Trauma is no joke. Conversion therapy was no picnic. Yet, I learned so much about comedy and the power of storytelling through my own experience of trying to become straight through a variety of “Ex-Gay” programs. Now that I talk about climate change, I find I keep returning to the Homo No Mo Halfway House and the techniques I developed to help people give a damn about the the harm of conversion therapy. Yes, they needed to hear just how awful it was, but they also needed to see how ridiculous it was.
For instance in the gay rehab I lived in for two years, they had over 275 rules. But one time they added a new rule–No Bananas in the House. Apparently a fellow participant had a PFF–a Phallic Fruit Fetish. As a result, we were forbidden to bring into the facility any phallus shaped fruits. The condition though extended into the vegetable world–so no cucumbers, no zucchinis, no carrots–oh, except the mini carrots; they didn’t bother him.” Horrible and hilarious all in one.
I don’t know about you, but it is easy to be that person at the party who brings the festivities to a halt. “Hey Peterson, what’s going on in your life and work?” I straighten up, smile, and say, “I’m really excited about my presentations about climate change.” People tense up. They expect the prophet of gloom and doom and shame and blame to start spewing forth.
It is easy to do. Climate change is downright dire and scary. I learned a long time ago though when talking about sexuality and the Bible, people need help to come close to these hot topic issues that stir up strong, negative emotions.
Toscano said in a recent interview that comedy can be an effective strategy for engaging people in difficult topics. Toscano, who is gay, spent nearly two decades undergoing conversion therapy, the discredited practice of attempting to alter a person’s sexual orientation. After abandoning the therapy and coming out, he struggled to talk about the harm he had experienced.
“I needed to tell that story, but telling it directly was too overwhelming for me and my audience,” he said. “It was too heavy, and it was bringing in hot-topic issues of faith and sexuality that provoked people. I realized I needed a different way.”
He tried comedy, eventually writing and starring in a 90-minute satirical play called “Doin’ Time In The Homo No Mo’ Halfway House: How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement!”
Toscano said sharing his experiences in this way made the topic more approachable.
“The problem is, when people are tense, particularly when they’re afraid or ashamed or angry, they don’t think as clearly,” he said. “So comedy helps, because it can address a lot of those things. It relaxes the audience physically and mentally so they can hear what you’re saying.”
To read more of the article (and see delightful gifs of Debbie Downer from Saturday Night Live) check out Yale Climate Connections’ Advice Column.