How I connect conversion therapy & queer theology to climate change

No doubt I make strange connections in my head and on stage. The show I am currently touring, Everything is Connected–An Evening of Stories, Most Weird, Many True, (video below) makes some pretty weird connections. Last year for HowlRound I wrote an article outlining what I attempt to do in the performance art piece.

“What you are about to see is a performance lecture in three acts. These acts may seem unconnected. l will talk as myself and also perform in character.” I don’t tell them this type of presentation rose out of the tensions I feel being an artist, an activist, and an academic. These roles pull at each other, competing to take a prominent place. My shows attempt to give them each equal pull, like the cords that enable a tent to hold its shape.

I then describe the three acts. I begin with my own story:

Act One
The first act of Everything is Connected includes me talking about my weird coming out experience coupled with a scene from my one-person play Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House. The play comically exposes the dangerous world of gay conversion therapy—programs promising to “cure” LGBTQ people. As someone who survived seventeen years of this before coming out as gay, I want to highlight both the foolishness and the destructiveness of these “straight camps.”

Then I take an unexpected turn into the world of queer theology:

Performing gender normative behavior as Esau in upcoming film version of Transfigurations

Act Two
I talk about discrimination within the LGBTQ community—racism, sexism, and transphobia. I perform a scene from Transfigurations—Transgressing Gender in the Bible about Joseph and his famous dream coat; I suggest it might actually be a princess dress. I narrate the scene as Joseph’s butch, gender-normative Uncle Esau. Scornful of Joseph, he never once makes eye contact with the audience until the final line. There is a pause and deep breath as Esau lifts his head and in a husky whisper admits, “He saved us all.”

Finally I take the various strands I have been throwing out to audience members and weave them together.

Peterson as Tony Buffusio

Act Three
Tony, a working-class, bisexual, Italian-American from New York City, pokes fun at polar bears, explaining coffee is also an endangered species. He jokes how he came out bisexual and vegan at the same time; his family struggles more with his diet than his sexual orientation.

Talking about queer responses to climate change, Tony revisits the Joseph story as a climate narrative, reveals how early responses to the HIV/AIDS crisis serve as a model for climate advocates today, and stresses climate change is about justice and human rights, “We’re all in the same boat together—just not on the same deck.”

What comes next is explosive, unexpected, and shockingly hopeful. The final line of the play is an essential question for the audience.

Peterson with the LeClair Family

Earlier this year I performed Everything is Connected at Bentley University. The performance was especially moving because it was in honor of a former student, David LeClair. Amanda King, Executive Director of the Office of Sustainability shared how David, a gay young man was also very concerned about the environment. After he graduated and began working, he died in a bike accident during a fund raiser. David’s parents and sister have set up a memorial fund.

The LeClairs have made Peterson’s visit to Bentley possible through the David LeClair Memorial Fund. [COUGH] David LeClaire was a remarkable member of our Bentley community, and a student leader who held multiple E-board and member positions in many student organizations, including Pride and the Greek Society. David was one of the first people who I met when I arrived on campus in 2009, at the time, he was president of the Green Society.

Bentley University recorded the performance and has made it public. They also include closed captioning and a full transcript. Enjoy making the connections!

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