I saw Andrea Gibson 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, again.
[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 after high school 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 grainy front page of an old newspaper. I was a gay male in a female body. Somehow this jumble of male-female traits made sense to me, justifying the feeling of being queer with the fleshy mismatched curves.
In music school I fell in love with an exquisite violinist right out of a Flemish painting, who hid behind her male lover and never noticed me; then with a beautiful cellist "deciding" between a blond male lover and me. He chose the boy.
I remember a male lover later 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 become 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. Hmm.)
It occurred to me recently that only lesbians have called me bisexual, while men reacted either with indifference or voyeuristic interest...in both cases the emphasis was on my partners rather than on me. I realized the term two-spirited refers to who I am rather than who I happen to be with. As an increasingly solitary elder now, it seems of even less import than before.
Two-Spiritedness means that “everything is sacred, everything has use, the creator made no mistakes.” Research over many centuries reveals the presence of male- and female-bodied Two Spirits living dignified, often revered, lives within indigenous cultures. At some point people like us fell out of favor among Europeans. We were contrary 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 solo female or two-spirited male/female could stand on her (or his) own feet and make fully independent decisions was … anathema. Still is, in most parts of the allegedly civilized world, where you may find yourself outside the protection of the Law. And 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 standing on stage elegantly verbalizing the agony and wonder and beauty of what life feels like to me throughout every waking moment and every nightly dream, Andrea unafraid to dig down deep into the pain and still drag out bits of humor, Andrea calling it, telling it like it is…this was a slice of heaven for me. My spirits happily clashed, cried, Zen-clapped. Amen. Awomen.
28 SEPTEMBER 2018