• Joia

Today's rhaps is on ... Andrea, also my hero

Updated: Mar 30

Bird-Tree-Woman, c. 1971

I saw Andrea perform at the National Women’s Music Festival of 2016 in Middleton, Wisconsin. She did more than take my breath away. She took my heart and soul, reached in and found the sixteen-year-old self who savagely charcoaled this drawing one day after school, a kid grasping at a dim memory of a Winged Victory on a Louvre staircase landing. Andrea articulated the meaning of the bird-tree-woman who raged inside of me, the chaos of roots and wings vying for daily dominance. She introduced me to myself.

[Note: The late Minnesota poet Franklin Brainard, my high school English teacher, took one look at my drawing when I brought it to him in his office under the second-floor stairs, where I used to hide out between classes to avoid the neighborhood bullies in the hallways, and asked me about the woman's leg. I had not realized I had drawn a woman's leg.]

My first hypothesis about my sexuality was when I was eighteen. It came to me while smoking opiated weed with college friends in Manchester-by-the-Sea, north of Boston. I'd also had my first beer that day, frosty mug on a hot beach. That night my friends were all bouncing on a water-bed pretending it was kindergarten, and I was in the corner of the room with my face in the carpet, looking at my death on the front page of a newspaper. I was a gay male in a female body. (This was before the rape.) Somehow this jumble of traits made sense to me at the time, justifying the feeling of being queer with the mismatched fleshy curves.

I remember a male lover once saying to me, laughing, "you're like a guy, I can hang out with you!" Decades later one of my daughter's early tattoos was "Steve," occupying shoulder territory in what would later be a full left sleeve. I asked her who that was. It's what my high school football friends call me, because, well ... my sense of humor. Yup. Got that.

Two-Spiritedness means that “everything is sacred, everything has use, the creator made no mistakes.” Research reveals the presence of male- and female-bodied Two Spirits living dignified, often revered, lives within indigenous cultures for many centuries. At some point people like us fell out of favor among Europeans. We became the enemy to the binary equation of status quo equals male-in-charge plus females-in-submission. I make the latter plural because they usually are. The idea that a solitary female or two-spirited male/female could stand on her own feet and make fully independent decisions was … anathema. It still is, in most parts of the allegedly civilized world. If you do not follow the latest trendy instructions on how to trim down the excesses of your unique soul and shave off the persistent reminders of your natural self, you will be left to rot outside the protection of the Law. And of the Church Fathers. Ideally long-ago signed Constitutions and repeated Civil Rights protests would offer safeguards against the cynical unions of Church and State, but these protections generally exist in name only. Basically you’re on your own, queer-baby. Suck down the trauma-medicine and try to blend in.

So Andrea Gibson standing on stage precisely verbalizing the agony and wonder and beauty of what life feels like to me throughout every waking moment and every nightmarish dream, Andrea Gibson unafraid to dig down deep into the pain and still drag out bits of humor, Andrea Gibson calling it, telling it like it is…this was a slice of heaven for me. My spirits happily clashed, cried, Zen-clapped. Amen. Awomen.



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