My name is Ande Quercus. Last April, I got a book called The Magic of Trees as a gift from my friend Erin. I learned that oak trees (genus Quercus) are associated with various thunder gods because of their reputation for getting struck by lightning more than other trees. Elysa and I had a good laugh and called me “Ande the thunder tree” because of my impressive gassiness. But the association of Quercus with lightning soon came to have deeper spiritual meaning for me.
Last year was my first year at Midway Green Spirit Garden, the big awesome community garden in my neighborhood. Signing up was a big deal for me. I love plants. I love gardening. But a big part of community gardening is interfacing with other humans. A lot of them. Fifty-one plots’ worth, if I remember correctly. I’m afraid of humans, so this was really overwhelming for me. But I’m getting to know the people there. The most intimidating part has been the humans I encounter while traveling the mile between my house and the garden.
Last May, I had just picked my plot and gotten my volunteer assignment in tool maintenance, and I was really excited to jump in. One day, when I was biking home from the garden on a marked bikeway, some asshole in a pickup truck towing a large utility trailer cut me off to pull an aggressive but slow u-turn. I honked my air horn while skidding to an abrupt halt. He blocked me from traveling down that street for a minute or two. When he finally parked and let me pass, he shouted a rape threat at me.
This incident was really upsetting for me. I imagine it would be for most people. Less than a week after it happened, I had an appointment with my psychiatrist. I told him I was still upset about the rape threat that had recently been directed at me. He laughed and told me I was inviting that kind of treatment by choosing to look the way I do (i.e. conspicuously gender non-conforming). To be clear, my doctor, who was supposed to be helping me manage my PTSD symptoms, told me I was inviting violent threats by not shaving my face when others wanted me to.
He went on to tell me that I’m basically a lightning rod. What is a lightning rod? It’s a thing humans build to attract dangerous lightning strikes away from important things. Its purpose is to get struck by lightning so other things don’t. I dislike being called a lightning rod.
After my upsetting appointment, I was a mess. Elysa let me cry on her and shout in anger at being blamed for the violence I endure. “I’m not a lightning rod,” I wept, not quite believing it as I said it. “You’re not a lightning rod,” she assured me. “You’re an oak tree, Ande Quercus.”