Category: Transfigurations

Pondering Gender

Michelle at Quasifictional has a post up about gender and some of what she has learned in the recent past since getting turned onto the Trans-ponder podcast hosted by Mila and Jayna (you girls rock, and your podcast never disappoints!)

Michelle includes fascinating links about gynecomastia, a condition of enlarged male breasts, including the story of a Christian man with the condition who has struggled to know how to respond. Really great stuff, thought provoking and mind expanding. (She even refers to Inga Muscio, my shero)

Yesterday I spent the day in NYC and got to talk to several people about my Transfigurations play and the shift that I have taken to move away from my role in telling my own story as a former ex-gay to focus more on gender issues. There’s been great injustice against trans people among LGB folks and lots of misinformation.

After two days of wet and cold weather, I have put on my PJs and crawled up on the couch with a cup of tea and a new book, Capote in Kansas: A Ghost Story. The prose is weak but the story is strong so far.

Transgender Bible Heroes & Sheroes

I just read an article in Christianity Today which reports on “Evangelicals hope to respond with both moral authority and biblical compassion to gender identity disorder.” Ugh.

Even LGBT-affirming folks like Jimmy Creech seem to question the Biblical support for the transgender experience. He starts off strong enough when they quote him saying,

Religion has been used in history to discriminate against various groups of people by justifying slavery, denying women the right to vote, and persecuting religious minorities,” says Jimmy Creech, executive director of Faith in America. “Today it is being used to persecute lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people.

But then he adds this zinger.

We have to recognize the Bible in terms of the history and culture in which it was written,” Creech says. “Scripture doesn’t address the issues of transgender experience.

The piece also quotes Warren Throckmorton, who had been a strong proponent of ex-gay therapy and still supports his own form of ex-gay treatment under a different name in which he tries to provide a way to people to get lined up with Biblical sexual ethics (ah, but whose?)

“Transgender impulses are strong, but they don’t match up with the Christian sexual ethic,” says Warren Throckmorton, associate professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. “Desires must be brought into alignment with biblical teachings, but it will be inconvenient and distressful.”

“Even if science does determine differentiation in the brain at birth,” Throckmorton says, “even if there are prenatal influences, we can’t set aside teachings of the Bible because of research findings.”

The piece goes on to talk about the LGBT civil rights issues and hate crime legislation. They also quote ex-gay leader Alan Chambers who conflates gender issues with sexual orientation. Something that lots of LGB folks have done for a long time.

But the writer never once counters Creech’s or Throckmorton’s assertions. Perhaps I read a different Bible, but once I put on some gender glasses and re-visited the scriptures with an eye to find those Bible folks who live outside of socially prescribed gender roles and presentations, I found a treasure trove of transgender Bible characters.

The article doesn’t make a single reference to eunuchs, those gender others who play key roles in both the Hebrew and Christians scriptures. The whole story of Esther would fall apart if it were not for the surgically altered gender variant eunuchs. But beyond eunuchs, there are plenty of other individuals that good Biblical exegesis reveals as gender variant.

Ignorantly lots of folks think you need to have a surgery to be transgender. Nope, not true. Also, they fail to acknowledge that we do not always know who is trans among us or in the scriptures. Many of us live and work and worship alongside people who have transitioned, and we never know it. Some of these folks never had surgery. Today for female to male trans folks testosterone and chest binding works wonders.

Now if folks want to get a good education about the transgender experience in the scriptures, I encourage them to see my play Transfigurations—Transgressing Gender in the Bible. I will be in Memphis with it in less than two weeks. Here is the excellent poster designed by the amazing Christine Bakke (click on it for a larger view).

If you need some more info on transgender faith issues, visit Trans Faith Online. I just had coffee with Chris Paige, the creator of the site and strongly encourage you to spend time reading the many wonderful articles there. Chris rocks.

Have a listen to the Trans-Ponder podcast with Jayna and Mila. In episode 19 they had me on to talk about Trans Bible characters.

And why not pick up the Bible and find some transgender Bible characters for yourself. Ask, seek, knock. They’re there!

A Magnificently Magical Memphis Weekend

I love Memphis, TN. It is one of my favorite cities in the USA despite the fact that so many Memphibians (it is on the Mississippi River) say the most disparaging things about their fair city.

The LGBT communities in Memphis are amazing, and I feel so grateful that back in 1999 when I was just coming out, I had the support and mentoring of so many fine LGBT folks in Memphis.

Nearly five years ago in Memphis at Holy Trinity Community Church, I premiered my play, Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House (The Rev. Meadows character is actually somewhat based on Rev. Tim Meadows, a pastor at the church). So I think it is fitting that I do my retirement show in Memphis.

(Note: I say retirement meaning that I will officially announce my retirement of the play on Feb 22, 2008 in Memphis and then in Cher-like fashion, I will have a farewell tour that will extend into May, well without all the costume changes)

February 22-24, 2008! You need to come to Memphis that weekend. Not because of my retirement show, but because of so many wonderful events happening in there that weekend.

So, will I see you in Memphis?

A New Year

Greetings from Northern Sweden, Umeå to be exact, where the snow has fallen steadily and no one minds at all. Really they delight in it as they laugh at folks from the US with our winter storm warnings and canceled events.

The new year started well with a house party outside of the city replete with fireworks at midnight. Each day I have taken a walk in the woods and in the nearby park. Today Alex and Alice (the dog) and I walked around the lake, which takes about 90 minutes. Amazing how many people are out and about in the winter weather–skiing, skating, jogging and even riding bike.

In celebration of a new year, I Simpsonized myself. I went for a genderqueer look. You should try it yourself!

I spent the first day of the new year updating my schedule for winter/spring of 2008. I didn’t put everything up yet, but it is a pretty full list up through May with trips to Europe, West Virginia, Philadelphia, Memphis and more. No Texas yet and it looks like I am neglecting the West Coast, but some gigs are in the works on both fronts. I have some VERY exciting things coming up that I cannot wait to share, but I must refrain for several reasons. Soon.

A few things will happen in 2008. One is that I will retire Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House starting in February (which means I will do a little retirement run up through May. Something I learned from Cher).

At the same time I hope to perform The Re-Education of Bush and Transfigurations as much as possible. I feel that both pieces need to be seen and heard by as many people as possible. The Bush play is NOT about bashing Bush. It is so much more. (Bush bashing is so easy to do). And the Transfigurations piece is well, ah, you will have to see it.

I believe both of these pieces require new types of audiences. Sure folks who like my other stuff will totally appreciate these both (especially with so much Marvin in the Bush piece and my newest character Hegai in Transfigurations), but both of these pieces move beyond the gay issue into broader human, social, political, historical matters to consider. Soooo if you have any ideas of where I should present–conferences, colleges, churches, etc, let me know.

While you are on-line…

  • check out the schedule and work of my fellow performance artist, Kimberly Dark.
  • read this well-written piece that got published back in September but I missed at the time. We all want love to win out. But whose?
  • visit the VERY thorough new web page by Alvin A McEwen: Anti-Gay Lies and Liars
  • enjoy the wonderfully hilarious Nina Conti and her talking monkey. (UPDATE: I totally forgot to give credit where credit is due–Hat Tip to Noa for introducing me to Nina!)
  • and wish my buddy and fellow Love in Action survivor, Bobby Painter, a happy 40th birthday.

My friends grow older and I remain the same 😛

Happy New Years!

New Performance Video Uploaded

I performed Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible at SMYRC, the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center in Portland, OR. In my opening remarks I also performed my identity monologue, which I already have up on YouTube, but it feels so different in front of a live audience.

After the play, I also did and excerpt from Queer 101–Now I Know My gAy,B,Cs. Yes, it is the scene between Chad and Federico Garcia Lorca. Folks have been clamoring for it for over a year, so for your view and sharing pleasure, below you will see that famous scene.

Much thanks to Mark Middleton for taping and editing and uploading the video and then treating me to Pix Patisserie!!!

Identity Monologue


Excerpt from Queer 101

Tis a Gift to Be Different

The old Shaker Hymn proclaims, Tis a Gift to Be Simple. (I doubt they mean in the head, rather simplicity in one’s lifestyle.)

Yesterday I received a Facebook message from a friend in the UK with a question about being different. The question soaked in on me until I found myself writing back late late in the night. She referenced a talk she heard by a trans woman named Carol who discussed the Two-Spirit people of some Native American tribes, people who possessed the spirit of male and female and were often elevated to places of honor in the community as shamans and leaders.

She then asked,

But how much more hopeful would the stories be for us if we could see stories in our history where God’s purpose for people lay in the fact that their cultures celebrated their difference and their role was uncovered in this positive context? Carol gave me hope that historically people’s difference have made them stand out as positive examples of a rich and diverse creation – some hope therefore in creation itself and not ‘just’ the redeeming power of God after we have messed up creation.

Does that make sense? Are there any examples in your rereading of the Bible where God has named and a used a person because of their difference where they have been honoured by their peers for their difference?

This got me thinking and I responded,

I am so glad you heard Carol speak. I want to know more about her. Yes, I have heard of two spirit people, in fact, in Queer 101–Now I Know My gAy,B,C’s I have my wise Professor Meadow speak about them:

But when these Native Americans discovered one of these queer two-spirit people among, they didn’t make fun of them or drive them out or make their lives miserable. No, they welcomed them as gifts to the community.

In response to your question about the Bible and people being honored for their differences, usually the people in the stories do not honor the “different” person while God clearly does. Look at the prophets who were continually misunderstood, under appreciated and despised. A big part of it was that they saw the world differently from those around them, and as a result, they lived differently.

I also think of wonderfully different Deborah in the book of Judges. She is a judge, a poet, a prophetess– and she is honored by God and as far as we can tellby man and woman but of course that may have been after all the success of saving the nation. Who knows what sort of grief she experienced before that.

But the message I see mostly in the Bible is that those who are different, are honored by God, chosen by God for special purposes, but first it often requires overcoming the reactions and rejections of the “normal” people around them. That is part of the preparation for great works. And then these “different” people turn around and do something marvelous and save everyone to boot.

That is what excites me about the Joseph story (which in the play I tell through the perspective of his Uncle Esau, the uber manly man.) It takes Esau to the end of the story to see that Joseph did what no man of his clan or generation could do. He loved his family like a mother and a sister would and through that love, saved them all.

I continued with my answer but it was all too personal to share in this context. I will share though that one of the key elements to being different in a world that does not appreciate the difference we possess, is that we then experience the gift of rejection. Yeah, strange gift, one that I would prefer to return unopened, but it doesn’t come with a proper receipt. We experience systematic and institutional rejection that can be cruel, unfair and irrational. Rejection from church, family, society. Rejection from friends.

For someone like me–white, male, middle class–this can be such a gift. It can jar me out of my blindness and soften me to other rejections in the world and other rejected people, people who are also different from the mainstream and different from me.

Embracing the rejection, seeing how it most often comes out of poverty and ignorance and not love and understanding, and letting it soak into us and tenderize our hearts and cause us to seek out knowledge about topics, issues and people who are mostly hidden from the mainstream, makes both the rejection and our differentness a gift. We may never fully understand another’s difference ,and their systematic and institutionalized rejection may be much more severe than anything I experienced, but it can still make us kin and make us allies.

Trans-Pondering

Late on Tuesday night I sat for a long and rambling interview with Jayna and Mila from Trans-Ponder Podcast. We spoke mostly about my new play, Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. If you listen to the podcast, you will get to learn about some of the transgender Bible characters I highlight in the play as well as the influence of the Gospel of Thomas on the shaping of the piece.

We also talk about being gender-queer as well as the tendency for some gays and lesbians to lob onto transgender historical figures. The sound is a little funky since we did most of the interview via Skype.

You can have a listen to episode 19 here or you can get it through iTunes. Then dig into their other episodes. Good stuff!

Transfigurations–On the Eve of a Premiere

Tomorrow I premiere my newest one-person show, Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. I don’t often share about my process as a playwright, mainly because I assume most people find it boring. Lately though people have asked me about how I create and build a new theater piece. If you are interested in process, read away. If not, surf away to your next blog.

I don’t actually write the play, not with pen and paper or through a word processing program. In fact, I never have a script written until after the 12th performance. I find that when I script lines of dialog, they sound bulky, clumsy, wooden. I want an authentic sound. So once I have all my basic ideas in my head, with some written notes, I create my characters, and then I have fun and play. I speak as these characters and let the words form in my mouth.

Sometimes I leave funny messages on friends’ voice mails, or I walk around the house composing lines. This is the power of the oral tradition. For many of our ancestors, most stories were told and heard, not written and read. Just like the ear can distinguish the difference between the cold digital sound of a CD and the more natural sound of a live performance or even an LP, I believe that we hear lines of dialog differently when it is scripted or when it flows out of natural speech. This may not be true for other playwrights, but it works for me.

But I’ve jumped ahead. In writing Transfigurations, I first had to discover my content and my characters. This always proceeds dialog. For the past two years I have soaked in the stories and lives of dozens of amazing trans people. I never intended to write a play at first. Instead I desired to be a better ally to transgender people. I saw how in the LGB part of the community, the T was most often just tagged onto the name of a group, but no real trans presence or deep knowledge of trans issues existed.

I began by reading blogs written by trans men, women and others who defy gender classification (by their own choosing). From there I learned about several important books written by trans people about trans issues. (see below a list of blogs and books). Then I began to meet more and more trans people face to face. Some of these I met through True Colors or the Quaker group Friends for LGBTQ Concerns. I discovered so much diversity among trans folks and began to see how misinformed I had been.

About the time I met Sarah Jones, a transgender priest in the Church of England, I decided I needed to create a play about the trans characters in the Bible. For one I have not yet discovered any book or work of art that identifies many trans Bible characters, specifically the ones that I began to see materialize on the page. Also, I process information through my art, so in order for me to really grasp it, I need to turn to art. (sorta like many teachers learn the most about their subject when they teach it).

I next began interview trans people. Interviews have played and important role in my creative process from the time I was first asked to write a performance poem for Judy Shepard when she spoke in Memphis back in 2000. In order to do that, I interviewed nearly 100 LGBT people and discovered so much about my people, this group that I had finally allowed myself to embrace and let embrace me.

Over the last year I sat with transsexuals, cross-dressers, genderqueer individuals who agreed to meet with me, and I listened to their stories while I took notes. Often I asked a broad, open-ended question. So tell me about your experience as a trans person? They answered how they wanted. I also asked more specific questions about family and romance and career based on what they already shared, but mostly I stuck with the broader type questions.

Apart from the play, and not at all part of any official research into trans issues, I discovered true friends and at least one soul mate. My life became fuller with each trans person I met. I dated a trans man for a time, and my time with him changed me profoundly and opened me up as a gay man and a person.

I took in the stories I read, saw in film and most importantly heard firsthand. At the same time I read over and over again the Bible narratives of the trans characters I identified in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

Then I began to speak and write about the play and some of my ideas. People responded with their own thoughts and gave me vital information about the Bible stories and the original language and meanings of words in Hebrew that I would not have known. (I studied Koine Greek in college, but never Hebrew).

In May I began to share the Transgender Bible Stories publicly, first at the Courage UK London meeting then later in the year at the Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham, England and then most recently at the Colorado Regional Gathering of Friends (Quakers).

The audience reaction surprised me. One person wrote on his blog about how the material gave him the “holy creeps,” and about how blasphemous it all seemed to him. But most audience members responded enthusiastically, at least three telling me that as a result they wanted to dive into the Bible themselves after never having anything to do with it or put it down long ago.

These last two weeks I have spoken with trans friends about the play, my ideas for characters, specific parts of the plot and certain technical aspects. For instance, if I were a female to male trans person not taking testosterone, what might I do differently with my voice so that it would pass more as a male voice. How do males and females speak differently in our cultures? How would a female attack a word compared to a male?

Sometimes seemingly unrelated interests suddenly jumps into one of my plays and affixes itself to the work. I recently re-read Elaine Pagels’ book about the Gospel of Thomas. There I found all sorts of fascinating references to gender. That got me thinking about the Apostle Thomas. I knew he went all the way to India to share the Jesus message and ultimately got killed there by the sword. Thomas in Southern India got me thinking about the hijras, the eunuchs of India also referred to as the third sex. This got me talking to filmmaker and scholar Harjant Gill about hijras, their history and their current roles in Indian life. Suddenly the confluence of information gave new direction and depth to my ideas for the play. I won’t reveal how it all turns out, but I tell you all this to share some of the organic nature of the creative process for me.

The audience plays a major role in the creation of my plays. I’m always thinking about who my audience members might be and consider them in my content, characters and in crafting lines. Before I premiere a piece, I present a preview version to close friends who have seen my other work and usually a few people who have never seen any of my plays.

I come with scrapes of ideas I have, and I literally build the piece right before their eyes. They give me feedback about what worked and what didn’t. I consider their feedback, make changes and then a day or two later do another preview performance with another group of people. Get more feedback and make more changes. Even after I premiere a piece, I take in how my audiences respond and ask individuals for feedback. I continue to tinker and tune the play even years after it premieres. This is one of the reasons why I am loathed to record any of my shows. They seem to me living organisms always growing and changing.

This week I have already done two preview performances and have a third this afternoon. The piece is coming along nicely. Each time I do it, it settles into place more and more. So far the audiences have found it to be funny and moving, and for some, enlightening.

Having considered my trans audience members, I wanted to keep some of the revelations subtle, knowing that they will figure it out right away. Having non-trans folks in the audience this week helped me see that I was too subtle for them and need to spell out some things more clearly.

Tomorrow I premiere the piece at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I believe a large crowd will gather including some coming from as far as an hour away. Some dear trusted friends will be there. Ultimately I want Transfigurations to transition into a musical. I can write lyrics and have found at least two different people willing to write music.

So cross your fingers, tell me to break a leg, and hold me in the Light or shoot up a prayer if you do that sort of thing because ready or not, I am about to premiere Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible.

Here are some resources that have influenced me:

blogs:
Jen Burkes’ Transcending Gender
Elliot’s many blogs including Little Bits and Boi
Alex Resare’s Across and Beyond
Diana’s Little Corner in the Nutmeg State
Jay Sennett’s newly retitled blog On Zen and the Art of Anti Assclownery

books:
Omnigender–A Trans-Religious Approach by Virgina Mollenkott
Queer Theory, Gender Theory by Riki Wilchins
Butch is a Noun by S. Bear Bergman
Orlando by Virginia Wolfe
Beyond Belief–The Secret Gospel of Thomas by Elaine Pagels

Special Thanks
Elliot, Alex, Ally, Diana, and Oliver Danni for your recent help!

Soaking in a Gender Bath

My time this week and next will be filled soaking in the stories and lives of transgender and genderqueer people. That is how I work as an artist. I soak in the stories, the narratives, the theories and then I let them infuse my work.

I’ve made some wonderful breakthroughs with my new Transfigurations performance piece. I have unearthed some things in the Bible that have thrilled me that I have never seen before. You will be surprised to see the amazing Transgender Bible heroes lurking on the page right before your eyes.

I have looked to many resources to help me begin to understand the many different sides and issues of the transgender umbrella and the amazing people under that umbrella. The greatest education has come from simply sitting and listening to transgender people as they tell me their stories. But I have also found other resources to be helpful. I list some of them below. PLEASE share yours with me!

Here is Trans Family’s Gender 101

Why Don’t You Tell Them I am a Boy, a mother’s story about embracing her FTM son.

Transition in the Workplace

I recently picked up Virginia Ramey Mollenkott’s book Omnigender and have Riki Wilchins book Queer Theory, Gender Theory–An Instant Primer nearby to dive into when I want to go deep.

I also have been very much helped by the words of Kate Bornstein

The Transsexual Person in Your Life, some frequently asked questions/frequently held concerns.

Gianna Israel has a wonderful collection of articles she has written, including
Talking with you Children about Gender Identity Issues
Contentious Family Issues

Also check out:

The FTM Guide

FTMs in History

Survivor Project’s Trans Basics page

Trans-Ponder Podcast

Here is the first video in a long series by Erin, a 23 year old trans MTF lesbian who moved to NYC from Utah. In this piece she talks about why she had to leave Utah and the results of transitioning. Really great stuff–moving, personal and insightful.

Please share with me any websites, blogs, podcasts, videos, books or magazines that you have found helpful in exploring trans issues.

Disappearing Actor

You all will not hear too much from me during the month of November. I am in the last stages of creating a theater piece that looks at gender-different people in the Bible, those folks who transgress gender yet remain some of the most important people in the stories in which they appear. (Wanna know who? Wait to see Transfigurations!)

In meeting and speaking with transgender folks this past year, I have grown to understand levels of oppression towards them perpetuated by straight people who represent the gender-normative society as well as by gay and lesbian people who also demand gender-normative presentations. I view the Bible as a mirror to help us see each other and ourselves in a way that can and should transform our thinking.

And for non-trans folk (gay, lesbian, bisexual and straight) in regards to trans folks, I see that the challenge is to no longer conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This process so often comes through listening. The same challenge exists for many people of faith who support and promote anti-gay worldly values in the name of religion.