It’s QuERC’s Gay Day in May and Andrea Gibson makes their way across the stage of Great Hall. As a well-renowned poet, spoken word artist, and political activist, Gibson’s mere presence quickly enlightens the spirits of everyone in the room. It’s safe to say: We’re all in our own world of awe. The clapping eventually fades; Gibson goes up to the microphone and says, “There’s so much gay in here. I love it.”
QuERC, or Queers and Allies of ERC, is an on-campus, ERC-based organization that is focused on creating a community of and for the LGBTQIA+ students and allies of UC San Diego. Kayla Edwardsen, co-chair of QuERC, describes Gay Day in May as “a big, end of the year wrap up event that’s centered around bringing the entire community together for a big wonderful night of fun and entertainment. [Gay Day in May in] previous years has seen student performances, dance parties, and other activities.”
“We wanted to try and make this year’s Gay Day in May something a little bit bigger than previous years,” Edwardsen said, “and when one of our members pointed out Andrea Gibson as a possible entertainer, we immediately worked to see if we could invite them to perform at our event, and it worked out!”
Gibson has three poetry collections published: The Madness Vase Book, Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns, and Pansy. They are currently touring across the country, performing work touching upon themes of self-identity, sexuality, gender, love, and much more. Their full-length performances and video productions tie together music and spoken word, creating simple art pieces full of literary complexity.
Gibson starts off their performance by staring at the pool of colorful balloons in the audience, while admitting to a phobia of popping balloons. Gibson performs their first piece, only to have a balloon pop after the first few lines. We break out in fearful laughter, unsure of how Gibson will react. Gibson chuckles and screams, “I’m okay!” After a few deep breaths, they laugh once again and ask, “What’s the protocol when I stop midway through?”
The performance continues on with “Birthday,” a poem of growing hope and compassion for others whose struggle may be worlds different than our own. Gibson highlights the importance of listening and seeing others as separate individuals part of one cohesive story. They powerfully recite, “Don’t cover your ears, Love. / Don’t cover your ears, Life. / There is a boy writing poems in Central Park / and as he writes, he moves / and his bones become the bars of Mandela’s jail cell stretching apart.”
Gibson also performs “When the Bough Breaks” and “Every Month,” two pieces that question the intent of success and religion, all while stressing the fragility of mental health. “Letter to the Playground Bully” follows: a self-reflective piece of Kindergarten pain and elementary school questions. Innocent in its vocabulary, and undeniably profound in thought, Gibson recites, “But on your bad days couldn’t you just say, ‘hey I’m having a bad day,’ / instead of telling me I’m stupid or poor / or telling me I dress like a boy / ‘cause maybe I am a boy and a girl / maybe my name is Andrea Andrew. / So what?”
Gibson’s pieces effortlessly transition into each other, as we learn that our personal experiences often lead to the establishment of one, powerful narrative. “Orlando,” a poem in response to the tragic massacre at Pulse Nightclub in June 2016, expresses Gibson’s shared pain within and throughout the LGBTQIA+ community, while acknowledging its presence is under constant threat. Heartbreaking and moving in its nature, Gibson and many audience members are brought to tears. The high ceilings of Great Hall close in on us and the room develops an aching silence.
At this point in their performance, Gibson knows exactly what we need: a poem about a dog. Entitled “A Letter to my Dog, Exploring the Human Condition,” the performance of this piece does exactly what a dog’s presence often serves as: a reminder of good. The majority of their pieces up to this point have been heavy, meant to spark discussions of the social institutions dictating our human experience. “A Letter to my Dog, Exploring the Human Condition,” though, is lighthearted, comedic, and passionate. Gibson relieves us of some of the weight of the world by confessing to their dog, “I don’t care that you never talk about capitalism or patriarchy or the heteronormative hegemonic paradigm / I know you’re saving the world every time you get poo stuck in your butt hair and you don’t go looking for someone to blame.”
After paying homage to their furry medicine, Gibson ends the performance with their most popular piece, “The Nutritionist.” This poem sheds light on the faults of mental health therapy and the tragedies they may lead to. Gibson transforms into a storyteller, telling the tale of Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old boy who committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge in September 2010. “The Nutritionist” revolves around Clementi’s story, while dwelling on personal experiences and thoughts of suicide. Trembling, Gibson states, “Some people will never understand the kind of superpower it takes for some people to just walk outside.”
As “The Nutritionist” reaches its peak, Gibson raises their voice with a beautiful and unifying proclamation: “What I know about living is the pain is never just ours / Every time I hurt, I know the wound is an echo / So I keep listening to the moment the grief becomes a window / When I can see what I couldn’t see before / through the glass of my most battered dream / I watched a dandelion lose its mind in the wind / and when it did, it scattered a thousand seeds.”
As the remnants of this dandelion spread across all members of the audience, chills run down my spine. The vulnerability and overall intensity of Gibson’s performance has made Gay Day in May a tumultuous roller coaster of emotions, in the best way possible.
As Edwardsen said, “Hearing over 100 people laughing and crying and holding hands all together at once is a magical experience, especially for people who are still struggling to feel safe in day-to-day life. To have that kind of a feeling for LGBTQIA+ people for at least one night is a victory for me, I think.”
Thanks to Andrea Gibson, we came into this event as strangers and left as survivors. We were reminded of life as both a beautiful struggle and an immense victory, especially when experienced with others. The echoes of our pain bounced off walls as our spirits danced in the light of Gibson’s loud whispers: “live, live, live.”
Ana Magallanes is the Arts and Entertainment editor for The Triton. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org