Transfiguring

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postcard design by Christine Bakke

I will prepare all day for this evening’s performance of Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. In addition to the internal prep (running lines, envisioning each character, etc) I have external work to do. I need to iron all the costumes and scarves. I then need to work on a physical transformation–plucking eyebrows, shaving off all my hair from my face to my waist (a substantial job for this Italian-American), stretching out so that I am limber enough to do some of dance-like moves I need to do for a few of the characters, warming up my voice, and finally applying my make-up.

pre-show Transfigurations (Cape Town)

pre-show Transfigurations (Cape Town)

Playing multiple genders requires that I need to reshape my face as well as my body. Through make-up, I soften my eyes, make my eyebrows longer, and hollow out my cheeks. The goal is to create a gender mix in my look. As my main character states several times, Not male, not female, something in the middle or all together different.

One theme that runs through Transfigurations regards body type and the conflicts many of us experience over our bodies. We don’t always look on the outside how we perceive ourselves on the inside. The play serves in part as a meditation on the body and finding peace with it.

At one point my main character, speaking of the Last Supper and Jesus’ announcement that he is going away for a long time, quotes from the Gospel of Thomas.

We asked him, “When shall we see you and when will you appear before us?” Jesus said, “When you take off your clothes without being ashamed.”

For the character the line is like a spear in the heart and I make the character physically crumple a bit in the chest area.

But I have always been ashamed. I just thought that’s normal.

The world around us so often teaches us shame about our bodies–not thin enough, not enough muscle tone, too light, too dark, too tall, too short, just not right. But the images we so often see in the magazines have been worked over for hours through digital enhancement and outright removal of blemishes and “imperfections.”

Growing up a scrawny kid with asthma and then as the chubby kid living in a restaurant, I never felt at peace with my body. It seemed like it was always against me. When I entered college after a summer of thoughtful dieting and daily exercise, finally feeling like I weighed the right amount, I suddenly felt like a little Italian dwarf next to the giant WASPs towering over me.

My Mom

My Mom

Back in 2006 when my mom was sick and dying and continued to lose weight week after week, it seemed that for every pound she lost, I gained one. It was like I didn’t want her to fade away. Even after her death, I carried that extra 40+ pounds for a whole year, perhaps as a way to not yet let her go.

I recently saw a film that featured me and was shot during that time period. I saw my bulging stomach and my bloated face, and for once in my life I didn’t feel disgusted by an image of me looking overweight. It brought me back to my mother, to my love of her and her love for her children and how we as a family held her for as long as we could. The fat Peterson on the screen “transfigured” into my mother’s son and brought me in touch with the love I have for my mom. And looking up on that giant screen with my jiggling belly in my face, tapping into grief and love, I suddenly felt no shame.

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This post has 8 Comments

  1. Carol on February 6, 2009 at 3:03 pm Reply

    Beautiful. What more can I say? The connection with your mom, her love, and her remembrance is all brought together in this entry. I know she is honored in the love you show by your self-acceptance. You make her proud with every bit of drama in your shows. “Well done, dear son.”

  2. Beth Morrill on February 6, 2009 at 5:17 pm Reply

    Peterson, that was a beautiful piece and affected me in a profound way. In my younger years I struggled with anorexia. In a way it was my own ex-gay therapy. Having no body equated with having no sexuality, which in turn led to denying a sexual orientation which was in societies eyes, and the religion of my upbringing, unacceptable. How beautiful and freeing it is to accept all of ourselves.

    Thank you again for sharing a piece of your spirit. I’m very sorry I missed getting together with you this stay in Hartford. Life is slightly insane at the moment but not necessarily in a bad way. I’ll hold you in the light and hope to see you soon.

  3. p2son on February 6, 2009 at 6:58 pm Reply

    Thank you Carol and Beth. I so appreciate your love and your support.

    Beth, thank you so much for sharing some of your story with us here. Very powerful statement,
    “In my younger years I struggled with anorexia. In a way it was my own ex-gay therapy. Having no body equated with having no sexuality, which in turn led to denying a sexual orientation which was in societies eyes, and the religion of my upbringing, unacceptable.”

  4. Anna Langlois on February 6, 2009 at 7:45 pm Reply

    Very powerful post Peterson. The first time I ever saw you in your “feminised” costume for this show I was absolutely fascinated. You looked so different, and your make-up was way better than mine!

    As for the weight thing, you know my struggles with this issue. The fears and insecurities I carry about the way I look and how it makes me feel. Whether you know it or not you have helped me so much to deal with this issue. You have helped me to see that it is possible to be truly beautiful without conforming to the fucked-up-media-world-view of beauty. Finding out that the messed up media view is not only unattainable but often quite unattractive puts a very different slant on things. Being able to truly value the diversity in people and being able to look into their eyes and see who they really are, and how beautiful they are because of their differences has made a huge difference to my life.

    Having felt judged for years as ‘the fat girl in the corner’, I feel less like that these days. I still have my moments, but I am far more likely to show grace to myself than I ever have been. Somehow it is much easier to be gracious to others than it is to your own self.

    So, people like you have made a difference. You have helped me to see the beauty behind the front, and to accept that that is who I have been created to be. Of course, having a gorgeous boyfriend who loves me for being me has made an enormous difference, but the work started way before I met him! Thank you. I love you 🙂

  5. p2son on February 6, 2009 at 9:07 pm Reply

    Anna, thank you so much for your comments. I think we have helped each other out in so many ways. Great to have you as a friend.
    much love
    peterson

  6. Stasa Morgan-Appel on March 2, 2009 at 8:23 pm Reply

    Blessed be. And thank you.

    Much love,
    Stasa

  7. Mike Young on May 1, 2010 at 8:05 pm Reply

    Still cherish your visit and performance in Belfast.
    When might a DVD of Transfigurations be available?

    • p2son on May 1, 2010 at 10:55 pm Reply

      Thank you Mike. Belfast is a special place to me and now to my partner Glen who joined me there last spring.

      No DVD for awhile, first a scene of the play will appear in the upcoming anthology Gender Outlaws–The Next Generation. Then we will put out a graphic novel of the material. Only after that will I consider putting out a DVD. I am reticent because so much gets lost from the stage to the small screen. It needs to be done properly, and I want to perform it live for awhile longer.

      Thanks again
      Peterson

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