Taking shame to the grave

The legacy Glamdrew left behind

On the weekend of Oct. 21, Andrew Henderson – or Glamdrew as he came to be known by those who recognized his dedication to all things over-the-top – starred in his own living funeral. On Oct. 26, he passed away.

“Death has been so inspiring to me,” Henderson said in a tribute video by Electric Kite. “’Cause it’s like, I’m fuckin’ dying. What do I have to apologize for, and who do I have to apologize to?”

Henderson said many social constructs became meaningless to him after he was diagnosed with terminal lymphoma. 

In Taking it to the Grave, his living funeral and performance art event, Henderson offered to hear secrets and regrets from attendees who wanted to share them. 

After agreeing with the audience member on an image to represent what they’d told him, he had the symbol tattooed on his body so he could take their secret to the grave.

“I feel extremely proud and humbled that we were able to create the thing that Andrew wanted to be his parting gift to his community,” Carly Boyce says. Boyce is a Toronto-based social worker, community educator and writer who learned to tattoo as a therapeutic practice. 

“It was a setting of radical acceptance and forgiveness. It was stunning and also exhausting,” she says. “My material task in the show was tattooing, but as a ritual that was about transforming shame into possibility.”

Praba Pilar, Winnipeg-based performance artist and scholar, was invited to write an experimental essay for the event. 

She has confronted death many times in her personal life and says she found Henderson’s approach to be profound. At the living funeral, Pilar says she was able to share with other attendees and bond over their experiences with loss.

“I can re-open how I’ve dealt with that grief and sorrow,” she says.

Jonathan Valelly, a Toronto-based queer community artist, happened to be in Winnipeg at the time of the event and decided to attend. 

Unsure what to expect and unclear about his own feelings on mortality, he describes the experience as immersive and ritualistic.

The floor was covered in gold glitter that was incorporated into a pop dance party and swept into different formations, Valelly says. 

“It felt really joyous as well as sombre.”

While he wasn’t sure initially if he was going to share a secret, Valelly says he felt compelled to sign up while sweeping some glitter and singing along to a Beyoncé song.

“It wasn’t necessarily an act of redemption or of purging, but rather this really awesome experience of this person’s generosity,” he says, “and their willingness to make this body that had changed in it’s usefulness to them useful to other people in this really complex way.”

Pilar, who also collaborated on a tattoo with Henderson, has found that her feelings about loss have shifted since Henderson’s living funeral.

She says she has observed feelings of shame around death and was inspired by the notion of seeing the inevitable as an opportunity for sharing, generosity and freedom of expression.

Electric Kite’s tribute to Glamdrew can be found on Vimeo.

Published in Volume 71, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 10, 2016)

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