In 1995, a young Mandy Kivowitz, not yet known as Phat Man Dee, attended a circus tour event at the Beehive in Oakland -- a show featuring Chicken John's Circus Ridiculous and the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus. She was so excited by the whole thing, she asked if she could join -- and got the OK from Stephanie Monseu, one of the founders of the latter troupe.
The next year, Kivowitz found herself traveling with the troupe -- "I hadn't realized that that show at the Beehive was two different touring groups," she says. "So I thought I would be touring with a group of 40 people or something, and it turned out there were six of us. But one of them was Baby Dee."
Dee was in her 40s and relatively new to womanhood. ("She'd tell me, 'My tits are younger than you, girl!'" Kivowitz says with a laugh.) She played harp and accordion on a tricked-out tall tricycle.
"We'd pull into a town and no one would know there was a circus coming. Nobody had any fucking clue who we were," Kivowitz says. "So she'd get up on the tricycle and ride around playing her harp or her accordion. That's how people would know we were in town -- they'd see this six-foot-tall, transgendered vision on a tricycle."
It was on that tour that Kivowitz -- who did a half-man, half-woman singing act in which she sang love songs to herself -- was given the name "Mista Sista Phat Man Dee."
"I could've spelled it 'Mandee,'" she says. "But here I was on this tour with Baby Dee, and that's one of the reasons I decided to spell it like I do, 'Man Dee.'"