Sunday, April 06, 2008

Transforming Faith Update

I have spent the weekend in Portland, OR at the Transforming Faith, Divining Gender Conference where in addition to performing and co-presenting with Allyson Robinson, I sat in on the most amazing and mind expanding talks.

In particular I sat in awe as I heard Dr. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott speak about Transgender Behavior and Imagery in the Bible. Dr. Mollenkott does not only provide brilliant, thoughtful and moving content, she speaks like a poet. She never wastes a word. I am not one to sit and listen to a talk much, but I could have sat there all day soaking in her words and the ways she expressed them. Scholarly performance art at its finest.

She outlined seven points that she then explored in detail.
  1. The Scriptures are trans friendly
  2. Transgender individuals and issues help to transcend stereotypes.
  3. The presence of transgender people in the Bible (and faith communities) are reminders of diversity.
  4. Transgender people have historically built the bridges between the seen and the unseen world.
  5. Transgender people become specialists in gender, sexuality and spirituality.
  6. Transgender issues and people help bring people to the often forgotten middle ground. In doing so they help to challenge the religious addiction to certainty.
  7. Transgender people demonstrate that all genders and sexualities are sacred revealing a holy, divine continuum.
Another talk that opened my eyes and gave me new information was one by Faisal Alam, the founder of Al-Fatiha, a US-based organizaton dedicated to supporting and empowering LGBTIQ Muslims. He led us in tradition Muslim prayer and then gave a talk entitled, Hidden Voices: The Lives of LGBT Muslims.

Did you know that the second highest percentage of Gender Reassignment Surgery in the world is in Iran (the first being in Thailand)? Faisal shared the history behind that and how by looking at science and listening to stories clerics came to the place where they said it was acceptable for someone to have such surgeries. As one cleric put it, it sia way to align one's organs with one's soul in order to reveal what is hidden.

Faisal also spoke about the Islamic Reformation that took place before the Crusades and how progressive Islam was back then. Sadly many of the writings of that time were destroyed by Crusaders or are housed in the Vatican with very limited access. As a result, the faith in many places has been co-opted by extreme views that oppress women and stifle discussion.

My show was well received. One trans woman gave me the highest possible praise when she said that by the end of the show as she wondered about me as I morphed into various genders. She suddenly grew confused and didn't know if I was a bio gay male or a female to male trans person or if I was pre-op male to female trans. Music to a gender-shifting actors ears.

Today Christine Bakke and I will meet with a group of mental health professionals and trauma experts to discuss the harm of gay reparative therapy and ex-gay ministry in hopes to develop some treatment plans. I have to say though that during the conference and my presentations, I felt relieved that I did not have to discuss ex-gay issues. Most people there knew nothing of my Ex-Gay Survivor work or my Homo No Mo play. Talking about that stuff drains me in a way that I do not realize until I do something different.

Gotta fly to West Hills Friends Church to hang out with some of my Quaker folks.

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At 3:47 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

peter....i've been a long time lurker on your blog and have really enjoyed your writings and take on things.....often hilarious,and thought provoking.
This is the first time i've commented on this, or any regards to Iran having the second highest rate of gender reassignment surgeries I think it's important to clearify that the vast majority of these people are not transgendered, but biological gay men who have been forced to undergo surgery or face imprisonment or execution.
Whatever islamic scholars and clerics have to say about the subect is most emphatically not what is driving the government of Iran in "offering" this option.

At 4:03 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

ergh! further evidence of my technological inexperiance, if any is needed....i click post when i meant to edit.....starting with your mame, which, of course, is peterson. my apologies.
OH....any plans to take your show on the road to Canada?... `

At 6:30 PM , Blogger Joe G. said...

Hi, Frank,

I also read or heard that somewhere in the gay male blogosphere/podosphere so when I read this on Peterson's post I found Faisal Alam's statement intriguing.

Is it a case of misinformation in the gay male west? Or is it a positive reframe on the part of Faisal Alam? Or some combination thereof?

Or is it just Peterson trying to get more attention again? :)

At 12:17 PM , Blogger Peterson Toscano said...

frank, wow, thanks for commenting!
And thank you for clarifying the situation in Iran. What you wrote was not communicated in the talk I heard.

Faisal did mention that for gay men it is desperate in much of the Muslim world, but nothing about how some are pressured to go through gender reassignment surgery. Thanks for shedding more light on this.

Joe G.,
It is NOT always about me, just often about me :-)

At 1:17 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

To back up Frank, the case of gay Iranian men who felt forced into having gender reassignment was highlighted in a recent BBC documentary. It was harrowing viewing.

The material from the documentary has also been used in a big screen film which has recently been nominated for a number of awards:

At 2:22 PM , Blogger TweetyJill said...

"She suddenly grew confused and didn't know if I was a bio gay male or a female to male trans person or if I was pre-op male to female trans."

I will admit that at the end of Transfiguration, I wondered if I had missed something too. I went with a pre-op FTM trans. For about a moment, maybe.


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