Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Exodus Targets Youth for "Ex-Gay" Lifestyle

Hat tip to Timothy at Ex-Gay Watch for culling through a bland article and pulling up a startling quote by Alan Chambers, the head of Exodus International, which oversees hundreds of "ex-gay" Christian ministries,
Chambers believes that "anyone who's smart these days would focus on the young because the truth is those who influence the young influence the future."

This is why Chambers plans to launch a nationwide campaign to educate the young, their parents, and youth workers through distributing literature on campuses, and by having three sets of conferences: one for the youth, one for their parents and youth workers, and one for pastors.
You can read more here.

Monday, August 29, 2005


Sitting today in NYC's Washington Square Park, watching all the NYU students and their folks and the many French senior citizens (like lots of them) milling about, I overheard four young people (seemed to be undergrads) catching up with each other. The conversation quickly turned to breasts.
The two women in the group both had theirs done over the summer.

"Yeah, they were really hard and swollen at first, but now they feel almost normal. Here touch them."
So, in the sultry summer weather, they faced off touching each other's boobs. The two guys in the group soon joined in and started handling them like ripe mangos.

Then I realized, I must have just woken up in some heterosexual man's fantasy. (or maybe a lesbian's or a bisexual's).
Was there some cosmic fantasy swap? Is there some female breast-loving person in Iowa totally bummed out and bored as s/he looks on at some guys showing off their nipple piercings and their buffed tattooed calves?

Shame, I hate wasted fantasies.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Out There Naked

One man stands alone on stage and looks back at his complicated relationship with the Catholic boys' camp counselor, who began sexually abusing him at age 12.

Another recounts his ex-communication from the Mormon Church and his subsequent life as a gay escort and drug addict.

Still another talks about the years he spent in a Christian "reorientation" program that tried to make him an "ex-gay" until he awoke from his "Biblically induced coma."

Theaters are increasingly filling up with gay men eager to tell their personal narratives in solo shows. Call it "confessional theater," call it theatrical therapy, but stories about personal trauma - laced with humor and humanity - are becoming a cottage industry on the fringe theater circuit.
Frank Rizzo, Hartford Courant.
You can read the complete article here.

Women's Equality Day

Today, August 26, is Women's Equality Day in the US. It is the day that the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920 giving all women over the age of 21 the right to vote, but most women of color were not able to exercise that freedom until after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. It was the result of a 72 year struggle for women's suffrage and came 137 years after the ratification of the US Constitution in 1787.
Hat tip to John Calvi for sharing this through the Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns listserve.

For more information, you can view a timeline of women's suffrage in the USA.

Also you can read an article about Quaker, Lucretia Mott's anti-slavery and pro-women work.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Luke and Teo

Need hope for the future?
Want to feel good all over?
Visit Tina's site, Merely Marvelous, The Audio and Video Blog for the Fearsome Twosome--Luke and Matteo (Tina and Joslyn's two sons).

Greetings from Saskatoon

Wow, what a great time at the Kairos United Church of Canada Young Adult Conference. I met the most excellent people and got to enjoy walks in the prairie grass here in Western Canada. The sky is so big and the clouds dramatic. At one prayer service I just had to go out and watch the sky.

On Monday I hung out in Saskatoon where we visited every Co-Op Store in search of merchandise from the Canadian TV sit-com Corner Gas. It is set in this province and filled with local humor. I bought a bunny hug (what we would call a hooded sweatshirt) and then sat through a three hour marathon of Season One. Fun stuff.

The participants at the conference came from all over Canada. Amazing people, very welcoming (and very much disliking our president).
I recieved a crash course in Canadian history and more importantly an on-going lesson on famous Canadians in the US. They are proud of their people (although someone suggested that they wanted to trade Celine for Prince).

Here is my favorite Canadian exchange to date.
Canadian: "You watch the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Eh?"
Me: "Yeah, whenever I can"
Canadian: "Yeah, I wish Jon Stewart was a Canadian. That would be good. You know Samantha Bee on the Daily Show. Eh?"
Me: "Yeah she is great!"
Canadian: "You know she is from Canada. Yeah, she's Canadian, but I don't like her."

Today I am back in Saskatoon to get ready for my show here tomorrow night. The temperature is 62 degrees with a moody gray cloudy sky. Perfect book reading weather if you ask me.

Fall Promotion

College Promo
Originally uploaded by p2son.

For those of you who can't view the card that Tina designed for the fall, here is the front of it.
She is so good!
Thanks Tina.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Bike Report One

I rode my newly acquired bike to Quaker meeting today feeling very much like one of those Mormon missonaries (except that I did not have a white shirt, dark tie, Elder Toscano name tag, and a hunky side-kick).

No problems or misshaps except, no one told me about perspiration. Oh, and it's hard work peddling up hills. Okay, it was a small hill, but ouch.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Fish Can't Fly National Coming Out Project

Shocked about plans by anti-gay Dr. Throckmorton* to blanket the US during National Coming Out Month with a film that proports gays can become straight, Wayne Besen approached Tom Murray, Shawn O'Donnell and me to see if we can organize a counter-action.
Every October 11th, thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and allies celebrate National Coming Out Day. They hold workshops, speak-outs, rallies and other kinds of events where they dispel myths about same-gender loving people and sexual minorities and affirm the coming out experience.

In an affront to the positive spirit of this event, the anti-gay group, Truth Comes Out Project, recently announced plans to screen their film during this same time period as a counter move to the Coming Out event.
Read more at National Coming Out Project
And spread the word!

*Throckmorton, the perfect name for an anti-gay nemisis. Sounds retro 50's with a sexually nuanced twist

Back to School Special

Well, it is back to school time boys and girls and others. And for the new school year, Sarah B. Miller, my performance & media coordinator, has put together a big promotional campaign to US colleges.

Tina Encarnacion, the woman who does all of my non-web graphic design work, created a wonderful postcard. On the front is this really cool radioactive rainbow sort of design. You can view it at Flickr. On the back is a listing of all the current shows I do and contact info. If you know of someone who would be interested in receiving a post card, e-mail the name and mailing address to Sarah.

Also coming this fall, Roy Steele, a long-term NYC friend of mine and the web designer of homonomo.com create www.petersontoscano.com.

Back on My Feet

Four years ago I got into my 2001 VW New Beetle turbo dream car. What speed and very roomy (in the front seats). Well, it's gone, I dropped it off at the West Hartford VW dealership and took the bus home.

In what will be a six month experiment, I will attempt to live without my own car. Of course when I lived in NYC that made perfect sense, but in Hartford it will be more of a challenge. A member of my Quaker meeting gave me her old mountain bike (purple no less), I bought a helmet and a 40 ride pass for the bus.

I see some advantages to this move.
1. more exercise (or should I just say exercise. The biggest workout I've gotten lately has been getting out of bed!)
2. environmentally friendly. With all the flying I do, I pollute the planet enough.
3. support local businesses.
4. car sharing (borrowing or begging) with friends.
5. meet new people on the bus
6. look really cool and athletic in my new bike helmet (and kinda dorky too)
7. look really tough with a chain wrapped around my waist as I ride my bike
8. save loads of money on gas and insurance.

I will check in periodically about how the experiment is going. This week will be easy as I will be in Saskatchewan, Canada for Kairos, the United Church of Canada's Young Adult Confernence. Early September will be my first real test.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Some Words From Bayard Rustin

The words of African-American, Queer Civil Rights Leader, Bayard Rustin spoken in 1986, still speak to us today.
"Indeed, if you want to know whether today people believe in democracy, if you want to know whether they are true democrats, if you want to know whether they are human rights activists, the question to ask is, 'What about gay people?' Because that is now the litmus paper by which this democracy is to be judged."

"There are four burdens, which gays, along with every other despised group, whether it is blacks following slavery and reconstruction, or Jews fearful of Germany, must address.
The first is to recognize that one must overcome fear.
The second is overcoming self-hate.
The third is overcoming self-denial.
The fourth burden is more political. It is to recognize that the job of the gay community is not to deal with extremist who would castrate us or put us on an island and drop an H-bomb on us.

The fact of the matter is that there is a small percentage of people in America who understand the true nature of the homosexual community. There is another small percentage who will never understand us. Our job is not to get those people who dislike us to love us. Nor was our aim in the civil rights movement to get prejudiced white people to love us. Our aim was to try to create the kind of America, legislatively, morally, and psychologically, such that even though some whites continued to hate us, they could not openly mainifest that hate. That's our job today: to control the extent to which people can publicly manifest antigay sentiment."

From Time on Two Crosses--The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin edited by Devon W. Carbado & Donald Weise

Saturday, August 13, 2005

It's a White Male Thing

Daniel Gonzales over at Ex-Gay Watch is compiling a media list of "ex-gay" survivors who can speak to the press about their experiences. He asked if I knew of any people of color who have been through the "ex-gay" process. Out of the hundreds of people I've met who attended "ex-gay" programs, two are black men. I do not know any latinos except for a man from Brazil who attended Love in Action with me. (And I don't know if Brazilians consider themselves latinos)

Really, the "ex-gay" movement is a white male thing. The vast majority of people who run and attend these programs are white males. (alhough during my first weeks at LIA, we were challenged by the staff to stop talking like sassy black divas). Yes, in the "ex-gay" world there are some women, and yes, some people of color, but if you look at the documentary Fish Can't Fly, out of the dozen or so people interviewed, you will only see white folks and very few women.

I don't think Tom Murray chose to be exclusive when making his film. I think it represents the reality of who goes to these programs. Why is "ex-gaydom" a white male thing? Lots of reasons I'm sure and I am still just wrapping my brain around some of them.

I think in part it has to do with straight white male (swm) power and privilege in the US. Life is significantly easier for straight white males in this country. Jobs, housing, safety, credit, respect, so many things flow freely for the swm compared to the struggles that people of color and women experience. (Of course white men of a lower class have struggles, but often they then rely on white straight male privilege more than those of higher classes--oh and yes, we do have classes in America and I'm not talking about Physics or PE class either)

Experpiencing the distinct lost of power and privilege, white gay men, particularly in the conservative church, may seek to win back some of their place through becoming "ex-gay". It's all very subtle, but I remember wanting to be a Chrisitan missionary. I understood that being gay was the one thing that stood in my way. If I were a woman or a person of color, I would have had other hoops to jump through in order to get into a missionary postition, um, job. Of course at the time it felt like I wanted to change for Jesus, to exchange my unnatural sexual desires towards other men for a deep and intimate love relationship with Jesus, the God-man, but fueling that obsesion were other factors.

Every news story in the US has multiple angles to it. As a white male, it may be difficult for me to see it right away, but race and class and gender and ability affect so much of US culture, news, and policy. I'm sure studies have been done in regards to race and the "ex-gay" movement (as well as in the queer community).

We need to demystify the "ex-gay" experience and wrestle the arguments out of the realm of a few scripture passages. The level of hate and fear leveled against LGBTQ individuals cannot be sustained simply because of these scriptures and the ick fatctor. By desconstructing the reasons people pursue change from their same-sex attraction, we may discover how white same-gender loving people have much more in common with people of color, straight women, and individuals with disabilities than we ever imagined. We can also learn about our differences and how white queer folks contribute to systems of oppression.

This is all new territory for me, so those of you know a thing or two (or more) about these weighty issues, please feel free to share your wisdom and understanding.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Among Friends

Since Friday, I have been at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI for the New England Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker). I will be here until Thursday working as a full-time volunteer for the Young Friend's high school program. As a result, I will not be on-line much this week.

These teens amaze me, in fact, after being a part of their community two years ago, seeing their love and their integrity, I felt that I could once again be part of a spiritual group.

Here is an idea of the kind of teens I'm talking about. What are their biggest complaints about the worship service with the 800 or so adults? That there is not enough silence and that the messages shared in the meeting for worship are too personal and light. The teens would rather spend most of an hour in total stillness and silence punctuated with a very few messages and plenty of time to contemplate these messages.

They felt so strongely that about 1/3 of the 60 teens left meeting for worship half way through. Some of them then formed their own silent meeting for worship in the dorms. Later as a group, all the young friends approved a minute written by one of them which stated their concerns with a direct call for the adults to consider the youth's desire for a deeper worship experience.

Crazy amazing. To see them operate their meetings for worship with attention for business, to form committees to address peace and social justice, to encourage each other to not take to much food at meals so as not to waste, I wonder, where am I?

I am in good hands this week and feel certain that I will grow more deeply in my faith.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Breaking the ZACH Code

Team of Experts
Originally uploaded by p2son.
All week people have spectulated as to the exact meaning of Zach's cryptic blog post on August 2nd. Throughout the blogosphere, people have attempted to break the code to unearth what Zach is trying to say.

Well, I have assembled a team of experts to decipher once and for all the REAL meaning behind Zach's message. On my team I have two socio-linguists, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a theologian and a plumber (he's my uncle and wanted to help out)

After doing a thorough text analysis, these are our findings.

In the 509 words that Zach wrote in 47 lines, he uses the word and 10 times but only uses the word but five times (and never uses the word butt at all).

The word and indicates the need to connect which outweighs his desire to contradict. (My uncle, the plumber, noted that if Zach's words were connecting pipes they would most likely be made of Cross Linked Polyethylene--but none of us have a clue what that means).

Zach uses the conditional word if only three times which reveals he has or may not have been under harsh conditions. If he were under harsh conditions, then he would have said so, unless he wasn't and felt he didn't need to mention it.

Most strikely is that he uses the article the 15 times but only uses the article a seven times which indicates a leaning towards fundamentalism. (example: the truth vs. a truth: which he never says, but it is a good example all the same or for instance in plumbing terms, the leak vs. a leak)

Zach uses the word so one time but also uses the word sooo one time...sooooo that means...well we all know what THAT means. (What does it mean???)

He does not ever write the words yes or no which strongly suggests that he has not made up his mind, unless of course he has and he is just playing with us.

Finally, he uses words referring to himself (I, I've, I'm, me and the widely used internet version of I'm--im) 50 times. Fifty! L!

The experts I've consulted all agree that this means that Zach's blog posting is about ZACH--not about the "ex-gay" movement, LIA, the gay agenda, phallic fruits, Tom Cruise, Calvin Klein or Pat the Bunny.

It's about Zach.

Soooo Zach, our panel of experts hopes that in the midst of the media madness you can have a good laugh and enjoy what's left of your summer vacation with no worries about what labels to wear or not to wear--we mean of course labels like gay or straight or "ex-gay", not Calvin Klein and A&F.
(We all agree that those are way too gay and way overrated.)

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Baltimore/DC connections anyone?

I will offer presentations on Friday October 14 and Saturday October 15, 2005 in Baltimore, MD for That All May Freely Serve, a Presbyterian organization that works towards the full inclusion of LGBT clergy.

While I am in the Baltimore/DC area, I would love to present at other venues, particularly universities and high schools. If you know of a possible venue, please contact Sarah Miller, my amazing and very stylish booking agent!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Bread Man

Pete, the Bread Man
Originally uploaded by p2son.
Stuffed in the trunk of his car, my dad, Pete Toscano, always stows several dozen loaves of bread, packages of english muffins, boxes of doughnuts and bags of bagels.

He buys the stuff wholesale then ferries it around with him handing it out randomly to anyone he meets. Whatever is left over he "feeds to the animals", a nightly furry crew of skunks, foxes, deer, cats and the occasional black bear that lumber onto my parents' New York Catskill property. Then the animals get their carb fix.

My dad turns 75 this month. A Marine veteran of the Korean War (who stands opposed to the current Iraqi War of terrorism), he uses every opportunity to hand out bread, wisdom and one-liners.

Some dad classics,
"Stand Up for Jesus! Now sit down for Christ's sake."

Referring to the outcome of a night of partying with marine buddies, "Yeah, we got hooty-toot."

As my 96 year old grandmother tells us that when we eat dinner, angels come and settle under the table to bless us. My father chirps in, "Sure Ma, then you fart and the angels fly out the room."

When after 17 years of trying to become straight and I told him that it did not work and that I am still gay, dad didn't miss a beat,
"Well son, you can't make a fish fly."
(which inspired the title of Tom Murray's film)

Last fall, at a Marine gathering (these guys get together all the time to drink, plan fundraisers for Christmas toys-for-tots, and to swap war stories), someone started telling gay jokes.

Now my dad is a joker and loves a good laugh, but something struck him. He stood up to full height (okay he's only 5 feet tall, an oversized hobbit really) and said, "Cut that shit out. My son is gay and he is a great kid."

Pete, the joker. Pete, the marine. Pete, the funny bread man. My dad, he stood up for me, for all of us.

Queer allies come in all shapes and sizes.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A Biblically Induced Coma

Originally uploaded by p2son.

I originally created this post in early June. It outlines the mental effects I experienced as a result of anti-gay church teaching and the therapy I received in "ex-gay" programs

Brain research reveals that when we experience fear, neural pathways in our brains shut down affecting the transfer of ideas, thought processes and memory.

As an educational consultant, I once tried an experiment on a group of teachers. Once we determined their academic weaknesses, we then forced them to work within those weaknesses.

The results?

The teachers could not follow directions, did not stay on-task and became loud and disruptive. Fear affected their thinking.

Add shame to the mix and the brain shuts down even more. Think of the student with math-phobia who instead of studying for the big algebra exam, chatted on-line all night. In the morning, sitting for the test, the student forgets the little s/he once knew and freezes. The student may even act irrationally.

Nowhere does the toxic blend of fear and shame reach critical mass then in the conservative church, particularly for those of us with same-sex attractions. For years I lived in a state of suspended animation, paralyzed by shameful sexual desire and terrified of what would happen to this “sinner in the hands of an angry god.”

My feelings held me in the grip of a Biblically Induced Coma., Trapped as a teenager, I spent 17 years and over $30,000 trying to be something I could never be.

Richard Chamberlain, the actor and 1970’s sex symbol, lived in the closet most of his life. In Hollywood, surrounded by homosexuals and the liberal media, Chamberlain still felt shame about who he was as a gay man and fear for the consequences should he be found out. Finally, in his late sixties, as he wrote his autobiography, he broke free.

“I was 68 years old, and suddenly, it was as if this angelic hand touched the top of my head and said, “Enough! This is the silliest lot of nonsense that you’ve ever been involved with.”
(-Richard Chamberlain, actor and author of Shattered Love. From interview in Bay Area Reporter 11 November 2004)

I hope Chamberlain’s divine messenger has not yet retired, because loads of people, saddled with fear and shame heaped on them by society desperately need to be touched by an angel.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Zach Comes Out

sun through trees
Originally uploaded by p2son.
On Friday Zach Stark came out of Love in Action's Refuge "ex-gay" program. He may be out, but chances are he will not be free.

After weeks of enduring nothing but an alternative view, and sporting the Biblically-crafted lenses his parents and the program fashioned for him, it is uncertain how he will view himself and the world.

I don't know if we will find out for some time what Zach really thinks and feels about his ordeal--even with his recent blog posts. He still lives under the financial control of his parents. Like many LGBTQ youth, he may face homelessness if he asserts himself and his queerness.

At a retreat in Northern Michigan, hearing firsthand the stories of the Point Scholars and the harrowing experiences many shared, moved most of us in the audience to tears. Parents shove kids out on the streets to fend for themselves or deny their own children money for college if their children persist in the awful gay lifestyle.

Zach may have to shut up and put up for the next two years and maybe even more. And with his father exposing the family's identity to the world, the media circus surrounding Zach may serve only to increase the bunker mentality in the Stark home.

When I was 17, I first received gay reparative therapy. Although my parents did not force me, I felt compelled by the anti-gay messages I heard around me. Growing up during the start of the AIDS epidemic, the churches and the media capaitalized on the tragedy to frighten the shit out of many gay teens.

At 17 I began an "ex-gay" process. Looking back, it feels like I was placed in a time capsule. Sealed off from the world and even my own reason, I floated, suspended in a thick solution of shame, fear and self-doubt. The authorities in my life constantly reminded me that I was wrong, bad, sinful, deceived, corrupt, and I believed them.

How that container that kept me locked away finally broke open is somewhat of a mystery to me. I was lost, now I am found. I was blind, now I see.

Zach is out, but we may not hear his heart and mind for some time. Really, we should all just let him be to survive what he must survive the next few years.

But more importantly, Zach's story is out, and it is the story of many queer and questioning teens in the US today. It is the story of many adult survivors of the "ex-gay" movement. It is a story that needs to be told and more importantly that needs to be heard.

Refresh, Renew, Regroup

Redwood Forest
Originally uploaded by p2son.
After nearly two weeks in Northern CA and before that two weeks of travel to Memphis, Philadelphia and Virginia, I feel ready to crash for a few days.

Sitting here in San Francisco airport, I try to catch my breath. Fortunately I did two things during this trip to help me refresh. I went to a Japanese bath and spa--a vacation in an afternoon. A few days later I took a short hike through a redwood forest.

As an artist and an activist, I begin to realize how important it is to maintain a rhythm of creativity, work, socializing and quiet rest. Going to Quaker meeting for worship, walks in the woods, evenings with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and good laughs with friends all help me to recharge.

On the road I find it virtually impossible to maintain any sort of routine. My writing, my healthy eating, my exercise all goes to the wayside. I think that is the challenge for me this year, to do the work while I still live my life.

Any suggestions?