When I was a student at the School of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York I made frequent visits to the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. The place was fascinating and had all the elements of a true wilderness experience while still being close enough to “Doug’s Fish Fry and Cheap Beer” to satisfy my sensitive college palate. For me, it was the eagles that made Montezuma such a special place. There was a nest on the refuge that was shared by two males and one female, along with their offspring that had not yet fledged. Gene Houcut, the District Manager in charge of Montezuma claimed that it was the single most successful nest in the state, and I have no reason to doubt it. I always saw fledging when I was there. However, the fecundity of this breeding group was not what made these birds special. Up until then, it was largely believed that eagles were monogamous and mated for life. These birds had quite a different idea. On this nest everyone mounted everyone. It was not unusual to see the female mount both males, nor was it unusual to see the males sharing an intimate moment together. Leave it to me to find the sexual deviants of the species.
I was thinking about these birds as the young man sitting next to me on my flight to visit Grandma Jane began to unwind his life story. He introduced himself with a name that I know his Mama didn’t give him. Suffice it to say that my first impressions were that either this young man was compensating for his shortness of stature or he had an uncommon attachment to his favorite comic book hero. His adopted name was punctuated by matching tattoos, like name tags. I always like nametags, it makes things so much easier the morning after. But I digress…..
During the five-hour flight I grew quickly to admire this unique man. For now, let’s call him Spidey. Spidey, like my birds, danced to a different beat. His stage name(s), are alternatively Mystique and Wolverine. His characters are adversaries who don’t realize they in habit the same body. One dances as a woman and the other dances as a man. He intermingles break dancing and hip-hop with the erotic forms of dance involving poles. Spidey arrived at these characters after some tough times, including a bad injury. While his stage life and his drag life were interesting, what I found most compelling about Spidey was how multifaceted he was. His nine-year-old son was playing quietly in the seat next to him and Spidey seemed to have an easy caring way with him. His son was an adorable and intelligent kid, clearly deeply loved. Apparently he spent a few weeks with his Dad every summer, before returning to his mom and stepfather. The two had just finished a trip to visit a quickly fading father/grandfather. Spidey was raised in a sleepy town deep inside the blue-line of the Adirondack State Park. As a younger man he made his living as a professional skateboarder and snow boarder prior to coming out as a drag racer. I’m not sure what he meant by drag racing, but I’m pretty sure it involved pole dancing in women’s clothing rather than cars. He mentioned something about RuPaul’s drag race, and I just can’t picture that seven-foot tall goddess behind the wheel of a racecar.
The thing I found beautiful about Spidey was that he is not someone to be defined. He is openly bi-sexual, he is both masculine and feminine without being androgynous. He challenges the norms without being a rebel. He seems to refuse to play the “queen”, but genuinely inhabits Mystique’s character as a real woman. In his own brave way he is redefining what a drag queen is just by existing. Perhaps, my eagles are a bit like Spidey. I’m pretty sure no one explained to the Montezuma Eagles that Bald Eagles are suppose to be monogamous for life AND they certainly don’t mount same gendered birds or have multiple partners. They changed our ideas about what being an eagle is by simply existing.
Now comes the really interesting question; how will Spidey’s offspring and the Montezuma fledglings turn out? I can’t wait to find out.
[i] My apologies to Spidey if I misunderstood or misrepresented him in anyway. This post was the result of my impressions of a chance meeting on a 5-hour plane ride. In telling the story, I am sure there are inevitable inaccuracies.
[ii] I make absolutely no apologies to the Eagles at Montezuma Wildlife Refuge, all statements regarding them are accurate.
[iii] At Spidey’s request, I have removed the original post entitled “Birds of a Feather” With respect to this request, I have changed names and removed places that might identify him. I hope I have conveyed the spirit of the original piece without compromising his request for more anonymity. This is a story about paradigm shifts and power of being an individual.