Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Makes My Heart Sick

I first heard about this story soon after it happened. I hoped the man would survive being attacked, but sadly he did not. The funeral is today.
Anthony Anthos, a 72-year-old gay man whose great dream was to light the Michigan State Capitol dome in red, white and blue each Fourth of July, was helping a wheelchair-bound friend through the snow when a fellow bus rider irked with his singing, spouting gay slurs, bludgeoned him from behind with a metal pipe.

Anthos lingered, paralyzed from the neck down, for 10 days before dying.

A big crowd is expected at Tuesday's visitation and Wednesday's funeral in Center Line, Michigan, which is being funded by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

On the Radio Again

Tomorrow (Thursday March 1, 2007 2:10-2:45 PM EST) I will be part of the radio program To The Point.
Hosted by Warren Olney, To the Point is a fast-paced, news based one-hour daily national program that focuses on the hot-button issues of the day, co-produced by KCRW and Public Radio International.
I think there will be four guest including Dr. Jack Drescher, a psychiatrist who opposes reparative therapy. We will talk about the ex-gay movement and the social and political issues involved in people seeking change from their same-sex attractions and gay identities. It is a national US program, so should be accessible most places and of course on the web.

UPDATE: Now that the show has aired, you can listen to it here.

I have a show tonight in Syracuse, but hopefully I will blog about it a little bit before bed (yeah, if my wild and crazy vegan, Christian, Quaker, gay lifestyle permits)

Beyond Gridlock

I just arrived back in NYC and sit in a taxi heading into Manhattan. Traffic is heavy and the sky is gray.

At LA airport I had the unexpected pleasure to speak with Alex via Skype. How amazing that we can forge such important relationships through the web.

I also met up with Eric for about 90 minutes (thanks for the ride to the airport!) and we talked about Catalyst, his dream to reshape the gay community in Long Beach, CA. He suggests we live as if we have already gotten our rights and full acceptance in society. Work to become good citizens who are not solely concerned with the issues that directly affect us and build healthy relationships all around.

I also met up with Worthie (aka Momma) and we planned for our upcoming workshop/performance piece "Dragged Out of the Spiritual Closet" For True Colors in three weeks. . Both of us do mostly solo work, so collaboration takes skill and care. It takes listening, responding, yielding.

Which gets me thinking about ex-gay leaders.It is easy for me to typecast them as the ENEMY. That gives them and me an out. We don't have to listen to each other, but my greatest tool is my story and the ability to listen to theirs and relate to parts of their struggle. It seems impossible to collaborate with ex-gay and conservative leaders. Perhaps for some of us and them it is. But a recent conversation I had with a well placed Evangelical leader gives me some hope. We talked, we heard each other without compromising our beliefs. And the door remains open for future discourse.

Well the traffic here in NYC is getting lighter and I see blue skies peeking through the gray. I feel grateful for this new day.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Telling My Story Everywhere I Can

Believe it or not, I am in Los Angeles today (photo of view from my room above). I left cold and snowy New York early this morning and now I am in sunny West Hollywood. I am here for two days (more about that in a future post), but basically I have another opportunity to tell my story. I am really thrilled. I will also have dinner tomorrow tonight with Steven Fales, the creator of the one-person play, Confessions of a Mormon Boy which is currently running out here in Los Angeles.

Hopefully I will get to see Joe G, Daniel Gonzales and Eric too before I head back to New York tomorrow night.(Check out Daniel's latest video expose).

Mara Schiavocampo who produces short films for Current TV, recently filmed me in NYC telling my story. She splices my story with black and white scenes from my play as well as an interview with John Smid of Love in Action. (See below). You can vote for this piece to air on the channel and not just the web site.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The M Word

No this is not a reference to a TV show about the lives and relationships of metrosexual men. The M word as in Ministry. This pesky word has come up a few times recently. After my performance at Guilford College during the Q&A session, one woman stood up with the outrageous question,
When did you know you were called to ministry and what is the nature of the ministry that God has called you to?
I was floored by the question and experienced a rare moment of speechlessness. The next day at the Mid-Winter Gathering of the Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns (aka Queer Quakers), several Friends came to me with the question, How can we support you in your ministry? Hmmm, you can start by not referring to it as a ministry; that word creeps me out. Besides I am a THEATRICAL PERFORMANCE ACTIVIST! I do funny plays (which you can read about in this new article that In Newsweekly just published.) Not ministry.

Perhaps it is because I once felt very called to ministry. After a time when an ex-gay group prayed for me as I prepared for a short-term mission trip to Ecuador when I was 19, someone in the LIFE Ministries Ex-Gay group meeting handed me a slip of paper. It contained a prophesy about my ministry. Well, I was an Evangelical Fundamentalist Christian, NOT a Charismatic Pentecostal Christian, so I didn't even believe in that stuff. But I still remember the words to this day (and keep them to myself).

Today I spoke at Chelsea Community Church in NYC. It is a lay-led church where they have a special speaker every week, no one on staff, just volunteers. Months ago they asked me to be their speaker and as we got closer to the event, I learned that much more was required. Will you bless the offering, give the pastoral prayer and the benediction? I tried to explain that it is not part of my Quaker world, which is a wonderful cover for saying, I feel incredibly uncomfortable doing all of those ministerial things.

Recently reading the words of William Penn where he teaches about Quaker ministers, I felt challenged when he stressed how ministers should not go in with prepared messages or follow any forms of worship, liturgy or sacraments. Just sit and wait in the silence until a message forms. Can you imagine if I told that to the Chelsea Church? Okay folks, for the first half of my sermon, I will say nothing and hope that I get a sense of what I will say for the second half. I mean I am all for it, but how would they feel.

Then two weeks before the event, the organizers wanted to know my theme and asked me to pick hymns and a scripture that went along with it. Theme? Hymns? I have no clue of what I will say or if I will have anything to say. I hedged and came up with a general title and chose two hymns that I like to sing. They then wanted a hymn for right before my sermon. I suggested that we just have silence instead of a hymn?

And that is exactly what we did. I guess you would call it a programmed Quaker meeting of sorts. I side-stepped the pastoral blessing and praying over the offering. When it came time for the benediction, I quoted Audre Lorde.

And when I was done, a little old lady came up to me, shook my hand and said, "Thank you so much for your ministry to us this morning." Dang, there it is again, the M word!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Doin' Time in Minnesota

Next weekend I travel to Minneapolis, MN to take part in the Soulforce Equality Ride training and send-off. I will also do a public presentation at a Quaker meeting house. First here is info about the Equality Ride:
Homophobia is globally pervasive, and no community or school escapes its reach. In 2006, during the inaugural Equality Ride, participants traveled to nineteen schools and engaged students, faculty, and administrators in conversation about the damaging effects of homophobic doctrine, the false notion that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender identities are sick and sinful.

This year, the journey continues with fifty young adults going to thirty-two Christian colleges and universities. Two buses are taking the group on two distinct routes around the country in creative pursuit of social justice. In doing so, they are empowered to change countless lives. Love liberates the oppressed, redeems the lost, and resurrects the spirit.
Saturday, March 3, 2007 7:00 PM (doors open at 6:30 PM)
Blessing & Sending Service for Equality Ride
Plymouth Congregational Church
Open to All!
1900 Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis
8 blocks west of Park House
Refreshments & Silent Auction to follow at 8:00 PM
Open to All!
(I will perform a short piece for this event)

An Evening with Peterson Toscano
Sunday, March 4, 7:00-9:00 pm
Center for Independent Artists (in the El Colegio building)
4137 Bloomington Avenue South (corner of Bloomington Ave & 42nd Street)
Minneapolis, MN
Off-street parking; use parking lot entrance
I will do excerpts from his various performances, interspersed with time for Q&A.

I feel so honored to have a small part of the Equality Rides. These folks display so much courage. If you are in the MN area, would love to see you at one or both of the events!

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The Many Flavors of Gays

When I lived in Quito, Ecuador as a missionary and then later when I volunteered at Exodus' Latin American headquarters, I ate a lot of ice cream. I was not a vegan then, and freshly made ice cream they sold along the Avenidas tasted better than Bryer's ® ever did.

Oh, and the flavors they offered! Fruits I never heard of before like Mora and Naranilla. Tropical flavors--mango, pineapple, avocado and even tomato.

Most of my life I only had three flavors: chocolate, vanilla and my favorite, mint chocolate chip. But that all changed in Ecuador.

Back in my missionary days I believed there was only one kind of gay--the sick pervert who engaged in sex anywhere and with anyone. He carried diseases, always tried to seduce straight men, and had no regard for God or any sort of moral code. At Christian college I would go with a group into Greenwich Village in NYC to tell gays that unless they repented of their evil homosexual lifestyles, they would burn in hell far from the presence of God.

I was the biggest homophobe I knew and of course I turned the loathing onto myself more than any other person.

But then after nearly two decades of fighting off my same-sex desires (often unsuccessfully) I accepted myself as gay and began the long hard work to heal my battered sense of self--a work that continues.

About a year after I accepted myself as gay, Rev. Timothy Meadows of Holy Trinity Community Church in my then home of Memphis, TN, asked me to write poem about the Memphis LGBT community for the mother of Matthew Sheppard who was coming to speak. He had me interview scores of queer people--all types, all flavors.

Lesbian moms, senior citizens both single and partnered for years, Black gay male professionals, bisexual grandparents, gay athletes, transgender Christians, queer teens getting ready for the prom, all types, sizes and backgrounds. Many lifestyles and so much health and well-being.

Meeting all those folks was one of the first teps to replace the lies I harbored about myself & others.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Dragging Parents Through the Mud

During the interview I gave today, the topic of my parents came up and their thoughts about gays and the ex-gay movement. I explained that while I was growing up my parents never said anything negative about homosexuality, and they never said positive, so I assumed that they felt the same way about it as all the other people in the world who made it clear that gay people were sick perverts.

At age 17 I had become a born-again, evangelical, conservative (Republican) Christian and about that same time my parents first learned that I liked other boys. My folks became more upset when they heard I had become a Christian than when they discovered I was gay.

In talking today, I remembered yet again how my parents felt traumatized by the Love in Action Family and Friends weekend. They walked away with the message, "You messed up your kid". They felt heartbroken, years later my sister told me that for weeks they were not themselves. They couldn't eat, the light went out in their eyes, and they barely spoke.

Today Jim Burroway posted his second reflection of his time at the recent Love Won Out anti-gay conference held in Phoenix, AZ. Most of the people who attend are parents of LGBT or questioning children (or fear they might have a queer kid). These parents come looking for answers and leave with veiled and not so veiled accusations leveled against them. Do read Jim's posts, they are very powerful.

Prologue: Why I Went to Love Won Out

Part One: Love Won Out--What's Love Got to Do with It
Part 2: Love Won Out--Parents Struggle with No Exception

Television Got Me Out of Bed

I adore to sleep in whenever I can. I draw the shades, put in airplugs and sleep until I can't possibly sleep any more. Yummy.

But not today. I got up EARLY (8.30 am!) to clean my little studio apartment. a film crew arrives at 2.30 this afternoon to tape an interview for a national TV show (details TBA).

You know how it takes guest coming to get you to straighten up; consider the cleaning frenzy when your home will appear on national television. Yikes!

Of course I ended up utilizng my spacious storage spaces in my place.. I may be out of the closet, but today I loaded it with my junk.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Montel Williams Show

Thank goodness for YouTube! I don't have a TV and was traveling yesterday anyway when the Montel episode aired that had Lance Carroll and me on it. But I got an e-mail saying that it was uploaded on YouTube (oh and a wonderful photo of Noa and son watching it!)

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A Parable of Sorts

In response to my message to her, the Christian woman who has been corresponding with me (which I write about here) replied with a long message with lots of scripture and teaching about the divinity of Christ and dire warnings of what will happen if I don't trust in Jesus according to her interpretation of the Bible. I believe she is motivated by love and a spiritual conviction to help me.

After about a day, I wrote her back with the following story.

This past summer I got to spend a special week with my mom. It turned out to be the last time that she was really well enough to get around and talk much before she left us. We mostly sat on the front porch. She read and I did my work on my laptop. Sometimes we spoke. It was the week where she accepted that she was going to be gone soon, so we enjoyed every moment we had.

One day on that porch something incredible happened. As I sat at the table and my mom on the other side of the porch in her chair, a large pigeon landed on the table less than two feet from me. My parents live 100 miles outside of New York City and growing up there I had never seen a pigeon there before in my life. The pigeon just looked at us like we were supposed to know what to do. It looked weary and a little distressed. We stared at it feeling shocked. It stood and looked back at us.

I noticed the pigeon had a band tagged around one of its legs, so I realized that it was a racing pigeon that someone must keep somewhere nearby. I went on-line to find out how to help a lost pigeon in distress. I learned that it mostly needed water in a bowl but not too deep. We got the water and it gratefully drank. We gave it some grain too. Then it sat down, contented and fell asleep on the table in front of me.

Through the internet I tracked down the owner of the pigeon, thanks to the info on the leg band. I called him and said he could come and get his pigeon. He was thrilled that we had the bird but added that there was no sense coming to get it since it will just fly away when he would try to catch it; it is not very tame. I explained that it seemed very tame at the moment and that it was less than a foot away from me without any problems. He said he'd come right over.

My mom has never liked pets. She didn't dislike animals, but she thought it was unsanitary to have pets in the house. Some of us suffered from allergies and asthma, so I think this was part of the pet ban in the house (we always had animals outside the house though--dogs, rabbits, etc). As we waited for the pigeon's keeper, it hopped off the table and walked around the porch. My mom watched with wonder. She felt so surprised and pleased that the pigeon landed on her porch.

Then to my shock, when my mom walked into the house, the pigeon followed her, and most surprising of all, she didn't stop it. So that when the man came to pick up his pigeon, it was sitting at my parents' feet in the living room as they watched TV.

For the last few weeks of her life, my mom loved telling people about that pigeon story.

I do not know why God put me on your heart and for what purposes, how this connection will bless me and bless you and bless others.
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of woman or man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Letter to a Christian Lady

About two years ago I received an e-mail from an evangelical Christian woman who had read an article about me in her local paper where I talked about my ex-gay experience. She told me that God had put me on her heart to pray for me. We began to correspond about our faith and lives. She sent me lovely words of comfort when my mom passed away.

She questioned me several times about my theology. Who is Jesus? she wanted to know. I did not avoid the question, but wrote about my faith and what it looked like. She wanted more, she wanted to know if I believed that Jesus was the SON of God and that he is Divine.

I think I knew where she was coming from in asking that. As an born-again, evangelical, fundamentalist Christian for nearly two decades, I would insist that people have a "saving knowledge" of Jesus Christ and not just think of Jesus as a good man or prophet, but accept him as God himself in human form and the sacrifice for all of our sins. If not, I would pronounce (I believed lovingly) they were deceived and not real Christians.

When my concerned Christian friend recently asked me directly about the divinity of Christ I wrote:

I cannot give you an answer that will satisfy you. Even if I say the very words you expect a Christian to say, chances are you will distrust the sentiment or the words coming from my mouth. It is possible you will think that I am deceived, and therefore place me in a box labeled "unsaved," " misguided," "prodigal," or just "wrong." But Jesus made it very clear, you shall know them by their fruits, not their doctrine, not their profession of faith, but by their fruits. Many will say in the day of judgment, "But I knew you Lord" and will have flawless theology, but Jesus may not recognize them.

The fruit of the Spirit is first Love. We are a people defined by the way we love.

I create a dilemma for some Christians. I love Jesus. I am filled with the Spirit. I love to worship God and be in God's presence and hear God's voice in the Word. And I am sexually and romantically attracted to other men. Something Jesus never condemns. There is such a thing as heterosexual sin and there is homosexual sin. There is such a thing as healthy heterosexual love and healthy homosexual love.

This may be a dilemma that you will have to sit with for a time, to go before God and bring it to Him, to hear what He has to say about it. I know that that is what I have spent years doing, not seeking what itching ears want to hear but asking and seeking and knocking to know God's will for my life.

The way of this world insisted that I was deformed, sick, perverted, just as it has said that women were inferior and Blacks were property to own and abuse by whites. But Paul says, no longer conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds. Sadly too much of the World has gotten into the Church and Christian people have done atrocities in Jesus' name.

I cannot give you an answer that will satisfy you because there may be too much at stake for you. Right now you need to accept me as a Christian on your terms, terms you will insist are the terms put forth in scriptures. Perhaps you will consider looking into the history of the church and the Bible and how the Bible has been used as a weapon to silence and oppress people as well as a tool to lead people to new life in Christ.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


Men have sex with men. Women have sex with women. They have done so for thousands of years. It's nothing new. Some are exclusively sexually and romantically attracted to people of the same sex. Some are attracted primarily, but not exclusively to people of the opposite sex. Some are somewhat equally attracted to both.

Throughout history some societies have made room for these queer folks.
Queer--Deviating from the expected or normal; strange. (and often taboo)

The sexual part of us is more than just sex-it is an opening to ourselves.

Many groups and individuals have been stripped of their wholesome sexuality by the people in power over them. Women, people of color, people with disabilities, transsexuals, the elderly, and young adults have been treated as sexual deviants by those who have oppressed them. Either they portrayed them as sexless beings or painted them as wildly out of control sexual freaks.

But the people who have exercised power over us do not get the final say, and in fact, their slander mostly reveals their own insecurities and poverty. For those of us who face the conflict of our sexual desires with the worlds around us, we force ourselves to peer through a forbidden window that opens us up to whole new worlds of ourselves.

Audre Lorde writes:
The principal horror of any system which defines the good in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, or which defines human need to exclusion of the psychic and emotional components of that need--the principal horror of such a system is that it robs our work of its erotic value, its erotic power and life appeal and fulfillment. Such a system reduces work to a travesty of necessities, a duty by which we earn bread or oblivion for ourselves and those we love. But this is tantamount to blinding a painter and then telling her to improve her work, and to enjoy the act of painting. It is not only next to impossible, it is also profoundly cruel.

. . . [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.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


Some significant birthdays today. Composer and new friend, Lee Hoiby and I share a birthday today, and I am sure he is busy away at his piano working on his next composition. Happy Birthday Lee.

But I have another important anniversary to celebrate. Four years ago today I premiered Doin' Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House in Memphis, TN at Holy Trinity Community Church. After I accepted my gayness when I was still living in Memphis, Reverend Tim Meadows, the church's pastor who inspired one of the characters in the play, encouraged me to pursue my art by asking me to write a poem for Judy Shepard.

That got me out into the Memphis gay community to interview scores of queer folks only to find out there are ALL KINDS of queer folks out there. A few years later I moved up North to Hartford, CT, and it only seemed fitting to bring my play to this Memphis queer church for the premiere.

Bruce Garrett sent me the most wonderful personalized birthday cartoon. He remembers all my people. Thanks Bruce!I head off in an hour for the Mid-Winter Gathering of the FLGBTQC (Queer Quakers). Ah, I feel good having so much community in my life--my blogging friends, my Hartford and Memphis friends, my Quaker Friends, my Swedish and UK friends. I am very rich with dear and wonderful people.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Zen of Travel Update

It's 4:30 in the morning, so that means it is time to change buses in Richmond, VA.

We have many different Americas in the USA, and as a white middle-class man, I rarely get to see most of them. That is some of the privilege of my race and class and gender. But when I take the bus in my city or cross-country, I meet different people than on my plane travels or in a rental car. I hear different stories, stories I am not suppose to hear.

Mostly everyone on this bus and the last is Black. So many people traveling to funerals. I met a man who lives no more than a mile from me in the same city. He is a year older than me. He had five sons but now only three because two were killed because of the violence in the streets. His one son got shot to death outside a pizzaria on Christmas Eve 2005. Most of these stories don't even make it into the newspaper. Too much Anna Nicole, too much crazy astronaut stories, too much entertainment news to lull me to sleep.

In my new play "The Re-Education of George W. Bush," one of my characters, Tex, had to live one week as Earthel, a Black woman, and then report back to the audience about the experience. In preparing the piece I spoke with over 20 Black women and asked them, "If a white American man woke up one days as a Black women, how would his life be different?"

After premiering the play in Portland,OR, a Black man in the audience spoke to me privately to thank me for Earthel. "When I tell my white friends about this stuff, they don't believe me, but they will believe you because you are white. They don't realize there are some doors you can walk through that I can't even knock on."

I know that as a gay guy I have experienced some oppression, especially in the church. I can relate to other oppressions, but I cannot fully grasp them because they are different from mine and because I experience so much privilege and power in white America. I do well to sit and listen to stories I'm not suppose to hear. This is part of my own re-education.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Zen of Travel Revisited

I've written before about the Zen of Travel. Having lived in Ecuador and Zambia and NYC, I learned long ago not to stress out when it comes to travel. Things happen, flights get canceled, goats throw themselves in front under the wheels of buses, roads wash out, and no amount of fussing will make it any better.

Yesterday morning the phone woke me. A representative from Continental Airlines informed me that my flight the next day (30 hours later!) was canceled and instead they wanted to transport me to from Hartford, CT to Newark, NJ by bus so that I can get a flight to Greensboro, NC. The ride usually takes three hours.

I was groggy; I said sure, then I went back to sleep. Only later in the day did I realize what happened. I called and confirmed. Weird. So this morning I got to the airport at 8:30 AM for my bus. After a 6 hour ride in traffic, I arrived only to find out my flight was canceled and the next flight will not be available until Saturday (the day after my show in Greensboro).

Not willing to give up, I called Greyhound Bus and booked a seat leaving NYC tonight and arriving in Greensboro about 13 hours later. So I will be a little rumpled when I get there. I'll sleep during the day and be ready for my 5:00 PM tech rehearsal.

Now I sit in the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square about to have a nice quiet Japanese dinner as I page through my People magazine (that features me on page 80 tee hee) and then I get ready a long ride down South.

What else can go wrong....

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

This, That & the Other

I spent most of the day in bed with Lucinda Williams, (she released a new album yesterday). Lots of snow kept me indoors as I prepped to go to Greensboro, NC to present at Guilford College and the Mid-Winter Gathering of LGBT Quakers.

I have been thinking of Anna HP's question about why a queer person would be part of an insitution like the Church after all the abuse the the Church heaped on us. Since I am on my PDA, I will have to wait to answer, but it is a good question to consider.

Daniel C from Sweden e-mailed me about some prize the Rainbow Festival won and congratulated me, but I am a little confused with the Swedish article he linked.

I heard word today that in Friday's edition of People Magazine they will feature Daniel Gonzales and me (yes we are the real fathers of Anna Nicole Smith's child.) No it is a bout Ted Haggard and the ex-gay movement.

Now I sign off to read some of John Woolman's diary before I go to sleep.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Spilling My Guts

Last week Susan Campbell from the Hartford Courant interviewed me for her regular column . In response to the Ted Haggard story she wanted to know about my own involvement in the ex-gay movement and in the conservative Evangelical church.

In telling my story I shared with her something that I nearly had forgotten. I was 17, had just become a Christian and my libido was on HIGH ALERT. She writes about what happened and the results of my actions and then my words.
He'd been caught in an intimate act with another young man at a band weekend in upstate New York. As he confessed what had happened to the angry organizers, he saw their faces soften when he said he was a Christian and didn't want to be a homosexual.
I learned such a critical lesson that night spilling my guts in front of those angry men. I learned that straight men will show me tolerance and even compassion as long as I admitted I struggled with my same-sex attractions.

Throughout my career as an ex-gay, whenever I messed up, (and Lord knows I messed up a lot), I turned to a straight man--the hall director at my Christian university, my pastor, my accountability partner, an ex-gay program leader (okay not exactly a straight man)--and confessed my sins. I groveled, I cried, and humiliated myself in their presence. As a reward, they did not eject me from the school, the church, or the program, well most of the time.

Sometimes I did things so outrageous they had no choice but to eject me. Perhaps that was my way of ejecting myself.

Susan Campbell's piece is entitled Saved By Therapy Or Faith?

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The Birthday Season

Being single on Valentines Day doesn't ever really bother me because my birthday comes three days later. (Although in my childhood birthday photo, I look like I had a little too much cake and ice cream)

Yes, I have officially entered The Birthday Season. This business of just celebrating on ONE DAY is so lame. One's birthday needs to be padded with several days of celebration.

This year though I am not just celebrating my birthday. After finishing her book Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, I fell hard for Audre Lorde. What a mind, what a heart, what a woman. Her birthday is February 18 and had she survived breast cancer, she would be 73 this on Sunday.

Over at Craig Hickman's blog, he honors Audre with a summary of her life.

Here are some quotes by Audre Lorde:
  • “If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
  • “When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid”
  • “The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives.”
  • “The learning process is something you can incite, literally incite, like a riot.”
  • “As we come to know, accept, and explore our feelings, they will become sanctuaries and fortresses and spawning grounds for the most radical and daring of ideas-the house of difference so necessary to change and the conceptualization of any meaningful action.”

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Sad to Be Gay Remix

zoë posted a thoughtful analysis of the BBC documentary, Sad to Be Gay. This piece was filmed in early 2005 and shows a BBC correspondant, David Akinsanya, seeking change for his unwanted same-sex attractions. His quest brings him to Love in Action in Memphis, TN. David interviewed Wade Richards and me in Huntsville, AL as part of his research.

Strachan goes on to juxtapose same-sex attraction with the gay lifestyle (aka the bar scene for many) along with David's difficult childhood and reveals why someone like David would be dissatisfied with himself. What emerges sounds very much like the profile of a "successful" ex-gay leader who testifies how he has fled the evils of homosexuality and an empty lonely life and not simply the story of someone experiencing an inward battle over sexual desires.

David is quick to deny he’s ashamed of his sexuality. It’s just that he’s been there, done that. “I’ve been out on the scene for twenty years,” he says, “And it’s not really done anything to enhance my life.”I’m not surprised. If I’d spent twenty years on the gay scene I’d be more than depressed, I’d be suicidal.

Gay may be good, but the gay scene isn’t, or not for me. More of my straight friends go to gay clubs these days, and if anyone has actually found the love of their life amid that heaving morass of sweaty male torsos bopping away to incessantly hideous euro-pop remixes, well good on them. The term “gay village” isn’t a misnomer. It’s invariably claustrophobic, incestuous and bitchy. Little wonder that David’s gay relationships haven’t made him feel good about himself. Even those who like that kind of thing tire of it, and twenty years sounds like a life sentence.

You can read the whole of Sad to Be Gay here.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

NY Times Highlights Ex-Gays in Metro NY Area

Michael Luo, religion writer for the NY Times, wrote a piece that looks at various ex-gay options in the New York metro area (and not just Evangelical Christian groups). He focuses mostly on the words and lives of people who currently identify as ex-gay, but he also interviewed professionals who denounce gay reparative therapy.
“There’s not a debate in the profession on this issue,” said Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York psychiatrist and former chairman of the Committee on Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues of the American Psychiatric Association. “This is like creationism. You create the impression to the public as if there was a debate in the profession, which there is not.”
The piece goes on to talk about LIFE Ministries in NYC, a ministry that according to Luo claims, "that complete “freedom” is available for anyone willing to put in the emotional and spiritual work."

Although Luo states that "for every ostensible success story, there are many other stories of people who have concluded they were deluding themselves, including some who used to be among the movement’s most visible leaders" he only includes one example of someone who had made that conclusion. That one would be me.

Peterson Toscano, 41, spent years in ex-gay ministries, including LIFE, during the 1980s and 1990s and eventually got married, only to see his marriage fall apart after he was unable to keep his homosexual urges in check.

He finally decided: “If you keep trying this, you’re fooling no one.” Now openly gay, Mr. Toscano lives in Hartford, attends a gay-friendly Quaker meetinghouse and performs solo comedy sketches around the country, including one that pokes fun at his experiences in the ex-gay movement.

Read all of Some Tormented by Homosexualty Look to a Controversial Therapy.

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Connection of Outsiders

Thursday night I hung out with filmmaker, Rory Kennedy, Nicholas Kristof, NY Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner for his writing about Darfur, actor and global activist, Tim Robbins, and the first inspector general off the Department of Homeland Security, Clark Kent Earvin.

They spoke in Hartford on the Connecticut Forum's panel discussion, Saving the World. I wrote about the CT Forum before. We bring into town various people for on-stage discussions about things that matter--social justice issues, security, culture wars, comedy, literature, etc. As a member of the advisory board, the Forum often asks me to serve as a valet for guests. On Thursday they gave me Tim Robbins to look after.

The best part is that I get to hang out with these fascinating folks for five hours as we walk them through the press conference, cocktail party, dinner, and the main event. In the limo and while we are waiting, we talk. On Thursday the behind the scenes conversations ranged from form President Jimmy Carter's legacy (eradicating River Eye Blindness) to the death of Anna Nicole Simpson (Tim Robbins worked with her on a film and confirmed that she really liked chocolate.)

Of all the people I met on Thursday, I enjoyed my conversation with Clark Ervin the most. A passionate Republican, he served in both President Bush's administrations. A long time friend of George W. Bush, he headed the then newly formed Department of Homeland Security shortly after 911. He has since moved to the Aspen Institute and has become a vocal critic of homeland security.

A fellow Quaker asked me to ask Ervin why he is still a Republican. He explained that he believes in the traditional tenets of the Party--low taxes, a small central government and a robust foreign policy that will use military force when necessary but also relies on political and diplomatic methods. As a Republican, he wants to work within the party to voice the beliefs of the silent majority. He states that the two party political system encourages the extreme voices while the majority of people in both parties, who share many values with each other, get silenced.

I said that it sounds like he is somewhat of an outsider among his own people and how that must feel difficult at times. I shared that as a gay Christian, I feel I do something similar in trying to reclaim the name Christian from a movement that has taken it for un-Christian purposes and goals. Much of the church has lost sight of the original spirit in the life and message of Jesus. He told me how he cannot see how someone can use the words of Jesus and the Bible to oppose gays. This is not what Jesus was about.

We have since corresponded via e-mail, and I hope to continue a dialog about war, security, but particularly the role of the outsider who still choses to remain inside the system with the hope of rescuing the movement.

Daniel Gonzales on Weekend America Radio Show

Have a listen to Daniel eloquently speak on Weekend America about his sordid ex-gay past.
The announcement that Ted Haggard emerged from three weeks of intensive counseling convinced he is "completely heterosexual" has raised quite a few eyebrows. We talk about this with Richard Cohen, the author of "Coming Out Straight: Understanding and Healing Homosexuality," and also with Daniel Gonzales. Gonzales went through therapy to "cure" his homosexuality, but says it did not work.
Daniel is in Phoenix right now where he protested Love Won Out, the Focus on the Family anti-gay roadshow and spoke to a lot of local press there. Go to Ex-Gay Watch to see some video of the press conference. Even Telemundo showed up!

It is not easy to stand up as an ex-gay survivor. I know there are many who prefer to leave that part of their lives far behind them, and I respect that. But we need people like Daniel to come forward and share their narratives. The parents who want to force their kid into some program might just change their minds once they hear the sort of damage that may come of it--damage to their child and to their relationship with their child. A person struggling with their same-sex attractions may hear something that will give them clarity, direction and hope.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Blackface Show Cancelled

Good news! I hear the Chez-est, the gay bar that was going to host a blacface dragqueen cancelled the event due to pressure from local activists.

I love it when we see the results of direct non-violent action. Congratulations to all the activists for all the hard work!


A Quaker Comic Minstrel Show--Not in my Town!

Something is terribly wrong is happening right now in the white gay community in Hartford, CT (where I live).

A white drag queen (who identifies, by the way as a Quaker Minister) is coming to Hartford in 'blackface' as a welfare mom with 17 children, calling herself Shirley Q. Liquor. And many (but not all) white gay men do not see a problem with this.

As a Quaker, as a white man, as a gay man, as a comic performer who plays many characters including Black women, I can say that this is wrong on so many levels. That the performer and the venue will not back down or listen to reason, reveals the arrogance and ignorance so often among privileged white gay men. We cry victim because of how we have been oppressed, yet we refuse to see the oppression of others and our own contribution to that oppression.

Local activists (mostly young people) have begun actions including a myspace page Ban Shirley Q. The local press has covered the story. And True Colors, an LGBTIQ organization for youth has organized an anti-racism show featuring Karen Williams. I will also attend at the event. The local Quakers are gathering to organize a response from the meeting. Shirley Q performs around the US, so even if you don't live near Hartford, join the myspace page and stay aware and vocal.

Too often white gay men have sat back and contributed indirectly and directly to racism and the advancement of white skin privilege and the oppression of women. If we stand up and speak out something terribly good can happen in Hartford and beyond.

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More Doubts About Haggard's "Recovery"

Both ex-gay activists and critics have raised questions about the validity Ted Haggard's masive change in such a short time. Ex-Gay Watch shares Randy Thomas Weighs in On Haggard's Recovery.

When a local reporter asked me about the Haggard situation, I remarked how I learned at an early age that as a queer person in the church filled with shame and fear, the best tactic to take was the submissive dog position. (Not to be confused with yoga's downward facing dog position).

You can see what happens when two dogs meet and one is bigger and stronger than the other. A dance ensues where the weaker of the two (or at least the one that perceives itself as weaker) hunches its shoulders, pulls back its ears, tucks its tail between its legs, turns to avoid direct eye contact, and lies on its back with its stomach exposed. Sometimes the submissive dog will even urinate to demonstrate its place. Look I humiliated myself for you.

Faced with the power of the church, of heterosexual men telling me (implicitly and explicitly) that men with same-sex attractions are sick, sinful and dangerous, I learned that I could survive in the church if I submitted to their authority and asserted my status as a struggler, someone who felt conflicted over my transgressive sexual desires. In such a position, I experienced compassion, assistance and acceptance (well, to the point that they didn't kick me out) from these men.

We hear very little of what Ted Haggard really feels and believes. He communicates through an approved spokesman. He has submitted himself to his handlers and may do anything in his power to stay in the church system that has become his home and identity--even if it means lying down like a dog.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Doin' Time with Chuck D (Oh, and Montel Williams)

I spent the day on the set of the Montel Williams Show, well, most of it was spent in the green room, but I did get to sit next to Montel and in front of a camera for a bit too. The theme to the show (which will air on February 20th) is Montel's Must See Documentaries of 2007.

Kids of Skid Row is a documentary filmed by a homeless teenager living on Skid Row in Los Angeles. Hip Hop--The Business Behind the Music is a film about sexism, violence, and identity in the Hip Hop industry (which will air on PBS on the 20th as well). Abomination--Homosexuality and the Ex-Gay Movement is a short film that looks at the dangers of the ex-gay movement.

So the Montel people wanted me to appear on the show because of my personal history with one of the topics. And as you can see from this reunion photo of Chuck D and me, yes, I really did ghost-write rap songs for Public Enemy during the 80's.

Okay, I am not ready to out myself as a rapper. But I did appear as an ex-gay survivor along side of fellow survivor, Lance Caroll. It was great to finally meet him.

The documentaries about homelessness and the hip hop culture were both so powerful. Seeing the issues of poverty and racism so powerfully portrayed, I thought, why do we have to spend so much time debating gay issues when we have real issues in the world to address? All that time and energy expended by the conservative anti-gay church that we then counter. Ah, why can't we just get this thing settled so that we can move onto much more critical issues in America and the world that affect so many more people.

But there is work to do with the ex-gay movement and the understanding and acceptance of transgender people, lesbians, gays, and bisexuals. Homelessness among queer youth is on the rise. Focus on the Family's anti-gay roadshow rolls into Phoenix this weekend. Religious leaders continue to twist the facts in hopes of making political points.

Truth Wins Out has released a video today with Dr. Kyle Pruett explaining how James Dobson distorted his research to criticize same-sex parents.

Heterosexual in Just Three Weeks!

Wow, Ted Haggard apparently was healed of his homosexuality in just three weeks. Focus on the Family outsourced the healing to an undisclosed location outside of Phoenix.

Perhaps like recent improvements to chemotherapy, ex-gay therapy today is stronger, more directed and with less awful side-effects (like say vomiting, hair loss, memory loss, weight loss--although at Love in Action we all experienced weight GAIN, but that other stuff too). Hmmm, I somehow doubt it.

And here I spent 17 years and over $30,000 on three continents trying to straighten myself out and at best I lived as a "healthy celibate ex-gay" for a year or two at a stretch before having a tumble only to get back on that ex-gay pony again. But then Haggard did go to Phoenix for treatment while I ended up in Memphis. Maybe the dry desert air is good for more than just arthritis. I doubt it.

I am not the only one who has doubts about the claims made by Haggard's handlers.

Alan Chambers of Exodus appeared on CNN's Cooper Anderson's program last night where he raised doubts about the sudden transformation and also affirmed the existence of gay Christians. Yes, we too exist. Ex-gay Watch has a transcript of it.

Of course it sounds like Haggard's handlers may be claiming that he was never gay to begin with, he was just acting out in a homosexual way.

I mention here how Ted Haggard, in his fall in his ministry is my brother in shame, but in his rapid recovery, apparently not so much, well, not yet.

Update: Jim Burroway over at Box Turtle Bulletin provides some more analysis on remarks made on CNN last night. Looking at the NYC papers today, this story gets mentioned EVERY WHERE. Ted Haggard's spokesman should have consulted the image and PR folks at Exodus before coming out with such ridiculous statements.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

NYC Superpowers

I am in NYC today and tomorrow to do some TV interviews (more details about that in a future post), but as I traveled:
  • From my Dad's in the Catskills via bus to the Port Authority Bus Terminal
  • Then uptown to 135th Street via the #2 train for interview number one
  • Then downtown on the #3 to transfer for the V train to 2nd and Second (that is the intersection of 2nd Street and 2nd Ave near Houston--pronounced House-ton) to where I am staying
  • Then on the F train to West 4th (because it was too cold to walk and I am too cheap to take a cab) for meeting number one
  • then back to 2nd and Second again...
I thought to myself, I am so glad I lived in NYC for 10 years of my life! Really. Getting around NYC requires superpowers. That or a useful skill like knitting. You may not use it for years, but when you need it, how sweet.

Anyway, I have interview number three tomorrow but will get picked up by car service then driven up to Hartford afterwards, so it will be a much easier day.

On Thursday I get to spend the evening with actor, Tim Robbins and filmmaker, Rory Kennedy in Hartford, so that should be cool then off to Boston for the weekend with Quaker teens.

So any of you experienced NYC before?


Travel Minute

I mentioned recently that my local Quaker meeting approved my Travel Minute and that I would post the minute here for you to see. Yesterday we presented it to Quarterly Meeting (basically all the local meetings in the state of Connecticut) and has it been approved there as well.

Here is how it works (at least in my case). Soon after I began to present my play Doin Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House, I asked my local Quaker meeting for a Clearness Committee. This is a group of people that I selected with help from the meeting who sat with me to help me get clarity about the work I had begun. I submitted a written report weeks in advance, they prayed about the issues raised, then they met with me. In the Clearness Process they mostly asked questions in order to help me to find clarity about what I should do. They also gave me some feedback. It was VERY helpful.

Once I began to do the work in earnest, my local meeting organized a Support Committee (sometimes called an Anchoring Committee--helps keep you anchored and not just flying off in a million directions) of three people who have met with me about every six weeks. These are the folks who regularly pray for me, listen to me when I have questions or concerns on the road, give me rides to the airport, lend me their cars, comforted me when my mom died, and help me stay focused on my mission.

When I have doubts about something or before I make a major move, I talk it over with them. This gives me an opportunity to process my nutty ideas before I launch into lunacy. They also provide the spiritual support and direction I need with the work that I do.

After three years of that process with many more opportunities open to present to other Quakers throughout the US and internationally, we decided that it was time to draft a travel minute. Most of the time Quakers approve things through consensus after listening to all sides. So for a minute to get approved pretty much everyone present has to agree. At both the local and quarterly meetings anyone who attends the meetings can share their opinions on the matters discussed, so approved minutes carry the weight of the entire body of people.

I love the old-fashioned language of my Travel Minute along with the reference to this blog. Bill, one of the members of my Support Committee, wonders if it is the first Quaker Travel Minute to mention a blog. Hmmmm.

Here it is:
To Friends in New England and elsewhere:

We commend to you our beloved Friend, Peterson Toscano, whose leading to travel in the ministry has been seasoned in Hartford Monthly Meeting. We recognize his call to travel among Friends as the Spirit leads, to join them in fellowship, worship and prayer.

His concern is to seek truth and reconciliation through storytelling and drama, particularly in regards to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender concerns. A Christ-centered Friend, Peterson’s own personal trial with his faith and his same-sex attractions has helped him to appreciate the struggle many people of faith have with these issues. His faithfulness to this call has been an ongoing source of spiritual nourishment for him, our Meeting and beyond. Peterson has volunteered regularly with the New England Yearly Meeting Young Friends (high school) program and has presented many of his theater pieces and talks at New England Yearly Meeting annual sessions, beginning in 2003. He has also presented widely at Quaker schools, colleges and study centers, as well as national gatherings of Friends. Peterson’s widely read internet blog has provided another fruitful expression of his ministry, allowing him to reach large numbers of people around the world, especially young people.

In all of these venues Peterson’s gifts of communication, humor, compassion and integrity have allowed him to engage with people of diverse views and helped to improve Friends’ sensitivity to and understanding of these vital issues. His ability to listen deeply and carefully to others’ concerns, including those who disagree with him, has been of clear benefit to those who have approached him seeking his counsel. Through this ministry, he continues to grow in his faithfulness to the traditions of Friends and to the guidance of the Spirit.

We encourage him in his leading to travel in the ministry, a response to what we discern to be the promptings of love and truth, trusting that, under the Lord's hand, and with the prayers of Friends, his service among you will be faithful and fruitful.

With Peterson we send our loving greetings to all Friends whom he may encounter.
Next the minute goes to the Permanent Board of New England Yearly Meeting (on April 17), and should it get approved, I can then present this minute anywhere in the Quaker world. I especially love the time it takes for this process. It totally protects people from getting caught up in the moment, but requires careful, thoughtful reflection and discussion. Thanks for letting me share the the behind the scenes of my work with you.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Sorting Out the Spitzer Study

Daniel Gonzales over at Ex-Gay Watch along with film maker Esteban Rael, have put together a well done and absolutely essential video about the Spitzer Report.
A study of gay conversion therapy released by Dr. Robert Spitzer in 2001 sent shockwaves through the American media despite serious methodological concerns. This video examines those concerns and goes on to examine how the study has been abused by anti-gay political organizations such as James Dobson’s Focus on the Family to promote anti-gay public policy

There is a nice summary at the end and some fun about 2/3 through. You can read a full transcript of the video here.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Becoming Myself

I take a break from the Super Bowl (it's a USA thing) to write this post.

Last week after my Homo No Mo show in Portland, I felt moved to write this post about Survivors. As soon as it published, I checked my e-mails and had just received one from a person named Lowell Greenberg. He had attended my show that night and wrote me about some of his own experience.

Lowell's message resonated with what I had just written, and after getting his permission, I now post it for you. Thanks Lowell!
I was in the closet for at least thirty years- very lonely- still me- but not really alive. That is a very long time. My life has changed dramatically in the last few years. I am out, gay, beautiful, successful and pursuing a spiritual life that is magical and deeply meaningful.
Four years ago, I was close to suicide. Ultimately I made a choice- to live or to be who I was. Becoming gay was very natural for me- since I was gay. Right now, even more than gay, I am becoming myself. New people are flowing into my life that give me joy and understand me at a deep soul level.
Years ago, I wrote these thoughts about coming out:

I am gay, out & proud, so the issue of LGBT rights obviously has a special poignancy and significance in my life. While my homosexuality is only one aspect of my character, acceptance of it is fundamental to my happiness and well being. Society's lack of acceptance is therefore a tragic reminder of the importance of being who I am and the struggle that can entail.

Even though we seek to live our lives with joy- we cannot but be made to feel powerless- in part for who we are, for not accepting what society says we should be. Every time there is a denial of rights, a slight, an injustice it cannot but effect us and remind us of who we are and what that means in this world. It is this experience that binds us as a community and we all share it.
You can learn a little bit more about Lowell here and read some of his musings here.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Dancing John

This morning as I emerged from an 11 hour sleep-fest, I had a dream where I told a true story my old college roommate, John Bradley, known to all of us as Dancing John. I met John at the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at City College of NY (CCNY) up in Harlem, NYC. The dream simply reminded me of the story of Dancing John. So I thought I'd share the real life story with you.

The group was Black and Latino and decidedly pentecostal; I was the only non-Black/Latino non=Pentecostal in the group. Turns out our group was one of the only ones in the country with this sort of demographics. Intervarsity was a white Evangelical group (and may still be).

John and I hit it off well although we couldn't be more different. He loved to dance and shout and carry on when we worshiped. I preferred quiet hymns and even quieter prayers. When I moved to a West Indian neighborhood in the Bronx, John took the second bedroom. We began to attend the same church and much to my surprise, one day during worship, I experienced the Glad Glads, as John called them. Think of Snoopy when he does his crazy dance. That is what the Glad Glads are like.

We graduated. I got married. John lived with us for a short time at one point when he was in the midst of moving. Then we lost touch.

I embraced myself as a gay man in 1999 and that October I traveled to NYC (I still lived in Memphis) and happened to be in the Upper West Side of Manhattan for National Coming Out Day. So much had changed for me, and sitting in one of my old haunts, a Hungarian cafe near The Cathedral of St. John the Divine Church, I wanted to "come-out" to someone.

Who sauntered in but Dancing John himself! We hugged and laughed and caught up. He heard that I had divorced but didn't know why. So I took a deep breath and said, "Well, John, I am gay." I expected condemnation, judgment, a sermon, mainly because that is what I would have given someone who came out to me during my Evangelical days.

Instead John laughed and laughed and then he got the Glad Glads. When he finally settled down enough to talk he said, "Brother Peterson, that's wonderful because I am gay too!"

Thursday, February 01, 2007

SWM Seeks Equality for LG Couples

Ben is a cool straight white vegan guy (oh and so much more). I met him in Chicago as he was passing through last month on his way back home to Portland. After coming to three consecutive shows in Portland (I should get him a t-shirt or something), we met up for a fabulous vegan male (um, meal) where he shared some of his incredibly reasonable and wonderfully presented thoughts on marriage equality for same-sex couples.

an open letter to anyone that does not support homosexual marriage:

first of all, i've always been a staunch believer that we shouldn't even have to debate the idea of granting homosexual couples the same rights as heterosexual couples. of course we should grant them equal rights. we're complete morons for not having already done so.
the whole basis of the fundamentalist christians' opposition toward this is that homosexuality is "sinful." yet at the same time, those christians are willing to admit that their own lives are also plagued with "sin."so lets say we start denying people basic rights on the basis of them being "sinful." well if that's the case, then i guess all christians better be signing themselves up to have THEIR OWN rights revoked.
Take the time to visit his blog and read more.