Category: The Re-Education of George W. Bush

On the Road Once again

After a few weeks of barely leaving the house except for social reasons, I head out today by train to Philadelphia for the beginning of travel that will bring me to Washington, DC, Baltimore, MD and Vancouver, BC (that’s in Canada). After that I am off to Nashville, TN, Denver, CO, Boulder, CO, Colorado Springs, CO and Seattle, WA. You can see my full schedule here.

This weekend I will be in Glen Mills, PA at Imago Dei Metropolitan Community Church about 15 miles out of Philadelphia. Tonight (Fri) I will perform Queer 101—Now I Know My gAy,B,Cs, a play that looks at homophobia, identity and activism through the words and lives of lesbian and gay poets. I last performed this piece in April at Manchester Community College. In it I get to perform my FAVORITE scene of any of have written, the fantasy date between Chad and Federico Garcia Lorca. (Which you can see here.)

Tomorrow (Sat) I will present Transfigurations—Transgressing Gender in the Bible. This play is probably the hardest one I do requiring the most concentration and work as an actor. It also feels like the most spiritual for me. There is one moment of intimacy and vulnerability that that has taken me years to get to. Alex once asked me how writing and performing this play has changed me. It’s a profound question, and I have yet to fully grasp the impact of this piece on my own life. I guess that is what I like about art. As Kurt Vonnegut repeated often towards the end of his life, “Everyone needs to practice art because art enlarges the soul.”

On Tuesday I head to Washington, DC to perform The Re-Education of George W. Bush—No President Left Behind! How exciting to present this piece at the nation’s capital. There is a whole section about Russia with Vlad using an Russian folk pop interpretive dance to seduce Condoleezza Rice to see Russia as foreign enemy number 1. Of course when I premiered the play back in January 2007, Russia seemed much more of an ally than it is today. Vlad’s moves are working! (That and Russian aggression and a return to Cold War politics)

From what I have scheduled thus far this presentation of the Bush play will be my penultimate performance before I retire it. 🙁 I am happy that I won’t have to perform it anymore after the November election, but PLEASE don’t make me have to write a play about McCain/Palin–Bridge to No Where and Beyond! (Goodness! I already have a title) If you live in the US, register to vote.

Have a great weekend! And if you live far from all those places where I will be the next few weeks, check out Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House–the DVD!

On the Front Porch Looking Out

I’m sitting on my front porch at my house. It’s suddenly crazy humid and I’m living AC free this summer. I live on a one-way street and someone just zipped along driving in the wrong direction. Wait, she’s getting out. She’s walking towards me. Hold on…

Okay, that was weird. She comes right up to me and introduces herself and starts chatting. I’m like, okay. She tells me all kinds of personal info about her child and the child’s husband and then asks, “So are you going to give me a tour of the place?” I’m like, “Wait, What?” Turns out she is here to see the downstairs apartment (I live in an old Victorian house and the first floor is for rent).

By the way, my landlord loves me because I am never home which saves him a ton of money since utilities are included in my rent. So yeah, feeling very much at home these days never wanting to leave again, well at least until next week.

The fall schedule has really come together nicely with performances in Vancouver, British Columbia, Washington, DC, Nashville, TN, Denver, CO and Seattle, WA. Also this month I will be outside of Philadelphia. A few other gigs are still coming into place. Sadly nothing in Texas yet 🙁 Although I have Paige in Austin who is seriously plugging for me.

I have begun to work on a new play that I am not ready to write much about yet. What I can say is that it will be completely different from anything I have ever done before. Oh, and it will not be a one person play. That’s all you get for now. Also, this fall I will begin working on a book that I’ve been asked to co-author. It’ll be about gay stuff. I’ll let you know more when I have more to say about that.

This fall will see the final performances of The Re-Education of George W. Bush (PLEASE do not make me have to re-write this play so that it is about President John McCain!) The big news is Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. I just performed it for two audiences with several transgender people in attendance. It’s important for me to hear what they have to say about it and to get their input. All around I have gotten positive feedback both about the scholarship of the Biblical portions and about the portrayal of the trans people in the play. some folks are interested in having come to San Francisco to do it there in 2009.

So back to school for me (I perform at a high school on Tuesday) and soon I can break out the fall sweaters. I do have some wonderful personal news happening, but I will keep that under my hat for now.

Wait, here comes the woman looking at the apartment…

She likes it especially because the landlord is gay. She says that gays are clean and quiet. I’m not sure if I should feel pleased or offended. Maybe a little bit of both.

Okay, if this humidity breaks, I might just do a YouTube video. If you get totally bored this weekend, check out Joe G’s podcast. He doesn’t mention me in it for a change (I think he has been fixating on me lately.) Also, check out the video or podcasts of the amazing Mila & Jayna.

Moved in Malta

My trip to Malta quickly comes to a close when I fly back to London on Monday. Last night I performed The Re-Education of George W. Bush–No President Left Behind! to a lively (and sweaty) audience in a super cool performance space called Warehouse No. 8. It literally had been a warehouse and still retains some of its rustic and industrial charm. It reminds me of some of the loft theater spaces in NYC during the 1980’s–the kind of space that inspires progressive theater.

Earlier this year I have performed the Bush play in Sweden, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each time I wonder, Will it work here? I do not presume that my performances will translate into other cultural and political-social settings. So far the piece has worked out in these non-US venues. Of course all these places have nearly constant exposure to US media, so many of the references and in-jokes do not seem all that foreign. Also the play pokes fun at George Bush in part and the USA and its citizens to a greater extent. This gives the European audiences a chance to hear me talk about “the other” without feeling defensive. Almost always after each European performance one or more audience member tells me “you know we have many of these same problems in our country.” (these problems=sexism, white privilege, inhospitality towards asylum seekers, etc)

Last night at Warehouse No. 8 I felt uncertain if the Bush show would work, especially in the summer heat (no air conditioning in this cutting edge space) and with the explosions from nearby festivals to the saints (they have loud saints here). But it worked. They laughed less than most audiences but afterwards many came to me effusive about how they enjoyed the show and how surprised they felt that I said something serious and thoughtful.

During the Q&A session I received two questions that stand out for me this morning.

1. Did you choose to go into ex-gay therapy/treatment or did someone force you?

Hmmm, good question. I have to say it was a little of both. I mean, yeah, sure, I constantly elected to go into a program, speak to a minister or a counselor. I willingly spent my own money on trying to de-gay myself. So yeah, I chose to live that way. But I also felt deeply coerced by society. Everywhere I went I heard how bad it was to be gay–on the playground, from the pulpit, through politicians and in the press. I swallowed those lies and believed them as if they were the gospel truth. I then went to war against myself thinking I was doing something holy that benefited me and society.

You can say I was weak. Instead of standing up to all that pressure, renouncing it and boldly stating, “I am what I am, and if you have a problem with it, too bad!” I bowed to the pressure. I was programmed to hate myself, and I went along with the program. It makes me wonder today about other ways I have been similarly programmed and have not yet liberated myself.

2. How has coming to Malta helped you in your own “re-education” process?

Excellent question. I had two significant and possibly life-changing
encounters this week. One was lunch with a Dominican priest who worked for many
years in Brazil. He was a personal friend of Poulo Frere. You can say this
priest ascribes to what has been called liberation theology. He looks at the
scripture with class lenses to see the plight of the poor and the oppressed. He
wanted to meet with me because he cannot come to my Transfigurations performance tonight. He felt curious about these transgender Bible characters I unearth.

I see the character of Joseph in Genesis as a very positive and powerful person because of his gender differences. This priest had not seen that before. He sees Joseph as someone who consolidated all of the land from the people so that the leader, Pharaoh, could have complete control and power. We came to a
place where we agreed that both of these readings can live side by side. Someone can do great things as a great person and also abuse power in ways that harm others while benefiting those who already have power and privilege.

That night I read through the both the major and minor prophets in the Hebrew scripture and discovered that they cried out about the same two things over and over. 1. The need for the people to return to a more pure form of worship stripped of idolatry and 2. The need for the people to no longer oppress the poor for their own gain and along with the need to stop injustice in the land.

These prophets never talked about sex, well, except for a few heterosexuals misbehaving. They talked about devotion to God and a quest to return justice to the land.

Yesterday I had another significant lunch at The Open Centre, a halfway house complex of sorts for men from Africa who arrived on Malta as asylum seekers and have since been released from detention but don’t yet have the legal or financial means to enter fully in the mainstream of society. I learned that for everyone of them who arrives safely on little boats and rafts, four of them die on the journey. The stories of violence, extreme poverty and trauma that they left behind in search of a better life for themselves and their families shocked me in large part because I never read these stories in the newspapers I get back home. I met a psychologist from Eritrea and many men of deep faith both Muslim and Christian. The needs they have can easily overwhelm a visitor. How they live with them I cannot imagine.

I began to wonder, do we have such centers in the US? What happens to the many many detainees in my country, similar men from Latin America and Africa and other places who come to the US looking for the opportunity and freedom we constantly advertise in our movies and such? I do not know. I realize I need and want to educate myself. I now want to contact my cousin Peter who works with asylum seekers in Connecticut.

Yes, Malta has challenged me to re-educate myself

Today I meet with perhaps the only two Quakers on the island. They want to start a meeting for worship here. I think of the small group of Quakers I met earlier this year in Northern Sweden who just started their own official meeting. I feel grateful to have these connections with Friends with familiar practices as well as new kinds of friends I meet who challenge the ways I think. I am a very very fortunate man.

Burps & Farts

In my play, The Re-Education of George W. Bush—No President Left Behind, my character Chad offers an environmental lesson. His primary point outlines how being a vegan helps the planet. In his deliciously flaming style he states that,

Gas from cars has a significantly less impact on the planet than that emitted from cows in the forms of burps and farts.

And as I say the line, I put my left hand to my mouth ( for burps) and then down by my behind (for farts) and add, “I think that’s the sign language for those.”

After last night’s performance, two women approached me and said that they knew American Sign Language. One asked if I wanted to learn the actual signs for burp and fart. Um, yeah! So next time you see the show, if you don’t know them already, you will also learn these signs. Brilliant.

The Chad environmental lesson serves as a pivotal scene in the performance because it is the first lesson that does not simply target the president. It speaks directly to the audience and their own personal practices. It forces people to look at the global outcomes of one of their daily actions. It opens the door for me to talk about other issues to examine. By the end of the play, I can state that as someone raised in the USA, I have been programmed to be racist, sexist, homophobic, wasteful and violent. I suggest that this may be true for many of us and conclude by affirming that I need to re-educate the little George W. Bush lurking inside of me.

I received an e-mail from an audience member who overheard two women commenting about my show (and the Chad scene in particular) as they exited the hall. One of the women said,

Hitler was a vegetarian so you have to be careful with that moral superiority stuff.

Um, right. He also wore trousers, drove in cars and clipped his fingernails. So should I run around in a skirt sporting Howard Hughes-like curly nails? (Although I like the idea of the skirt)

I feel pleased by the remark. I hope my Bush play provokes people, gets them to look at their lives and practices and ask, “How might I be part of the problem?” Anyone can bash George W. Bush and thus feel a little better about themselves. Looking inward takes more work.

What if we place ourselves on a continuum based on how we live our lives? On one end stood George W. Bush, and the other was say Gandhi or Mother Theresa. Based on our lifestyles and regular practices, where do we fall? To whom are we closest? Although I admire Gandhi and Mother Theresa much more than the current US president, I have to admit that I fall much nearer to Bush. In this exercise George W. Bush stands as a symbol for a particular attitude or excess. Instead we could place other folks there–Paris Hilton for instance or Joe G 🙂

None of us can ever live the perfect life or one where we leave no damage no matter how hard we try. We can greatly lessen the harm we do to the planet and to each other. The complete solution to global warming will not be all of us going vegan, but when we reduce our meat and dairy consumption, (along with an increased commitment to buying local products), we will make a BIG difference. (Besides a vegan diet improves our health and, more importantly, our skin considerably!)

I had a blast last night with the 200 plus people in the audience right here in Hartford where I live. I even got to meet Becca, who visits my blog (you have beautiful eyes!) During the talk-back time afterwards, I spoke directly to the audience, mostly progressive liberals, about the verbal violence we dish out towards other humans because they happen to be Conservatives, Republicans or Christians.

Part of the re-education process requires that I recognize everyone has some good in them even if I’d prefer to write them off as intolerant, hateful, bigots, but doing so serves as easy way out and creates further conflicts while leaving us feeling smug and self-satisfied. As a Quaker, I hear over and over about how “that of God is in everyone.” This optimistic teaching interferes with my desire to assume the worse in people, to discount their needs, and invalidate their values.

In virtually every Hollywood movie I have seen, they drum into me the message that we have only two types of people in the world–good guys and bad guys. That binary exists in fiction. And on this my 1010th blog post (a lovely example of beautiful actual binary), I feel encouraged and challenged once again to view anti-gay conservative leaders, ex-gay ministers, and even George W. Bush (oh and Dick Chaney too) as humans, fellow travelers, offspring of the divine.

That doesn’t mean they are not responsible for any cruel, thoughtless or harmful things they may say or do. It means that I recognize we are made of the same stuff, and, yes, we all burp and fart.

Re-Educating Bush & More on the Radio

Thursday March 20, 2008 8:30 PM

The Gay Spirit Radio Program
WWUH 91.5 FM Hartford CT

Greater Hartford’s only gay news program featuring contemporary issues, music, and special guests will interview Peterson Toscano about his play The Re-Education of George W. Bush–No President Left Behind! in advance of his Hartford performance. Peterson will also talk about Deconstructing the Ex-Gay Myth which took place in Memphis in February.

This program can only be heard live. Visit the station’s web page to hear it live and streaming.

Doin’ Time in Providence & Philadelphia

I had an EXCELLENT weekend which began on Thursday in Providence’s Lincoln School for the Quaker Youth Leadership Conference. Organizers asked me to give a keynote address and that they chose art and activism for their theme. Instead of giving a traditional speech, I performed The Re-Education of George W. Bush—No President Left Behind! Here you see a photo of Vlad doing his now infamous dance. Thanks to Fabian from Brooklyn Friends School for the photo!

On Friday morning I got up early to take the train down to Philadelphia where I performed the Bush play that evening at Calvary United Methodist Church. The following night I presented Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House at Germantown United Methodist.

Here you see a photo of me after the show with two high schoolers from Germantown. Thanks to Bill Ewing for this photo.

After performing the Bush play twice in a row, I feel stoked to get it out there. The piece has settled in to where I think it should be and the characters exude lots of passion especially after some recently tuning I did to Marvin’s monologue and part of Tex’s.

From the title lots of folks assume that in the play I just stand around and bash Bush. Yawn. Please! my creativity allows me to go beyond that simple exercise to something more complex and necessary. The Philadelphia Gay News ran an interview on page 39 in their Friday 2/8 edition where I talk about the Bush play and some of what happens in it. You can read it here.

The play helps me explore and express the outrage I feel right now. So many things inspire outrage in my country and in the world right now. Cutting taxes while going to a war under false pretenses. The on-going prisoner abuse and torture in our prisons and detention centers within our borders and the countries we occupy. The tremendous waste we create in the US. The unhealthy foods the industrial complexes pump out all the while trashing the planet. The inequity and privilege that Hurricane Katrina exposed still exists in America because of racial and class differences. The sickening ways that some descendants of European immigrants react to immigrants from other parts of the Americas. Lots of reasons for outrage.

Some folks think that since Quakers maintain a Testimony of Peace and advocate non-violence that our faith forbids us from feeling and expressing anger. I joked this weekend that as a Quaker I don’t get violent, just passive aggressive. It’s funny because it so often is true. When we stuff our anger, it pops out in all sorts of toxic and unhelpful ways.

No, as a Quaker because of the Testimony of Integrity, I need to express my anger. I must not shrink from conflict but acknowledge it and its causes. We feel outrage for a reason. That passion moves us to action. Otherwise we suck it up and grow bitter and tense and aggressive in indirect ways.

I process many feelings and experiences through art and through comedy. Comedy can be a violent tool wielded to rip people to shreds or it can be a prophetic device used to expose the ironies of our times, injustice and hypocrisy. Anyone can make fun of another person. That requires little skill. But to explore my outrage and its causes has taken me some time. It took nearly three years to write my Bush play.

Over the weekend I also got to hang out with some amazing Young Adult Friends in Philadelphia and others who visited. Ah, speak about passion! These folks care about the planet, their neighborhoods, and very much about God and knowing God. I felt inspired and challenged by their lives and actions.

(Oh, and we played a raucous game of Simpsons Clue–It was Mr. Smithers (dressed as a maid) in the Nuclear Power Plant with a poisoned donut!)

Live Radio Interview Sun 2/3 11:30 am EST

Gary Hines from G-Town Radio out of Philadelphia will interview me live tomorrow (Sunday) at 11:30 am. I’ll be heading to Philly next weekend where I will perform on Friday The Re-Education of George W. Bush—No President Left Behind! and on Saturday Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House—How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement!

Lots to talk about with the Ex-Gay Movement, George W. Bush, shoot we may even talk about transgender Bible characters! In his e-mail today Gary promised me that he will not ask me anything sexual. Ah, but that doesn’t mean I won’t ask him anything sexual.

Listen live and streaming. (If you have trouble listening, go to the radio program’s help page)

Of course I would have just come directly from Quaker Meeting for Worship, so who knows if I will have anything to say. Hmm, I guess silence doesn’t work too well on the radio.

You can check out my presentation schedule here.

Gary posted an archive of the interview on his blog.

Doin’ Time in Umeå

As many of you know I flew to Sweden on Christmas Day and will be here in the Northern city of Umeå until the 17th.

My hosts, Alex and Noa, take very good care of me with a full vegan spread at every meal. They even let me cook when I want. 🙂 I face no danger or fears here, other than I might get crushed in the elevator by the garbage can if I am not wary. Of course if this does happen, I have been sufficiently warned, so it will be my own damn fault.

I realize that less than 10% of people living in the US have a passport. Most of us do not leave our country, which impoverishes us culturally, intellectually and socially. Sure not everyone can afford to travel, but as a culture we cannot afford to stay home either.

I learn so much on the road. It’s like I’ve been on an advanced graduate course learning something new every day about history, philosophy, music, food, science and even math. Last night we had dinner with a brilliant mathematician, Ewa and her partner Pontus. Also Bjorn a professional church musician rounded out the group as we spoke about Swedish and American culture, politics, sexuality and so much more. Nothing like a tasty meal, good wine and even better conversation. I feel fully nourished after such a meal.

Today the whole family (with the three children, Alice the dog, and this crazy American) walked to the store as the sun began to set (about 1:00 in the afternoon).

The youngest possesses perfect faith that I understand every Swedish word he utters. He chatters away about monsters, Spider Man and Bat man. The girls are less shy than when I first arrived, and we have begun to teach each other words and songs in our native tongues. Thank God for the Simpsons! We can speak to each other in Simpsonease, with regular references to Spider Pig.

Tomorrow night I perform at Ålidhemskyrkan, a nearby church (with the coolest building), where I will present The Re-Education of George W. Bush–No President Left Behind. Ah, I want EVERYONE to see this play. In some ways it is my best work.

Artistically I find much satisfaction in the layering of imagery and the slow unfolding of the real message behind the play. The dramatic tensions I seek to provoke as well as the cognitive dissonance I hope to inspire require a careful construction of sentences and a specific delivery that provide me with a challenges at each performance.

Lots of people assume the play is simply a Bush-bashing affair. In a way I want them to think that when they enter the theater. I wish to lure Bush-bashers who may carry certain assumptions about conservatives and Republicans.

I want people, who dissatisfied Washington, spend a lot of energy complaining. The play is ultimately more about them than about the US president. It is more about our own personal policies and life choices than about US foreign policy or the choices made by Bush’s cabinet.

We can each run the risk of bitching and moaning about the state of things in Washington and in the US all the while supporting the Bush administration with our very lifestyle choices, by the attitudes we hold towards our enemies, by what we refuse to know, and the ways we refuse to become deprogrammed from a society that taught us to be racist, sexist, homophobic, and violent.

We look to leaders to institute the changes that will make the world a better place all the while living lives that demand that our president goes to war for oil and supports the oppression of other people so that we can have those low low prices. The American problem is not purely political. It is a social disorder that we face and it is a problem of misinformation that we need to address. But sadly some of us are so easily distracted by Britney’s Who-Ha and the “celebrity news” that they force-feed us (and some of us binge on–me included) that we can loose sight of reality.

So the Bush play is a comedy. Therefore, it addresses some of the most serious issues today. I feel pleased that it is the first piece I will present for 2008. Here’s hoping for many more gigs particularly in the US where it has been hardest for me to get bookings for it.

Okay, vegan food is on the table and the sun has fully set (3:00 PM), so I am off.