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Words of Wisdom that Inspire and Guide Me

Sometimes we drug ourselves with dreams of new ideas. The head will save us. The brain alone will set us free. But there are no new ideas waiting in the wings to save us as women, as human. There are only old and forgotten ones, new combinations, extrapolations and recognitions from within ourselves–along with the renewed courage to try them out
-Audre Lorde

. . . [O]nce we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives.
-Audre Lorde

This is what you should do: Love the earth and sun and animals,
despise riches, give alms to everyone who asks,
stand up for the stupid and crazy,
devote your income and labour to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God,
have patience and indulgence toward the people,
re-examine all you have been told in school or church or any book,
dismiss what insults your very soul,
and your flesh shall become a great poem.
-Walt Whitman

Corazón Nuevo
Mi corazón, como una sierpe,
se ha desprendido de su piel,
y aquí la miro entre mis dedos
llena de heridas y de miel.

New Heart
My heart, like a serpent,
has detached itself from its skin,
and here I look at it between my fingers
full of wounds and honey.
-Federico Garcia Lorca

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
-Max Ehrmann

 

Happy 2018 — Remember Who You Are

Susan Govatos Joseph’s Dreams

Today I am working on an essay for a British religious education publication. They asked me to explain my view of Joseph in Genesis as gender non-conforming, and how I suggest religious education instructors teach it to their students.

For me unearthing gender and sexual minorities in the Bible is essential work. These overlooked characters remind me of the many people marginalized in the world today.

Of course some people chose to fly under the radar for good reason. In some places it is perilous to be open about being LGBTQ. Just last month police raided the Queer Kampala Film Festival where my Transfigurations movie along with many others was supposed to screen. I heard reports that no one was injured or arrested. They got out just in time, but this is not the first time LGBTQ people in Uganda have been targeted by authorities.

I am still editing my piece on Joseph and why I think it is important to bring out of the shadows gender outlaws in the bible. I have been mulling over one line I wrote:

We live with mysteries inside of us we come to understand over time, and if we are willing, we sometimes share these with others.

My top nine photos of 2017 on Instagram. Follow me petersontoscano

As I reflect over 2017,  I have been sitting with some of the mysteries inside of me. I wrote a memoir that sits in my documents; I am not sure if I am ready or willing to release it into the wild. Perhaps I am waiting to better understand myself. It is also true that some things are too precious to share publicly.

One goal for 2018 is to screen the performance version of the Transfigurations movie at festivals in North America and beyond. This is different from the version that most people have seen. I will release this version under the title, Transfigurations–Gender Outlaws in the Bible. Description:

A disciple on a pilgrimage spends the night with strangers and tells stories of gender and sexual minorities in the Bibles. As the narrator reveals the many gender non-conforming Bible characters, this one has to decide if a more personal disclosure brings death or life?

In the performance I never appear as myself. I don’t explain my interpretations. Instead it is the story of an unnamed disciple. Woven into the narrative are quotes from the Gospel of Thomas.

It is an interesting Gospel for what is familiar to many of us–sayings that appear in Mark and Matthew–and what is so different. Many of these sayings have to do with identity. Like this one:

Jesus said to them, “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom].”

The main character quotes from Thomas’ gospel and these sayings serve a thread to the performance version of the film.

Most people will see the lecture version, which makes no reference to Thomas’ gospel. I imagine this is the version that will be most helpful to Christians trying better understand gender and sexual minorities in the Bible. The performance version though is more artistic with a dramatic ending.

As I write this, I am also considering a theme for the year. My friend, the writer Shirley McMillan (who has a new book out, The Unknowns, which I highly recommend) tells me that she sets a theme for the year which serves as an affirmation of sorts.

I have been thinking of what that might be for me. One thought I am toying with is: Remember Who You Are.

Yeah, working on that…

 

Happy New Year and Greetings from Cuba

Here is wishing you an excellent 2017

Those of us doing work around LGBTQ rights, climate, and justice issues know we have work ahead. My hope is that we continually have each other’s backs, that we learn more about the needs and desires of our various communities with the many intersecting issues that bind us together and sometimes put us at odds with each other.

I will likely not post anything until mid-January as I will be in Cuba and out of Internet reach. It will be like living in 1985, but with better Spanish skills than I had back then.

Resolutions? Nah!

Typically I do not make New Years’ Resolutions. Instead I write a list of goals I have for the year, some aspirations, and a list of people who I hope I can go deeper with in friendship. I’d love to hear some of your goals and aspirations (and resolutions if you do that sort of thing.) Feel free to leave a comment or contact me through the many social media channels.

If you miss my voice, check out Citizens’ Climate Radio. Great new show dropped on December 26th with some gorgeous poetry by Lilace Mellin Guignard.

Transitioning into new work

Transgressing Gender in the Bible

Transgressing Gender in the Bible, poster designed by Christine Bakke

This has been an exciting summer. Last month I was in Ontario at the Skylight Festival where I performed the final public performance of my piece, Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. In it I explore the stories of gender non-conforming Bible characters. In a few days I head to Portland, OR to film the play so it is available as a DVD and download.

I premiered the piece in November 2007 and have taken it far and wide to universities, churches, Quaker meetings, drag bars, Sunday schools, and conferences including Gender Odyssey, Transcending Boundaries, the European Forum of Gay and Lesbian Christians, and Creating Change. I performed the piece in the United States, Canada, Malta, United Kingdom, Sweden, and Norway. I presented it at various LGBTQ conferences and faith conferences. I was honored to have been invited to present it at transgender conferences and retreats multiple times.

A Performance Retires

toscano transfigurations

Photo by Lori D

But the time has come to lay it down. So much has changed since I premiered it. There are so many trans people who have gone through seminary since and are doing great theology work. New ideas and approaches are out there. And I need to pursue my leading to use comedy and storytelling to explore climate change as a justice issues.

For over the past two years when people have contacted me to do Transfigurations often I have referred them to other LGBTQ speakers, particularly trans speakers. I got a request recently to present at a Transgender Day of Remembrance. Since my work is well received by trans people of faith, they have invited me in the past to present as part of a TDOR event.

Other Voices, Other Rooms

TransfigPicture

poster by Christine Bakke

This week it was a non-trans organization in Pennsylvania that invited me to speak. I responded:

Hi there. Lovely to hear from you. I have retired my transfigurations play and next week head to Portland OR to turn it into a high quality film. I suggest you chat with someone at TransFaith. They are based out of PA I believe.  They can connect you to Trans speakers who will be a great fit for your TDOR event.

I have a list of folks I suggest in different parts of the US and the world. I would love to make the list bigger. Do you have suggestions about who you recommend as a trans or genderqueer speaker? Leave a message in the comments or contact me through the contact above.

And if you would like to get on my mailing list so that you can hear about when the Transfigurations film is ready, just signup for my newsletter.

(featured art by Mila and Jayna Ponder)

A Reflection from Rural Pennsylvania on the Orlando Shooting

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NYC Pride remembers Orlando victims

A Small Town Vigil

The day after the Orlando shooting, community members gathered at the little park in the middle of the tiny city of Sunbury, PA. Most of the people were straight. Many were people of faith and clergy including the rabbi from the local synagogue, the president of the Mosque and his wife, and an assortment of Lutheran, Methodist, and Unitarian ministers. Many of these were friends–Nina, Scott, Lori, Soren, and Ann.

Like so many LGBTQ people that week, I needed community. And while part of me wanted to be surrounded by other queer folks, having all of these straight people, feeling the pain, showing their support, this cheered me.

Making Sense of the Horrific

After the candlelight vigil, Nicole, one of the local community organizers, asked me if I would be willing to write an Op-Ed piece for the local paper. They have a regular slot for essay, and she wanted to give it to me. I said yes, then for the rest of the week struggled about what to say.

Orlando was overwhelmingly horrific, but I kept thinking about the many murders in just the past year of transgender people, particularly people of color. The violence in the Pulse Club was concentrated, but much of the violence in our community is spread out. It is at events like the Transgender Day of Remembrance, that the we see the dreadful body count because of violence and hate.

People kept asking me, “What can we do?” And I sputtered. I am no expert. What can we do?

I went into the writing process with these questions and thoughts in my head. Here are some quotes from the piece. You can read the entire Op-Ed here at the Sunbury Daily Item.

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Some thoughts on Orlando and violence against LGBTQ People

A safe place became a place of carnage. The number of dead and injured from the Orlando shooting is staggering. A majority of the victims are Latino young men, many originally from Puerto Rico. Still this is not an isolated incident. Though rarely covered by the national and local press, I hear about the relentless assaults against LGBTQ bodies and lives today, especially black and Latino transgender people.

snuffedoutcandlesimgEvery Nov. 20 I attend an event called the Transgender Day of Remembrance. It is the day we gather to say the names of the transgender and gender non-conforming people murdered in the past year. We cannot compile a full list of all the dead as many of these crimes are underreported, but the list is always long; the level of violence is always extreme.

At the 2015 Transgender Day of Remembrance, we read the names of over 85 transgender people who were brutally murdered, many in the United States, including Jasmine Collins, who a year ago this month was stabbed to death in Kansas City, Missouri. Her killer prevented others from offering Jasmine CPR. A month later in Fresno, Calif., K.C. Haggard was also stabbed to death. The incident was captured on surveillance video. As she lay dying, bystanders ignored K.C.’s pleas for help. Police are still looking for suspects.


This most recent mass shooting, carried out with a semi-automatic assault weapon, on American soil, at a gay club, on Latino night, by a terrorist declaring his allegiance to ISIS should raise many questions.

One question I have is this: What are we doing to let our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender youth in the Susquehanna Valley know they are loved, they are valued, and they are welcomed gifts in our homes, our schools, and our community?

From the Sunbury Daily Item:

Forward Thinking–Love and Value member of the LGBT Community

 

Featured image: art by Cai Lane at West Gallery in Burlington, VT Laced (As Pure as New York Snow)

On Art, Comedy, and a heterosexual God

We cover lots of ground in the first part of my interview with the Student Christian Movement in the UK. In particular we talk about comedy and how it can be used to explore trauma and oppression. I guess you can say that comedy is a subversive art. In using it, we do change the way our audiences feel and think. Perhaps this is why some folks are so resistant to humor.

Missing the Point

Still some people get so caught up in the words that they miss the point. That or they get confused that the topics I pick are so deadly serious, they fail to see the humor in it. In a way that is understandable–what is so funny about cancer or homophobia or global warming?

The role of the artist is not simply to entertain, but at times to use comedy to focus us in on an issue deserving of our attention. But comedy comes with risks that people will not get it or appreciate it. And the risk that we can get it wrong.

IMG_4072Reacting Badly to Good Comedy

Most recently Pat Boone, the pop singer of old and a white American Christian icon, has spoken out about a parody on Saturday Night Live. The sketch comedy piece reveals the heterosexism that is at the heart of much of the anti-LGBTQ Christian rhetoric. It is satire about how some Christians say they are the most oppressed group in the country (the white Christian woman character says this to her Black friend.)

It is clearly over the top, exploiting and exploding stereotypes that some Christians have about gays and that some liberals have about conservatives, but it makes an important point about the lengths some folks will go to force God and religion to give moral authority to oppression. As I say in the interview, comedy can be a tool to expose injustices.

An Interview with a quirky queer Quaker

Many of your performances employ humour and comedy to make serious points about LGBTQ+ inclusion, gender, climate change and other issues close to your heart.  How does humour help you tackle these and other issues? 

Humour relaxes the body and the brain. When we experience fear and shame, we physically tense up. This tension happens in the brain too – neural pathways close making it harder to reason and retrieve information. This is why when we begin to panic, it’s easy to forget simple instructions. Comedy helps to loosen us up. This is especially important when talking about hot topics like sexuality, faith, gender, climate change, and justice.

Comedy also helps to shed light on issues and expose injustices. While it is true that comedy can be violent, for example when it mocks others, it’s a powerful tool to help us see our own shortcomings as well as to highlight the flaws in systems and in the way the world works. The role of the court jester is not simply to entertain, but to say the things that people are often too afraid to utter. The comic jab can lead to revelation and action.

I agree that comedy can be and has been used to hurt others and dehumanize people and groups of people. It can be rude and crass and disrespectful. But I have found over and over that it is a way to bring people closer to hot topics that desperately need our attention.

You can read the entire piece: An Interview with Peterson Toscano–part one.

Also, feel free to share with me your thoughts about comedy. When does it work for you? When does it cross the line? What are examples of comedy that does social good.

Here is my latest comic video that uses satire to draw an audience into a serious topic.

Here is the Saturday Night Live satire: God is a Boob Man

TV Interview about Dangers of Gay Conversion Therapy & Wonders of Queer Theology

Performers on the streets of Belfast

Performers on the streets of Belfast

As part of my summer tour of Europe, I got to travel up to Belfast to perform and to sit for a Northern Visions TV interview for the show Another World is Possible. I dress like a slob, especially next to the very dapper Liam Og Brown. But in my defense I somehow thought I was going to a radio interview. I had my best radio voice on.

We cover a lot of ground. For those of you interested in my work around gender non-conforming Bible characters, we start on that topic. I give specific examples of gender minorities that are widely represented in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

Liam then asks me about gay conversion therapy and my time in ex-gay ministries. While I see these programs have begun to wither away in North America, there in Belfast there is still a debate for some about curing gays. I get to talk about my experiences and the destructiveness of these types of programs and processes that attempt to change someone’s sexuality.

Finally, he asks me about my faith and how on earth I can be a gay man and a Christian. Trigger warning: I make a disparaging remark about the tyrant cats that rule our gay household.

Another World is Possible: Peterson Toscano from Northern Visions NvTv on Vimeo.

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From Norway to Texas, Polar Bears to George Bushes

What a wonderful whirlwind. My time in Tromsø, Norway high up in the Arctic was stunning. In addition to the gorgeous views and wonderful meals, I got to meet lovely, talented artists and lovers of performance.

Here are some photos with commentary.

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A room with an Arctic View.

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So many of my walks I felt like I was in the movie, Let the Right One In, that now classic Swedish vampire film.

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For two days I lead a solo performance workshop with a group of actors and dancers. This was the view I had during breaks.

My colleagues! These are the skilled and creative artists that jumped into the workshop activities with their whole bodies and souls.

My colleagues! These are the skilled and creative artists that jumped into the workshop activities with their whole bodies and souls.

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The wooden cathedral where I performed, “Does This Apocalypse Make Me Look Fat?”

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Sometimes you have to take the Bible into your own hands

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Season One available on Netflix


I don’t know about you, but I have been obsessing over Tina Fey’s new sitcom, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. In fact, I just binge-watched the entire first season for the second time. While I realize sitcoms are not for everyone, what I find so moving about this series is how deadly serious it can be. Kimmy is held hostage in an underground bunker for 15 years, trapped with three other women and a male religious cult leader who takes over their lives, their bodies, and their brains. Not funny stuff. They are finally freed, and Kimmy decides to begin a new life in New York City. Having lived in a time capsule for 15 years, EVERYTHING is new to her.

This story sounds familiar to me but in the reverse. Mine started in New York City where I dived deep into Evangelical then Pentecostal Holiness churches at the height of the HIV/AIDS Crisis in the 1980’s. I was told that Jesus could heal me of homosexuality, and if I simply followed the teachings of my earnest leaders, I would find a straight path to heaven and heterosexual normality. I also started attending an ex-gay support group, a gay-to-straight conversion organization that relied heavily on Bible teachings to instruct its members on how to live holy lives. I ultimately spent 17 years and over $30,000 on three continents trying to de-gay myself. In short, I was Kimmy Schmidt, not in a bunker, but trapped in a Biblically-induced coma.

By the time I came to my senses and began to come out of the closet, I found I could no longer read the Bible. It had been taught to me as a weapon of mass destruction used to pulverize anything that was not heterosexual and especially anything that was not masculine. I learned that to be feminized in anyway was unholy, an abomination, a perversion. Much of what I learned in gay reparative therapy sessions was actually about gender–how to butch me up because there was no greater sin than being seen as feminine. A by-product of these teachings was that I regularly received toxic doses of misogyny and sexism, something that I really didn’t need to go to church to learn.

I had to reeducate myself; I had to take matters into my own hands. But instead of throwing the Baby Jesus out with the Bible Bath Water, I decided to slowly, systematically, and creatively approach the very texts that were used to terrorize me. Through the years I have been able wrap my head and heart around the Bible including discovering dozens of stories about gender non-conforming (gender outlaws) in many books of the Bible.

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Jennifer Bird

Three years ago I met Dr. Jennifer Bird at the Society of Biblical Literature conference, and we immediately clicked. We got to hang out for extended periods of time over the last three years, and we laughed and laughed. Smart, insightful, a brilliant scholar, and an excellent communicator, through watching Jennifer teach her students, I experienced  hope for a new generation of people emerging from churches dazed, confused, and not sure what to do with their faith and their relationship with the Bible.

Yesterday I received in the mail Jennifer’s new book, Permission Granted–Take the Bible into Your Own Hands, a book that would have been unbelievably helpful to me 15 years ago when I emerged from my Biblical bunker. First thing this morning I started reading and only put it down long enough to write this post. Oh, she is funny, as she talks about her earnest desire to be a good Christian including the time she “dated” Jesus. And I LOVE her tone. She is not mocking anyone, or pushy, or disrespectful of her past and people who take the Bible completely literally. She is kind, thoughtful, and vulnerable.

If you, like me, were trapped in a Biblically-induced coma and have been uncertain what on earth to do with all those Bible verses and teachings that stockpiled in your brain, Jennifer’s new book will help you to face those places where you may be afraid to return. She is a Bible scholar who knows the original languages, and she is a brilliant teacher who understands that students need to think for themselves. This is the book about the Bible for adults, and it might be just the one you need at this point in your life.

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