I successfully completed my third and final week at Warren Wilson College as their first ever Activist in Residence. (Read about Week One and Week Two.) It served as a week to windup a few things and even included a blowout birthday party for me replete with vegan cookies, cupcakes and a giant vegan chocolate layer cake from Rosetta’s Kitchen in Asheville. YUM! Leah McCullough did an AMAZING job of creating spaces for me to do my work and connect with students. I loved checking in with her daily and spending time with her in her office debriefing. I also enjoyed hanging out at the RISE office getting to know the folks there and the head of the RISE Project, Kelly Kelbel, who gave me a handmade notebook with envelopes. I’m using it as a travel journal for the next year. =)
In addition to gaining some weight from vegan treats during my time at WWC, I also gained some new insights and new ideas. The week began with a follow-up meeting to talk about the intersection and complications of sexuality and spirituality. I met with the Emmaus Christian group the week before where we walked through a few exercises to explore the topic, so we needed to debrief and discuss these further. We did this through a Chalk Talk, a wonderful protocol where we have a prompt on a white board or paper on the wall and everyone has a chance to write a word, phrase or draw an image in response. As people add their thoughts others can respond to these, connect ideas, ask and answer questions. The activity is done without speaking and gives participants a chance to see ideas and have them remain in the room. So often in traditional discussions ideas get lsot as the conversation builds, and often only a few share. We then discussed the Chalk Talk together as a group.
From there I dashed over to another building to prep for my show that evening, Doin’ Time with Peterson Toscano, a variety, cabaret, performance art piece of sorts where I do excerpts from most of my plays along with some stories, poems, and other performances. Since the Wilson students are engaged in politics and environmental issues , I did four scenes from my retired play The Re-Education of George W. Bush–No President Left Behind! a political farce. I forgot how much fun it feels to perform this piece and how biting the satire and commentary can be. Looking at the current political landscape, I have begun to conclude that it is time to rework the play with a new title and some new themes then reissue it (like how Disney releases movies from their vault.) I have been toying with titles. Tell me which you like best (or propose one of your own.) The play operates as a series of lessons mostly aimed at progressive liberals (I’m trying to lure that crowd in with a provocative title where they think they will get something they won’t really get but instead get something more necessary) In a way it is a primer for how to be a good American and world citizen taking issues of sexism, racism, skin privilege, oppression of LGBT folks, environmentalist tied into diet, foreign policy and more. Some possible titles
- Bridge to No Where & Beyond
- Everything You Should Know before Jesus Returns (or Palin Becomes President)
- I Can See Sarah Palin from my Window
- How to Become the World’s Sexiest American in 5 Easy Steps
- I Can See Sarah Palin from my Window–What You Should Know before Jesus Returns
You get the idea.
The next evening I got to take part in the Queer Circle (a project of the EMPOWER Crew) and led an activity that allowed us to explore and express our multiple identities. Each person got a bunch of post-it notes. On each one they wrote one of their identities (gay, son, vegan, Quaker, New Yorker, etc) They then put the post-its on the wall grouping as they went next to other post-its that they felt where similar to their own (Quaker, Catholic, Wiccan, Jewish.) We carry so many identities that often get lost in LGBTQ circles or church circles or family circles. Later in the week I did this same activity with a Sociology class. The fancy name for the activist is Affinity Protocol.
The next day I joined in for a class that looked at the impact of society on the family. I spoke about homophobia, heterosexism and the Ex-Gay Movement and how all if these affect the family in huge ways. Some of the material I drew from my articles
- Can My Gay Child Change? (great for parents who pressure their queer off-spring to go straight)
- What about the Parents?
- What about the Spouse?
The negative effects of homophobia and heterosexism on the family are tremendous and tragic. If we want stronger families in our communities, we need to have full liberation and acceptance of LGBTQ people. This way parents do not have to keep secrets, grow distant or worse yet coerce loved ones into dangerous treatments.
I was supposed to leave on the Thursday, but they presented the Vagina Monologues that night and so many people I had gotten to know were it in, I just had to stay an extra day. Have you seen the Vagina Monologues yet? What an amazing and insightful show. I think every guy in America (and beyond) should see it. As a male-bodied, male-identified person, I miss so much of what happens in the lives of women. This play gives a few short sketches of the challenges, the humor, the dangers that come from being women in a world that perpetuates so much violence and oppression against women.
Before the Vagina Monologues though I got to hear Clarissa Sligh speak and share some slides of her amazing work as a photographer and visual artist. Her latest book is entitled Wrongly Bodied: Documenting Transition from Female to Male. As a female-bodied, female-identified person, the lives of transgender and transsexual individuals was foreign to Sligh. I love how she modeled the journey to become an informed ally of trans people.
That same day (full day I know) I led a group of students on a field trip to area Christian bookstores. I think there were five members of the Peace and Justice and the Religious Life crews who joined me as we browsed Christian bookstores first to simply see what they offered. For progressive liberals the Evangelical conservative person becomes objectified and dehumanized in our Tweets and comedy and rants. I thought it would be helpful to explore the bookstores and get a sense of what sort of books and topics are represented. They also had an assignment. When a staff members asks, Can I help you find something? the student replies, Yes, what sort of resources do you have for gay Christians? (or lesbian or transgender or bisexual.)
As I expected nothing outrageous occurred during this exchange. Also as I expected the stores had no LGBTQ-affirming resources. What I did not expect was that they also did not have any overtly anti-gay or ex-gay literature either. This is the FIRST time that has happened. Hmmm, perhaps change is coming. Both of the stores are major national franchises. Some of the students had never been in a Christian bookstore before and were surprised at the affinity they had with some of the topics and merchandise. I nearly bought The Little Princess Devotional Bible (with a genuine plastic pear necklace for a handle!) I did buy a DVD of Veggie Tales: Esther, The Girl Who Became Queen, which I found disappointing and below the standard of most of the Veggie Tales. No surprise but the eunuchs (the hero/sheros of the story) get practically erased and show up in the form of some peas. I couldn’t finish it and left it behind in a hotel room in Chattanooga the next week.
I left campus on the Friday after leading the Affinity Protocol activity on identity for Sociology 101 and headed with my host Roger to Asheville to perform at Jubilee Community, a funky congregation in downtown Asheville. Roger was a wonderful host (we went hiking along the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway the next day and ate sinfully delicious vegan chocolates) and did a great deal to get the word out about the play, but sadly the turnout was poor and nearly no one from Jubilee attended. I didn’t feel personally hurt by this but offended that this progressive community did not turn out for a transgender-themed event. I attended the early service on Sunday (they have two) and saw well over 250 people there and lots of lesbian couples and some gay men. Someone told me that he heard a few people say they didn’t think they needed to come because the church is so welcoming. Ah, welcoming is not the the same as informed and affirming. I venture to guess that most of the congregants know very little about the lives of transgender people. I realize this issue is not on the radar of most LGB people and LGB-affirming people, but unlike most other issues, it needs to be, especially if we tag on a “T” to the LGB. This is a matter of integrity and justice. That and the non-trans LGB people and LGBT-affirming institutions impoverish themselves by remaining ignorant and unengaged regarding transgender issues and lives. I especially felt for Roger, a non-trans gay man in the congregation who put his heart and soul into putting together an event for his community but did not get proper community support in the end. He got the building, he got permission, he got two or three helpers, but no community. We need to change that.
After a weekend in Asheville, I headed with a friend to Cookeville where I spent time with some of the coolest people on the earth at the Hidden Springs Farm and Nursery. Oh the popcorn they serve! From there I went to Chattanooga and did a performance of Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible for the Spectrum group and folks from the area. The room was a big challenge–a large old lecture hall that was climatically challenged (This room is too hot. Now it’s too cold. Funny it is never just right,) but it revealed to me once again that theater can and should happened anywhere. The audience grew so still and hushed by the last quarter of the play. It felt sacred.
My last stop was Baltimore where I did a day-long training for the Soulforce Equality Rides. This is a group of college-age folks who are going to Christian colleges to engage in thoughtful discussion around queer, transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay issues. I spoke about the Ex-Gay Movement and helped them try to unearth the many reasons someone might opt for this choice. So many of the reasons have nothing to do with Jesus or faith. Mixed in with noble intentions can be lots of ignoble things like fear, the desire to fit in and be “normal” and well cowardice. It’s odd because I think it takes someone who is both courageous and a coward to be ex-gay along with a willingness to question reality and attempt to create a new reality. I admire many ex-gays, having been one myself, for the determination to change while also recognizing the complexity that desperation so often brings to the process. I also led a workshop called Slow Dancing with the Enemy–Effective Strategies for Engaging you Opponent. Very much inspired by the groundbreaking work and philosophy of Bonnie Tinker, a lesbian Quaker anti-war, marriage equality activist from Portland (sadly she died this past summer, and I miss her very much.)
I also performed Transfigurations for the Equality Riders. This group practices radical inclusion in a way that many LGBTQ groups do not. Of the 20+ riders, at least four are trans identified, and they have a nice mix of ethnicity, orientation, background. They serve as a helpful model for other groups that struggle to be diverse in more than name.
Now I am home at last in Central PA with my partner Glen and our two cats Wally and Emma (named after the famous anarchist Emma Goldman whose important essay on anarchism I got in zine form at Warren Wilson College from a deliciously gender-queer boi bear wonder.) Glen and I just celebrated our 85 birthday (he turns 40 on March 8th and I turned 45 on Feb 17) with friends at a nearby Japanese restaurant. Ah, how rich we are with friends here! What a diverse and eclectic group too! Poet Karla Kelsey was there and religion scholar Carol White and radical rabbi Nina Mandel along with our travel partner to South Africa Jenna Fredricks and her soon to be husband Dave Antoniewicz and other dear folks who celebrated us with kind words and lovely gifts (although we insisted no gifts but hey gifts are fun and Nina’s vegan chocolate was AMAZING–the third vegan cake in this year’s Birthday season.)
Glen and I head out on Friday to present at Homo og trans–Meningsløse kategorier? a conference in Oslo (and where I will do some performances) but first we have a 2.5 day layover in Paris meaning Glen will be in Paris AND Oslo on the same day for his birthday! Hm, I wonder if I can brush up on my French AND learn Norwegian by the weekend 😛
Lots of venues coming up in March and April in Hartford, Providence, Boston, Tacoma and beyond. You can see the full schedule here.
I so valued my time at Warren Wilson but especially time with students, so many who mean a great deal to me–Erin and Zoe and Jamila and Morgan and Renee and Liz and Rey and Leah and Hannan and Michael and Lacey and Ilinca and Sabrina and Laura and Meghen and Robin and Katherine and Brandon and Hillary and Shane and well MANY.