Category: Personal

Yesterday

Feeling weepy after reading Dan Savage’s column about his mom who died the other day, and then I saw a beautiful and heart wrenching movie called Yesterday.

Yesterday (Leleti Khumalo) lives in Rooihoek, a remote village in South Africa’s Zululand. Her everyday life is not easy—there’s little money, no modern conveniences, and her husband is away in Johannesburg working as a miner—but she possesses a sunny nature, and takes great joy in her seven-year-old daughter, Beauty (Lihle Mvelase).

The precarious balance of Yesterday’s life is suddenly threatened when she is diagnosed with AIDS and must journey afar to understand and confront her illness. Yesterday’s primary driving force is Beauty, who is a year away from starting school. Yesterday never had the chance to go to school and she sets her sights on a single goal: to be with Beauty on her first day of class, along with all the other proud mothers…

I am at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and just happened upon the theater that happen to be showing the film for free to medical students and the general public. And now I am all weepy.

My mom was only nine when her mother died. She often said in her joking way, “You’ll only ever have one mother, so you’re going to have to put up with me.” It’s odd and wonderful how we carry the people we love with us. After my mother’s death in September 2006, I felt so much strength flow into me making me fearless. I miss her more than I can express, but I also feel close to her everyday.

Doin’ Time in Huntington, WV

WV=West Virginia. I spent the past few days in Huntington in order to present Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House at Marshall College. The weather there remained wet but warm in the upper 60’s. Now back in Hartford the temperature hovers slightly above freezing with a wicked wind and the threat of snow. I will spend much of the day indoors doing chores, listening to fabulous music and prepping for my show tomorrow in Hartford–The Re-Education of George W. Bush.

I met such lovely people in Huntington, WV. Rebbeca from the LGBT Outreach Center has a fine taste in music (Spoon was playing in her car when she picked me up!) and a deep curiosity about the gnostic Gospels. On Wednesday night at a club club called Luna (with some fine music of their own, kick-butt hummus, and some of the best gins on the planet) a small group of us sat on the couches and talked about faith, queer issues and the ex-gay movement. Justin, a volunteer at the LGBTO Center joined me for dinner the night before and told me about his life as a queer guy in WV which includes long walks in the woods, a deep love of nature and Xena, the Warrior Princess. (He even wore a Xena t-shirt to dinner). Rebbeca, Justin and Doug (also from the center) helped me set up lights and run sound for my show. Rebecca even brought her parents and sister.

I also met Kit who just returned to Huntington after being away in California. Kit introduced us all to the Luna Club (and his dapper friend Shane) only proving once again that progressive people with excellent taste exist everywhere. Going to a place like West Virginia some biased folks in the North East joke with me, “Wait, I didn’t know they had colleges in West Virginia. And aren’t you afraid to go there?” My only fear was that I wouldn’t find any sweet brown rice. Other than that I expected exactly what I found, intelligent, well-informed, queer and queer-friendly folks.

Next week I travel to James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA and will get to meet the very smart scholar Christine M. Robinson, Assistant Professor of Sociology & Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies Department of Sociology and Anthropology. Christine recently published a well-written article about The Politics of Masculinity and the Ex-Gay Movement. I will write a blog post about her work soon.

This amazing tour the past five years has rewarded me greatly. Have I gotten rich doing what I do? YES, but not in my bank account. I have grown so rich with friends, amazing conversations, new ideas and knowledge that have literally shaped my work and my life.

Now I shall return to my household chores, fabulous music, rehearsal, and well, heck, a big ole bowl of sweet brown rice!

An e-mail to a man who is ex-gay

I often receive e-mails from former ex-gays and current ex-gays asking me about my experience. Yesterday I got one such e-mail that got me thinking deeply about my time at Love in Action, an ex-gay residential program in Memphis, TN. Although the message I received starts out accusatory, it quickly becomes more thoughtful. I sense the person genuinely desires to hear about my experience and dialogue. What I appreciate his message is that in it he shares some of his journey and the reasons behind it. I thought his questions helpful, so I want to share them with you along with my answer. I have removed his name and the year he attended LIA. (photos are from the renovation of my cottage)

I attended Love in Action in August 20xx. What I don’t understand is why you have so many negative things to say about LIA. I hope you remember that you choose to attend the program and were not forced into attending. You should respect other peoples decisions to live for God and change their lives. I know how hard it is to struggle with homosexuality. But I know that in the end I want a deeper relationship with my creator and that is what motivates me to change my sexuality. You must have had some very strong convictions to spend thirty thousand dollars and countless hours in therapy. Peterson, Why made you change your mind about wanting freedom from homosexuality? I am sorry if at first I came off a little rude. But I really would like to talk with you more on the subject. I have some family members who identify as being gay, and they tell me that this is how I was created…. But I know that God wants more for me. Do you think I asked to be like this? Of course not. I wanted straight and have a wife and kids and the whole nine yards. I am trusting God, that one day it will happen for me.

Thank you so much for writing. I always appreciate meeting fellow LIA graduates. We share a unique experience that most people in the world do not understand. I have spent time thinking about your questions and have a LONG answer below. Thanks for asking. It got me thinking and writing.

I run into so many people who ask,

Why did you go to Love in Action for two years? Why did you spend so much time and effort trying to change your sexuality?

Many people do not understand the conflict and turmoil some of us have felt and the lengths we have gone to in order to do what we felt we needed to in order to correct what we saw as wrong with us.

Some of my dearest friends today are guys who went through LIA with me. Most are now gay, but one is married to a woman, and I was actually the best man in his wedding. Having each other has helped a lot as we live post-LIA.

Like you I have always wanted a deep relationship with my creator. At age 17 I found Jesus (or Jesus found me?) and the Bible made sense in a way it never did before. I entered a lifelong journey of worship of God, of listening to the Lord and of doingministry. Because of messages I heard around me, mostly from the playground growing up and from the media, I got the idea that being straight was the only normal path and anything other than straight was abnormal, taboo, sick, and bad.

I just wanted to be a good person, a faithful Christian and to be normal. I heard about the dream of a family with a wife and children from virtually every movie, pop song and even advertisements I experienced from the time I was small. Society continually represented and rewarded straight people it while it punished and made fun of people who weren’t straight. I heard over and over that non-straight people were sad and unholy.

With all my heart I endeavored to crucify my flesh daily and find a way out of my gay desires and into a straight life. I believed the promise,

If any man be in Christ Jesus he is a new creation, the old is gone, behold all things have been made new.

To me that meant that Jesus could completely save me from my same-sex attractions and restore me to the place that I had been told was normal. Surely God was strong enough to do that especially after the mighty work that Jesus did on the cross and through the resurrection.

I found many ministers, counselors and ex-gay leaders who insisted that change was not only possible but probable. I went to church every chance I could, spent hours daily in prayer, praise, Bible study and simply enjoying the presence of God. I failed often but always returned to God bringing my struggle, feeling unworthy to serve as a missionary until I got this thing beat.

At age 25 I married a woman after our church leaders at a very well-known church encouraged us that God would bless our marriage. It seemed I had found that place of freedom I longed for all those years, and for two solid years I remained physically faithful to my wife. We seemed like an ideal Christian couple. But my desires for other men did not diminish. My desires for my wife never materialized. She could tell that I did not desire her and this wounded her deeply. She kept thinking there was something wrong with her. She knew of my former struggles but believed like me that God would bless us. I avoided sex as much as possible, not so much because I did not desire her sexually but more so because of the extreme guilt and shame I felt because I could only be successful in the bedroom if I thought of other men when I was intimate with my wife. I felt like I betrayed her every time we had sex.

I grew depressed, suicidal, hopeless. I continued to call out to God, but after five years of marriage, everything fell apart. It was then I chose to enter Love in Action. I hated that my struggle destroyed everything I held dear–my marriage, my work in Christian service, my church friendships–all lost.

It was at LIA that I first heard that it was impractical to expect that I would change from gay to straight. John Smid, the director, said that this is an unrealistic goal and that most likely we will continue to struggle with our desires for the rest of our lives. I hated that. I felt so deflated and discouraged and wondered if I made a big mistake in coming to LIA. But it was one of the best gifts I received from LIA–reality.

I learned other valuable lessons, especially from a counselor I worked with through LIA. Speaking about some childhood abuse issues he told me that sexual abuse and being gay are two distinctly different things. This freed me up to look at these issues separately and more objectively. John Smid and the other staff also continually reminded us that a definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. I thought,

Wait a minute, that’s what I have been doing for 17 years, begging God, bullying God to change me as I suppress my desires and call them bad and evil and sinful and sick. What happens if I do something different? What happens if I accept my desires as a natural reality of who I am, how I am wired, and take it from there?

And that is what I did. At first I assumed that meant I could not be a Christian any longer. How I mourned the thought of losing Jesus in my life, not simply because I believed I might go to hell, but more so because I cherished the presence of God in my life and my daily time of seeking God and listening to God. I soon realized I could not live without God, and although I distrusted gay theologians, I knew I needed to come to God with my desires and really ask God for his guidance. All those years previously I assumed the right prayer to pray was

God change me, fix me, help me out of this.

Instead my prayers became more open handed.

God I have these desires. What do you want me to do with them? with my life? I don’t want to simply exchange one identity for another.

I held it out before God and listened. I began to realize that my thirst for change was not as spiritual as I had always assumed. I used God as a cover for the strong hunger to “be normal,” to fit in, to have the dream of straight life and a wife and kids and the whole nine yards. In essence I coveted my straight neighbor’s life. I thought I was listening to God, but really I was hearing the values of the world imposed upon the church, values that praised straight people and punished gay people.

At first I hated the idea that I was gay, but hated more living without integrity. And I began a journey to discover myself and to discover God’s, not man’s, will for my life. And the wild thing is that now I have a deeper more honest relationship with my creator than I ever dreamed possible. I have clarity and understanding and my previous out of control behaviors no longer disrupt my life. I treat my body with dignity and respect and am no longer compulsive.

If you are happy and truly feel that the ex-gay path or a celibate one is the way that God has for you, than I feel happy for you. I do not in anyway wish to invalidate your experience. I just know that for me such a life was not possible nor was it healthy. Love in Action helped me face reality, gave me great friends and some valuable lessons, but overall my time there caused me much more harm than good. The family and friends weekend devastated my parents. (I talk about this here). The overall experience deepened the shame I felt about myself and demonized all of my sexual desires not honestly separating compulsive unhealthy addictive desire from healthy normal desires.

This may not have been your experience. I can understand that, but the vast majority of people I have met (well over 1000) who have tried an ex-gay life say that long-term it was not beneficial, realistic, or necessary. But we are all wired differently and perhaps you represent someone in the tiny minority who find that the ex-gay way is helpful and sustainable.

Over at Beyond Ex-Gay we share some of our stories through our narratives, art work, poetry and articles. We make it very clear that

We believe that ex-gay experiences cause more harm than good. Certain people who currently identify as ex-gay say they are content as such. We don’t seek to invalidate their experience. For us such a lifestyle was not possible or healthy.

Not that it was all bad: Some of us received positive help through our ex-gay experiences. We grew to understand our sexuality better and in some cases even overcame life-controlling problems.

But for most of us, these experiences brought us inner turmoil, confusion, and shame. We are still in a process of recovery from the damage. Through sharing our stories with each other, we find wholeness and healing.

I was an Ex-Gay in Bible School

Well, that is not exactly true, it was a Christian Liberal Arts College and I was trying to be ex-gay. Putting me in the dorm with the entire soccer team and an old-fashion communal shower stall sorely tested my resolve. Those were the days of the 5am two minute showers. My roommate, an Italian bodybuilder with skimpy nylon shorts even in the dead of winter, knew of my “struggles.” I had explained it all to him on our first day rooming. That didn’t get him to put on anymore clothes. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

Nyack College, in Nyack, NY. I attended for two years. Well, I nearly completed one year when after repeated falls from grace, the dean of students asked me to withdraw lest I be kicked out. After a summer of intensive counseling with my pastor, Nyack took me back, but this time into Simpson Hall, where they had private shower stalls and music majors. During my second year at Nyack I fell in love with a boy, dated a girl, and kept all my secrets to myself. I learned an important lesson at that Christian school. Don’t be too honest about your struggles; it will just get in trouble.

I head back to Nyack, NY on Sunday to do a play, not at the college, but at The Nyack Center.

What: Peterson Toscano’s one-person play, “Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House: How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement.”
When: 7 p.m. March 9. Doors open at 6.
Where: Nyack Center, 58 Depew Ave., Nyack.
More information: Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Students pay $10. Call 845-634-5729 or visit www.gaypriderockland.org.

Suzan Clarke of the Journal News interviewed me and published an article about my ex-gay journey and the show—Survivor of ex-gay therapy to perform at Nyack Center.

And yes, last week was the official retirement show of Homo No Mo. This is just my Cher-like victory lap (with less costume changes and wigs).

While I am in Nyack, I actually would welcome the opportunity to meet up with folks at the college or the seminary. I am technically one of their spawn. Technically.

Rest, Recovery, and Reflection

What a tremendous weekend in Memphis! All the events for Deconstructing the Ex-Gay Myth—A Weekend of Action & Art far exceeded my expectations. Loads of people turned out to everything, but more than the quantity of people was the quality of the exchanges we had and the depth of learning and sharing and loving. Bruce Garrett shares how the weekend moved him and posts some photos here.

We did stand in front of Focus on the Family’s Love Won Out event for a few hours on Saturday morning. We held up clear, positive signs with messages like Christian & Gay, We Know You Love Your Children, Integrity Changes Lives, Change at What Cost? Some ex-gay survivors also went into Central Church to present gifts to the people at Love Won Out, framed collages about our experiences (designed by Christine). But this was a tiny part of weekend. We were not there to protest rather the weekend showcased the creative, strong LGBT community in Memphis.

I spoke with a neighbor today who casually asked, “So what did you do for the weekend?” In my mind I scanned the many events and magical moments over the past few days. The Ex-Gay Survivor Art Show that Christine Bakke curated. The preview of Morgan Jon Fox’s film, This is What Love in Action Looks Like, the wonderful party at the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center, The bXg Mid-South Regional Gathering, a press conference where some ex-gay survivors spoke out for the very first time, the official retirement performance of Homo No Mo, the Memphis premiere of Transfigurations, a talk on Art, Activism and Spirit at the Quaker Meeting House. So MUCH.

Too much to convey in a casual conversation while waiting on line at the bank. I felt as if I had been a character in A Wrinkle in Time or one of the Narnia books, where I got transported to another time and place, spent months only to return to find out it was really just a long weekend. I replied to my neighbor, “This past weekend? I went to see some friends in Memphis.”

Needless to say I feel exhausted physically and emotionally. Spiritually I feel charged up and renewed. Seeing ex-gay survivors who are not victims, who have creatively reclaimed their lives, encouraged and cheered me.

But I have depleted my resources for now and need some days to recover and rest and reflect on what I experienced. For any survivor, we need to know our limits and take care of ourselves, especially after we have stirred up difficult memories. What we do at Beyond Ex-Gay is complicated personal work that has a public component to it. Unpacking and deconstructing our ex-gay experiences serve multiple purposes. We stand as a witness and warning to the harm that can come because of reparative therapy and ex-gay ministries. Some pro-ex-gay people have begun to listen and think more deeply about their assumptions about the ex-gay option.

Our work though also serves as a tool for healing and recovery. Connecting with fellow survivors helps us as we try to make sense of what we did to ourselves and what we allowed others to do to us. It helps us to see our ex-gay experiences in light of the broader anti-gay cultures that nurtured self-hate, shame and fear. We listen to each other. We recognize that others hear us and know what we are talking about, perhaps for the first time ever since we came out. All good work, but hard work.

As activists, ministers, angelic troublemakers (as Bayard Rustin puts it), our work begins with ourselves. The next few days I will visit my dad where my cell phone does not work and I have no wi-fi (not even dial up). I will help look after him as he recovers from his heart surgery. I will also walk in the woods, cook, watch silly TV, read good fiction, sit in silence, rest, recover and reflect.

So if you don’t hear from me for a few days, please don’t take it personally.

Comments?

Gee, what happened to all the lovely comments on this blog? I miss you guys. Maybe since half of you are already here in Memphis, you don’t feel the need to write your comments. You can give them in the form of hugs and such. Well, I just like hearing from you.

It has been an awesome weekend so far. Really couldn’t be better except that on Thursday I got quite a scare when my sister called to say our dad was rushed to the hospital with a heart problem. He never had heart problems in his life. I started looking into flights home and figured I would miss out on the Memphis weekend. But we then got good news that the problem would be remedied easily with some minor surgery and with the implant of a pacemaker.

They did the surgery on Friday morning, he is home now feeling 10 years younger. I will get to spend a few days with him starting Wednesday when I can cook and help around the house, as he has to take it easy while he heals. A challenge for him as he doesn’t like to sit still for too long.

So think of him in your thoughts and prayers and also all of us in Memphis. One more day of Deconstructing the Ex-Gay Myth!

A Very Vegan Friday

I landed at JFK Thursday evening and spent the night with family friends in the Lower East Side. Since the weather in NYC was so beautiful (and I desired to delay my homecoming) I spent the day in the city on a progressive vegan meal tour that extnded from 2nd St to
Lincoln Center in the 60’s.

To start off I had vegan BLT bagel w/ a schmere of tofu cream cheese along with a soy latte. Two Thai meals later I landed back at the home of the family friends to sample their vast wine selection (I recommend the malbec, but then I always do).

Today I take the bus home to face a messy apartment ravaged by roofers who did their dirty deed in my absence.

Soon I will resume normal blogging (whatever that means). Marvin tells me he has a video about the US Presidential election. seems Mr. Bloom has taken over this blog again gathering many more comments than I do. But I am so modest, I don’t mind.

A New Year

Greetings from Northern Sweden, Umeå to be exact, where the snow has fallen steadily and no one minds at all. Really they delight in it as they laugh at folks from the US with our winter storm warnings and canceled events.

The new year started well with a house party outside of the city replete with fireworks at midnight. Each day I have taken a walk in the woods and in the nearby park. Today Alex and Alice (the dog) and I walked around the lake, which takes about 90 minutes. Amazing how many people are out and about in the winter weather–skiing, skating, jogging and even riding bike.

In celebration of a new year, I Simpsonized myself. I went for a genderqueer look. You should try it yourself!

I spent the first day of the new year updating my schedule for winter/spring of 2008. I didn’t put everything up yet, but it is a pretty full list up through May with trips to Europe, West Virginia, Philadelphia, Memphis and more. No Texas yet and it looks like I am neglecting the West Coast, but some gigs are in the works on both fronts. I have some VERY exciting things coming up that I cannot wait to share, but I must refrain for several reasons. Soon.

A few things will happen in 2008. One is that I will retire Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House starting in February (which means I will do a little retirement run up through May. Something I learned from Cher).

At the same time I hope to perform The Re-Education of Bush and Transfigurations as much as possible. I feel that both pieces need to be seen and heard by as many people as possible. The Bush play is NOT about bashing Bush. It is so much more. (Bush bashing is so easy to do). And the Transfigurations piece is well, ah, you will have to see it.

I believe both of these pieces require new types of audiences. Sure folks who like my other stuff will totally appreciate these both (especially with so much Marvin in the Bush piece and my newest character Hegai in Transfigurations), but both of these pieces move beyond the gay issue into broader human, social, political, historical matters to consider. Soooo if you have any ideas of where I should present–conferences, colleges, churches, etc, let me know.

While you are on-line…

  • check out the schedule and work of my fellow performance artist, Kimberly Dark.
  • read this well-written piece that got published back in September but I missed at the time. We all want love to win out. But whose?
  • visit the VERY thorough new web page by Alvin A McEwen: Anti-Gay Lies and Liars
  • enjoy the wonderfully hilarious Nina Conti and her talking monkey. (UPDATE: I totally forgot to give credit where credit is due–Hat Tip to Noa for introducing me to Nina!)
  • and wish my buddy and fellow Love in Action survivor, Bobby Painter, a happy 40th birthday.

My friends grow older and I remain the same 😛

Happy New Years!

Favorite Songs of 2007

Ah, such good music this year. I feel like doing nothing more on this New Year’s Day than to sit and listen to music. Here is a list of some of my favorites that I discovered this year (although some are older). They are in no particular order.

Ok, your turn. What were some of your favorite songs for the year?

Weekend in Photos

The weekend I still have long to go, but I doubt I will take more photos as I will be quite busy tomorrow. On Friday I was in NYC and then today I was in the Catskills (about 100 miles NW of NYC) where I visited my dad and worked on my cottage. I have been trailed by a TV producer and film crew for an upcoming feature digging up my life in a difficult but also helpful way. Got lots of work done on the cottage while I also cleaned up some emotional clutter from the past. Amazing the amount of work I got done once the film crew showed up 😛

The photos below are some artsy NYC shots, Christmas decorations by my dad on his house (it has a Candyland sort of theme to it IMHO), photos of my dad’s cat (which was very lovey dovey) and a photo of my cottage. No time for more text. Must get to bed.