Green acres and pink fingernails on a rural arts commune
In the rolling hills of Tennessee, men garden in floral sun
dresses and wide-brimmed hats. Faeries -- that's what they like to
be called, as in Radical Faeries, an alternative, rural-based queer
and free-spirit movement.
The land they tend is certainly enchanted, with wildflowers,
creeks and caves. Forget the faded overalls that most farmers favor;
this is a fairy-tale farm where Old Mac-Donald sports skirts,
painted fingernails and the occasional beard. Welcome to IDA --
short for Idyll Dandy Acres, a queer arts commune nestled in the
buckle of the Bible Belt, an hour east of Nashville.
In addition to the 2,000 heads of garlic grown here each year,
creativity is a flourishing crop.
Especially for Spree, an IDA resident who describes himself as
"Livid with AIDS." "When you have HIV, you get put on hold and told
to wait by this big bureaucracy," says Spree, 39. "You go crazy.
People aren't listening to you. And there's a lot of anger."
Other IDA residents might dance their blues away -- or juggle,
paint or write -- but Spree's medium is theater. He uses it to
satirize what it means to live with AIDS. Spree and his partner of
seven years, MaxZine, have traveled the country and Europe with the
critically acclaimed troupe they cofounded: The Eggplant Faerie
Like those of many artists, Spree's performance pieces are
autobiographical, culled from his experiences as an information
specialist for the National AIDS Hotline in the mid-'80s. Spree kept
a notebook of silly questions that are hard not to laugh at: Can you
get AIDS from a cow that has been violated by a man? Can your
clothes pick up the virus at the laundromat?
Back then, Spree was a struggling actor involved in New York gay
theater and the early days of ACT UP. He had already given up on
Hollywood, where he'd headed after high school with two goals in
mind: Becoming a star and coming out. Says Spree: "I quickly figured
out that I could do the Rock Hudson thing or be true to my Faerie
spirit. I chose being true."
Despite his work as a counselor and activist, Spree -- a Georgia
native who a few years ago traded his given name for the more
whimsical moniker -- was unprepared for his 1989 HIV diagnosis.
"When it happened to me, I couldn't take any of my own advice. I
thought, 'Oh my God, I'm doomed,'" he says. "Testing positive was
like coming out -- I had to feel comfortable with it before I could
deal with other people's reactions."
Soon after he arrived at IDA in 1994, Spree developed Kaposi's
sarcoma, weakening to the danger point in fall 1996. Today, he is a
"cocktail miracle." Even his KS lesions are fading.
If protease inhibitors are keeping Spree healthy, so is communal
living. An average of 10 men and an occasional woman live at IDA,
supporting themselves mainly through crafts, day labor and -- for
the PWAs -- disability. Each resident pays $165 a month for
everything from food to dish soap, plus all the garlic they can eat.
The remaining garlic gets traded for vegetables and eggs. IDA's
prime trading partner? Short Mountain, another nearby Faerie
Magic is big at IDA; one resident carries a wand when venturing
into Nashville, as if for protection. For Spree, that magic is
palpable. "IDA feels very nurturing. It's where I need to be," he
says. "After I got my feet radiated [for KS], I would go there to
put them in the cool water. I told MaxZine that after I'm gone, if
he sits there, I'll come sit next to him."