Category: Personal

What’s Goin’ On

I feel I have neglected my blogging duties, what with the premiere of Transfigurations, the prep for a bunch of travel coming up, and several new projects, not only have I had little time to blog, but little thought about blogging topics.

So this blog is an update of sorts and an apology in advance if I drop off further with my blogging.

The preparation for the premiere of Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible took lots of time and attention. But unlike my other premieres this time I had much more time and open spaces of time two weeks before the show. This reduced the stress. I felt pleased with the premiere and the direction the piece is going. I am especially satisfied that some of the material I present appears to be original. So little has been done around affirming pieces that look at the Bible and transgender people.

Recently I have worked on updates for both Beyond Ex-Gay and my PetersonToscano.com site. I added some new articles on bXg and have begun to put up Spanish language pieces too. On my own site I built pages for Transfigurations, The Re-Education of George W. Bush and Queer 101. Thanks to everyone who gave me their “blurbs” and mini-reviews for me to add to the pages. It helps so much for potential hosts of a performance to hear what other people think.

Two major projects in the works include a potential international conference around ex-gay issues, namely the harm that can come from seeking to suppress or change one’s sexuality. At this point I am not ready to share too many details, but I feel excited about the way talks have progressed, and I feel pretty certain we will do something outside of the US in May.

Somewhat related to that, I have been honing my Spanish and working on presentations I can do in Spanish. I have begun to translate Queer 101 into Spanish creating Spanish language characters to replace the English speaking ones (except Chad, I will keep him but just have him speak Spanish in his very own Chad way). Also, I am working a few lectures I can give in Spanish to mental health officials and academic settings.

In regards to getting stories out about ex-gay experiences, I have been in talks with various queer organizations in the US that want to reach out more in regards to the ex-gay movement and ex-gay survivors. Part of the work is helping people process their stories, firstly for themselves and secondly so that they can share their experiences with the public through the media and public speaking. Using one-person performances, interviews, blogs, on-line video, press conferences and op-ed pieces, I hope we can help people articulate to others what they sought after when they pursued an ex-gay life, what they did to become ex-gay and the outcomes and affects the ex-gay experience had on them and their loved ones.

This week I will be in NYC meeting with a film crew for a TV network that wants to feature the story of Beyond Ex-Gay and the work that Christine and I are doing. They will also highlight some my own journey as an ex-gay and former ex-gay. The next few days will take me back to some of my old haunts including the church I attended in NYC. We will also go to new haunts including my cottage near my dad’s house and my also Hartford where I live. I feel grateful for the opportunity to share the bXg story and my own narrative, but I also realize that it is hard work. I feel grateful for supportive friends I can turn to when I feel overwhelmed with the past and with telling my story vulnerably.

One should not lightly approach telling one’s story. No only are own stories precious, but it costs us something when we tell them.

On Monday I fly to Portland for a few days then back East to Baltimore to perform at Goucher then back to Portland to do the Ho Ho Homo No Mo Holiday Special. You can see the crazy flier for yourself. Marvin Bloom will make a guest appearance.

I will be in Portland up through the 17 December staying with dear friends Doug and Bruce and seeing loads of others including the gang at SMYRC. I then stay home for a few days before I see my dad and other family pre-Christmas. On Christmas Day I fly to Sweden for the rest of the holidays and to perform The Re-Education of George W. Bush (and Transfigurations at least once a day for Alex). I could never have done the Swedish trip without the generosity of friends in Sweden.

The past month I have also looked ahead to 2008 booking shows throughout the US (yes, and maybe even Texas!) as well as looking into possibilities in Northern Ireland and Scotland and of course more in England.

In spite of the craziness, I have been able to spend time in quiet reflection, prayer and doing personal writing. Also, I have even been exercising (I discovered something amazing–exercise done consistently over time actually alters our bodies. Wow, who would have known!) Of course I have been eating well, (a constant diet of sweet brown rice with a kick butt sauce) and most importantly have been well connected with friends both in Hartford and on-line (yes, I am happy with Facebook).

So now I must go off-line to do super tidying action in the apartment. There is nothing like the cleaning frenzy that a film crew can inspire. I already anticipate Joe G’s smarmy comments about me being a Media Whore. Personally I find the term offensive and prefer to be referred to as Press Magnet or perhaps a Publicity Slut.

Tis a Gift to Be Different

The old Shaker Hymn proclaims, Tis a Gift to Be Simple. (I doubt they mean in the head, rather simplicity in one’s lifestyle.)

Yesterday I received a Facebook message from a friend in the UK with a question about being different. The question soaked in on me until I found myself writing back late late in the night. She referenced a talk she heard by a trans woman named Carol who discussed the Two-Spirit people of some Native American tribes, people who possessed the spirit of male and female and were often elevated to places of honor in the community as shamans and leaders.

She then asked,

But how much more hopeful would the stories be for us if we could see stories in our history where God’s purpose for people lay in the fact that their cultures celebrated their difference and their role was uncovered in this positive context? Carol gave me hope that historically people’s difference have made them stand out as positive examples of a rich and diverse creation – some hope therefore in creation itself and not ‘just’ the redeeming power of God after we have messed up creation.

Does that make sense? Are there any examples in your rereading of the Bible where God has named and a used a person because of their difference where they have been honoured by their peers for their difference?

This got me thinking and I responded,

I am so glad you heard Carol speak. I want to know more about her. Yes, I have heard of two spirit people, in fact, in Queer 101–Now I Know My gAy,B,C’s I have my wise Professor Meadow speak about them:

But when these Native Americans discovered one of these queer two-spirit people among, they didn’t make fun of them or drive them out or make their lives miserable. No, they welcomed them as gifts to the community.

In response to your question about the Bible and people being honored for their differences, usually the people in the stories do not honor the “different” person while God clearly does. Look at the prophets who were continually misunderstood, under appreciated and despised. A big part of it was that they saw the world differently from those around them, and as a result, they lived differently.

I also think of wonderfully different Deborah in the book of Judges. She is a judge, a poet, a prophetess– and she is honored by God and as far as we can tellby man and woman but of course that may have been after all the success of saving the nation. Who knows what sort of grief she experienced before that.

But the message I see mostly in the Bible is that those who are different, are honored by God, chosen by God for special purposes, but first it often requires overcoming the reactions and rejections of the “normal” people around them. That is part of the preparation for great works. And then these “different” people turn around and do something marvelous and save everyone to boot.

That is what excites me about the Joseph story (which in the play I tell through the perspective of his Uncle Esau, the uber manly man.) It takes Esau to the end of the story to see that Joseph did what no man of his clan or generation could do. He loved his family like a mother and a sister would and through that love, saved them all.

I continued with my answer but it was all too personal to share in this context. I will share though that one of the key elements to being different in a world that does not appreciate the difference we possess, is that we then experience the gift of rejection. Yeah, strange gift, one that I would prefer to return unopened, but it doesn’t come with a proper receipt. We experience systematic and institutional rejection that can be cruel, unfair and irrational. Rejection from church, family, society. Rejection from friends.

For someone like me–white, male, middle class–this can be such a gift. It can jar me out of my blindness and soften me to other rejections in the world and other rejected people, people who are also different from the mainstream and different from me.

Embracing the rejection, seeing how it most often comes out of poverty and ignorance and not love and understanding, and letting it soak into us and tenderize our hearts and cause us to seek out knowledge about topics, issues and people who are mostly hidden from the mainstream, makes both the rejection and our differentness a gift. We may never fully understand another’s difference ,and their systematic and institutionalized rejection may be much more severe than anything I experienced, but it can still make us kin and make us allies.

Thankiness

Thankiness–kinda like Stephen Colbert’s made-up Truthiness.

Thanksgiving is such an odd holiday in the US. Considering the genocide of the native people who were here when the European arrived and the atrocities done in the name of God and national building, it sours for me the images of pilgrims and Indians.

I do think having a day to give thanks for the people and special moments and accomplishments of the previous year is a great thing to do. I typically write up a thankiness (or thankfulness list). After mentally scanning over the year, I consider all the many things that I feel thankful for happening and especially for the special people in my life during the year.

Some of you who read this blog are on that list. I sat for an interview last night for a transgender podcast (I’ll give details when it is up), and reflected on how rich my life has become with transgender friends, some who I only meet in the past year.

I will not post my Thankiness list, but it has been an amazing year and I feel very very thankful.

The next few days I will be off-line (AH! I can’t breathe!) so if you celebrate or not, I hope your next few days contain moments of thankful reflection (but no turkey–enough with the animal products!)

I leave you with a vegan fact:

I heard that a vegan who owns and operates a Hummer (those big ass vehicles that get like 13 miles to a gallon), leaves a smaller ecological footprint than a meat and dairy consumer….

who owns and operates….

a bicycle. 😉

Happy Day

Yeah, I feel happy today. A reporter once asked me if after all of my time in the ex-gay world, if now that I have sorted that out and embraced myself as a Christian who happens to be gay (and lots more) if I am now happy. I understand the question, but I think it silly and inane. I mean, happy??? I mean is anyone truly happy?

Content? Yes. Peaceful? Totally. Settled and hopeful? Completely. But happy? No.
Rarely do I feel happy. It might just be my general disposition. Although I can be sanguine, I tend to lean toward melancholy. I eat up sad songs and sad poems. The existentialism of Ecclesiastes and Baudelaire draws me. Also, look at the world! Lots of stuff out there gets me down. Bad stuff. Wrong stuff. Unnecessarily cruel stuff.

But today I feel absolutely happy and joyful. Such a simple day in many ways but thoroughly satisfying. After a pleasant evening with Mike Airhart and Steve F (with his guide dog Whitley), I woke up well rested after eight hours of sleep. In the morning I made green tea (my my really nice little brown clay pots I bought in NYC’s Chinatown about eight years ago.)

As the day progressed I wrote some in my journal and answered e-mails. I spoke on the phone with filmmaker and scholar Harjant Gill about PhD programs in Cultural Studies (very cool and clever guy). I chatted via AIM with Noa in Sweden and Heath in Texas. The chats possessed that jaunty quick quality interspersed with forays into deep topics like the Gnostic Gospels, Quakerism, and sexual identity.

In the mid-afternoon I received phone confirmation that I will perform in Denver in two weeks at the MCC and got a very encouraging e-mail from John about possibly doing some shows in Austin at some point in the future.

Since the day shined with clear cool autumn brightness, I drove myself out of my comfy lair about 3:00 in the afternoon and met up with my cousin TJ for coffee at Tisane, a cafe near both of our homes (we live three blocks apart from each other.) He came back to my place where I put on some albums (yes, LPs) of Run DMC, Mos Def and Duke Ellington.

Now that I have succumbed to Facebook, throughout the day I have interfacedbook (my new word) with Auntie Doris, “Dani” and Morgan Jon Fox (who is working with me on some very cool Memphis gigs).

Now I have Nina Simone on the record player. I have sesame-encrusted, miso and maple syrup-glazed green beans with mushrooms and spinach in the rice cooker (I make it do so much more than just rice!) and Episode Two (Joan of Arf) of the current season of the Sarah Silverman Show queued up in iTunes.

Then later in the evening I will sit down with some Joyce Carol Oates and then maybe some William Penn as I start to settle down for worship tomorrow morning at Quaker Meeting. All in all a happy day.

Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are

On the road I meet loads of people who live partially out of the closet. They do have some queer friends, especially on-line. They may have someone in their lives “who knows” but they tell virtually no one on their job, in their family, or in their place of worship that they may be lesbian or gay or bisexual. (I don’t mention transgender people because I can understand many of the healthy reasons to be silent about the trans experience).

And I can see why many LGB folks silence themselves about their orientation. I get the e-mails and talk to folks who perceive that to come out would be mean loss–colossal loss of relationships, jobs, housing, financial support for college, and even expulsion from precious faith communities. In most states in the USA, one is not protected on the job in regards to sexual orientation (and it is worse for trans folks).

Then there is the physical danger. Even in parts of liberal NYC, to walk hand-in-hand with someone of the same sex provokes violence–verbal and physical.

So yes, we experience real impediments to coming out, some external, but for most of us the biggest obstacles remain internal. Through years of living under the weight of homophobia and in a society that insists that heterosexuality is the ideal norm, we build up storehouses of shame and fear and self-loathing. We may even express disgust at what we view as “the gay lifestyle” mirroring what our oppressors say about us.

The Coming Out process takes time. It takes courage. It takes building a network of safe people. It means that our lives may turn upside down, or even more surprising, that things won’t really change that much at all.

When we walk around with shame about who we are, we send out the message that it is okay to treat us shamefully. When we embrace the depth and beauty and uniqueness of who we are, even if people do not like us, they will treat us with respect.

People often remark to me that when I speak in public about my life, one of the things that sticks out for them is how comfortable I appear in my skin. They say it disarms people the way that I express my contentment with who I am as a gay man, as a Christian, as a Quaker, as a vegan, as ME. I don’t see it myself with all of the various insecurities I carry, but I do know that the coming out process for me has contained much more than simply announcing “I’m here, I’m queer, get over it!”

The process has become more than just coming out gay. Rather it has meant coming out as ME. In a world that claims to celebrate individuality and uniqueness, we experience tremendous pressures to conform, be it in the conservative church, the gay party boy culture, the Quaker meeting house, the lesbian drum circle or a thousand other groups that draw us.

The act of self-discovery, leading to a fearless willingness to truly be ourselves, creates conflicts and challenges for those around us. But with the potential difficulties, it also brings much needed wholeness and health.

I became a born-again Evangelical, fundamentalist, conservative, Republican Christian at the age of 17 (even though I presented as a flaming homosexual without even trying). That is when I went to war with parts of myself. At the same time I began to suffer lower back problems with my back going out almost every six months, sometimes for as long as a week at a time. The problem continued and grew worse. It happened the week before I got married. I ultimately developed a herniated disc that hurt so much, I could only lie down or sit for 20 minutes at time before having to stand or walk to relieve the pain. I never got surgery for it and just endured the pain for six months until it began to heal.

Once I came out and worked through years of gunk I piled on myself, my back stopped going out. My body sent me a message all those years. Something is out of whack. My body mirrored the imbalance inside me. Today even with all the plane travel and the many different hotel beds, my back stays solid and has not gone out in over seven years.

Today is National Coming Out Day. At his blog Journeyman notes how dark the closet can be. Even if you can’t imagine fully coming out and you feel you must keep a foot in the closet (or more) turn on some light and invite someone into your life. As the 1980’s AIDS activists taught us Silence=Death. And we experience death in the closet in thousands of ways. Similarly waiting for us outside we will discover thousands of ways to live.

The Cottage

I mentioned in my previous post that I have begun to work on some new projects. One of these is fixing up my cottage that is located in the New York State Catskills nestled in the hills of Sullivan County.

About two years ago I got some land with the cottage on it. Lovely little building that used to sit on the nearby lake but over 70 years ago before someone relocated it up the hill and settled it on the property that I now own. The cottage sits on a grassy ridge overlooking a meadow. All together I have two acres of land.

Although a nice looking structure, years of neglect left it desperately in need of a new roof, some other structural work and major clean-up. The floors sag from rot. In other words it is not yet ready for habitation. But last week workers finished the roof, so it will no longer leak, and I can begin to get to work on the interior. My plans include keeping it simple. A wood stove for the heating system. A composting toilet. Some solar panels to help with the electricity. And clean open spaces. In the meadow I will plant some fruit trees–apple, pear, peaches–then put berry bushes along the border of the meadow–blueberry, blackberry, etc. Some of the land I will let go wild to give animals a place to live.

Now I am not one for physical exertion. I hate breaking a sweat, but after five years of doing lots of brain work, it felt great getting dirty and sweaty this weekend as I worked on the property. While working remembered the first job I got when I attended Nyack College back in 1983. An elderly couple needed someone to clear out the brush from their back garden. I worked for three days steady clearing bushes and weeds and trees that had grown up over twenty years. Such satisfying work (I guess I can see why President Bush prefers brush clearing on his Crawford ranch to his actual job).

Saturday would have been my 17th wedding anniversary. October 6th. That date crushed me every year since our separation and subsequent divorce. I used to fill up with shame and regret and sadness. I couldn’t face the end of the marriage. For years I couldn’t even go through the few things I had in storage from the time of the marriage. This year I remembered the date, but did not feel the weight of it.

They say time heals wounds. Perhaps. For me art and prayer and tears and talking and counseling and friends have brought the deepest healing in my life. For so long I felt like my leaky broken cottage. Broken in part because of wrong choices, mainly the choice to live a heterosexual life instead of facing the reality of my orientation thus causing pain and suffering for the people I loved.

For the past 9 1/2 years, as I emerged from the ex-gay life I lived, I have been rebuilding my life. I have pulled down walls, riped up floors–deconstructed before I could begin any kind of reconstruction. Severe work, dirty work–the basics. I labored to make my life habitable and had little time for window dressing or gardening.

The wonder of our lives is that we can rebuild. We can heal. We can emerge, scarred perhaps, but also strong and healthy and ready to embrace life anew. No wonder the resurrection and spring and the phoenix and all the ancient symbols of new life speak so deeply to so many people. They are not just old stories for us to celebrate, but hopeful patterns for us to experience today.

I know that people reading this blog have suffered genuine heartache and loss and damage because of their time in the ex-gay movement, or a marriage to a spouse who tried to go straight, or because of religious teachings designed to cage us instead of free us, and all sorts of other forms of abuse. Sometimes it feels absolutely hopeless. It can seem like the walls and ceiling have fallen on our heads, and that survival, let alone a peaceful fulfilling need life, seems impossible.

Yeah, I know that feeling. That deflated exhausted feeling. So exhausted that the thought of making a move winded me, weighed me down to the point it became an accomplishment to just get out of bed. Some of you know what I’m talking about. Plowing through that muck takes energy and support. Not something we can do alone, although it seems we to go it alone much of the time.

What is that scripture I heard quoted so many times? Weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Some nights last for far too L O N G. We may pine for the night to engulf us and silence the pain. But yet a crazy spark remains in us, sometimes mirrored for us in our friends and those who love us best. We hear a word or a story or see an image that gives us hope, even for a brief moment, and me continue to press through the muck.

One day, someone very dear to you will thank you for the all the hard work you have done to rebuild this precious life of yours.

Home

Just arrived home in Hartford (thanks Patrick for picking me up at the airport). Doug in Portland gave me a super sandwich to take on the plane loaded with avacado and greens. Yum (thanks)

I loaded up the rice cooker with sweet brown rice and set it for 7 AM. Perfect alarm clock. Then John takes me to the WNPR studios (thanks John) for an hour program (see previous post) then I dash to catch the train to meet up with Christine in NYC for lunch.

But tonight I sleep in my own bed with my own things. So glad I cleaned and organized before I left. Nice to come home to a tidy house.

I have great friends, a nice quiet home and after three weeks, eight US states and 18 presentations, I feel great . I go to bed a very rich man.

The Birthday Season

Being single on Valentines Day doesn’t ever really bother me because my birthday comes three days later. (Although in my childhood birthday photo, I look like I had a little too much cake and ice cream)

Yes, I have officially entered The Birthday Season. This business of just celebrating on ONE DAY is so lame. One’s birthday needs to be padded with several days of celebration.

This year though I am not just celebrating my birthday. After finishing her book Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, I fell hard for Audre Lorde. What a mind, what a heart, what a woman. Her birthday is February 18 and had she survived breast cancer, she would be 73 this on Sunday.

Over at Craig Hickman’s blog, he honors Audre with a summary of her life.

Here are some quotes by Audre Lorde:

  • “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
  • “When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid”
  • “The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives.”
  • “The learning process is something you can incite, literally incite, like a riot.”
  • “As we come to know, accept, and explore our feelings, they will become sanctuaries and fortresses and spawning grounds for the most radical and daring of ideas-the house of difference so necessary to change and the conceptualization of any meaningful action.”