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.
Many eunuchs were castrated before puberty–they retained high voices and did not develop the facial hair, body hair, and muscle that come with testosterone. They were sexual and gender minorities.
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.
Susan Govatos Joseph’s Dreams
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.
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.
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.
On Tuesday August 26, 2008 I will present the play at the headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) 1640 Rhode Island Ave, Washington, DC. An hors d’oeuvres reception begins at 5:30 PM with the performance starting at 6:00 pm.
On Wednesday I fly to Seattle, Washington for the Gender Odyssey Conference where I will mostly soak in the many amazing workshops, but I will also offer Transfigurations as a workshop on Sunday afternoon.
Then I fly to New Orleans to take part in the Many Stories One Voice Conference. In addition to performing Transfigurations, I will also attend and present at For Such a Time as This: A Transgender Pre-Event.
The last time I presented the play was earlier in the summer in Malta. The response there surprised me with many people telling me how deeply moved they were by both the material and the way I presented it. I feel so fortunate to have this play to perform. Please tell your friends in DC, Seattle and New Orleans about it!