Category: Media

Local paper features my international film debut

I live in a Central Pennsylvania “city” of less than 10,000 people. For the farmers in the hills nearby, Sunbury, PA is the big city. Having lived in NYC, Memphis, Quito, and near Birmingham, England, Sunbury is tiny, quaint, and trapped in time. Sometimes the lifestyle and attitudes make it feel like the 1950’s. Then a horse and buggy goes by and I am in the 1850’s. 

Our little local paper, The Daily Item, stays viable because they cover extremely local news. Seems everyone reads it. If your picture appears in the Sunbury Daily Item, people will talk to you. “I saw your picture in the paper.” They don’t always chat about the content of the article, but they are impressed that you made it to the big time.

I enjoy reading the paper, and I see they do a fine job of highlighting a broad range of life in the Susquehanna Valley, including LGBTQ issues. So I was thrilled when Justin Strawser, a writer at the paper, wanted to a story about my queer Bible film heading to Uganda.

In the film, which has been screened this year in cities across North America and Europe, Toscano explores characters from the Old and New Testaments who act in a way outside their gender expectations. It features characters like Joseph and his coat of many colors; Deborah and her role as a judge, prophet, warrior and poet; an Ethiopian Eunuch who was the first to be baptized in the Book of Acts; and a man with a water pitcher who led Jesus and his disciples to the Last Supper. Each of the characters is represented by different scarves and their stories are taken directly from the pages of the Bible.

And I got to talk about the situation in Uganda.

“The film being screened in Uganda is notable in light of anti-LGBTQ actions pursued by religious leaders and lawmakers,” Toscano said. “In 2009, a group of American Evangelical pastors traveled to Uganda to convince lawmakers to subject gay men to conversion therapy in an attempt to ‘cure’ them. These Americans painted such negative views of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, that some Ugandan lawmakers sought to impose the death penalty on gay Ugandans. That law never passed, but the legal and social violence against LGBTQ people in Uganda continues.”

The article, Area artist’s work to be in an international LGBTIQ film festival. Tomorrow (Nov 28) Susquehanna University will show the film on campus.

 

Ingloriously Featured — Silly, Serious, Sick Mashup

Some podcasts are just too weird and wonderful to ignore. With the Inglorious Pasterds podcast, the weird comes so often and easily, it can be easy to miss the wonderful as I laugh at the crazy coming out of the hosts’ mouths. (News item: Eel extracted from anus, man wouldn’t say how it got there.)

Not what you might expect from a group of straight post-Evangelicals. But in the midst of the madness and mayhem, these guys talk about serious issues–faith, justice, and now even climate change.

Meet the hosts (and follow them on Twitter)

They recently had me on their show to talk about climate change as a faith issue and a queer issue. What does the Bible say about it and how can/should/might we respond? The conversation is a delightful mix of silliness, seriousness, and serious weirdness. Just my style.

And yes, there was an eel stuck up some guy’s butt. Oh, and I talk about my placenta! (I’m running a sale now–perfect Sunday School gift or for your favorite gender and sexuality professor with a sordid Evangelical Christian past.)

You can find their show on iTunes and a bunch of other places that distribute podcast magic.

Or take a listen right here:

And follow their weird asses on Twitter

 

Using Comedy to Take on the Hard Stuff

I recently sat down with a student journalist over at NYU. Amelia Henry was interested in how I use comedy to talk about LGBTQ issues and climate change.

I think part of the process is being vulnerable. I need to first find the humor in myself. Take my conversion therapy experience for example. It is traumatic, but it’s also ridiculous. While it’s easy to make fun of the people who are running these programs, I had to look at myself and find what was ridiculous in myself. The other part of it is the commitment to be non violent. Humor can be violent, right? You can really attack people with humor. So I tried to create characters that I like, that I have an affection for, and I never try to hurt someone with my humor. Humor can be dismissive, and I’m not trying to make light of issues; I’m trying to shed light on them. Also, humor is one of those things where everyone has their own tastes. That’s something else I have to be aware of — it doesn’t work for everybody.

Amelia asked about my comic influences.

I have been very influenced in my comedy by Mad Magazine, by Joan Rivers, who was fearless in taking on really serious issues through comedy, by the marginalized people who’ve done comedy through the years like John Leguizamo, Lily Tomlin and Whoopi Goldberg. They all did one-person shows where they took on multiple characters because I think as a marginalized person, you’re often alone so you have to move in and out of all sorts of worlds and speak in different languages. That definitely has inspired me.

There is lots more in the interview about bing LGBTQ and finding our way in a world that often puts us in boxes.

You can get it out over on Washington Square News

 

My Sources of Inspiration–past and present

Marta Rusek interviewed me for her regular column, Words By Friends, the FGC Quaker News. Marta had questions about my Transfigurations presentation, which is now a film. In fact, I think it is the first time someone asked me to share my sources of inspiration for this work.

Marta first asked:

Who inspires you and the work that you do? Are there individuals/groups in the world of Friends you admire that our readers should know about?

If we are talking about long gone folks, I have been influenced by the words of Walt Whitman, Issac Pennington, Caroline Stephen, and Logan Pearsall Smith. I have been guided and challenged by the words and witnesses of Lisa Graustein, Trayce Peterson, John Calvi, John and Debbie Humphries, and Kody Hersh to name just a few. I am inspired by Quaker performers and artists like Evelyn Parry and Amanda Kemp. Now that I am engaged in climate work, I have found much comfort and insights in connecting with Eileen Flanagan, Gretchen Reinhardt, Beverly G. Ward, Ruah Swennerfelt, and Jeff Hipp.

Marta then digs into Transfigurations specifically:

Your latest film, Transfigurations, examines variations of gender in the Bible. It’s a refreshing look at the Biblical stories we all know (and a new take on ones we aren’t as familiar with). What motivated you to make this film? Why did this perspective on gender in the Bible need to be shared?

I had been performing Transfigurations live for ten years. Some of this material I shared during my Bible Half Hour presentations at the 2012 FGC Gathering. I wanted to get it out to people who do not have the opportunity to see a live performance. In fact, it had been my dream for many years to make a film version, but it had to be well-done, not just a recording in front of a live audience. So much can get lost when a piece goes from stage to screen. Unexpectedly, I received a generous unsolicited donation to make the film. As a result, the movie is a high quality rendering of the performance with gorgeous camera work and editing, lots of intimate close-ups, and a well-orchestrated soundtrack.

Many people have been traumatized by religious people using the Bible as a weapon to destroy a healthy sense of self. LGBTQ people have been attacked in the name of God. Providing interpretations of sexual and gender minorities who are celebrated in the text is useful work in recovering from religious abuse. There are also non-LGBTQ people who look to the Bible for inspiration and guidance. Some of these folks have been painted into a corner in regards to LGBTQ issues. There were told that the Bible discriminates and gives them moral authority to also discriminate.

I come with good news. There are other stories in the book that have been overlooked or hidden from sight. These positive portrayals of people who do not fit certain well established notions of gender can serve as bridges to help traditional Bible believers find a loving and respectful way forward.

You can read the entire interview: Exploring Gender in the Bible Through Humor.

Demons, Eunuchs, and Placentas. Oh My!

In this post you will learn about how you can pre-order Transfigurations, the DVD, and how you can purchase the comic book, The Amazing Adventures of the Afterbirth of Jesus.

But first, let me tell you how I almost sorta freaked out podcaster Blake Chastian with a Bible story.

I think I freak some people out

I understand what seems everyday for me is downright bizarre to other people. I almost felt bad for Blake Chastain, the host of Exvangelical podcast. In a recent interview I shared the sordid details of my ex-gay past and the many ways I tried to de-gay myself. This included a wild exorcism that got broken up by the police.

He is a great interviewer and got me to open up in ways that I have not in most interviews. He also asked me to share some of my Bible scholarship. Again what has become a normal reading of Acts 8 and the story of the Ethiopian eunuch stunned him and silenced him for a moment. No worries since I can talk.

Pre-Order Transfigurations

I share this story and more in my performance lecture, Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. I retired this performance lecture in August, and recorded it in a studio with the brilliant film direction, Samuel Neff. It has been a labor of love, and it is ready to watch. Well nearly. It is just getting duplicated. You can now pre-order the DVD and it will ship by April. Find it over at Barclay Press.

Speaking of Bible scholarship, today I gave a reading of my new comic book–The Amazing Adventures of the Afterbirth of Jesus. I created this book with Joey Hartmann Dow. Starting this weekend I will sell it on the road. You can buy your own copy of it over on Etsy.

Wanna hear a reading of the new comic book and find out what inspired it?

 

My great ex-gay escape in England

A podcast about dramatic exists

Mary Newman, a Londoner, has created a podcast with a delicious premise.

The Escape Podcast is an audio series showcasing first-hand accounts of extraordinary exits: literal leave-takings and figurative flights, and those in between. We want to explore “escape” as an experiential category of transition and transformation in the face of constraint.

A Scientologist, A Countess, and an Ex-Ex-Gay Queen

Episode One: William Drummond opens about his life in and out of the Church of Scientology, from which escape is always an ongoing process.

Episode Two: Countess Amanda Feilding discusses the art and history of (self-) trepanation, and other, less literal, means of consciousness-expansion (i.e. psychoactive substances), her journey discovering them, and how they can help us.

And in Episode Three: ME!

Peterson Toscano reflects on his seventeen-year campaign to become “straight,” his salvation from Salvation, and queer wisdom brought back from the culture wars.

Some people do not know that some of my sordid ex-gay experiences, exorcisms, and conversion therapies took place in England. I talk about these and much, much more.

Sexuality, mindfulness, climate change, oh, and Comedy

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Allegheny College fall 2016

Everything is Connected

Last week I spent four days at Allegheny College in Western Pennsylvania. Because of the intersectionality of my work–making connections with LGBTQ issues, gender, faith, Bible, privilege, justice, and climate change–I was in all sorts of classes from Environment and Religion to a theater class. I did comedy that looked at queer responses to climate change, and I did a large public performance of Everything is Connected.

My host, Jane Ellen Nickell, who is the campus chaplain, successfully got lots of different people excited about my visit, and we covered lots of ground.

Using Comedy and Performance to make a point

The school paper was on-hand to check out my shows, and I am pleased to report that it sounds like I am able to coherently make these weird connections.

From the article, Sexuality, mindfulness, and climate change by Meaghan Wilby

(Toscano) explained how he read articles about climate change that, although disturbing and sometimes frightening, never moved him.

It was not until he read an article that stated how a warmer planet would lead to more drought, which would in turn lead to food shortages, migration, political instability and—most importantly for Toscano—crop failures, which would result in global shortages of pasta. He said it was the prospect of a life without pasta that finally moved him.

“We got to do something now—this is serious,” said Toscano. “Yeah, poverty, but pasta?”

Toscano said that since then, he has found many more, less-shallow reasons to be concerned about climate change. He believes it is a human rights issue and said that much of his work involves considering queer responses to climate change.

“I think there’s a role for LGBTQ,” Toscano said. “I think the straight and gender-normative people really need our help.”

Marvin Bloom makes a cameo appearance. (credit: Shu Yi Tang)

Marvin Bloom makes a cameo appearance. (credit: Shu Yi Tang)

From years of struggling with my own sexuality in churches that wanted me to be straight and masculine, to seeing the discrimination in LGBTQ spaces, to discovering how climate change affects people differently in the world, I came to the conclusion that so often we are all in the same boat together; just not all on the same deck. Again from the article:

“I look at climate change very much as a political issue. When communities are stressed, the marginalized people suffer more. They are already suffering, so they suffer more,” Toscano said. “Basically climate change is racist, sexist, classist—it’s incredibly American in all those ways.”

Associate Dean and Director of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access and Social Justice Center, justin adkins, said he enjoyed Toscano’s presentation.

“He does such a good job at taking really big and scary issues … and is able to present them in a way that is accessible,” adkins said. “One of the best things his talks are able to do is focus on the intersections of people’s identities and social justice issues, and not a lot of people are able to do that.”

Check out Sexuality, mindfulness, and climate change by Meaghan Wilby

Alarmed and Amused: How pasta got me off my ass

That magic revelation moment

img_1991For many people who are engaged in activism of any sort, there are many factors and experiences and relationships that get us to act. For some of us too, there is a single moment when something clicks, and suddenly we see the world with new eyes.

The Biblical word for it is Apocalypse. ἀποκάλυψις or apokálypsis. We translate it into English as revelation, but that word has been weakened in English. OMG, I just had a revelation–coffee cake doesn’t taste anything like coffee. Weird, right?

No, the sense of the word, as I first learned from Bible scholar and Book of Revelation scholar, Dr. Lynn Huber, is that Apocalypse is a REVELATIONas if a curtain has been pulled back and one sees what is hidden from sight. That visions jars that one awake. This is a soul shaking, life-altering seeing. We probably can only handle two or at most three Apocalypses in our life times.

Shaken AND stirred by global warming

This is what happened to me in regards to climate change. I was not in any doubt about climate change, and in some part of my mind I was concerned, but I was not at all engaged. I wasn’t curious or seeking more knowledge. I did not consider that I had a role in addressing climate change. I felt I had bigger fish to fry–namely LGBTQ human rights and queer Bible scholarship.

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This man is responsible for my apocalypse — meet Glen Retief

One day my husband, Glen Retief, had an apocalypse about climate change. The science that came out in the fall of 2012 revealed that things were worse than scientist first imagined and the things were happening faster than they feared. Glen had an existential crisis–how can I teach creative writing and work on a novel when there is this huge crisis happening in the world and few people are talking about it?

Save the Ravioli! 

types-of-pastaHis immediate revelation was not contagious. Sure I was concerned he was concerned, but still I had other work to do. But I did begin to read about climate change. I learned how a warmer planet will change what has been mostly stable–particularly growing of crops. This ultimately led me to a major soul-shaking, life-changing revelation. There will be lots of endangered species and lots of crop failures, including the potential failures in wheat production (I am blissfully gluten tolerant). This in turn could lead to possible global shortages in pasta. 

And that is when I got hooked. That was my moment, my foothold. I am glad to say that I didn’t stay there, mourning the possible loss of pasta as I stockpiled spaghetti and rigatoni. I began to see loads of connections to climate change and the things I find most precious–LGBTQ human rights, women’s rights, and racial justice. This led me to pursue comedy and storytelling to engage the world around me to hear and see these days in which we live and our potential roles on a new planet.

Finding a wider audience

In 90 seconds, the radio segment, Climate Connections, tells my odd odyssey. I have loved this show and even included it at times in my own Climate Stew show. What a thrilled to be featured in it. They did a super job of saying a lot in a short period of time.

You can listen here: The end of pasta? Not funny!

And if you want to tell your own climate story: Submit to Yale Climate Connections

Of Vegetables and Presidential Candidates

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The NPR One App

An Audio Love Affair

I love radio and podcasts. Perhaps that is why I create my own. I also spend loads of time listening to programs on NPR One, a phone app that serves up a constant stream of NPR programs, news, and chatter.

My current all time favorite offering is the NPR Politics Podcast, particularly their Weekly Roundup I stream first thing Friday mornings. In addition to having  insightful and informed commentary about political news, particularly the US Presidential primaries, they also maintain a jaunty, friendly tone. Three or four political correspondence gathering and gab about the news.

Smart and Sassy Sam Sanders and Friends

It’s like easedroping on a group of really smart and sassy people who happen to really like and respect each other. I am a super fan boy of the team, especially Sam Sanders, Tamara Keith, and Asma Khalid. Oh the Beyonce references, the Star Wars geekiness, the voter demographics!

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Tamara Keith

Each episode ends with questions from listeners and “Can’t Let it Go,” one thing happening in the news that is obsessive, oppressive or both. With the listener questions, they encourage voicemails.

So being the fan that I am I have sent them my fair share of questions sometimes with an assist from one of my characters. (Weeks ago Vlad wanted to know who Putin wanted for US president. Of course the team didn’t have to answer that one–the answer has became obvious.)

Playing my Question!

Now while the recent publication of my letter to the editor in Mad Magazine is the height of my public exposure that will never been topped, still I was THRILLED when I heard my question on this week’s NPR Politics Podcast. They played a question I sent in about covering the campaign.

What’s it like to travel with the candidate? What sort of access do they get and is there much of a difference between the Trump and Clinton campaigns? Oh, and I needed to know how Tamara is doing post-Hillary Clinton Bus Tour. Turns out she is desperately in need of an infusion of vegetables after all that Pennsylvania/Ohio road food. 

My questions and the entertaining answers by Tamara Keith and Sarah McCammon start at about the 37 minute mark, but seriously listen to the whole show. It is worth it!

Weekly Roundup, Thursday August 11 NPR Politics Podcast

 

I am Ramping Up my YouTube Game!

Peterson circa 2006

Peterson circa 2006

I posted my first YouTube 10 years ago.

The image above is a screenshot from one of the early videos that is still on my YouTube page.

I was single guy living in Hartford, CT. I had a tiny attic apartment and sat on the bed and tried desperately to hold the camera steady. I talked about the ex-gay movement, Bible stories, the Marvin Bloom Saga, and even did the random video about my favorite foods–Ah, Trapped in a Food Loop is still one of my personal favorites.

At that time I still felt very wounded from nearly 20 years of religious abuse and dangerous gay conversion therapy. Comedy, storytelling, and public witness has been healing for me.

It also has given me a chance to speak out about about the harm I experienced and the new life I have been embracing ever since I came out.

Today I posted my 83rd YouTube video

In this latest video I reconfirm my commitment to storytelling and commentary. I will do a video a week for the next six months. What will these be about? In part that is up to you. I love the dialogue I have with people as I create comedy and publicly grapple with issues that are personal, political, religious, and often all three in one.

So, I put the question to you: What would you like me to make a video about? I will consider your questions, requests, suggestions, and challenges.

And if you get bored with me, I have about three dozen characters I can slip into to mix it up.

The studio is open–make your requests and thank you for watching! (oh, and I still have my favorite YouTube filming cap)