Category: Quakerism

Among Friends in Newcastle

Having a great weekend at Young Friends General Conference, a gathering of young adult Quakers throughout England. Although I am far too old for this group, they graciously invited me to present my Homo No Mo play and lead a Bibliodrama.

As a gay guy, I have found so much love and acceptance among Quakers. But not just that, I have felt challenged in my faith and life many times over. It was at the annual gathering of New England Quakers that I first heard the term “skin privilege,” and being with Quakers I have felt convicted many times about how I spend money, my time, my mind.

A lot of it has to do with the willingness to ask questions, or queries as we put it. If I weren’t on a shoddy computer at a Internet bar, I’d give you some links to these queries (Friends help me out here). So often in churches I was given creeds and sermons and talking points but rarely encouraged to ask questions of myself and my faith.

Instead they gave me questions to ponder like, “Have you received Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? Do you tithe regularly? Have you received the baptism of the Holy Spirit?” Interviewers never ask these closed ended questions that only get a yes/no answer. The questions that really help me to grow are the open-ended questions.

Here is one from the British Advices and Queries: How can we make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nutured and strangers are welcome?
See, this requires more than a yes or no.

Tender

I’m feeling tender today. Good thing that I am among Friends here. Peggy Parsons, the amazing motocyle-riding, Christ-centered Quaker minister and her family have put me up for the night here in Salem, OR. Peggy is the real deal pastoring a semi-programmed Quaker church, preaching wherever the doors open and working with trauma victims in Burundi–many of them Quakers.

Last night the brilliant Quaker artist (music, visual art, humor, you name it) Alivia Biko cooked us a killer vegan meal replete with vegan chocolate chip cookies. I felt loved. (BTW both Peggy and Alivia miss Joe G. Just saying in case he is lurking đŸ™‚

Yeah, I am feeling tender as I soak up all of this love in Portland with Doug and Bruce and Bonnie and in Salem with Peggy and her family and Alivia.

This tour has been great in many ways but harder than most. Since the launch of bXg, Christine, Steve and I have received so many stories from people sharing their trauma from ex-gay experiences. I read some of these and start to cry. Lots of people have been hurt and allowed themselves to be hurt. It feels good to see people finding healing, but the process is painful for most.

Feeling tender about violence. Many of us unprogrammed Quakers know Virgina Tech, site of the recent deaths of 33 people, because we have had our annual gatherings there before. In 2005 I performed my Homo No Mo play there. Seeing the photos of the campus seemed so creepy having been in many of those places for worship and fellowship.

Feeling tender about Quakers and the rift that exists between many of us. Some Evangelical Quakers take issue with queer Quakers. Last week I read of a dreadful report of an Evangelical Friend condemning same-gender loving Quakers in the harshest terms. With lots of programmed Evangelical Friends Churches in Oregon, it feels strange knowing that perhaps because of my queerness, I might not/will not be welcome.

Feeling tender about some queer folks at a Quaker venue who took issue with my apperance, wondering how on earth I could still identify as a Christian after all that the Christian church and Exodus had done to me. The thought that I am gay man who identifies as Christian offended them deeply. I get this reaction at times from folks in the LGBT community, but it smarts extra hard when it comes from folks in a Quaker context. Among unprogrammed Quakers, I find I walk on eggshells when I talk about my faith in Jesus. Is that just me being over-sensative or does this reflect a serious issue within the Quaker movement?

Feeling tender about doing my show today, The Re-Education of George W. Bush. It is the most personal of all my plays, even more so than Homo No Mo. I appear in the play as myself three different times to talk about my mom–her life, her death and her wisdom. I also take on a bunch of issues close to my heart–the war in Iraq, skin privilege, the environment as well as oppression of LGBT people. I have not performed the play since January, so I will rehearse all afternoon.

Feeling tender about lots of things, which is often the life of an artist. Feeling grateful too for freshly baked vegan cookies and a big glass of rice milk over at Alivia’s house last night before bed. It wasn’t really the cookies, but the love behind them. I bet you have your own comfort foods that get to your heart too.

Doin’ Time in Richmond, Indiana

What a wonderful time in chilly Richmond. Apparently the weather was sunny and in the 70’s up until about 20 minutes before I landed on Tuesday. Yo, I have nothing to do with the weather! It is FREEZING with like snow, but the sky is turning blue and folks here at Earlham College are so wonderful.

I did my show last night and was soooooo touched by some special people in the audience who I talked to before and afterwards. (You know who you are and I’ll let you speak for yourselves if you want). Let me just say that I had a very special hug from a very special person. And I had an incredible conversation and prayer with someone before the show. And I got to see a bunch of my New England Yearly Meeting young Quaker friends too. Sweet.

Tonight will be the Take Back the Night event. According to the flyer it is,

an internationally-held march and vigil with the purpose of unifying women,
men, and children in awareness of sexual violence and other forms of violence
against women, children and families. It is about taking a stand against
violence and making the night safe for everyone.

I have been asked to say a few words after the mayor’s speech. I think I will talk about transphobic attacks here in the US and abroad and the sort of terrorism many people live with simply because some people choose to feel threatened by the presence of transgender and genderqueer people. Any thoughts or suggestions? I would love to hear from you about this as it is new terrority for me (speaking at a rally like this about violence).

Next week at this time I will be in Greensboro, NC at other Quaker settings–Guilford College and New Garden Friends School. I love being with Friends as we get to connect on several levels. At the faculty meeting here yesterday at Earlham, although many of the professors are not Quaker, still we settled into a deep silence right away at the end of the meeting.

I have developed some wonderful friendships with the folks in Greensboro and I look forward to meeting some more. The regional paper published an article by Leslie Mizellby in which she writes about my appearance and also mentions bXg. She did a fine job with the article and brought out parts of my story that many journalists miss. She also included my comments about the South. I have one problem with the article though; she uses the M word! “

I tried to fix the wrong problems,” he said in a radio interview March 1. “As a
Christian, I wanted to please God based on what my leaders were telling me God
wanted.”Now a Quaker minister, he regrets the time lost and a failed marriage,
not to mention the $30,000 spent on fruitless treatments.

He just started beyondexgay.com, an online community for ex-gay survivors to help others who have been through the process.”

After talking to hundreds of people who have been through ex-gay programs,” he said in a phone interview last week from his Hartford, Conn., home, “I’ve come to the conclusion they cause much more harm than good.”

Ahem, I am NOT a Quaker minister, or a Queer minister, or any type of minister. I am just like so many other people simply allowing a little Light and truth to affect me and hopefully others. I feel that when we make these distinctions and class people as minister/laity, it makes it seem that you have to be special or specially called to do what we all can do. I love how early Quakers deconstructed much of the church hierarchy and made it clear that ANYONE could be used by the Spirit–even the uneducated, women and children–something unheard of at the time.

Speaking of bXg, Christine, we are getting lots of great press. Christine was interviewed this morning (5am her time :P) for OutQ on Sirius Radio and the story is begining to get out there into the gay press.

We are making updates all the time and just added a powerful narrative of former Exodus leader, Darlene. Lots of great responses and LOADS of visitors. We also have updated the name of the conference to better reflect what it will be like. So please come to the The Ex-Gay Survivors Conference–Undoing the Damage, Affirming Our Lives Together.

Okay, I have to get myself ready for the day. Lots of wonderful people to see!

Dragged Out of the Spiritual Closet

The workshop that Momma and I presented on Saturday was a HUGE success. (nearly as huge as the news I get to share with all y’all next week đŸ˜‰

Loads of people packed the theater–all sorts of folks–young old, queer, straight. our theme was spirituality and sexuality, particularly being queer and being spiritual. These two usually diverge.

Much of my life I assumed I could not have my God and my queerness too. I had to choose between one or the other like a child in the midst of a bitter custody battle. Each side smeared the other and often with plenty of evidence to back the claims.

At a recent presentation in North Carolina, an audience member remarked in the after-show feedback form the organizers provided,

After all the damage the Church has done and still does to LGBT people, how could anyone in their right mind choose to be gay and Christian?

I understand the sentiment. Worthie (Momma) and I spoke about this throughout the weekend. So many queer folks we meet who once had a faith background come OUT and want NOTHING to do with God or religion. Makes total sense. Even many “open and affirming” and gay churches are not always the safest and healthiest places for queer folks. The hierarchy, the baggage others carry and the theology itself often oppresses rather than encourages.

Then among certain types of conservative Christians many people believe and proclaim that LGBT folks do not have any valid spirituality. They talk about our “lifestyle” and continue to propagate the lie that we all live immoral and irresponsible that will bring destruction to society itself. I heard such talk in the brief BBC interview of James Parker on staff at Living Waters ex-gay program in the UK.

We see that there are more serious health implications for people who live a gay lifestyle. Even the gay research shows that this is a more fragmented lifestyle and relationship choice. So actually we are trying to equate, I believe, something, um, that is less healthy for society with something that is in the best interest of society.

Perhaps Parker learned from his US counterparts how to allude to “research” without actually citing sources or even the actual findings of the researcher.

For someone who stresses concern for the fragmented lifestyles of gay men (and with a course called Journey into Manhood, it sounds like they are most concerned for the welfare of men), Parker would do more to help gay men live more unified lives which would include a full embrace by the church and society. Instead organizations like his, perhaps seeking to do good, actually cause people to become even more fragmented.

When folks like the leaders at Exodus say things like, The opposite of homosexuality is holiness, the message comes across loud and clear. You cannot be queer and live a holy life.

Yet, in our workshop, participants clearly stated that they believe same-gender loving people and other queer folks need to live responsibly as they adhere to a moral code. They expressed vales of self-respect, loving choices towards others and most importantly an integrity to do what they have come to understand is God’s will for their lives.

The divide runs deep though where many of us feel unsafe both in church and in the “gay community”. I have said it before, it is sometimes harder to come out Christian among queer folks than it is to come out gay among church folks.

But when I came to made senses and came out of the closet, I had to rediscover and drag out ALL the parts of me, not just the gay part. Early in life I had a significant personal encounter with the divine. I am wired for God, and to deny that is to deny part of myself. As a Quaker, in the silence of meeting for worship, and in my own quiet times as well as through healthy relationships, I have begun the process to fuse all the parts of my personality together and stop the insanity of living out of little separate boxes.

As queer folks, as straight folks, as Christians, pagans, atheists, queer Christo-centric and quite eccentric vegan Quakers, or whatever identifiers we use, we can live authentic lives. Such lives always cause trouble for some or for many around us. For some we defy logic and history and “research”.

But the coming out experience is one of becoming real, becoming solid, becoming ourselves. Some of us are wired for spirituality, and no one should allow some religious folks or any other folks to shove us back into our closets–closests that functioned much more as tombs.

In the words of a sorta drag queen (and Good Witch of the North) Come out, come out wherever you are.

Travel Minute

I mentioned recently that my local Quaker meeting approved my Travel Minute and that I would post the minute here for you to see. Yesterday we presented it to Quarterly Meeting (basically all the local meetings in the state of Connecticut) and has it been approved there as well.

Here is how it works (at least in my case). Soon after I began to present my play Doin Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House, I asked my local Quaker meeting for a Clearness Committee. This is a group of people that I selected with help from the meeting who sat with me to help me get clarity about the work I had begun. I submitted a written report weeks in advance, they prayed about the issues raised, then they met with me. In the Clearness Process they mostly asked questions in order to help me to find clarity about what I should do. They also gave me some feedback. It was VERY helpful.

Once I began to do the work in earnest, my local meeting organized a Support Committee (sometimes called an Anchoring Committee–helps keep you anchored and not just flying off in a million directions) of three people who have met with me about every six weeks. These are the folks who regularly pray for me, listen to me when I have questions or concerns on the road, give me rides to the airport, lend me their cars, comforted me when my mom died, and help me stay focused on my mission.

When I have doubts about something or before I make a major move, I talk it over with them. This gives me an opportunity to process my nutty ideas before I launch into lunacy. They also provide the spiritual support and direction I need with the work that I do.

After three years of that process with many more opportunities open to present to other Quakers throughout the US and internationally, we decided that it was time to draft a travel minute. Most of the time Quakers approve things through consensus after listening to all sides. So for a minute to get approved pretty much everyone present has to agree. At both the local and quarterly meetings anyone who attends the meetings can share their opinions on the matters discussed, so approved minutes carry the weight of the entire body of people.

I love the old-fashioned language of my Travel Minute along with the reference to this blog. Bill, one of the members of my Support Committee, wonders if it is the first Quaker Travel Minute to mention a blog. Hmmmm.

Here it is:

To Friends in New England and elsewhere:

We commend to you our beloved Friend, Peterson Toscano, whose leading to travel in the ministry has been seasoned in Hartford Monthly Meeting. We recognize his call to travel among Friends as the Spirit leads, to join them in fellowship, worship and prayer.

His concern is to seek truth and reconciliation through storytelling and drama, particularly in regards to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender concerns. A Christ-centered Friend, Peterson’s own personal trial with his faith and his same-sex attractions has helped him to appreciate the struggle many people of faith have with these issues. His faithfulness to this call has been an ongoing source of spiritual nourishment for him, our Meeting and beyond. Peterson has volunteered regularly with the New England Yearly Meeting Young Friends (high school) program and has presented many of his theater pieces and talks at New England Yearly Meeting annual sessions, beginning in 2003. He has also presented widely at Quaker schools, colleges and study centers, as well as national gatherings of Friends. Peterson’s widely read internet blog has provided another fruitful expression of his ministry, allowing him to reach large numbers of people around the world, especially young people.

In all of these venues Peterson’s gifts of communication, humor, compassion and integrity have allowed him to engage with people of diverse views and helped to improve Friends’ sensitivity to and understanding of these vital issues. His ability to listen deeply and carefully to others’ concerns, including those who disagree with him, has been of clear benefit to those who have approached him seeking his counsel. Through this ministry, he continues to grow in his faithfulness to the traditions of Friends and to the guidance of the Spirit.

We encourage him in his leading to travel in the ministry, a response to what we discern to be the promptings of love and truth, trusting that, under the Lord’s hand, and with the prayers of Friends, his service among you will be faithful and fruitful.

With Peterson we send our loving greetings to all Friends whom he may encounter.

Next the minute goes to the Permanent Board of New England Yearly Meeting (on April 17), and should it get approved, I can then present this minute anywhere in the Quaker world. I especially love the time it takes for this process. It totally protects people from getting caught up in the moment, but requires careful, thoughtful reflection and discussion. Thanks for letting me share the the behind the scenes of my work with you.