fall madly in love with any man. It was the complete identity shift that was difficult for me. The first thing I did was buy a motorcycle. I’m not really a motorcycle girl, and crashed it after about a year and stress-fractured my skull because we didn’t wear helmets back then.”

I was asking: ‘What does being a lesbian mean? Does it mean adopting masculinity? Does it mean I have to ride a motorcycle?’ The ‘road’ wasn’t as well paved it is now, and the options weren’t as diverse.

“It was just this experiment,” Hanson said. “I was asking: ‘What does being a lesbian mean? Does it mean adopting masculinity? Does it mean I have to ride a motorcycle?’ The ‘road’ wasn’t as well paved it is now, and the options weren’t as diverse as they are now. You can be anything you want to be now. Back then, the whole flannel shirt, short hair, masculine adoption butch-femme dynamic was prevalent. Not any more. When you say butch femme to younger people now they say, ‘What are you talking about?’ and that’s great they don’t know. And if you say ‘lesbian’ now they say, ‘You’re over 50.’ ‘Lesbian is a buzzword for ‘you’re over 50.’ It’s ‘queer’ for everything. It’s so interesting that a word that was so negative when I was growing up has been made over.”

Hanson came out to herself at 24, by 28 she was producing her first nightclubs. She said her English major came in handy when it came to writing good promotional materials. Her first lesbian venue in 1988 ran in an old San Francisco warehouse. Over a thousand women came to its debut Sunday night, Hanson recalled—crowd numbers bolstered with it being a holiday weekend.

At the time she had graduated with honors from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a BA in English. She had received a certification to teach at State, and was also one of the fifteen elite candidates (out of hundreds of applicants) to be accepted at UC Berkeley’s teaching program. She was waiting tables at the Zuni Café.

I think women are more powerful when working as a team. The Dinah in its own way offers the opportunity for women to come together, to be powerful together

Then the club night became a success. It lasted four or five months, then Hanson moved it to a smaller venue. “I loved throwing parties for the community, bringing people together. It was fun for me, and I was good at it. It came naturally to me. It was so emotional seeing that line of a thousand women, so exciting, so validating. The hard work I had done to get to that point had paid off. It really was an example of ‘Build it and they will come.’”

While big dance events aimed at gay men were plentiful, there were fewer such evenings for lesbians. “Part of that is the socialization men have that women don’t,” Hanson said. “I’m generalizing, but men are brought up to play team sports, to work together. Women are brought up to get the man, or to relate to the men—fathers, brothers, partners—in their lives. It’s so poignant to me that women have a yearning for friendships and connections with other women, and when you bring women together in a ‘team space’ like the Dinah, it’s so powerful. Women are alienated from each other at a young age. There’s a void that has a yearning to be filled. I think women are more powerful when working as a team. The Dinah in its own way offers the opportunity for women to come together, to be powerful together, and be a team.”

‘Companies, frightened by the Right, have done us wrong’

The first unofficial Dinah Shore weekend took place in 1986 when women began to flock to Palm Springs in conjunction with the Kraft Nabisco Championship women’s golf tournament, formerly known as the Colgate Dinah Shore Golf Tournament, which was founded in 1978 by the late entertainer and keen golfer Dinah Shore.

Before the Dinah began in 1991, Hanson was aware of the lesbians heading to Palm Springs for the tournament and the events being organized to cater to them. “I thought, ‘This needs something a little more different,” Hanson said. “Something that carves a space that is absolutely ours. Instead of taking 50 rooms in a hotel I took over whole hotels and created a queer world that we owned for however many days I had booked it for.”

Hanson is proud of the talent she has attracted, but also the corporate sponsors—a vexed issue this year in the wake of high-profile controversies such as Bud Light not fully standing behind trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney after a right-wing backlash to her partnership with Bud Light. “Go woke, go broke” has become a battle cry against brands backing LGBTQ equality.

A photo illustration featuring pictures of guests at Dinah party.

The Daily Beast/Courtesy Photos

Hanson is also proud of encouraging corporate sponsors to support the Dinah, and the women who attend it—which this year includes Bud Light.

“There are many roads to Rome, if Rome is LGBTQ rights,” Hanson told The Daily Beast. “Something as political as (AIDS activism group) Act Up is on one, really important way to force open doors to more recognition. Getting corporate sponsors to realize a really lucrative market is something different and more subtle. If it’s just the money that’s getting them there at the beginning, that’s the way the door gets opened. If the corporation then also gets to understand the market, they may come to think of their support as a financial commitment to equal rights. That’s what happened at the Dinah.

“But this year companies, frightened by the right, have done us wrong. It’s wake-up time again. I think spending our dollars is very important, and I don’t think any queer person should be spending a dime with companies who don’t support us.” Education—where the right wing is also doggedly propagating lies about LGBTQ people—is key, Hanson said, so young people do not “live in a cloud of ignorance.”

The first year of the Dinah was held at the Palm Springs Art Museum and was attended by around 1,750 lesbians. It ended in chaos when an enthusiastic group of lesbians somehow gained access to the roof and flashed their breasts at partiers below, which initiated a Keystone Cops-style chase involving octogenarian security guards and the vivacious lesbians.

Sometimes women ask, ‘Why are there so many security guards here?’ We say, ‘This is for you, not me.’ It’s because how easily crowds can lose control.

“It got totally out of control,” Hanson recalled. “Having an event of a certain size is an intense responsibility on the part of the producer. That’s something I learnt the hard way. I’ve never had anything catastrophic happen at one of my events but we are certainly very, very aware of how important security is—both for what is happening inside the event, and prevent anything bad coming in from the outside.

“Sometimes women ask, ‘Why are there so many security guards here?’ We say, ‘This is for you, not me.’ It’s because how easily crowds can lose control. A couple of times I have closed the pool party down early because I felt intuitively there was an energy that could go south so quickly. I’m a super-intuitive person, a Scorpio! We’ve only ever had to call paramedics for three people, and since COVID have an onsite EMT.”

Also, Hanson said, if “something is getting out of hand—like there’s a pocket of trouble with a woman, her new girlfriend and an ex-girlfriend—women are such caretakers, they try to step in and diffuse whatever trouble is happening. We don’t recommend that, but it’s kind of cute that women don’t want that trouble to happen.”

Hanson said she had learned how vital it is that every aspect of attending Dinah—from purchasing your ticket to getting drinks, to any interaction with staff—is positive. She also tries to ensure her staff—40 helping run the event, and 30 security guards—feel just as seen and valued. She hopes all these singular positive connections add up to a collectively positive one for all.

Chaka Khan was an idol of mine growing up. On the red carpet she appeared in leather and holding a whip. I was mesmerized. ‘You going to whip me with that?’ I asked.

“We don’t know who is hurting, we don’t know who is walking through the doors, heartbroken, ostracized by their family, suffering from terminal cancer, or on leave from the army,” Hanson told The Daily Beast. “They’re not glowing, 98 percent of people are fine, and planning on a good time, 2 percent aren’t. We have to treat every single person who walks through the door like that 2 percent. If we can do that we’re creating healing for every person who walks through the door. I think we accomplish that. I call our staff lifesavers. We don’t know whose life we’re saving.”

Hanson has “so many” standout memories from the last 31 years. “There’s something pretty amazing looking out at a sea of women and the unifying vibe of that. It was amazing seeing Katy Perry lean into the crowd, and them just carry her. You just pinch yourself, ask yourself, is this really happening? And it’s really happening.”

Some straight stars stay after their sets and party. “Usually the wilder ones,” Hanson said. “My heart always goes out to them because photographs can always be so easily out of context. I’m not naming names, but there have been some pretty wild performers who have gone into the crowd and behaved in ways that may not be the best idea.

“One thing I consistently hear from the celebrities is how amazing the crowd is. My favorite red-carpet moment was when Chaka Khan came. She was an idol of mine when I was growing up. On the red carpet she appeared in leather and holding a whip. I was mesmerized. ‘You going to whip me with that?’ I asked. I don’t know what I was thinking. Every star has been wonderfully gracious.”

It was one of the more powerful stories I had ever heard, and what a great story to hear. He had been here as a queer woman and then had transitioned to who he truly felt he was inside.

Hanson has made it clear that trans and non-binary people are welcome at the Dinah. “That was the easiest decision to make,” Hanson said. “Star Trek is so spot on. (Creator) Gene Roddenberry got it. He was like, ‘We’re going to be a diverse group on this show,’ and we’re living it now. Again, I want everyone coming to Dinah to be seen, heard, and valued. I would never make anyone feel unwelcome—that includes straight people, as long as people recognize the space they’re in is a predominantly queer female-centric space, a nonbinary space. If you identify within the spectrum of queer female, the Dinah is for you. If you are a straight male whose best friend is a queer woman why shouldn’t you be able to go?” (However, leering and generally trouble-causing straight men can expect to be swiftly identified and ejected, Hanson emphasized.)

A couple of years ago, a manager of one of the stars told Hanson, “I used to come here as a lesbian,” and was now a trans man. “I want to thank you for being so trans-inclusive,” he said.

“I would never have known,” said Hanson. “It was one of the more powerful stories I had ever heard, and what a great story to hear. He had been here as a queer woman and then had transitioned to who he truly felt he was inside—and he can still enjoy the event.”

‘I have a hard time sitting in the hammock’

There is “no end point” for Dinah, Hanson said—but she revealed to The Daily Beast she was contemplating how and when to end her own involvement with it.

“Dinah is stronger than it ever has been after 32 years. I sold out the hotel rooms in five weeks,” she said. “Ticket sales are exponentially higher than last year. It has top notch talent, décor, sound, and light. It’s a really expensive event to oversee, but I want to do that. I feel like when I first started out people weren’t producing events like that—it was tying a balloon to a speaker and calling it a party.”

I think that if someone can take it and make it better than I did that’s a great legacy. So, I think that’s what will happen.

“Dinah is in brilliant health, but I think that eventually it will segue into someone else running it. I think that’s super-possible,” Hanson told The Daily Beast. When? “I’m going to get real woo-woo on you,” she said laughing, “but I’m trusting the universe on this one. I think it will all come into play. if that’s tomorrow then that’s tomorrow, if it’s five years from now that’s five years from now. It feels like the intention is there, and so it’s just a matter of things kind of coming together in a way.

“I know, as the event continues, it will be the event it’s meant to be. It will be different if I am not running it, and that’s OK. A creator can look at things in two ways. As a creator, I can pass on the Dinah and hope it doesn’t do as well as when I did it because: what a legacy. But that’s not how I think. I think that if someone can take it and make it better than I did that’s a great legacy. So, I think that’s what will happen.”

Again, is there a timeframe for this change? “It’s in my sights, but not exact,” Hanson said.

The key to running a successful lesbian social space is to ensure that the fact of running a venue and being the face of it does not supersede the creation of an “incredible space for people. It’s an honor to do that, and every customer who walks through the door is a VIP and of value. If you run a venue in that spirit, I think customers sense it and will support you forever. The customer base is strong enough to support it. The market is there. How to get that market to a queer-identified space rather than a straight-identified space is the question, and I think its about relationships.”

Your phone can trick you into thinking you’re getting a connection, but your heart knows you’re not. So you’ll always seek it out.

Aren’t apps and the online world also sounding a death knell for queer bars and clubs? “Maybe. I don’t think there’s any substitute for connection. I think that our social media fixation is a problem, because it’s so disconnecting, and yet we’re social beings and need connection. Your phone can trick you into thinking you’re getting a connection, but your heart knows you’re not. So you’ll always seek it out.”

Of the prospect of retirement, Hanson laughed. “I have a hard time sitting in the hammock.” She had just been talking to a couple of friends in the spiritual program she participated in. “There’s a term called ‘rushing woman syndrome.’ I think I have it.” She laughed, revealing she really has had a hammock in her horse trailer for years. She really will have to get it out and use it, she said. A friend who knows her well, told her, “You actually need to lay in it.”

A picture of Mariah Hanson on a horse.

Mariah Hanson, avid horse rider.

Courtesy Mariah Hanson

Hanson also reveals she has one remaining LGBTQ big-event ambition. As the Dinah skews younger in its attendees, she wants to oversee a social weekend for women over 40 in Wine Country, involving a comedy night, maybe a dance party, tea dance, and wine tasting. She knows the winery she wants to partner with, and now is planning the event in more detail. “I live in Sonoma, and think the area is absolutely stunning and an incredible place to visit.”

And to meet a special someone, it turns out. For almost three years, Hanson has been with her partner, Maureen, who works locally in education for those with special needs. “I don’t think she’d let me get away, I certainly won’t let her get away,” said Hanson, laughing.

“I grew up here. I was a baby here,” said Hanson of her grandfather’s house. “I find it heartwarming to be here.” She laughed. “But it drives my girlfriend crazy because I won’t throw anything out. There’s a broken pot that was my grandmother’s. She’s like, ‘Throw it out.’ I’m like, ‘No!’

Hanson has had periods of her life single and in relationships. “I’m super-independent and free-spirited, but part of my spiritual journey has been to learn it’s not ‘me’ it’s ‘we.’ And all of us should learn that. It’s been a life journey for me. I have to learn that lesson every single day.”

I have learned you don’t have to be stuck in pattern of who you think you are. Every moment is a choice to be the best person you can be.

Is Hanson difficult herself, and if so how? “My dad was a really funny guy. He was difficult, born with a silver spoon in his mouth which he lost as he grew older. He was a kind of temper-tantrumy guy. I didn’t have tantrums, but I have had to learn I can’t always get my own way. I’ve had very helpful therapy and spiritual teaching, which was life-changing for me and my staff. My teacher helped soften my edges. I think it’s important to live a good life. We have the opportunity in every moment to begin again. I have learned you don’t have to be stuck in pattern of who you think you are. Every moment is a choice to be the best person you can be.”

To relax, Hanson rides horses (her grandfather was also a horseman). She especially loves the “Supermoon rides” she does, when she and a group of friends saddle up at around 7:30 p.m., ride to the top of a nearby mountain, tie up the horses, have a picnic, and watch the Supermoon rise over the Napa County Mountains. “The really cool thing is we have to get home under the light of the moon. If you’re going under trees you have to trust your animal fully to see where you’re both going. You have to give up a lot of control.” For someone like Hanson that sounds an unfamiliar day-to-day feeling, and all the more potent to surrender to in the wilderness.

In a few days, Hanson and some friends have another horseback ride to an isolated lake planned, their only company “unseen creatures” watching from the undergrowth.

“To me, trips like these are soul-replenishing,” Hanson said. It sounds a long way from a baking hot swimming pool vibrating with flirty, raucous fun, but Mariah Hanson genuinely loves the best of both seemingly disparate worlds. Perhaps her Wine Country plans will herald a marriage of both.

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