For World Pride, Andre J. Pays Homage to Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera With Excuse Me, Hello

Andre J. performs on stage during the Vienna Life Ball to benefit HIV Research at the Vienna Town Hall on May 26, 2007, in Vienna, Austria.
Photo: Alexander Hassenstein (Getty Images)

Today is the kickoff to World Pride weekend, which just happens to be hosted in New York City this year, coinciding with the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Inn rebellion in New York’s Greenwich Village. Finally, the entire story of those black and brown folks who were at Stonewall but scrubbed from the historical narrative (trailblazers like Stormé DeLarverie, Miss Major, Sylvia Rivera, and of course, Marsha P. Johnson)—is being told.

But there are some who have always known, a list that includes the dynamic entertainer and performance artist Andre J. Excuse Me, Hello, a site-specific theatrical installation presented by 651 Arts, will debut at Brooklyn, N.Y.’s The Plaza Friday, June 28, as part of a free, outdoor celebration in collaboration with the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. On Saturday the show will be presented during BAM’s Everybooty, one of Brooklyn’s most iconic Pride Week parties, at the BAM’s Fisher Theatre.

“What I hope to bring to Excuse Me, Hello, is truly an element of understanding the history of what Pride is, what Stonewall is,” Andre, who prefers “they/them” pronouns, told The Root. “And it was people of color—Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera—that actually activated what we have today, what we’re celebrating.”

Andre J. first broke into our consciousness in 2007 as a cover star on French Vogue with Carolyn Murphy, and describes their show as a theatrical experience through music and dance; their “interpretation of what one as a LGBTQ person lives and experiences on a day to day basis.”

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“We [must] celebrate these people of color who were transgender and transvestite and homeless and prostitutes,” says Andre, taking on a serious tone from their usual manic, over-the-top joyfulness. “They risked their lives for this.”

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Andre notes it is because of icons like Johnson that they—a tall, brown beauty who rocks wigs and a beard and identifies as agender—can even exist in their skin, all the while acknowledging the very real struggle that goes along with that.

“[For the show] I have on a silver and black paisley tunic that is sheer, that you can see through. I have on black, high waisted booty-leather shorts, huge ass black sunglasses and white sneakers because Marsha P. Johnson wore sneakers,” they explain. “So I’ll be wearing beautiful costumes by a black designer by the name of Marco Hall, and we will have on sneakers paying homage to Marsha P. Johnson because she could not afford glam in her drag; her drag was from the thrift stores and hand-me-downs. And she had big feet, so she wore sneakers.

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“So, we are not just using her name in vain,” they continue. “We are incorporating her spirit. We have her voice playing during the production. We have Sylvia Rivera’s voice playing in the production. We want it to be known who! Who.”

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Additionally, a large part of Excuse Me, Hello, speaks about Andre’s biological family, who he says called him nicknames like, “fag,” “sissy” and “Mayflower the Gayflower” in his formative years.

On Friday, the production will be family-friendly. Andre says they want to encourage young people to experience the show on that day so that they can perhaps identify, or at least know what empathy is.

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“In order for us to live, we must understand what co-existing is. And co-existing is appreciating, and understanding that all things exist. And whether you like it or you don’t like it, it exists. There’s no hiding under a rock nowadays. LGBTQ situations and the lifestyles are on television, but yet there are still people that won’t sit next to me on the train, because I’m different,” they explain.

Saturday promises to be a whole other thing—25 minutes of revelry and perhaps some debauchery, as well as dance and perhaps some tears. Andre was adamant that the performance touch on the true history of Stonewall, which is inextricable from Johnson, as well as the fact that black trans women are still homeless, taking part in survival sex, and are largely disregarded and disrespected.

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“Another reason why I identify with Marsha P. Johnson is that people looked at me the same as they looked at Marsha. I’m very polite, very kind, very eccentric. And unfortunately, I don’t want my legacy to be after I’m dead and gone, ‘Oh, Andre was a legend,’” they say. “So for me, when I scream Marsha P. and Sylvia’s name, I can feel the energy that I’m conjuring up and I pay homage to them from a truly spiritual good place, because it is because of them that I can stand here today and express myself so freely.”

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Excuse Me, Hello: Stay Fly Butterfly will take place on Friday, June 28 at the Plaza on 300 Ashland in Brooklyn and is free and open to the public. Excuse Me, Hello is presented by 651 ARTS and is part of BAM’s Everybooty Festival on Saturday, June 29. For tickets, please visit: Everybooty 2019.

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About the author

Angela Helm

Ms. Bronner Helm is a Contributing Editor at The Root. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.