(This article first appeared in the Huffington Post)
(This article first appeared in the Huffington Post)
There was nothing in my previous work as an LGBTQ human rights activist and as a queer Bible scholar to indicate that I would make a radical shift to climate action. These days I spend much of my time thinking, researching, writing, and talking about climate change. I lead workshops on climate communication, I perform on stage, and I produce a monthly podcast about it.
So what happened? How did I go from being aware and concerned but not engaged to someone who can’t stop talking about climate change? Did I receive a Al Gore into my heart? Did I have an encounter with a polar bear? Did I get abducted by environmentalists? Nope, none of the above.
It was love that drew me into climate work, love for my husband, Glen Retief, who suddenly felt gripped by the reality of climate change and initially powerless to do anything about it. His distress triggered something in me that led me to learn more. But what ultimately woke me up to the reality of climate change was not any of the normal triggers. No, my climate story is definitely queer. It had nothing to do with polar bears and everything to do with pasta.
In this video I break it down for you. Yes, I am shallow, but that shallowness got me engaged, so that’s something.
Last week I spent four days at Allegheny College in Western Pennsylvania. Because of the intersectionality of my work–making connections with LGBTQ issues, gender, faith, Bible, privilege, justice, and climate change–I was in all sorts of classes from Environment and Religion to a theater class. I did comedy that looked at queer responses to climate change, and I did a large public performance of Everything is Connected.
My host, Jane Ellen Nickell, who is the campus chaplain, successfully got lots of different people excited about my visit, and we covered lots of ground.
The school paper was on-hand to check out my shows, and I am pleased to report that it sounds like I am able to coherently make these weird connections.
From the article, Sexuality, mindfulness, and climate change by Meaghan Wilby
(Toscano) explained how he read articles about climate change that, although disturbing and sometimes frightening, never moved him.
It was not until he read an article that stated how a warmer planet would lead to more drought, which would in turn lead to food shortages, migration, political instability and—most importantly for Toscano—crop failures, which would result in global shortages of pasta. He said it was the prospect of a life without pasta that finally moved him.
“We got to do something now—this is serious,” said Toscano. “Yeah, poverty, but pasta?”
Toscano said that since then, he has found many more, less-shallow reasons to be concerned about climate change. He believes it is a human rights issue and said that much of his work involves considering queer responses to climate change.
“I think there’s a role for LGBTQ,” Toscano said. “I think the straight and gender-normative people really need our help.”
From years of struggling with my own sexuality in churches that wanted me to be straight and masculine, to seeing the discrimination in LGBTQ spaces, to discovering how climate change affects people differently in the world, I came to the conclusion that so often we are all in the same boat together; just not all on the same deck. Again from the article:
“I look at climate change very much as a political issue. When communities are stressed, the marginalized people suffer more. They are already suffering, so they suffer more,” Toscano said. “Basically climate change is racist, sexist, classist—it’s incredibly American in all those ways.”
Associate Dean and Director of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access and Social Justice Center, justin adkins, said he enjoyed Toscano’s presentation.
“He does such a good job at taking really big and scary issues … and is able to present them in a way that is accessible,” adkins said. “One of the best things his talks are able to do is focus on the intersections of people’s identities and social justice issues, and not a lot of people are able to do that.”
Check out Sexuality, mindfulness, and climate change by Meaghan Wilby
As a preacher, Elizabeth Jeremiah is willing to use pretty much any topic if it will help her make a point. In her latest video she expounds on the dangers of a generational curse, and to do this, she uses the example of fossil fuel pollution, which is a stock pollutant. It stays up in the atmosphere for up to a hundred years.
It may sound silly, but this preacher lady has some profound points to make. AND she is assisted by some adorable pugs!
For many people who are engaged in activism of any sort, there are many factors and experiences and relationships that get us to act. For some of us too, there is a single moment when something clicks, and suddenly we see the world with new eyes.
The Biblical word for it is Apocalypse. ἀποκάλυψις or apokálypsis. We translate it into English as revelation, but that word has been weakened in English. OMG, I just had a revelation–coffee cake doesn’t taste anything like coffee. Weird, right?
No, the sense of the word, as I first learned from Bible scholar and Book of Revelation scholar, Dr. Lynn Huber, is that Apocalypse is a REVELATION—as if a curtain has been pulled back and one sees what is hidden from sight. That visions jars that one awake. This is a soul shaking, life-altering seeing. We probably can only handle two or at most three Apocalypses in our life times.
This is what happened to me in regards to climate change. I was not in any doubt about climate change, and in some part of my mind I was concerned, but I was not at all engaged. I wasn’t curious or seeking more knowledge. I did not consider that I had a role in addressing climate change. I felt I had bigger fish to fry–namely LGBTQ human rights and queer Bible scholarship.
One day my husband, Glen Retief, had an apocalypse about climate change. The science that came out in the fall of 2012 revealed that things were worse than scientist first imagined and the things were happening faster than they feared. Glen had an existential crisis–how can I teach creative writing and work on a novel when there is this huge crisis happening in the world and few people are talking about it?
His immediate revelation was not contagious. Sure I was concerned he was concerned, but still I had other work to do. But I did begin to read about climate change. I learned how a warmer planet will change what has been mostly stable–particularly growing of crops. This ultimately led me to a major soul-shaking, life-changing revelation. There will be lots of endangered species and lots of crop failures, including the potential failures in wheat production (I am blissfully gluten tolerant). This in turn could lead to possible global shortages in pasta.
And that is when I got hooked. That was my moment, my foothold. I am glad to say that I didn’t stay there, mourning the possible loss of pasta as I stockpiled spaghetti and rigatoni. I began to see loads of connections to climate change and the things I find most precious–LGBTQ human rights, women’s rights, and racial justice. This led me to pursue comedy and storytelling to engage the world around me to hear and see these days in which we live and our potential roles on a new planet.
In 90 seconds, the radio segment, Climate Connections, tells my odd odyssey. I have loved this show and even included it at times in my own Climate Stew show. What a thrilled to be featured in it. They did a super job of saying a lot in a short period of time.
And if you want to tell your own climate story: Submit to Yale Climate Connections
It is a proven scientific fact that cancer sucks. 9 out of 10 cancer patients surveyed will tell you that cancer sucks. It would have been 10 out of 10 but that last guy got too sick to respond to our survey. And while I have never had any form of cancer myself, I too can attest to the fact that cancer sucks. Both of my parents–Pete & Anita Toscano–had cancer before they died.
No doubt it was a crappy, painful, scary time all around. Yet in the midst of the most difficult moments, there were bits of humor to get us through. I come from a funny family. Even my mom’s announcement about her last wishes she delivered with her signature dry humor.
At that time we already knew she had lung cancer. We heard the doctor’s report, and knew it was bad. Still we did not fully grasp the finality of the diagnosis. This was terminal. Some of us still held out hope that chemo and kale juice and a prayer to any number of saints would provide the miraculous intervention needed to stave off the worst possible outcome–losing mom.
She sat us down around the kitchen table for a serious conversation. She announced, “I already spoke with Patrick.” Patrick was the funeral director. It was a small town so everyone knew everyone. “I already spoke to Patrick, and I told him about my plans.” We protested. “No mom.” “It’s too soon.” She gave us that look, that–don’t-triffle-with-me-look that always silenced us.
She continued, “I told Patrick what I want. When it’s my time, I don’t want a funeral. I don’t want a wake. Don’t lay out my body or have a mass. Just cremate me.” She paused, then took a drag on her cigarette. She used to only ever smoke Lucky Strike cigarettes and other name brands, but since the state of NY put so many taxes on cigarettes, she opted for cheaper generic brands. She continued, “Now if you want to have a memorial because you need that sort of thing, that’s fine–just leave me out of it!”
We did have a memorial because we very much needed that sort of thing. It was a cocktail party with some of my mom’s signature dishes she served at Pete’s Pub, the bar and restaurant they owned for over 30 years. My sisters lovingly recreated the dishes. It was my mom’s last big party for family and friends.
Now almost 10 years later, cancer still sucks. A good friend of my husband, a women he knew from South Africa and who has become dear to me, is going through a shitty, sucky cancer hell right now. She reminds me a lot of my mom. No nonsense. Don’t give me the wacky cures. Leave God out of this. Don’t sugarcoat this mess.
She inspired me to share some cancer comedy from when my parents were sick. Comedy happens in many ways. One is when we can predict how people react because it happens so often and in the same predictable ways. Did you ever notice…
It was through answering people’s questions about my mom and then my dad that I first experienced what I call, Cancer Face and Cancer Talk and all those consistently obnoxious nervous questions that got repeated over and over. People mean well, no doubt, but still they can ask some of the most ridiculous things. So for my weekly YouTube video I present to you:
My spring performance tour begins today! I woke up in New Hartford, CT at the home of my friends Fran and Mark. I feel like an happy daffodil ready to greet the world in hopes that there is no more snow and frost. Ok, that sounds corny, but really I’m excited.
Over the next month I will present at universities, high schools, middle schools, elementary schools, Quaker meeting houses, and churches throughout New England.
Check out the entire schedule, and if you are in the area, say hi!
Today I travel to Lewiston, Maine to begin with a short residency at Bates College tomorrow March 28. It will be a full day with multiple presentations.
I will begin with a discussion: Race, Justice, and Climate Change. We will explore environmental racism and justice as witnessed in New Orleans in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina and today in Flint, MI. I will also bring my character, Marvin Bloom out to make the connections between asthma and race in NYC.
In the afternoon I will share about my sordid past pursuing gay conversion therapy and connect my experiences in churches with a class on Human Suffering. The class is actually looking at the Book of Revelation. After reading the following about my own apocalypse about my sexuality in a church that wanted to desperately fix me or else, she suggested we go with my personal narrative as a jumping off point.
“I was asked by a BBC reporter the odd question, ‘What if you are wrong and you approach the pearly gates only to discover that God condemns homosexuals to an eternity of suffering?’ I replied, Then that God is the worst tyrant that ever existed and does not deserve my worship or submission.
Perhaps not the most original answer, but lightyears from when I sat cowering in the seats at Time Square Church and Holy Furnace of Righteous Rage.”
As a class she wants us to then consider the following questions:
Do humans create images of/ideas about God in response to suffering? Do images and claims about God contribute to more suffering than they console? Console more than they cause? How so? What kinds of things can tip the balance of this equation one way or the other?
How can/do our attitudes and beliefs about suffering affect our willingness to inflict suffering on others? To tolerate or become complicit in the infliction of suffering on others? To resist or refuse the infliction of suffering on others?
In the evening I premiere my newest performance piece: Everything is Connected–An Evening of Stories, most weird, many true.
Here is a description
Experience the artful, playful, outrageously funny, and deeply moving storytelling craft of Peterson Toscano. Connecting issues and ideas to bizarre personal experiences, literature, science, and even the odd Bible story, Peterson takes his audience on an off-beat mental mind trip. A shapeshifter, he transforms right before your eyes into a whole cast of comic characters who explore the serious worlds of gender, sexuality, privilege, religion, and environmental justice. His unique personal journey led him into performance art.
I will do this show a number of times throughout the tour (and no doubt it will grow and change as I go along.) Another presentation that I will do a lot on this trip is A Quirky Queer Quaker Response to Climate Change. Also on this tour I will give two rare performances of Transfigurations. This show is being retired. I still need to figure out where to have the final performance before the DVD comes out. But you can still see it live in Providence, RI April 13 and West Hartford April 17 (where I will also do something even rarer–preach the Sunday service earlier that same day!)
Oh, and I just learned where I will be for next year’s spring tour: FLORIDA and the Southeast. I have been invited to be the 54th Annual J. Barnard Walton Lecturer for 2017 at Southeastern Yearly Meeting gathering next Easter. My theme: Discerning our collective calling: love, hope, and climate justice.
So if you are in Florida, Georgia, North or South Carolina, and want to host me with one of my presentations, let me know.
Sometimes I grow weary in well-doing. For years as an LGBTQ human rights activist, there were times I got down and discouraged. People can say and do ugly things. At times it has felt worse than an uphill battle–more like trying to scale a wall of Jello. But every activist who has been around for more than two weeks knows that we need to pick ourselves up and keep going.
Through checking in with fellow activists, commiserating, venting, joking, and comforting each other, I regularly get and receive a boost. At the Quaker meeting I attended for years in Hartford, CT, I had a Support Committee. This group of friends met with me about every 6 weeks to check in and to listen. They also provided practical help when I needed a ride to the airport, when I moved, and when I felt crushed when my mother suffered with lung cancer then died in 2006. They stood with me. In so doing, they helped me to do the work I felt led to do.
I feel so grateful to the many friends here in the US, Europe, and South Africa who have given me the boost I needed when I grew discouraged and overwhelmed with activism. This was especially true as we began the Ex-Gay Survivor Movement. So many times I called up Christine Bakke or Daniel Gonzales and left silly messages in the voices of my characters Marvin Bloom, Chad, and Elizabeth Jeremiah. I created whole comic bits just to help me and others laugh a little as we trudged through hard stories about ex-gay harm.
Now I am deep in the Climate Change weeds with my Climate Stew podcast and website. I keep bumping into a whole group of scientists and activists who are chronically down as they dig deep into the crisis that is upon us. I cannot think of any better time to unite Marvin with Chad for a little climate change humor. Based on a wonderfully encouraging article by Robbie Couch, I created and performed this short monologue for my podcast. Here it is for you to enjoy (transcript below.)
Hi, this is Marvin, Marvin Bloom, and this is your moment with Marvin.
Hi everyone, I’m sorry but I’m a little down. It’s actually my partner’s fault. Tristian. Yegh, he’s been a funk. He reads too much about climate change. He actually just finished reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s book about Extinction. Thanks a lot Peterson. So he’s got what I call the climate change blues. You know when you see how serious things are all over again and how it seems no one cares. It’s emotionally deflating.
So to help me out is my good friend Chad Rodriquez. Chad is college student. A very positive person. Anyway he claims there is some good news about climate. So I guess its your moment with Marvin and Chad.
Chad: Oh my gosh, Hi Marvin. Oooo, you really are sounding blah. That’s ok Eeyore, It’s time for a little climate boost.
I’m actually feeling hopeful. For one, I’m in college. I Graduate in May. Class of 2016 ooh who. And I am so impressed with how many other young people are getting involved in politics. I mean primaries and elections seems so boring, but you have this huge turn out of young people getting involved. And I remember so many young people at the Peoples Climate March. And young people are standing up with divestment campaigns. And out on the streets involved in BlackLivesMatter. There’s something happening. And that’s exciting.
Marvin: That’s True, Chad. A surge of political engagement among the young. Some of them are sure gaga for Bernie.
Chad: Oh my gosh, on campus its feel the Bern all the time. Although I did a semester abroad in Switzerland and stayed in city of Bern. So when I hear Feel the Bern I think of crosquents, Francois, and chocolate spread.
OK, more good news. Carbon emissions are dropping globally. They were down .6% in 2015. Yet there was still economic growth. Surprise. You can burn less and not sink the economy. We have China in large part to thank for the decrease. They are working hard to turn it around.
Marvin: And they don’t have to deal with a congress that is stuck in the mud. Not that I am advocating a Communist dictatorship or whatever they got going on. But it sure streamlines policy decisions.
Chad: And I have a third piece of good news. Paris! Sure the Paris Accord is not the silver bullet when it comes to climate action. What does that even mean, Marvin? silver bullet? Does it refer to one of those new super fast bullet trains?
Marvin: No, it’s a bullet. like in a gun. In horror stories they magically kill a werewolf with a silver bullet.
Chad: Ew, so violent. Why even when we are talking about positive solutions we have to bring firearms into it? Let me try again. Sure the Paris Accord doesn’t deliver a knock-out punch. Yeah, not much better. Ugh, Basically Paris Accord doesn’t solve all of our climate woes. Still it is historic and an important major step. I mean think of it. 195 nations got together and committed to doing something to decrease their national carbon footprints. All of the big polluters including the US and China signed on. Even Russia, which has been so weird lately, offered a climate action plan.
Marvin: Yeah, I guess I forget what a big deal Paris was. I get so bogged down sometimes. Floods, droughts, apathy. I get overwhelmed.
Chad: Well, once a wise person told me something that made me laugh and gave me hope. And that wise person is YOU, Mr. Marvin Bloom. You once told me that you are an apocoloptilist. Or something. What was that?
Marvin: Oh, yeah, that’s right. I forget. Yes, said I am an apocoloptimist. In that looks like we are going to hell in a flaming hand basket but I still think we’re gonna get off our butts and do something amazing.
Thank you Chad, I knew you would cheer me up.
This is Marvin, Marvin Bloom, and this has been your moment with Marvin.
While it is true that we can learn something from most experiences, some trials are worth avoiding when possible. That is what I think about the nearly 20 years I was trapped in gay conversion therapy when I believed that I would be more valuable to God and everyone else if I were a fully functioning, masculine presenting heterosexual. While I regret all those years I went ex-gay, I admit that I learned many important lessons and I am more engaged in social justice issues as a result.
Perhaps my zaniest character of them all, Marvin Bloom, shares a little of his own wacky ex-gay experience and the lessons he learned. He also reflects on where he would be if he didn’t repent of pursuing a Jesus who demanded he straighten up and fly right. Take a listen to this audio clip of Marvin as he talked about swallowing whole the ex-gay myth (I think you will like the double entendres.)
If you enjoy Marvin, there is a whole lot of him lately on my regular audio magazine, Climate Stew. Hear Marvin trash recycling or talk about Queer Responses to Climate Change or take on Climate Denial.
March 28-April 22, 2016 I will tour New England universities, schools, Quaker meetings, churches, and community centers with my original presentations. Half the tour is booked, and I am currently looking for more venues to host my presentations. Perhaps you are interested in bringing me to your community or you want to introduce me to someone who might be interested. Here is information about me and the original storytelling that I do.
I am a queer performance artist and activist using storytelling and comedy to explore the intersections of diverse aspects of our lives and passions with climate change. I see global warming as a human rights issue, an LGBTQ issue, a Black Lives Matter issue, and one of those issues that requires creative communication. I create spaces free of fear and shame then focus on justice, hope, resiliency, and collective action.
My own personal story is bizarre. I was one of those people who for years was a victim of gay conversion therapy, desperately believing I would be more valuable as a gender normative heterosexual. After 17 years and over $30,000 trying to “de-gay” myself, I came to my senses and came out gay. I created the one-person play, Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House, helped produce the award winning documentary film, This is What Love in Action Looks Like, and contributed to the Lambda Award winning anthology, Gender Outlaws–The Next Generation.
In April 2016 I will tour New England> I would like to talk about opportunities to contribute to the conversations you are having in your community about gender, LGBTQ issues, environmental justice, climate change, and our roles on a new planet.
Below are some links for you and colleagues to get a sense of my offbeat approach to climate change. Funny, grounded in science, and infused with justice. These are some of the characters and monologues I have created and use as a jumping off point for discussion with students.
Public RADIO FEATURE: WITF profile on Quirky Queer Quaker Performance Artist on Climate Change and More
Want to learn about how you can book a presentation or introduce me to someone who might be interested in booking a show? Send me a quick note.