The moon was full, in the season when the veils between the worlds are thin, when William Stewart left this life on Oct. 20, 2021. He planned his leaving down to the last detail, and because it is legal in California, he was able to share his plans with his community. I appreciated the chance to join in with my solitary rites. William, consummate event designer that he was, once told me that when the AIDs crisis hit, he had become “a midwife of death.” When his own terminal illness, cancer, reached its conclusion, he knew what he wanted.
William helped plan and carry out many of our Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans rituals during the ’90s. Surely no one who heard him singing in the Goddess at Candlemas, or chanting to raise a fire to a blaze after having faltered under the smothering attention of too many earth mothers, or leading a masked gang of dark night carolers on Main Street, will ever forget it. As a Radical Fairy, he loved parades, costumes, and healing drama. We were not really his tribe, but we liked and admired each other, and he was always gracious, generous, a superb cook and calligrapher, and very funny.
He was a compelling panelist and speaker when the UU Society undertook to become a Welcoming Congregation. He made the point that he, for one, was not waiting around hoping to be tolerated. Nonstraight people perform many high-risk functions for a society, including creating cutting-edge art, caring for those who fall through the cracks of “family,” and speaking truth to power. “You need us,” he said.
It was our loss when he moved to San Francisco. Although William loved the Island more than any place on Earth, culturally we couldn’t provide him with a spiritual home, to our discredit. Ranging from Yankee reticence to explicit homophobia, our inability to provide space for queerness is still a problem for the Island today. It has cost us not only good neighbors like William, but far too many of our precious youth. So I was pleased when out of the blue, on Halloween, someone asked me if their cousin’s daughter’s friend could do a photo shoot with our goats, and it turned out to be a man dressed in pink satin and his friends, being flamboyant and silly. William would definitely have approved.
That night, in the ancestral garden, I set out walnut cake and quince sauce, a uniquely scented delicacy that I first tasted at William’s table, in his beloved little house by the pond. I make it in his honor now. Safe travels, old friend.