In the Texas countryside, Mordekai lives his life exploring nature and hoping to one day feel safe. Just down the road from him, his grandfather, a long time pigeon racer, is dealing with loss. The love of birds and a deep friendship have brought Mordekai and his grandfather together, but both face life struggles that are far from simple.
Mordekai smiles, a straw hat on his head, a “He|Him” badge pinned to his orange and white shirt. In his hand he’s holding a live pigeon. Full of colour and life, Mordekai’s not what you would typically associate with Texas, but that is one of the reasons why his story is so important.
“My grandfather has raised pigeons since he was about 14 years old. He breeds and races them. I have been around pigeons since I was a baby. I’d be in there with him. I’d come back to the house with seeds in my diaper. I still spend most of my time out there with him – birds, and animals, have always been a part of my life.
“My grandmother passed away two years ago and ever since he’s kind of like, stopped living you know. And it’s really hard to watch. It’s really sad. I’ve been trying to figure out things to do so I can remind him what life is – every time I talk about things that have to do with me going birding, he lights up.
“We live about 10 minutes from the city. It’s enough country to have some peace and quiet and enjoy the birds, but you can still get into town when you need to.
“I can feel pretty isolated at times, you know…I’m transgender and I’m autistic so I don’t have a lot of friends. It’s hard for me to meet people, but when I have something that I’m really interested in, like birding, I get really excited about it. It’s something great for me to talk about and do with other people – my anxiety just seems to melt away when I’m birdwatching.”
The resting pigeon appears to bob its head in agreement, while Mordekai grins.
Searching for acceptance and finding the sky...
“It’s definitely rough in Texas. I mean there are queer people in Texas, but it’s hard to be open because there are a lot of people that aren’t very nice about it. Sometimes safety is an issue and sometimes I don’t even want to leave my house. I have friends that live in Seattle and they’re queer and they tell me that it’s so nice there and that people treat them with so much respect.
“About a year ago, I started watching birds at home and I was like, wow, this is really fun. I told my partner and he suggested I watch a movie called ‘The Big Year’. I watched it and I was like ‘this is me!’ I was looking up places to Bird and I found y’all’s app. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh this is so cool…’ so I borrowed my grandpa’s binoculars.”
“I actually didn’t realise what birdwatching was doing for me until afterwards. I don’t get so anxious going to the grocery store as much and I find that I can breathe a lot easier. It usually happens right after I’ve finished birding or just while I’m outside with the birds, you know, I’m like ‘Oh wow is this what everyone else feels like?’
My grandfather knows more about birds than I do. Now that I’ve shown interest in it, I think he’s finally starting to realise, ‘Hey, it’s okay, life is here in front of me and I should enjoy it while I still can.’
“I put some bird feeders outside his window. So even if he doesn’t feel like going outside, at least he has some nice birds to look at and nature can come to him.”