Category: Personal


All through the L O N G and bitter cold winter, I kept telling, Glen Retief, my dear husband from sunny South Africa, “Just think, the more awful winter is, the more glorious and dramatic the spring!” His response was something like. “Alright just get on with it already.”

Well, at long last I see some signs of spring including a clutch of flowers at my friend Quin’s house nearby. I finally got to open the windows a bit the other day in the bedroom, much to the delight of Wally and Emma, the two cats that own us. I began the process of clearing up and cutting down in the garden and patio in anticipation to planting. I already had stuff in the ground last year, but with the wobbly winter, I will need to wait a little longer.

The weather helps my mood too. I adore winter, but I have to admit that even I was getting gloomy. I feel a spring in my step and even went for an evening walk along the river and didn’t even wear a scarf and gloves!

Doin’ Time in Oslo

Via Detroit and Amsterdam I arrived in Oslo yesterday morning strangely rested in spite of over an hour or two of sleep on the flights. I catch up on all those movies I want to see but don’t want to pay to see. I dozed in and out so they all sort of merged at one point. There was the spy thriller with Angelina and Johnny Depp (The Tourist) and then the country singer movie (Country Strong) and something silly but now I can’t remember what. Actually a pretty poor selection except for a French film which made no sense even with subtitles, but the people were all so pretty and the mood was so dreamy I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sadly I cannot remember the name.

What really kept me up was Lush Life, the Billy Strayhorn biography. Strayhorn collaborated with Duke Ellington for years. Openly gay even in the 1940s when virtually no one was out, he wrote and co-wrote some of the best American music to come out of the 20th Century. But like Bayard Rustin, who was so long overlooked and hidden away, historians are only beginning to give Strayhorn much needed attention. Although the writing is so so, the content was enough to keep me awake much of the flight while I waited in vain for the sleeping drugs to kick in.

Tonight I will have my European debut of “I Can See Sarah Palin from my Window! Lessons Before the Second Coming.” In March of 2010 I travelled to Oslo with Glen, my partner (the memoirist and dishy South African writing professor at Susquehanna University) where I performed excerpts from the play. It finally premiered in Allentown, PA in September, and I have not performed it since. Although Glen thinks it is probably my best structured and most artistic play, I did not feel it was yet ready to tour. I needed to cut cut cut much from it. Not only was it too long, but there were parts I loved to perform that took away more than they added.

In writing plays, like most writing, editing down can be the hardest and most essential part of the work. How does one clip all those buds? It’s like when I am working in my garden and I have too much growth happening on a plant. Clear out the extra and the yield may be smaller but a better quality in the end. It took me the months between the premiere and tonight’s performance to mull over the play and what I want to say and do in it. Fortunately I know how to recycle material, so no doubt some of the better cut bits will resurface at some point.

While the title may suggest that the play is all about Sarah Palin with snide comments and all sorts of Palin jokes, I don’t go there. For one it is too easy. There is a whole market right now with people who live off of poking fun at Sarah Palin. It is being done all the time. I wanted to do something different. So my play becomes more personal while remaining comic. It is a comedy about cancer, misogyny, and hospitality. It is also a play about women. I think of the Spanish filmmaker, Almodovar (particularly his early work) who served up comic meditations and homages to women.

My mother, Anita Toscano, plays a central role in the play (much like she did in my earlier work, “The Re-Education of George W. Bush–No President Left Behind!”) And with it being Mother’s Day on Sunday in the USA, it seems especially fitting that I perform this memorial about my own mom.

In rehearsal I totally broke down crying. It was at the point in the play when I talk about my mom and her fight against cancer. Perhaps it wasn’t a fight, more of an endurance test. She passed the test, but she still died. In the play I talk about the role reversal that happened. As she grew more and more ill, her children and our dad began to take more and more care of her. Dad learned how to clean house and wash clothes. My sisters and I cooked for my mom after decades of mom cooking for us. And she was an amazing cook, not only because she is my mom, but people paid to eat her cooking at Pete’s Pub for over 30 years. In the play I share a poem I wrote after I served my mom the last meal I would prepare for her before she died. She couldn’t eat it because of the advance stage of cancer, but she took a bite, and we pretended she would finish it later.

Today at the Nasjonalgalleriet (the Norwegian National Gallery of Art) in addition to seeing famous works by artists like Edvard Munch (yes, I saw Scream, the painting, but preferred Mannen i kålåkeren–Man in the Cabbage Field) I viewed two artist I do not remember seeing before–Halfdan Egedius and Harriet Backer. Egedius presents his figures in dark backgrounds, and in the pieces and often features women. One piece reminded me of my mother–a solid rock of a woman. Egedius placed the figure in the center of the painting, body in profile with the woman’s head turned facing out with a steady, firm, yet welcoming gaze. In another he placed two dancers in black skirts swirling amidst a dark backdrop. He captured so much movement amongst the dancers, all in dark dark tones, murky but still vibrant.

Harriet Backer was one of the few female artist represented in the art museum. This is nothing new. Glen knows how happy I get when I finally stumble upon a female artist’s work on display in the art museums we visit. In Blått interiør (Blue Interior) a woman dressed in dark blue sitting in a middle class parlor works on some sewing. The only light comes from the window she is facing. She looks defeated to me, trapped, like Nora in Ibsen’s Doll House. But by the window is a plant, tall with shiny leaves, and although we cannot see out the window, we see the light, and the world beyond that parlor.

With my soul fed with good art, I am nearly ready to perform my play. First a tech rehearsal (so many sound cues!) a little rest and BAM, I will be on stage. And maybe I can even sell a Homo No Mo DVD so I can afford one of these insanely expensive excellent coffees they sell around here.

Current mood–content, slightly anxious, mostly feeling anticipation for tonight. So many sounds cues!


Perhaps only those raised in the USA understand the alluring comfort of the peanut butter & jelly sandwich. I have friends in the UK turn up their noses in disgust at the mention of a PB&J sandwich (while they smear brown yeasty Marmite on brown bread).

I grew up with PB&J made with grape jelly, Jiffy™ peanut butter (I alternated between smooth and creamy) and grape jelly (which for the Brits is like jam without all the bits & clumps).

Enroute to Portland, OR at the Detroit layover this morning I bought a sandwich at the PB&J counter (Cashew butter on 7-grain brown bread w/ rasberry jam). It seemed the perfect flight food today–sweet, carby, nostalgic)

My Faith Odyssey–Oh the Places You Will Go!

My religious trajectory began in the Roman Catholic Church and landed me in many of the Christian religious movements of the past 30 years.

At age 17 I left Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Lake Huntington, NY with its tinny sounding organ and hymns sung in impossible keys through the noses of old ladies, and I began to attend Gospel Tabernacle, a fundamentalist Bible Church in Honesdale, PA. This church encouraged their youth to attend Word of Life Bible Institute and Bob Jones University (Also known as BJU). After I graduated from high school, I opted for what my pastor considered a liberal institution, Nyack College, a Christian and Missionary Alliance school. While there I attended an independent Evangelical church in nearby New Jersey. They talked about grace and provided gourmet coffee in the Fellowship Hall after service.

Following a stint with the Evangelical mission HCJB in Quito, Ecuador, I moved to New York City where with hands raised and feet stomping I jumped into Glory Tabernacle, a non-denominational Charismatic church that put the happy into the clappy. We railed against principalities and powers, and in ancient pagan fashion regularly drove out evil entities ensconced in every corner of the city. (And to the god of the North, I bind you and in the mighty name of Jesus I command you to depart with your evil minions!)

Right before this Holy Ghost-filled church fell apart because of a sexual scandal between the young charming pastor and his children’s nanny (a result of The Enemy attacking The Man of God, who apparently failed to build a strong enough hedge of protection around himself or else inadvertently opened a door to demonic oppression or quite possibly both), I moved onto Times Square Church. With services held in one of Broadway’s premiere theaters I sang in their rocking Gospel choir and sat under their teaching, seasoned in a Pentecostal/Holiness tradition with a prophetic punch brought on by senior pastor David Wilkerson (He regularly warned us that North America would fall because of homosexuals who would then roam in homosexual gangs. Apparently it is part of our agenda)

Through my connections with people in the Manhattan-based L.I.F.E. Ministries ex-gay program (and unemployed Broadway actor support group), I also occasionally attended Household of Faith Ministries (now Christian Cultural Center) a word of faith non-denominational church in Brooklyn that adhered to the teachings of Kenneth Copeland, Marilyn Hickey, and Kenneth Haggin. Oh the things I claimed in faith!

Through Times Square Church I became acquainted with a small house church in Yonkers, NY called the New Testament Missionary Fellowship. Without a pastor or Sunday program, the congregants of this small assembly needed to produce the ministry themselves, which included prophecies, spontaneous original songs, dancing in the Spirit and Bible lessons.

From there I moved to the UK and Zambia where I mostly attended non-denominational charismatic churches. After my world fell apart in Zambia, I attended a small charismatic church in England that bought into the Toronto Blessing with full-blown laughing in the spirit. At one Toronto Blessing-inspired conference I endured, “God” tried to minister to me through animal noises and grunts. All very entertaining (and terrifying) but I struggled to grasp what “God” was trying to tell me. During that time in England I also attended Wednesday communion services at the local Anglican parish.

When I returned to the States to attend the Love in Action ex-gay residential treatment facility in Memphis, TN, the program leaders forced us to attend Central Church, an Evangelical mega church with a mega choir and a theater-like atmosphere that dazzled us week after week in a giant round building resembling an abandoned space ship. As a struggling ex-gay, I attended the Men’s Sunday School class and Promise Keepers while avoiding the many rest rooms. We learned by experience about the a reputation for spontaneous gay sex during the service. Those crazy straight Evangelicals and their toilets!

When I could elect to go to a church of my choosing, I attended an Episcopal church led by a husband/wife ministry team that taught conservative theology with a sprinkling of Charismatic hands-on ministry and a failed attempt at the ALPHA Course (which I guess one could term as a success of sorts.)

When I came out as gay, I attended the monthly meetings of Integrity, a gay Episcopal group in downtown Memphis and latter became an officer in that group. On Sunday evenings I walked a half-block to a campus Episcopal church led by Samson, a Kenyan pastor who created a community feel to our services and organized gorgeous pot-luck dinners afterwards.

In 2001 I moved to Hartford, CT and soon after 911 I entered a Quaker meeting house and have been a Quaker ever since. So far I have found a home of sorts among “Friends” as we call each other. Quakers are big time pacifists. I have discovered that Quakers don’t get violent, just passive aggressive. My favorite part has to be all the quiet we practice during our weekly meetings (and I have to say, for me it requires practice.)

In an upcoming post I write how some of my current Quaker experiences mirror some of my earliest Roman Catholic ones.

What about you? What does your faith odyssey look like?

I Blame David Lynch

When I sleep, I have cinematic dreams. They can be sweeping epics, romantic comedies, sci-fi flicks or even sitcoms. Often I find them entertaining, rarely scary, occasionally erotic, and typically not helpful in understanding my inner world.

This morning I awoke to a dream that must have been intended for someone else. In it a Cortney Cox looking character comforts a Jennifer Aniston looking character. I think there was a man involved in “Jennifer’s” distress, but I lost this detail as “Cortney” crawled into the front seat of a car with “Jennifer.” They were gently lit as it was nighttime. I mostly saw their faces in a warm glow. They leaned up against each other cheek to cheek. “Jennifer” wept softly as “Cortney” wiped away tears. And BAM! The next thing you know they are making out.

I awoke and cursed filmmaker David Lynch.

I know this has something to do with Mulholland Drive, his 2001 bizarre mystery thriller replete with gorgeous lesbian lovemaking scenes. Some years ago I sat through three quarters of the DVD when the player encountered a problem with the disc. Up to this point I sat confused by the unravelling plot and the random appearance of a man in a gorilla suit. I had to know how it ended, if nothing else than for my personal sanity. I tried to skip the damaged section by jumping a chapter, but turns out Lynch did not put any chapter breaks in the DVD. He wants you to watch the whole thing through. Ugh!

Holding onto to the fagments (um fragments) of the story that made some sense, I dashed to the DVD rental place around the corner and asked for a replacement to the damaged DVD. I ran home then I fast forwarded through the entire film until I got to the spot where I had to stop on the first DVD. I watched the rest of the movie, and as the credits rolled I cursed David Lynch for making such a beautiful and enigmatic film.

I have since decided that the Mulholland Drive serves as an elaborate joke that Lynch played on the rest of us for his personal satisfaction. Sometime in the near future he will stumble upon my blog post (I feel certain he does a Google vanity search at least thrice daily) and laugh and laugh.

So then I have this dream, a dream that must have been designed for Christine Bakke, or Mila or Jayna or Carcker Lilo or some lesbian or bisexual woman in the world (or hetero guy who gets off on watching two women which I find kinda weird). Joe G will most likely chalk it up to multiple personalities asserting themselves in my sleep. Conservative Aglicans will asset this proves to their previous diagnosis of schizophrenia.

But I blame David Lynch, and you should too.


Recently in Frostburg, MD on an excursion to Mainstreet Books, one of the finest independent bookstores I’ve been to for some time, a poet who accompanied me slipped a copy of The Collected Poems of Constantine Cavafy, a new translation by Aliki Barnstone (read review here).

Cavafy, the 20th Century Greek writer, who lived unashamedly with his gay side (well openly for the most part), always drew me since I read his poem Ithaka for a college course on Odysseus. (Hear it read in English by Sean Connery or in the original Greek from the movie about Cavafy.)

Reading this new fresh translation, I had to buy the book.

This poem tells my story in a way that has eluded me for over a decade. (try reading it aloud)

by C.P. Cavafy

The years of my youth, my sensual life–
how clearly I see their meaning now.

What needless repentances, how futile…

But I didn’t see the meaning then.

Out of the dissolute life of my youth
my poetry’s aims grew.
my art’s realm was drawn.

That is why the repentances were never steadfast.
And my resolutions to hold back, to change,
lasted two weeks at the most.

You can read more Cavafy poems in English and Greek here.

Memphis Pride

I flew into Memphis on Tuesday night, my third visit to this Mid-South city since February when Christine Bakke and I along with several other ex-gay survivors came to town to work with local LGBT folks in organizing Deconstructing the Ex-Gay Myth–A Weekend of Action & Art. Last night I performed my play The Re-Education of George W. Bush–No President Left Behind! making it the fourth play I have presented here in 2008. (I guess I need to write a new play before I return :-p )

10 years ago I lived in Memphis. I had gradutated Love in Action, a Memphis-based residential program designed to straighten folks out, in March of 1998, but I returned to the program around this time after a “relapse”. (I think I was the first person to actually graduate then return for more treatment. Usually graduates only come back to work as staff, which in itself is a form of on-going treatment). I spent the rest of the summer of ’98 up through October going through the five phases of the program once again.

Those days still hold dark memories for me. I think about the desperation and the fear that hung over me. After 17 years of seeking God with all my heart, of surrendering, of submitting to various teachings, programs, ex-gay leaders, church leaders, of praying, fasting, memorizing the scripture, worshipping Jesus, bonding with straight male mentors, digging up the roots to my homosexuality, making amends, binding the strong man, tapping into my masculine side, creating a mythology about my past that fit in with the ex-gay developmental model, of doing, hoping, longing, believing, I had experienced no shift whatsoever in regards to my same-sex attractions (a promise dangled before me for years). Worse yet, the more I sought to contain, crucify, hand over, stuff down, manage, and die daily to my same-sex desires, the stronger they propelled me and the deeper I felt depressed, confused, hopeless and ashamed.

10 years ago I sat perched on the rubble of years of believing God and bullying God for “victory over homosexuality.” That I still remained “bound” meant that I had done something wrong. Ex-gay leaders, Christian counselors and uninformed pastors did a disservice to me when constantly put the blame back on me. I failed to turn myself around because:

  • I wasn’t trying hard enough.
  • I was trying too hard.
  • I didn’t want it badly enough.
  • I wanted it too much.
  • I hadn’t yet discovered the root to my problems
  • I needed to find a different treatment plan.
  • I needed to pray more, read more, do more, more, more!
  • I had not yet repented from the heart.
  • I was not willing to resist until death.

In fact, not too long ago in a Conservative Christian anti-gay radio program, a pastor from Central Church, who I knew from my Love in Action days, brought up the need to suffer even until death in our fight against sin in our lives and specifically in regards to gay attraction.

About 10 years ago I finally came to my senses when I realized that change was not possible, change was not necessary, this “change” was destroying me. Instead I took the advice of Love in Action director, John Smid, who instructed us that if something was not working, try something new. He also regularly reminded us that a definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome. For years I tried to sort out my gay side, to rid myself of it or at least control it, but that only bore negative fruit–the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit. A little less than 10 years ago I decided to try something new, to accept the reality that I am a man who finds other men romantically and sexually attractive. I didn’t feel happy at the time about this acceptance, but I needed to face reality, or the fantasy world I lived in would destroy me.

10 years later I enjoy the fruit of the Holy Spirit in a way I always dreamed of–charitas, gaudium, pax, longanimitas, benignitas, bonitus, fides, mansuetudo and continentia. This year’s Pride celebration in Memphis means a lot to me. Over the past 10 years I have reclaimed my life, recovered from much of the ex-gay harm I experienced and grown into health.

Mid-South Pride, the organizers of this year’s festivities, invited me to be the Grand Marshall of the Memphis Pride parade. I would have declined the invitation in any other city (not that others are asking 🙂 but I feel good and yes proud to celebrate Pride here in Memphis even if I will feel a little silly in a car waving to folks along the parade route. This year I celebrate my liberation from 17 years of ex-gay madness and my deliverance from fautly theories and oppressive practices. I celebrate the freedom that I have to be myself, to live in integrity, to embrace a healthy lifestyle based in reality.

Happy Pride!

Almost Home and Apparently Schizophrenic

I fly out of London tomorrow morning heading for NYC and then taking the bus up to Hartford. Phew. I have been away for a little more than a month, but it feels much longer. This trip has taken me to England, Wales, back to England, Northern Ireland, Catalonia, Spain, back to Catalonia, then back to England. I got to see LOADS of Auntie Doris (smooches) and even got little trips in to see Contemplative Activist, John Henson, and my dear friends Jo and Ali in Wakefield. Today I traveled down to Southampton for lunch with Candy, the mother of Esther, my lovely host in Reading and a fellow Quaker.

I had a lovely dinner over at the home Nalini’s and her partner Robert, Esther’s good friends. Had a GREAT show in Reading last night with a large enthusiastic crowd. (I did wind them up a little by promising that they had the power to make me do crazy things on stage just by their laughter and applause and if they played their cards right, I would become their very own performing monkey, which is sorta what happens during Vlad’s dance).

Barcelona with our conference about Reparative Therapy was a HUGE success. We had over 100 people come to the event, people who represented a diverse swath of the population. We also had loads of press coverage with lots of TV interviews and such. I will write more and put up photos and videos in the next week.

Northern Ireland was also a real treat as I got to know the folks in the Icon Community as well as got to travel to Newcastle, Northern Ireland and stay with the sweetest family ever (and even got to practice my Spanish with a three year old)

All around an excellent trip, and I will write more and share more about it in the coming days. I return to Europe next month with a trip to Malta and then some presentations during the Lambeth Conference. My upcoming visit is getting some people chatting including this blog where one commenter unearthed the secret to my theatrical success–schizophrenia!

I am THRILLED to announce that next weekend my dad, Pete Toscano, and I will travel to Chicago to be part of Soulforce’s American Family Outing which will take place this time at Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago. After hearing some about my father and seeing him recently on TV and in film talking about being the parent of someone who has survived the ex-gay movement, they asked if my dad would be willing to come with me to the event. He said yes, so off we go to this VERY large church. You can read more about the outing here.

Soulforce does organizes these outings in hopes of generating a conversation about LGBT issues among different types of families. I know my dad will be a wonderful addition to the team (and will very likely come up with some very original one-liners.) If you would like to contribute to getting my day and me to this event, visit the donation page and in the comments say that your gift is to go towards getting two wacky Toscanos to a mega church.

Must head off to bed for an early drive to Heathrow. Oh, but before I do, have you yet ordered your Homo No Mo Halfway House DVD???

Jesus in the Backseat (a poem)

For the past few days I´ve been thinking about a funny moment in my childhood that I am trying to capture in words. In my poem I reference Necco wafers. This particular candy we ate a lot when we were little. According to Necco´s website, Necco Assorted Wafers come in

eight pastel colors and flavors–Chocolate, lemon, lime, orange, clove, wintergreen, cinnamon, licorice

I never actually knew what the falvors were until today. You can learn more here.

Now that you know a little about Necco Wafers, I can share my poem.

Jesus in the Backseat

The noxious incense from her cigarette,
Mixed with the sweet smoky puffs from his pipe,
Envelops us inside the
Airtight car.

We return from pilgrimage,
From the
Hawaiian Fountain,
Where we celebrated mass
Consumption around the flaming
Pu Pu Platter.

We three kids
Sit in the backseat,
Cautiously placing Necco Wafers
On each other´s tongue,
As one intones–
The body of Christ.
The body of Christ.

We feel the chalky disc dissolve.

With our tongues extended,
Cradling the candied Christ,
We stammer back,

The Unspoken Weights

The past 24 hours I have felt like crap. Not physically but emotionally, well in a vague undefined way. Typically I hone in pretty quickly on what bothers me on the inside, but sometimes I remain unaware only feeling a somewhat distant muffled malaise.

My mother always sensed when something troubled me. Even hundreds of miles away on the phone she knew something was not right with me. Often she picked up on the chronic melancholy stemming from my ex-gay struggles that I often kept to myself (and even hid from myself). Typically I attempted a cheery front that she dented with her question, “Are you sure everything is alright?” I don’t remember a time when she got it wrong.

Here in beautiful Oxford, England with perfect spring weather, quaint cafes, and a lovely place to stay in the Friends Meeting House my unease has grown and finally has become obvious to me. Bottom line—I miss my mom. Although the English did not celebrate Mother’s Day yesterday, from the spam alone cramming my inbox, I could not avoid the US holiday (sponsored and promoted no doubt by Hallmark, etc).

In the midst of the beauty and the love of dear friends here, I feel the persistent ache that my mom referenced when she spoke of her own mother who she lost at a young age. You will never stop missing your mother.

Like a discontent, moody lion with a thorn festering in his paw, I have felt a steady, growing, dull pain pulling me down. It has muddled my mind and sensitized me to sounds and petty annoyances. Now I have pulled back the curtain (aided by e-mails from Christine, Deanna and Morgan) and can access the pain, express it, live in this moment. Discerning the origin of my angst helps to address it. And in feeling afresh the loss of my mother, I draw near to her memory and her love.