Monday, July 31, 2006

Dad Speaks Out about Ex-Gays & Much More

Recently Christine Dinsmore interviewed me for a profile piece in the LGBT regional magazine Inside Out Hudson Valley. (You can download a copy of the piece here).

I could not wait to see the piece because for it she interviewed my dad, Pete Toscano. What would he say??? There are some things he doesn't talk too much about, but somehow he easily opens up to a stranger. He's been interviewed before for his involvement in the Korean War, and I learned more about his war service from those articles than from anything he ever told us directly.

He is very affirming of me, but even so, I didn't have a clue of what he might share.

From When a Dos Equis Is More Than a Beer--Peterson Toscano navigates the ex-gay movement
In many ways, Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House is as much a tribute to family as it is a diatribe against the ex-gay movement.

Pete Toscano, who served in both the marines and army, belies the stereotypes of Italian father and soldier. He is proud of his gay son and sees his performances often.

“I think he’s helping a lot of people,” the senior Toscano says. “A lot of people don’t want to come out in the open. Sometimes people hold things inside and it’s a bad situation. Before you know it, they either commit suicide or turn to dope.”

While he supports his son, it’s not without its difficulties.

“It’s a little tough, to tell you the truth,” the 75-year-old father says. “I miss his wife. Because his wife was part of our family. And she was a real wonderful girl.

“And he’s got no children. That’s another part I miss, to carry the Toscano name,” he continues. “But we’re happy with him—very happy with him.”
Dad once again reminds me that when we seek to be something that we are not and put ourselves in roles that we cannot maintain, many people get hurt and the pain lives on long after we put down those false images of ourselves. In the ex-gay world, we see all sorts of casualities.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Hobbit or Italian American?

In this past year having spent loads of time with my Italian-American family in New York, I have come to some conclusions about our similarities to JRR Tolkein's Hobbits.

You are either a hobbit or an Italian-American if you...

  • Eat more than six meals a day

  • Feel shorter than most people on earth (and Middle Earth)

  • Have a large extended family and everyone practically lives on top of each other

  • Feel obligated to invite your entire extended family to every family gathering (even if most of them drive you batty).

  • Often are mistaken for a dwarf

  • Never are mistaken for an elf

  • Look to men in flowing robes for spiritual advice

  • Have a thing for rings

  • Live long and tell good stories.

  • Have a distinctive name. (My Hobbit name is Hambut Proudfoot)

  • Are into designer clothing (elfin or Zegna will both do)

  • Have an inordinate amount of hair growing on your toes and out your ears

Friday, July 28, 2006

Feeling Groovy

Photo taken by Pablo, a wonderful photographer and cool guy I met at Pendle Hill. You can check out more of his pics here and here.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Ex-Gay Movement & Christian Nationalism

Michelle Goldberg's new book Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism explores the influence of radical religious right forces on American politics and policy. In a recent interview with Onnesha Roychoudhuri, Goldberg reveals that she first became aware of a Christian world co-existing with the mainstream when she attended an Exodus conference.
One of the first pieces I did on the Christian right was on the ex-gay movement. What struck me going to the Exodus Conference was that it takes place in this whole entire parallel universe. They have their own psychologists, psychological institutions and their own version of professional medical literature. The amount of books, magazines and media, and the way it almost duplicated everything that we have in our so-called reality, is remarkable. What struck me years later when I was reporting on the Bush administration was that the parallel institutions that I had first come into contact with were replacing the mainstream institutions -- especially in the federal bureaucracy.
In the interview Golberg gives examples of how this all works. She also provides a clear definition of Christian Nationalism.
Christian Nationalism is a political ideology separate from evangelicals. Evangelicals are about 30 percent of the American population. Christian Nationalism is a subset of 10-15 percent. It's less a religion than it is an ideology about the way America should be governed. It has this whole revisionist history claiming that America was founded as a Christian nation, that the separation of church and state is a fraud perpetrated by seculars. What follows from that are ideas about Christianization of institutions in American life, and that the courts have vastly overstepped their authority in the enforcement of the separation of church and state.
John McCandlish Phillips, a former NY Times reporter and once a mentor to me for several years when I was an ex-gay in NYC, recently responded to similar charges that conservative religious ideology has infiltrated our government. In his Washington Post opinion piece he claims that we have nothing to fear from a government infused with religion, as long as it is the correct expression of Biblical Christianity. Of course he considers that to be an Evangelical Christian faith that he insists springs from our earliest male leaders. He seeks to assuage any fears about a US theocracy.
In the long journey from the matchless moment when I became "born again" and encountered the risen and living Christ, I have met hundreds of evangelicals and a good many practicing Catholics and have found them to be of reasonable temperament, often enough of impressive accomplishment, certainly not a menace to the republic, unless, of course, the very fact of faith seriously held is thought to make them just that. It is said, again and again and again, that the evangelical/Catholic right is out of accord with the history of our republic, dangerously so. What we are out of accord with is not that history but a revisionist version of it vigorously promulgated by those who want it to be seen as other than it was.
Phillips harkens back to what he sees as a lost era of faithful men in public service advancing the Gospel of Jesus Christ lead by the Spirit of God. I am all for individuals, leaders and ordinary citizens, exercising and expressing their faith. But so much of what Phillips considers spiritual faith is actually culture that is tied into systems of oppression. Somehow these great people of faith that Phillips mentions in his piece (founders of America's greatest universities as well as founding fathers) systematically excluded women, people of color, Jews and non-land owners from their institutions and the political system of voting and serving.

Similarly today's Christian nationalist political and religious leaders, (aided by national ex-gay leaders) aggressively seek to forbid the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, to adopt, to even be safe on the streets--not to mention a gross irresponsibility in addressing the environment, the economy and our own contribution to world violence and oppression.

Back in the early 1990's when I was a member of the New Testament Missionary Fellowship sitting under the teachings of Phillips that I would have rejoiced at the prospect of a government controlled by Evangelical Christians. In fact, for years we prayed for a spiritual coup in the White House, Congress and Supreme Court.

I look at that time and those prayers and see that many were prayed in fearful superstition that if we did not appease the angry God that pulled the strings, our whole society would devolve into a godless morass. Reacting to the terrors of postmodern theory and the liberation of politically and socially oppressed peoples, I now understand that we sought to recapture the "glory days" of the city set up on a hill. Most people though were not privileged enough to dwell on those safe hills and fotresses. Rather they were forced to labor in the kitchens, the fields and in the streets to keep the gods of this world in power.

This all reminds me of the wisdom of T.S. Eliot when reflecting on the birth of Christ he wrote,
I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
Time for new wine in new wineskins.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Fellow Groaner

Seems a lot of spiritual groaning has been going on these days. My buddy, Heath from TX, recently posted to his blog, (after a long absence). So many thoughts parallel my own these days. He writes. He muses over his own current struggles with Spirit. How he has an amazing spiritual moment and then it elusively turns to confusion. He writes.
"The world is overflowing with sadness"
- Rei, End of Evangelion

Where does that leave us? Some of us hold onto a thread of hope that Christ will return soon enough, and all of the pain and heartache of life will be tossed into the wind and they'll lose themselves in that sacred union, and their Lover will never, ever leave them again. Others give up all together. They shrug the experience off, finding rational explanations for the love that they felt in that brief moment, blaming it on chemical reactions or their brain's own attempt to fufill it's deeply ingrained psychological need for connection and understanding. Others become callous, jaded ex-lovers, choking back tears and covering up their hurt with anger and bitterness at the sound of an old hymn, or the sight of a group of naive church kids still capable of believing some God in the sky is in control of everything, and loves them so very much.

Others hold onto that holy suffering. Their groans are the purest of prayers, and their deeply ingrained wounds are cherished reminders of that devastating encounter.
Read A Cruel Divorce

On the Radio...

Lots of concerts in my life these days. Two weeks ago I attended Donna Summer's concert, then this weekend I went to the Jazz Festival at the newly opened Bethel Woods Performing Arts Center. I got to hear Diane Reeves, Chris Botti, Billy Childs and Wynton Marsalis. Last night I enjoyed live jazz right here in Hartford, CT as the Monday Night Jazz Concert series held in Bushnell Park.

This Friday I will be interviewed on a local public station near my parents' home. Kathy Rieser hosts the Out Loud & Queer program. I will be her guest for the show on Friday, July 28, 2006 from 10:00 PM - 11:00 PM (I believe that is GMT -5) for you international types.

I will do some excerpts from a few of my shows, tell funny and serious stories and I hope share some music from really cool queer artists.

You can listen to the show through the magic live streaming by going here on Friday night. (go to the top right and choose MP3 or Real Audio)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Jesus and the Precious Rubble

So many people I meet who have had ex-gay experiences consider themselves post-Christians. Perhaps they do not use that term, but many who once had an Evangelical Conservative belief in Jesus now do not belong to any faith community and do not practice any religion. A friend recently mentioned that when she goes to a church service she experiences post traumatic stress.

I know that feeling. Hearing a song we used to sing in a church where I now do not feel welcome anymore, my throat closes up and a muddiness rises in my heart. Even in rainbow-clad friendly churches, I can experience flashbacks to the days when I struggled with God to deliver me from my homosexual sin believing that if I didn't get free, I could not serve Him or enjoy his presence.

I have to say that after years of living as an Evangelical Fundamentalist and sometimes Pentecostal/Charismatic Christian, I struggle with understanding and expressing my current faith and spirituality. I am a Christ-centered Quaker, but I am not sure what that means-at least for me.

This week at Pendle Hill, I sat down with the words of the Quaker Isaac Penington.

From the Pendle Hill Pamphlet 29 The Inward Journey of Isaac Penington:
Therefore take heed of the fleshly wisdom; take heed of thine own understanding; take heed of thy reasoning or disputing; for these are weapons wherewith the witness is slain. That wisdom must be destroyed, and that understanding brought to naught, and thou become a child, and learn as a child if ever thou know the things of God.
These words comfort me right now. He writes about how we have to give up our old ways of thinking about God and become like little children.

I feel like a little child with my faith right now. I don't have vocabulary like I once did. I live with more questions than answers, and my spiritual needs seem basic. Christ be near me, feed me, hold me. I deconstructed much of my belief system and now stand on a pile of rubble--precious rubble--but rubble all the same. Even so, I do not feel ill at ease about where I stand, rather I have a strange peace.

As I sit in the silence of Quaker meeting and my own worship times, I let the Light wash over me, search me, know me, absorb my questions, hear my groans that words cannot express, and communicate with me spirit to spirit bypassing the messy mind, getting to the heart of the matter. Be still; know God.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Where is Peterson?

No worries I have not joined Marvin in Memphis.
Sorry I haven't been around. This week I travelled to Pendle Hill, a Quaker study center, where I led a workshop on identity and then performed Doin' Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House for folks from high school age to senior citizens. GREAT CROWD and I got to see a bunch of dear Friends and made some new ones. The electricity was out most of the time, so no Internet or lights. I read by candlelight. Very quaint.

Why have I been so silent lately? The reality is that my mother continues to suffer from cancer and seems to decline in her health each week. I am with my parents this weekend and have been most every week for two or three days at a time. (Thanks Roger for the use of your car!) We are a very close family, and she is the center of us all. I simply have not been in the mood to blog or even go on-line much. We all appreciate your prayers and thoughts at this time.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Upcoming UK Tour Dates

I have the details for my UK Appearances. I will be in Copenhagen, Denmark and Malmö, Sweden from September 17-26, 2006, but I don't have all the details yet. Will post them soon.

Talkin' Trash in the Homo No Mo Halfway House

(This presentation is a lively mixture of performance and talk)
Saturday, August 26, 2006 10:00 PM
Greenbelt Festival
Cheltenham Racecourse, Cheltenham
All Souls Cabaret
Gloucestershire, England

Doin' Time with Peterson Toscano
(excerpts from various shows and previously unseen material)
Friday, September 15, 2006, 7:00 PM
London, England
Courage Members Only
Find out more about Courage here (It is a great group to join!)

Doin' Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House
Saturday, September 16, 2006, 7:15 PM
Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement South Wales/De Cymru
City Church URC
Windsor Place (town centre)
Cardiff, Wales
Open to Public--£3
07719 644581
LGC Information

Queer 101 and Bibliodrama Workshops
Sept 29, 30 and October 1, 206
Discipleship Group Retreat
RETREAT: Practising Safer Texts
Oxfordshire, England
For Courage Members only
Find out more about Courage here

Special Presentation
Monday, October 2, 2006, 7:30 PM
Way Out (Terrence Higgins Trust)
West Oxfordshire Community Centre
Botley Road
Oxford, England
Under 25 Only

Come to the shows and let's hang out!

Trans Male Privilege?

I've been reading and re-reading Jennifer Burke's post Many men are unconscious of the privileges that come with being male. (Jennifer maintains a great blog with consistentintriguinging and informative pieces on trans people and issues.)

I think a lot about straight male privilege in regards to "ex-gay" experiences. I believe that for some men, becoming straight-acting and identifying as straight (or at least no longer gay) opens doors of privilege, particularly in the white Protestant church. I doubt that is the primary reason why men seek change from being gay, but I believe it is one of many factors that have pressured us. I do not believe this is necessarily a factor with trans men, at least from the trans men I've known and dated, but it does create a change in how privilege works for some.

Jennifer quotes from the Washington Post's Male Scientist Writes of Life as Female Scientist, an article that features Neurobiologist Ben Barres, who nine years ago at age 42 transitioned from female to male. Barres speaks about the differences he notes in his life and career since the transition.
And as a female undergraduate at MIT, Barres once solved a difficult math problem that stumped many male classmates, only to be told by a professor: "Your boyfriend must have solved it for you."

"By far," Barres wrote, "the main difference I have noticed is that people who don't know I am transgendered treat me with much more respect" than when he was a woman. "I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man."

Barres said the switch had given him access to conversations that would have excluded him previously: "I had a conversation with a male surgeon and he told me he had never met a woman surgeon who was as good as a man."
The article goes on to talk about women in science and reflection on "former Harvard president Lawrence Summers's assertion that innate differences between the sexes might explain why many fewer women than men reach the highest echelons of science."

Friday, July 14, 2006

Unexpected Special Guest

Sitting on my parents' front porch in the Catskill Mountains (rural NY state) and a pigeon lands less than two feet from me. Unlike NYC where there are millions of pigeons (we referred to them as flying rats), we never see pigeons Upstate. That was until a few weeks ago when one mysteriously appeared with a red band on its leg. Skittish, it would never come near to us, but stayed for about three weeks. Then just as mysteriously it disappeared only to return today.

Exhausted by the heat and hungry, it let me come quite close, give it water and some grains (barely and corn). It felt so comfortable, it even ambled into the house when my mom opened the door much to the delight of my nephews.

Fortunately I was on-line and found out all sorts of info about lost birds including how to find their keepers. After a quick search, I got a phone number and within an hour Paul and Kathy, the very happy bird keepers, reuinited with their weary charge. Ah, I love the Internet.

Now I know the ancient Greeks read all sorts of signs and portents into various abnormal bird activities. What ever this bird meant, it felt like a good sign. Paul expressed surprise that the pigeon would enter the house, but then added, it must have known it was coming to a good place. Yeah, that's how I feel when I come home.

Why Do We Seek Ex-Gay Experiences?

Well it depends on who you ask, when you ask and under what circumstances. If ten years ago when I entered Love in Action, you asked me, I would say becuase of my faith in Jesus, the desire to find wholeness and healing and the hope to feel normal. My number one answer was always because of my relationship with God and my understanding of the scriptures based on how they were taught to me.

But on deeper inspection, processing my experience through art and therapy and blogging and discussion, I've unearthed deeper reasons that fueled my drive for change.

Jim Burroway over at Box Turtle Bulletin writes about a recent survey done by the ex-gay folks People Can Change (hmm, change--I imagine they don't just mean their underwear). No surprise the survey reveals what sounds like party line. I'm not saying that the survey participants answered dishonestly, but sometimes it takes time to figure out what is really motivating us.

Jim writes about it clearly and thoughtfully. Read Why Pay $550 to Change? Man, that's a bargin! Back in 1996 I was paying $950 per month (okay which did include meals and a single bed in a room with two other struggling homosexuals).

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Marvin Departs

Marvin's farewell message as he departs today for Love in Action.
this is an audio post - click to play

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

More Florida Photos

Here are some more photos, mostly taken by Pearl, who was the Kinship photographer. The singers Jason & deMarco came to the retreat to do a concert right before my show. They also attended a workshop I led on the Ex-Gay Movement and ex-gay experiences many of us share. Marcos, the retreat organizer, did an amazing job of taking care of everyone and setting a friendly tone. Other pictures include the inside of a church in St. Augustine and some large birds that prowled around outside my room.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Doin' Time in Florida

In the midst of all the Marvin madness, I've been in Florida--Orlando, Sarasota, St. Augustine and St. Petersburg to do shows for the Kinship 7th Day Adventist LGBT group and for Trinity Metropolitan Commumity Church. I also got to hang out with Fish Can't Fly filmaker Tom Murray and his partner Vince. Not much time to blog, but here are some pics. (I am a sucker for a sunset--see below.)


Friday, July 07, 2006

My Response to Marvin

After repeated attempts to speak with Marvin on the phone, I finally faxed him the following letter on Wednesday. I have yet to get a reply.

Dear Marvin,
I've struggled with what to say about your decision to sell your home and move to Memphis so that you can attend Love in Action. I am surprised that you do not answer the many phone messages I left you. But then again I am not. You have determined your course, and like a good soldier of the cross, I imagine that you will let nothing deter you from your goal.

I know I can say nothing that will dissuade either. Ironically I entered Love in Action on July 13, 1996, exactly 10 years to the day of when you will start your program next week. No one could have stopped me then. I felt desperate, lost and determined. I felt overwhelmed by a world that seemed oppressively opposed to my beliefs and by sexual feelings that no matter how hard I tried to control them only seemed to mock me with their intensity.

At that time I felt that I had no home of my own, no place where I could be myself. The church and my church friends rejected me because I continued to act out sexually regardless of the many attempts to stop, my promises and prayers. What I viewed as the "gay community" looked foreign and dangerous to me and especially to my faith in Jesus. The only refuge I felt I had was Love in Action where I believed I could be open about my same-sex struggles and grow in my faith.

Little did I understand that my parents silently ached to love and embrace me, that whole communities of queer people of faith existed all around me, that wise and thoughtful and caring friends stood nearby. But after 15 years of attempting to "get right with God" nothing was going to stop me from entering Love in Action.

I don't know why some of us struggle with our same-sex attractions and gender differences more than others. I don't know why even in the face of the mounting evidence to the contrary that some of us fight with all our might to transform ourselves. I don't know why we confuse the things that really need changing with the things we insist must change.

Marvin, I cannot discourage you from entering Love in Action. You sound firmly fixed in your course. Perhaps some good will come of it. I met some of my dearest friends in Love in Action. I learned important lessons that helped me overcome the obstacles to coming out. These were unintended consequences, costly surprises. And shocker of all, when I finally came to the end of my struggle, I found Jesus there waiting for me on the other side, seeming to say, "Now let's get on with the living part of your life."

What else can I say? Look out for the killer Texas-sized biscuits--they will destroy that boyish figure of yours! Don't let the feedback you hear destroy you and try to remember that even your captors are victims of the same system that oppresses you. Oh, and one last thing, please oh please bring some sort of recording device with you so you can chronicle your long day's journey into night. And should things go badly, please contact Bob and Morgan and Ann and Pastor Tim Meadows and well, I can provide you with a detailed list of amazing Memphis people.

your friend and queer brother in Christ (I hear the rebukes from you already :-)
Rumor has it that Daniel Gonzales of Ex-Gay Watch will be in the NY area, so maybe we can visit Marvin before he goes. Who knows maybe Daniel's charms will prevent Marvin from wasting his time. Do you have any parting words of advice for Marvin before he departs to the nether regions???

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Marvin's Declaration of Independence

In which after much soul searching about his sexuality and the possibility of "change", Marvin announces a bold new direction in his life.
this is an audio post - click to play

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Holy Muse Magazine

The 2nd edition of the new emergent Christian on-line magazine, Holy Muse, is now available. This month's article focus on relationships, romance, lust and gay stuff. I enjoyed the first edition so much that I submitted a piece that they accepted. You can view it on pages 21 and 22 with original artwork by my friend Brandon D. Gunning (who by the way is a big Marvin fan).

Marvin SHOCKER!!!

You must listen to this Marvin post in which Marvin, well just listen. This changes everything.
this is an audio post - click to play