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On Saturday Dec 9th at 2:30 PM the film Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible was scheduled to be screened for the second annual Queer Kampala International Film Festival. The entire day of films on Saturday were around transgender and gender non-binary stories and documentaries. Transfigurations was included would have been showed at the secret location of the film festival in Kampala, Uganda.
Tragically the festival was interrupted by police forces shutting it down. According to Pink News:
The event’s location is normally kept secret in order to protect its attendees. But organisers were told just before 2pm on Saturday that police were on their way and would be there within 30 minutes. Police turned up armed with AK-47 rifles and the event was shut down.
Some reports suggest that organisers were safe and have not been arrested but this has not been verified.
A message on Facebook from organisers reads: “The LGBT Film Festival in Uganda which started yesterday has been raided by the Uganda police. The organizers advice all our members not to go to any of the secret venues because It’s riskier at this time because the people who informed police about our secret venues are members of Ugandan LGBT organizations who don’t want the festival.”
The US embassy in Uganda earlier this year condemned the forced cancellation of a Pride event.
Uganda Pride, which had been expected to take place this month, was cancelled abruptly over the weekend, as LGBT activists said they had been warned they faced arrest if the event went ahead.
I am sad for myself and my fellow filmmakers. I have written how how LGBTIQ film festivals have been life-giving to me and vitally affirming.
Because of the police action, I have decided to share Transfigurations for free on-line up through January 6, 2018–a queer holiday gift and an on-demand film festival. Here is the on-line screener that reviewers have seen. You can read some of the reviews here.
About Transfigurations: Peterson Toscano has shaken up Bible academics and received high praise for his ground-breaking, genre-bending, gender blending Bible scholarship. By unearthing the stories of gender-variant people in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, Toscano’s one-person play deepens well-known (and lesser-known) Bible stories and presents an array of Bible characters with an array of genders.
If you wanted to purchase the film for yourself, a library, church, friend, etc, you can get it through Barclay Press. The DVD has two versions of the performance, including the full theatrical version as well as the performance lecture version below.
See the official trailer
Back in 2010 at an LGBTQ conference organized by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, activists and scholars gathered from around the world to talk about the issues they face in their countries. It was there that I heard an eyewitness report from a Uganda who spoke of American Evangelical Christians who spread a deadly message to Ugandan lawmakers. I wrote:
Victor Mukasa, an LGBTI human rights activist from Uganda now living in
exile in South Africa outlined the devastating effects of three American Evangelicals speaking against LGBTI rights in Uganda last spring and in spreading lies about people who are not heterosexual or gender-normative, they worsened the plight of an already oppressed group of people. As a direct result of an anti-gay conference where the three Evangelical presented, some lawmakers introduced a bill calling for the death penalty for gays in that country. Some of the best coverage of the Uganda crisis has come from Jim Burroway over Box Turtle Bulletin. More than once activists stressed the importance of alternative media like blogs and podcasts for getting an unfiltered message out to the mainstream.
Victor outlined how things were bad for LGBTI people before the interference of the three American Evangelicals, and how afterward the situation worsened and became horrendous. The Evangelicals stirred up lies, fears and hatred as they used pseudo-science and the Bible to reinforce their authority as experts. They came to colonize–to impose US-sourced ex-gay theories and treatments in Uganda.
Seven years later and the Ugandan LGBTQ community will hold its Second Annual Queer Kampala International LBTQ Festival next month. There is still a lot of work to do and courteous and creative LGBTQ folks are working on the ground to advance their rights, freedoms, and protection.
So you can only imagine how thrilled I am to announce my my film, Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible has been selected. They will screen it on December 9 at 2:30 PM. This movie explores the stories and lives of gender non-conforming Bible characters, many of them from Africa. It tells a different story, one of sexual and gender minorities dab smack in the middle of the most important Bible stories and taking on the roles of some of the most important characters.
Here is a short video I produced talking about the festival, the film, and how incredibly excited I am that it is going to be on the screen in Uganda.
Here is the Trailer for the film
If you want to get your own copy on DVD to watch and maybe even screen in your community, or to view it streaming on Amazon, check it out over at Barclay’s Books.
In his review of my new film, Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible, Erik Hanson writes about his own need to transgress the Bible when he was in high school.
For some reason, our regular Sunday School classroom at the Evangelical Covenant Church was unavailable, so our high school class was meeting in the sanctuary, usually seen as a place too special and sacred for a high school class. In our best Sunday clothes, we awkwardly tried to form a circle, some of us facing backward in the immobile pews as we went through the day’s curriculum. We had been asked to read from our favorite chapter in the Bible. Others read Psalm 23, “For Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” or I Corinthians 13, “love is patient, love is kind.” But I claimed as my favorite, and read, Leviticus 18: “‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable. Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.” I had no strong opinions on these commandments. I just thought it was funny to be able to read about gay sex and bestiality in the sanctuary. And no one could stop me, because, hey, it’s in the Bible.
In the piece he raises important questions: But what does it mean to transgress? To transgress with, in, for, or against the Bible?
Then he dives in to the Bible for some answers. I am happy with his positive review of the film, but I am equally thrilled with his personal reflections that you can read for yourself over at Killing the Buddha site. Read: TransBible by Erik Hanson
In an interview with Erika Funke on NPR WIVA’s ArtScene program, we talked about theology. Most importantly we highlighted how theology is not simply a means of understanding ancient texts in their time, but theology and Bible scholarship can help us better frame our own values and concerns for our modern time. In the interview Erika weaves in music from the film The Ten Commandments and begins the segment with a series of excellent quotes about appropriation and when it is appropriate.
Film, theology, midrash work well together to help us better understand ourselves. We spoke about the new film, Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible and the need for such a work in the world today. The full interview is below. Definitely listen to the first part as Erika shares the quotes about Bible interpretation and film.
You know when you want something really bad and it takes forever to happen and then when it finally happens, you realize, “This happened at the perfect time!” Yeah, that is how I am feeling about Transfigurations, the movie. For years I had been saying I wanted to make a film, but I wanted it to be really really good. High quality. Gorgeously shot. Intimate. Compelling.
Thanks to a donor who wishes to remain anonymous, this project is off the ground. See the beautiful trailer by director, Samuel Neff.
The DVD is now available through MeetingHouse.xyz, an imprint of Barclay Press. You can order your copy here. I will also sell the DVD on the road along with my other project, a comic book. You can see my full performance schedule here. I will have both DVDs and comic books to sell and sign (while supplies last.)
I have MANY people to thank for all their help with this project. When you watch the film, you will see the credits roll and the many people who have made this possible.
Over on Facebook I have been hearing about a wave of ugliness coming from people reacting to Caitlyn Jenner. A lot of the derision is from some Christian folks. While I am not terribly surprised by this–I had been an Evangelical Fundamentalist anti-LGBTQ Christian myself for many years, even as I tried to suppress my rabid gayness–I am amazed at how ignorant people can be about the scripture they profess to follow.
For instance. Do you know about the the first baptism in the fledgling church as recorded in Acts chapter 8? The writer of Acts went out of the way to point out that this first baptism was of a Black, African, surgically-altered, gender-variant, wealthy, literate, civil servant who is a person of faith. To the poorer, illiterate, non-eunuch early church folks, this Ethiopian Eunuch is the ultimate outsider. Yet this is the first baptism.
Of course a eunuch did not usually get to choose to be a eunuch. This identity was forced on them against their will often when they were quite young. What stands out though is not only that they are part of so many Bible stories (and there are many eunuch stories in the Bible) but these sexual and gender minorities are essential to the Bible stories in which they appear. For Christians trying to wrap their heads around gender issues, especially when someone doesn’t fit neatly into traditional boxes, eunuch stories might be a way to open up to new ideas.
People react to difference and change in lots of ways. Some people are shocked when they see someone embrace a different identity. And I totally understand some of the pushback when it comes to Caitlyn Jenner. There are the Kardashians of course and the industry they created promoting themselves along with the parallel cultural pastime that sprung up where people in the media, social media, and over brunch roundly mock the Kardashians. It is a dysfunctional relationship that it seems no one really wants to quit.
So with the Kardashian reality TV machine there are people crowing, “But Bruce Jenner coming out as a woman is just a publicity stunt.” Well duh, she has a show she is promoting. There is publicity of course. We are talking about Hollywood, TV, and Vanity Fair here. Yes this is a well-orchestrated media sustained media event. But it is not a just a stunt to come out as a woman after decades of being known as one of America’s greatest male athletes. Anyone who listens to Jenner for two minutes can hear her sincerity. She has found her voice at last after years of shifting around in the shadows of reality TV.
I completely understand the important critique leveled by some trans people about Jenner’s public coming out, rightly pointing out that most females who transition from male do not have the power, prestige, privilege, and money that Caitlyn has to aid in transition and acceptance in society. This is an essential and healthy argument led by people with transgender experiences. The criticism that I find questionable and inappropriate is by people who are not transgender and who use religion to justify being mean and thoughtless with their words.
Before Christians start jumping on a predictable and tiresome bandwagon of no, No, NO–Caitlyn Jenner is wrong (or worse), I suggest they take a look at one of the Bible’s most celebrated heroes. Dig into the story, look at the original language, and discover Joseph in the book of Genesis. There is more to this story than you may know. Like with most of us today, Joseph has a gender story. You will find that this version of the story of Joseph is completely supported by the Bible. To those who have ears to hear, let them hear.
“It” meaning my perforamnce work. I live in Hartford, CT, but I rarely perform there these days. That will change this week.
After a whirlwind surge through the US (Tue in Seattle, Wed in Miami, Thur in Hartford) I return home. Tomorrow morning at 9:00 am I will be on our local public radio station WNPR for the ‘Where We Live’ program to talk about my Transfigurations play. Scott Turner Schofield will also be featured to discuss his upcoming performances next week in Hartford. The Hartford Advocate did a piece on the two of us–queer performance artists doing transgender related theater (see http://www.hartfordadvocate.com/article.cfm?aid=14514 )
Tomorrow evening I will perform Transfigurations in Hartford, technically a CT premiere after nearly two years of presenting it throughout the US, and in Canada, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Sweden, Malta and South Africa.
I feel excited about presenting it to folks in the city where I live.
This week will mark six years since the premiere of my play, Doin’ time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House and the begining of LGBTQ activism that has shaped, challenged and aided me in my own recovery from the Ex-Gay Movement and a life of rotting under the weight of homophobia and heterosexism.
How lovely to walk in the light, to be a peace within myself about who I am and how I am wired, to get beyond the crime of trying to fit in to please other people in the name of God.
Thank God I am gay. What a gift to be given! I once would have sold my soul to be straight. How I begged God to fix me or at least to collude with me to reject a part of me. It proved unecessary. No need for all that violence against myself. I am a man who desires men and who presents in what some say is in a feminine fashion. This is not only normal for me, and many others, but a most excellent way to be wired.
Today as I prepare for my play about transgender Bible characters I experience joy and gratitude.
I had a diverse audience of about 45 people — college students, Quakers, straight, bi, trans and lesbian, young and old. I took my time with the piece maintaining a gentle meditative pace.
For the ending when I reveal the identity of the narrator, I had instructed the light tech to dim the lights. Then as the closing music swelled, I asked her to raise the lights to their brigthest intensity. With the music playing, I exited.
Always (up until last night) at this point the audience applauds, I wait 5 seconds then come out to take a bow. Last night I exited and then nothing. No one clapped. They sat quietly as the music played.
I stood back stage puzzled, baffled. Now what do I do? Wait? Go out anyway? And I wondered for a moment, Did they hate it? Did I confuse them? Offend them? Bore them into a coma?
After what felt like 5 minutes, I walked out onto the stage, and the audience erupted into enthusiastic applause, so much so that I had three curtain calls (I normally do two or ony one.)
So what happened? In talking to Kody and others in attendance they said they knew the play ended when I excited.
I felt the silence helped to settle the messages and images–many new and even startling for some. In many ways I felt pleased with the audience sitting in the stillness of that moment. As a performer I wonder if I did something differently this time. If so, what, and can I do it again? The whole thing puzzles and intrigues me.