Moved in Malta

My trip to Malta quickly comes to a close when I fly back to London on Monday. Last night I performed The Re-Education of George W. Bush–No President Left Behind! to a lively (and sweaty) audience in a super cool performance space called Warehouse No. 8. It literally had been a warehouse and still retains some of its rustic and industrial charm. It reminds me of some of the loft theater spaces in NYC during the 1980’s–the kind of space that inspires progressive theater.

Earlier this year I have performed the Bush play in Sweden, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each time I wonder, Will it work here? I do not presume that my performances will translate into other cultural and political-social settings. So far the piece has worked out in these non-US venues. Of course all these places have nearly constant exposure to US media, so many of the references and in-jokes do not seem all that foreign. Also the play pokes fun at George Bush in part and the USA and its citizens to a greater extent. This gives the European audiences a chance to hear me talk about “the other” without feeling defensive. Almost always after each European performance one or more audience member tells me “you know we have many of these same problems in our country.” (these problems=sexism, white privilege, inhospitality towards asylum seekers, etc)

Last night at Warehouse No. 8 I felt uncertain if the Bush show would work, especially in the summer heat (no air conditioning in this cutting edge space) and with the explosions from nearby festivals to the saints (they have loud saints here). But it worked. They laughed less than most audiences but afterwards many came to me effusive about how they enjoyed the show and how surprised they felt that I said something serious and thoughtful.

During the Q&A session I received two questions that stand out for me this morning.

1. Did you choose to go into ex-gay therapy/treatment or did someone force you?

Hmmm, good question. I have to say it was a little of both. I mean, yeah, sure, I constantly elected to go into a program, speak to a minister or a counselor. I willingly spent my own money on trying to de-gay myself. So yeah, I chose to live that way. But I also felt deeply coerced by society. Everywhere I went I heard how bad it was to be gay–on the playground, from the pulpit, through politicians and in the press. I swallowed those lies and believed them as if they were the gospel truth. I then went to war against myself thinking I was doing something holy that benefited me and society.

You can say I was weak. Instead of standing up to all that pressure, renouncing it and boldly stating, “I am what I am, and if you have a problem with it, too bad!” I bowed to the pressure. I was programmed to hate myself, and I went along with the program. It makes me wonder today about other ways I have been similarly programmed and have not yet liberated myself.

2. How has coming to Malta helped you in your own “re-education” process?

Excellent question. I had two significant and possibly life-changing
encounters this week. One was lunch with a Dominican priest who worked for many
years in Brazil. He was a personal friend of Poulo Frere. You can say this
priest ascribes to what has been called liberation theology. He looks at the
scripture with class lenses to see the plight of the poor and the oppressed. He
wanted to meet with me because he cannot come to my Transfigurations performance tonight. He felt curious about these transgender Bible characters I unearth.

I see the character of Joseph in Genesis as a very positive and powerful person because of his gender differences. This priest had not seen that before. He sees Joseph as someone who consolidated all of the land from the people so that the leader, Pharaoh, could have complete control and power. We came to a
place where we agreed that both of these readings can live side by side. Someone can do great things as a great person and also abuse power in ways that harm others while benefiting those who already have power and privilege.

That night I read through the both the major and minor prophets in the Hebrew scripture and discovered that they cried out about the same two things over and over. 1. The need for the people to return to a more pure form of worship stripped of idolatry and 2. The need for the people to no longer oppress the poor for their own gain and along with the need to stop injustice in the land.

These prophets never talked about sex, well, except for a few heterosexuals misbehaving. They talked about devotion to God and a quest to return justice to the land.

Yesterday I had another significant lunch at The Open Centre, a halfway house complex of sorts for men from Africa who arrived on Malta as asylum seekers and have since been released from detention but don’t yet have the legal or financial means to enter fully in the mainstream of society. I learned that for everyone of them who arrives safely on little boats and rafts, four of them die on the journey. The stories of violence, extreme poverty and trauma that they left behind in search of a better life for themselves and their families shocked me in large part because I never read these stories in the newspapers I get back home. I met a psychologist from Eritrea and many men of deep faith both Muslim and Christian. The needs they have can easily overwhelm a visitor. How they live with them I cannot imagine.

I began to wonder, do we have such centers in the US? What happens to the many many detainees in my country, similar men from Latin America and Africa and other places who come to the US looking for the opportunity and freedom we constantly advertise in our movies and such? I do not know. I realize I need and want to educate myself. I now want to contact my cousin Peter who works with asylum seekers in Connecticut.

Yes, Malta has challenged me to re-educate myself

Today I meet with perhaps the only two Quakers on the island. They want to start a meeting for worship here. I think of the small group of Quakers I met earlier this year in Northern Sweden who just started their own official meeting. I feel grateful to have these connections with Friends with familiar practices as well as new kinds of friends I meet who challenge the ways I think. I am a very very fortunate man.

This post has 3 Comments

  1. paul on July 21, 2008 at 1:04 pm Reply

    “I swallowed those lies and believed them as if they were the gospel truth. I then went to war against myself thinking I was doing something holy that benefited me and society.

    You can say I was weak. Instead of standing up to all that pressure,…”

    Peterson,

    One might call you weak, but only out of ignorance. You believed your ideas about being gay were “God’s” thoughts and feelings, you only sought to ally yourself with “God.” To fight against your very self for what you believed was right is the opposite of weakness.

    What defense does a child have against the molding effects and influences of being born into the Spanish inquisition? Okay, it wasn’t quite that, but you get my point. You have to survive before you can use your legs to stand on.

  2. seithman on July 21, 2008 at 3:51 pm Reply

    I’m with Paul on that one. Of course, I’m also reminded of a lesson that I’ve learned and recently had reaffirmed through a book discussion I’m involved in: an integral part of any healing process is to come terms with, accept, and even embrace our past.

    It’s too easy to look back at or past mistakes through the eyes of regret. It’s easy to criticize and say in hindsight that we could’ve done things differently. But in the end, it accomplishes nothing.

    What’s worse, it denies the truth of who we were and who we are today. It denies that we made the best choices we could back then. (And let’s not remember that, as my one online is fond of reminding people, experience is that thing we get after we needed it.) And it denies that those choices and the experiences we went through as a result helped shape us into the people we are today. If we’re happy with the person we are today, does it make sense to spend much time regretting the road we traveled to get here?

  3. Liz Opp on July 23, 2008 at 9:44 pm Reply

    You seem to be having the most amazing experiences as you travel, Peterson. I am glad you are still open to receiving questions and conversations that work at you at a deep spiritual level.

    Now I’ll have to keep my eyes and ears peeled as to what is going on at the Lambeth Conference… or whatever the media is willing to share about it, anyway.

    Prayers to you, my friend.

    Blessings,
    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

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