Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Jesus in the Backseat (a poem)

For the past few days I´ve been thinking about a funny moment in my childhood that I am trying to capture in words. In my poem I reference Necco wafers. This particular candy we ate a lot when we were little. According to Necco´s webiste, Necco Assorted Wafers come in
eight pastel colors and flavors--Chocolate, lemon, lime, orange, clove, wintergreen, cinnamon, licorice
I never actually knew what the falvors were until today. You can learn more here.
Now that you know a little about Necco Wafers, I can share my poem.

Jesus in the Backseat

The noxious incense from her cigarette,
Mixed with the sweet smoky puffs from his pipe,
Envelops us inside the
Airtight car.

We return from pilgramage,
From the
Hawaiian Fountain,
Where we celebrated mass
Consumption around the flamming
Pu Pu Platter.

We three kids
Sit in the backseat,
Cautiously placing Necco Wafers
On each other´s tongue,
As one intones--
The body of Christ.
The body of Christ.

We feel the chalky disc dissolve.

With our tongues extended,
Craddling the candied Christ,
We stammer back,

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Doin´ Time in Barcelona

I arrived safe and sound in Barcelona and will be part of a press conference today about our upcoming conference:

Teràpies reparatives per l’homosexualitat Perquè existeixen i quins perills representen or in English Gay to Straight Therapies--The reasons they exist and their potential harm.

Already I met three ex-gay survivors in Catonia who have shared their stories with me. One has agreed to come forward at the press conference and at Friday´s conference to talk about his experiences of 10 years of reparative therapy.

We met for dinner last night, and I experienced a certain kinship with these other ex-gay survivors both because of the similar route we had taken and some similar negative consequences we now deal with including physical problems like back pain, skin conditions, etc. We can´t say for certain that there exists a direct correlation between our physical ailments and our ex-gay experiences, but many startd up when we began to pursue ex-gay treatment. For me my lower back problems abated once I accepted myself and worked through some of the ex-gay trauma.

No time to write more at present, but I have been working on a poem that I know some of you will like. More than one person has encouraged me to do more poetry, and I have found it a relaxing escape while on the road.

Tonight I will meet with a group of gay Christians who meet weekly in Barcelona. Then I am off to Madrid tomorrow for a few days before I return to Barcelona for the conference on Friday.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Why I Left the Ex-Gay Movement

My friend and fellow blogger, Joe Moderate, in responding to a recent press appearance of Exodus staff member and ex-gay Mike Ensley, shares some more of his own ex-gay experiences and why he ultimately left.
After five years with Exodus, I left because my orientation hadn't changed at all. The orientations of my friends in the programs hadn't changed. Moreover, I had come to learn that the orientation of the leaders of Exodus hadn't changed. Everyone was still gay. I was so disillusioned that the "change" Exodus had claimed was possible hadn't happened, and I was stunned by the fact that no one in Exodus seemed to have experience the "change"!

My questions about the elusiveness of "change" were met with confusing, convoluted explanations similar to Mike Ensley's words in the radio interview. On one hand, Exodus leaders argued that that gay orientation is a fiction--that it doesn't actually exist--and therefore, since no one in Exodus was ever "really" gay, there was nothing to change. This argument seemed deceptive. If this is the case, isn't it lying for them to advertise that "change" is possible? Shouldn't they instead advertise that "there's nothing to change" or "come discover that you're not really gay in the first place"? I guess those slogans aren't as catchy as "change is possible" though...

On the other hand, some Exodus leaders argued that change does occur, but that it occurs in sexual behavior not in orientation. These leaders would claim that they themselves had changed--not because they had different attractions, but rather because they had stopped having sex with people of the same gender. For me, having never had sex with a guy before or during my Exodus years, this argument was completely worthless. There was no sex for me to stop. This nuanced definition from Exodus's lexicon seemed extremely deceptive to me. This was not the operative definition of "change" that I had in mind when I entered the program. Perhaps they should put an asterisk in their slogan (i.e. "Change* is possible") and add some fine print with their in-house definition of change.
Read all of Why I Left the Ex-Gay Movement (which includes some multimedia)

I head off to Catalonia today and will be in Madrid later in the week, so I don't know if I will blog much. (hey, it is Spain and it is the perfect time to be there!)

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Homophobia—It's Not Only About the Queers

I have the privilege of speaking in middle schools and high schools in various places in the US, the UK and Europe. When I meet with a group of high school students (ages 14+), I typically perform my play Queer 101—Now I Know My gAy,B,Cs. This one-person, multi-character comedy explores homophobia, identity and activism through the words and lives of lesbian and gay poets. In it I do the scene between my character Chad and the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. (See video here.) We also explore tems like gay, fag, queer, sissy, dyke, etc.

With younger students I do not present the whole play as some of it may be over their heads (more so because the complex historical background to some of the poems and less so about the sexual content). With middle school students (under age 14) we look at identity starting out with considering things about ourselves that we don't like that we might like to change (hair color, height, abilities, etc). Next I do my Identity Monologue with the students snapping along as I change from character to character.

Regardless of the age the topic of bullying comes up including the use of the word "gay" as an insult.
Your shoes are so gay. This homework assignment is gay. Dr. Who is gay. (not the character but the show)
In nearly every instance the students do not mean that the thing they are bashing has a gay orientation. Rather "gay" is a way of saying stupid, bad, lame or uncool. (Interestingly enough I have never experienced the term "queer" as an insult. I know that for some the word has been used to bash them, but in my community growing up it was never used. For me the word "gay" brings up negative feelings in a way that queer never has).

I usually share a little of my story with these students about how unhappy I felt when I discovered that I was gay. I didn't want to be perceived as stupid, bad, lame or uncool. The messages I received on the playground, from political leaders in the media, and from ministers and priest in the pulpit reinforced the shared misconception that anything or anyone "gay" had to be flawed, less-than, and even dangerous. I talk about how I tried desperately to change and the unexpected ways I did change—how I became depressed, discouraged and suicidal. (not at all an uncommon experience for queer and questioning teens).

We then go on to discuss how to make the school a safe place for people who may seem different from the mainstream, not just the gay, lesbian and bisexual or questioning students, but also anyone who falls outside of firmly policed gender roles and presentations.

Many straight people experience restrictions because of all this "that's so gay" talk. The straight male footballer who wants to be in the school musical needs to fight through a lot of homophobia and gender-norm bullying in order to get on the stage. The cheerleader who wants to try her hand at rugby, has to fend off charges that she must be lesbian. Straight boys and girls need to carefully hold gay, lesbian and bisexual friends out at a distance lest they be assumed gay or lesbian (often in the form of a sharp accusation). The two straight girls who maintain a close friendship, who pal around a lot, have sleepovers and share non-erotic physical intimacy, may feel the need to pull away from each other to lessen the gossip about them being lesbian lovers.

Recently at a presentation to middle school age students (11-13) I shared about my own experience of nearly doing harm to myself because of the conflict I felt after years of bullying. One young boy began to cry. One of his friends alerted a teacher who took the boy out of the room for a chat. Turns out that two years previously the boy had a friend, who after much bullying about being gay, ended his life. As the boy told this story to his teacher, he admitted that he had never talked to anyone about this before and just kept it all inside. What a burden for a pre-teen to bear.

In so many places where bullying of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and people who do not adhere to gender norms occur, non-queer folks also suffer from of all these negative attitudes. Many straight teens have loved-ones who are gay or lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex--sometimes even a parent or grandparent. Thoughtful discussion about orientation and gender can benefit all students. Getting beyond mere labels to the humans behind the labels and the slurs ultimately does a great service in helping students and school staff to create and maintain a safe and affirming world.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Beyond Ex-Gay Goes to Barcelona

The US-based ex-gay movement has attempted to make inroads into Spain and Latin America in the past. Exodus Global Alliance (then just Exodus International) sent Jose Luis Maccarone as an ex-gay missionary to Spain. He eventually came out and tells some of his story in this YouTube video. At the end of 2007 a news story hit about a priest doing ex-gay therapy in Galicia, Spain. Just yesterday I also read about ex-gay movement afoot in Mexico.

Beyond Ex-Gay working with other LGBT-affirming organizations in Catalonia, Spain has organized a conference at the University of Barcelona on May 30, 2008.

Teràpies reparatives per l’homosexualitat
Gay to Straight Therapies

Perquè existeixen i quins perills impliquen
The reasons they exist and their potential harm

This conference will consider the phenomenon of gay reparative therapies, discredited treatment plans that attempt to alter a homosexual orientation and identity. Presenters will explore the various types of treatments that have been offered, the potential harm for patients receiving such treatment, and the various motivating factors that influence individuals to pursue such treatments for themselves or their loved ones. The conference will use modern and dynamic learning techniques.
A panel of speakers will present short talks and then will answer general questions. The participants will walk through facilitated discussions looking at reparative therapy and ex-gay ministry—the reasons they exist and their potential harm.

Speakers include:
  • Jordi Petit, Honorary President of la Coordiandora Gai-Lesbiana de Catalunya president (the Gay-Lesbian Network of Catalonia)
  • Noemí Domínguez, Clinical psychologist and Master’s in sexual and couple therapy (University of Barcelona)
  • Peterson Toscano (um, me) ex-gay survivor and co-founder of Beyond Ex-Gay
The conference will be conducted in Catalan, Castilian (Spanish) and English and will include multi-media as well as traditional presentation. In addition to the panel other ex-gay survivors from Catalonia will be on hand to share some of their own experiences. Earlier in the week I will also get to meet with a group of gay Christians who meet regularly in Barcelona.

You can learn more about the conference at the Beyond Ex-Gay Barcelona event page. For some resources in Spanish, check out the Spanish-language blog I maintain with my friend Adriana, Dos Equis.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Doin' Time in Belfast

After spending very special days with Alie and Jo in Wakefield and Leeds, I arrived in Belfast yesterday. I have dreamed for a long time to come to this city. It has felt like a leading and a longing, and I am not sure why. I know that my friend Ruth Ann has said many times that she sees the need for work around LGBT issues in Northern Ireland where she had lived most of her life.

Last summer at Greenbelt when I met some people from the Belfast-based Ikon group (community?), I felt even more drawn to Northern Ireland. From their own wiki page, they provide a picture of who they are and what they seek to do.
Inhabiting a space on the outer edges of religious life, we are a Belfast-based collective who offer anarchic experiments in transformance art. Challenging the distinction between theist and atheist, faith and no faith our main gathering employs a cocktail of live music, visual imagery, soundscapes, theatre, ritual and reflection in an attempt to open up the possibility of a theodramatic event.
"transformance art" "theodramatic event" You can see what draws me to this artistic, eclectic and deeply spiritual group.

Last night I got to see them in action at their monthly Sunday night gathering. On each cafe table they piled up stacks of Legos along with a one word prompt. The residents at each table collectively created something to go along with the word (our table had the word sight).

As we did this gentle building, various members of Ikon approached the mic to read excerpts from books, short stories, and devotionals--some published but much original. Their theme revolved around faith unfinished, or as they presented it UNFINISHE... As we listened to the speakers and to each other, the organizers encouraged us to write down a phrase that struck us. We then added all of these together to form a liturgy of sorts that they read out at the very end.

In the midst of all this people could go to a laptop to help complete a virtual jigsaw puzzle that they projected up on a big screen. To round off the evening the cafe remained open throughout so you could go up to buy a coffee or beer.

This is what I always envision when I dream of a church I would like to attend. Inventive, playful, profound, hands-on and validating of everyone's contribution. That last one got tested when a woman in the audience (who I think drank a few too many before the event even started) shouted out funny and seemingly inappropriate things like orgasm. Ikon has maintained a culture where they don't applaud for people much after they speak. But this woman enthusiastically clapped every time someone finished presenting, usually clapping alone until a brave few joined in.

The woman left about a third of the way into the evening, but we saw and felt her contributions throughout, especially when we got to the joint liturgy we composed. Orgasm made it to the list including the statement, "We don't clap enough". By the end of the evening we clapped a lot, evidence to the change this one woman made.

What struck me about the liturgy as two Ikoners read it from the front was how much of it I had not heard throughout the evening. These were "found" statements said at our tables and from the front, but most of it I had not heard before. I walked away with the thought, So much gets said that I don't hear.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Noe Gutierrez Writes about the Ex-Gay Experience

In a post written for Ex-Gay Watch, former Ex-Gay Noe Gutierrez provides thoughtful insights into the ex-gay experiences. Much of what he says resonates deeply with my own experience. He fills his article with rich commentary that I wish to explore for myself. I will start with this one quote.
Set against a biblical contrast of right versus wrong, ex-gay ministries often draw a direct link between the quality of a person’s faith and their commitment to make a choice in the “straight” direction. This value system often results in the ex-gay person being caught by a cycle of perpetual self-evaluation. Compelled to dissect every thought, every word, and every deed into these black or white categories, the life of an ex-gay can become all about choosing sides. With homosexuality as the target, the goal then becomes to eradicate all thoughts and behaviors associated with “wrong” sexual attraction. This becomes the “calling” of the ex-gay person who finds their purpose in the process of self re-orientation. I believe this mode of thinking establishes a clear and distinct association between the effectiveness of God in a person’s life and that person’s ability to commit to ex-gay change.
For nearly 17 years I lived in a "a cycle of perpetual self-evaluation." Clearly I believed I had not done enough to eradicate the bad gay feelings that plagued me. Even when I grew to understand that I could not actually rid myself of my sexual desires for other men (something I had been promised for over a decade), I reckoned that every failure I experienced came as a result of my own shortfalls. I hadn't prayed enough or hard enough or deeply enough. I hadn't repented enough or hard enough or deeply enough (Those years I read every book I could get my hands on about repentance and revival).

My Christian life revolved around this colossal struggle to control and contain sexual desire. Daily I crucified myself with Christ. I took up my cross and put on my armor and plunged into the battle determined to get it right this time, to trust God and not my flesh, to consider the psychological underpinnings of my "problem," to get to the root of my same-sex attractions, to do whatever it took to sort this thing out.

To stop fighting equaled failure and defeat and a rejection of God's best for me. In the midst of the fighting I cried out to God, worshiped, strove to maintain a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus that so satisfied me that I would never want another man in my life.

And even as I write this I hear the murmurs of ex-gay promoters and providers accusing me of focusing on the wrong thing, of trying too hard or not enough, of not trusting God or depending too much on God to do what I needed to do. With the Ex-Gay Movement they have an answer for everything but most of these answers boil down to one thing: It's your own fault.

Rather than face reality that I we sought for the wrong thing and that another way exists, ex-gay leaders, pastors, parents and "friends" cling to a faulty series of beliefs and lay loads on people's backs that make them, in the words of Jesus, "twice the sons of hell."

For me I discovered that "change" was not possible, not in the way they promoted it for years. More importantly change was not necessary and to pursue it damaged me significantly, so much so that I had to take nearly 10 years to recover.

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On the Radio with Peterson & Christine

I announced yesterday that Christine Bakke will be interviewed live tomorrow (Sat) on Blogtalk Live at 8:00 PM EST. She will talk about the Beyond Ex-Gay and her own story in a program about the Ex-Gay Myth.

On Sunday I will appear on BBC Radio Ulster in Northern Ireland on the Sunday Sequence Show with William Crawley. We taped the segment last week when I was in London and talked about The Re-Education of George W. Bush, living la vida ex-gay, Quakerism and other random topics.

The program runs from 8:30 am- 10:15 am but I don't know in what portion I will appear. I think they also archive most programs. You can have a listen here.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Christine talks about Beyond Ex-Gay on the Radio

Christine Bakke, co-founder of Beyond Ex-Gay will appear as a guest of Blogtalk Live on-line radio program.
This week on 'Talk Back Live' we will be discussing 'The Ex-Gay Myth', our special guest will be Christine Bakke from Beyond Ex-Gay. We will be discussing the half truths that come out of the ex-gay world, including those who have survived the false claims of Ex-gay Ministries. I will also share my story, of how I got involved in the Ex-Gay world, and how it was Ex-Gay people like D.L. Foster and Charlene Cothran that really showed me, that this whole ex-gay thing was false.

The fun gets started on May 17th, at 8pm EST. As always feel free to call in and join in on the conversation.
You can listen live here (and the show will also be archived)

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Gay Marriage in California!

I am sure most of you have heard the good news about the California Supreme Court ruling in favor of in favor of the marriage lawsuit jointly brought by Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), and his spouse, Phillip Ray De Blieck, along with MCC friend and LGBT activist Robin Tyler, and her partner, Diane Olson. (Read story here)

This is from the letter issued by Nancy Wilson, the current moderator of the MCC,
Equality for all people, including marriage equality, has been an integral part of Troy's passion and ministry for almost 40 years. It's worth remembering that in 1969, as the Stonewall Rebellion took place in New York City, Troy was already organizing the LGBT community in Southern California, had already established Metropolitan Community Churches -- and had performed what Time Magazine has credited as the first public same-sex wedding in the United States. All before Stonewall -- amazing!

And in January of 1970, Troy made history again when he filed the first-ever lawsuit in the United States seeking legal recognition of same-gender marriages. The court dismissed the case before it ever came to trial, but it accomplished something profound: It birthed the marriage equality movement, and with it, four decades of debate, activism, struggle, prayer and persistence.

May a new generation of activists rise up and continue Troy's example of changing our world and working for an end to discrimination and injustice -- until our brothers and sisters in Jamaica no longer are attacked and killed solely for their sexual orientation and gender variance, until LGBT people in Pakistan no longer face the threat of death if found to be lesbian or gay, until LGBT people in Moldova can freely march in the streets without being targets of mob violence, until LGBT people no longer are smeared and ridiculed by the tabloid press in Nigeria, until our brothers and sisters no longer experience rejection from churches and communities of faith, until teens and young adults no longer take their own lives because they believe God hates them.
And in celebration, I put on the new apron (or as Rufus calls it a "Put it On!") created by Auntie Doris for her mum.
(hat tip to John Holm for giving me the good news)

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Diverse Approaches Reveal Complexity of Ex-Gay World

Since going public with the story of my ex-gay journey (odyssey?), one of the most encouraging signs I have seen is the large number of people who have come forward to tell share their own stories. In addition to ex-gay survivors, we see many concerned citizens writing and speaking out against the de-gayification process and the forces behind it. (Just this week former ex-gay Noé Gutierrez added his own perspective.)

Pam Spaulding, the guys at Good as Gay, Jim at Straight Not Narrow, Joe Brummer, Bruce Garrett, and of course Jim Burroway along with Timothy Kincaid and Daniel Gonzales over at Box Turtle Bulletin, and so many others have consistently reported on the ex-gay movement.

Two individuals who have contributed tremendously are Mike Airhart, (founder of Ex-Gay Watch, which continues to serve as an ex-gay watchdog under the management Dave Roberts) and Wayne Besen, who heads up Truth Wins Out. Besen is also the author of Anything But Straight—Unmasking the Lies and Scandals Behind the Ex-Gay Myth, a book which helped me considerably in coming to my senses and in coming out of the closet.

Each one of us approaches the ex-gay world differently. Personally I use comedy and storytelling. At Beyond Ex-Gay, with the able and insightful Christine Bakke, we focus on ex-gay survivors, those who attempted to suppress and change their gay/lesbian/bisexual orientation or gender differences. Beyond Ex-Gay's primary goal is to provide on-line and actual venues for ex-gay survivors to process their experiences as we also offer them guidance and support (as well as referrals to mental health professionals when necessary).

One of the results of the Ex-Gay Survivor Movement is that the stories of survivors reveal some of the many reasons and combinations of reasons that led some of us to reject what we viewed as the gay community in favor of an alternate gay universe which encouraged us to literally go to war against ourselves. Unpacking our stories along with the subsequent harm we experienced serves as a witness and a warning about the potential dangers of pursuing an ex-gay route. We offer an indirect indictment against the de-gayification process.

Others provide a more direct reproach. Wayne Besen so often brilliantly exposes the hypocrisy of some anti-gay "leaders" as well as the silliness of some forms of ex-gay treatment. Recently some ex-gay proponents criticized Wayne for his article ‘Corrective Rape’ of Lesbians In South African Schools Shows Sickness of ‘Ex-Gay’ Movement. Perhaps based on the provocative title alone (I'm all for eye-catching titles) some have inaccurately portrayed Wayne's insightful commentary. Wayne highlights religious and society-based homophobia leading to oppression of gays in many forms. Either these critics cannot read properly or simply wish to pick a fight.

Wayne makes it clear that folks like Exodus would never approve of 'Corrective Rape' just like many Exodus folks cannot stomach exorcisms to drive out gay spirits. Wayne explains,
Of course, these extreme cases do not represent the so-called “ex-gay” movement in general. Certainly, Exodus and even NARTH, I beleive, would oppose such torture. However, the notion that GLBT people must be “changed” no matter what the psychological or physical toll is in step with the West’s ‘ex-gay’ movement. The very existence of these organizations creates a sour climate where GLBT lives are demeaned and homosexual relationships are viewed as inferior. In such a hostile environment, some people will take desperate measures (exorcisms) or partake in dangerous experiments (shock therapy) to fix the “problem.”
Instead of contemplating the insightful critique offered by Wayne, some folks bear false witness in their attempts to pose as victims. No doubt Wayne can take care of himself, and to me the appearance of misleading articles in reaction to Wayne's post indicates to me that he hit the nail right on the head.

We each have diverse approaches. In the work to unearth what factors and what players are behind the ex-gay movement, we reach out to different audiences and use different methods. Ex-gay survivors no longer remain silent. We point to the motivations that led us on an arduous and often dangerous journey. Concerned citizens, both gay and straight, speak out against the ineffectual and unnecessary things people have felt compelled to do in order to straighten up. Some of us dialog with others, some protest, some quietly work behind the scenes, some let the authority of their own stories speak for them, and some support those doing the work.

Together we are doing a good work to bring light and sanity and reality regarding the anti-gay oppression that reveals itself in myriad ways. In the Advocate magazine's recent article about ex-gay survivors and the ex-gay movement, you can read more about some of the creative ways we approach the often thorny issues surrounding change ministries and therapies.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

The Unspoken Weights

The past 24 hours I have felt like crap. Not physically but emotionally, well in a vague undefined way. Typically I hone in pretty quickly on what bothers me on the inside, but sometimes I remain unaware only feeling a somewhat distant muffled malaise.

My mother always sensed when something troubled me. Even hundreds of miles away on the phone she knew something was not right with me. Often she picked up on the chronic melancholy stemming from my ex-gay struggles that I often kept to myself (and even hid from myself). Typically I attempted a cheery front that she dented with her question, "Are you sure everything is alright?" I don't remember a time when she got it wrong.

Here in beautiful Oxford, England with perfect spring weather, quaint cafes, and a lovely place to stay in the Friends Meeting House my unease has grown and finally has become obvious to me. Bottom line—I miss my mom. Although the English did not celebrate Mother's Day yesterday, from the spam alone cramming my inbox, I could not avoid the US holiday (sponsored and promoted no doubt by Hallmark, etc).

In the midst of the beauty and the love of dear friends here, I feel the persistent ache that my mom referenced when she spoke of her own mother who she lost at a young age. You will never stop missing your mother.

Like a discontent, moody lion with a thorn festering in his paw, I have felt a steady, growing, dull pain pulling me down. It has muddled my mind and sensitized me to sounds and petty annoyances. Now I have pulled back the curtain (aided by e-mails from Christine, Deanna and Morgan) and can access the pain, express it, live in this moment. Discerning the origin of my angst helps to address it. And in feeling afresh the loss of my mother, I draw near to her memory and her love.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Former Ex-Gay Leader Interviwed on GCN Radio

Gay Christian Network Radio offers program entitled: Formerly Ex-Gay
Ann Phillips was a leader in the ex-gay movement, heading up the women's ministry at one of the most prominent ex-gay Christian ministries in the world. Her story of "becoming straight" has been used by many to "prove" that ex-gay therapy works, yet now she's out of the movement and admits that she's still gay (and Christian!) after all.
In the interview, she talks about her ex-gay experience and in particular how quickly became the head of Love in Action's women's ministry. She also shares about being a subject in the Spitzer Study and the blurred line between truth and fiction when it comes to ex-gay testimony.

Listen here.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Doin' Time in London

I spent an excellent day in London today with Auntie Doris, who is sitting next to me right now debating right now if she should blog. I was booked to present at the Courage meeting in the evening, and I also had an interview for BBC radio Ulster (Northern Ireland and will air on Sunday May 18). Auntie witnessed me as I moved through various degrees of personal energy conservation and distribution.

I forced Auntie Doris into a vegan restaurant, a lovely Thai/Chinese vegan buffet with excellent fresh food. YUM! We walked around a bit and landed in a Starbucks (mainly because of the large plush chairs). After my soy latte, I fell fast asleep. We wandered some more and landed in Convent Gardens then the National Portrait Gallery. The whole time I kept my energy to myself, conserving as I knew I needed to have a reserve for later in the day.

As we got closer to 5 pm for the BBC interview, I began to awake and animate. Being a medium to low energy person, I have to build up the energy levels for an interview or else I sound too serious and heady. The interviewer, William Crawley, asked interesting questions and even stumped me with one about George W. Bush and what I would say to him if I had five minutes alone. The problem is that my Bush play is ultimately not about Bush, but much more for progressive liberals who bitch and moan about Bush but not much more than that.

We then tottled off to a pub for a quick drink then to the Courage meeting, where after the meal, I did a bunch of stuff that I am too tired to write about coherently. I was pleased with the turnout and the response and believe I made some of the right choices. I subversively set up the room in Quaker fashion in a circle, and then made a big plug for the Religious Society of Friends. Hey, why not? Quakers have been awesome to me, and I have found Friends Meetings to be healthy and affirming places for me.

Okay, to bed with me. Off to Oxford tomorrow.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

More Ex-Gay Survivors Share their Stories

Gabriel Arana spent three years as a patient of Joseph Nicolosi, former president of the National Association for the Research and Treatment of Homosexuality. Gabriel, a Cornell University 2006 PhD graduate in linguistics, recently chose to tell his story in the Cornell Daily Sun.
For three years I had weekly sessions with Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, president of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). Dr. Nicolosi thought that homosexuality was a pathology, a sublimated desire to reconnect with one’s lost masculinity. The theory: under-attentive fathers and over-attentive mothers create gay children. The purpose of therapy was to put me in touch with my masculine identity and thereby change my sexual orientation.

I would like to say that I resisted therapy throughout, but the truth is that I liked and respected Dr. Nicolosi. And the theory sounded plausible (I was too young to know that plausible does not mean true). It is a period in my life that I do not think about often, not because it hurts especially but because it has become increasingly irrelevant.
He goes on to talk about the now infamous Spitzer study and how he was asked by Nicolosi to take part in it.
Nicolosi asked me to participate in it, but instructed me not to reveal that he had referred me; while he wanted his organization’s views represented, he did not want to bring into question the study’s integrity.
Read all of Gabriel's The Red Line.
hat tip to Dave Rattigan at Ex-Gay Watch.

The other day I received an e-mail from Chris Tyler, a man who grew up in a Mormon family and tried for the longest time to go ex-gay. He put up 13 audio podcasts on YouTube in which he shares his story. It is amazing the time and care he put into these recordings.

The list grows almost daily of men and women who are choosing to come forward to share their stories with thoughtfulness and vulnerability. Many of these ex-gay survivors explore what they were looking for and why. You can read more narratives of people who tried to go ex-gay and found it was not possible or necessary and in many cases actually caused more harm than good.

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Beyond Ex-Gay in the Advocate

The Advocate magazine published long article about ex-gays and ex-gay survivors and the changing landscape of the ex-gay movement. They quote quite a lot of people including Christine Bakke and me. (They often overlook the lesbians, so I am so glad they gave her plenty of space to share).
For more than a year, the website has been a virtual gathering point for ex-gay survivors, many of whom now picket ex-gay ministries events and conferences and attempt to share their stories with attendees. Beyond Ex-Gay also holds conferences of its own. “Our primary goal is being a support group for ex-gay survivors,” says Toscano. Like Christine Bakke, who runs the group with him, he attended ex-gay ministries for years before finally accepting his gayness. “Our secondary goal,” Toscano adds, “is to talk about the harm of reparative therapy” -- therapy meant to de-gay you --“in ex-gay ministries.”
The reporter, Tim Murphy, spent time getting to know the subjects of the piece and took a humanist approach to each one. In his conclusion he admitted an affinity for John Smid, who recently resigned as director of Love in Action.
I laid down my reporter’s notebook (metaphorically -- we were on the phone). Smid was funny and thoughtful and affable. I told him that I’d like to be his friend, that as a comfortable, happy gay man raised Catholic but now more inclined toward a broadly spiritual liberal humanism, I’d like to meet for coffee and discuss these issues more. And I said I truly had no interest in changing him. Could he say the same thing?
Some people find it hard to believe, but many ex-gay leaders can be charming, interesting and fun people. But hey, most are gay after all.

It is a long piece that helps to flesh out some of the events over the past year.

The Believers—Ex-gay Survivors Making Peace With Those Who Tried to "Cure" Them

If you want to see the LOGO Be Real program on-line with wonderful footage from the Memphis bXg event and more of Christine, my own dad, and John Holm, another ex-gay survivor, click here.

On a personal note, I finished a few days with the delightful John Henson in Wales and have moved in with Auntie Doris for a few days in London before heading off to Oxford. Purrrrrfect weather--so sunny and clear.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Happy Birthday Blog

Today Christine Bakke pointed out to me that my blog will turn four years old this month (May 25th to be exact when I posted my first entry as a virgin blogger.) I originally only planned on posting poetry, but turned to prose at some point.

To commemorate the upcoming birthday, I will post a poem, a love poem at that. (But that is all you get--love poems are intimate affairs).

Not stolen,
Freely given—freely received,
Stored in bulk,
Easily accessible day and night.

the smooth glass jar,
(Larger than our two heads lying on the same pillow as we speak truth with our eyes,)
Contains our love.

Take what you need, what you want,
Day or night.

Take a pinch or a heaping scoopful.

You cannot steal what is already yours.

Also to celebrate I want to share the following poem, A Joyful Occasion by Seth. Seth is a trans man with a Mormon background. Of the poem Seth says,
This is a stychomythic poem where two poems are read independently and then together by alternating lines. There is no video, because I didn't want to distract from the poem itself.

In poem Seth states,"I almost lost myself endeavoring for a life that did not fit for me."

hat tip to Jayna.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

New Videos on the Ex-Gay Experience

For the first time since the 2005 summer protests in front of Love in Action, Zach Stark, who was 16 at when he was placed in LIA, is now 19 and speaks out in this new clip from Morgan Fox's film, This is What Love in Action Looks Like. Morgan first showed this clip in February during Deconstructing the Ex-Gay Myth—A Weekend of Action & Art in Memphis, TN.

Daniel Gonzales at Box Turtle Bulletin posted a video about how he believed his orientation had begun to believe he was changing when he received reparative therapy.

Oftentimes when I meet someone who’s been through ex-gay therapy I ask them if they ever reached the point where they believed they were beginning to change — It’s how I gauge just how deeply they got into the whole “ex-gay thing.” Ex-gay leaders often assert, “change is possible and I’m proof because I changed.” In my opinion the strongest response is “I too once believed I had changed.” Here’s my own explanation of how I believed I had changed:

Daniel also uploaded the following video, and he uses the analogy that ex-gay therapy and the quest for the causal factors of gayness is like throwing spaghetti to see what sticks. .
This video is a criticism of the 2008 paper "Clients' Perceptions Of How Reorientation Therapy And Self-Help Can Promote Changes In Sexual Orientation" written by Dean Byrd, Joseph Nicolosi and Richard Potts.

This criticism is by Daniel Gonzales, a former patient of Dr. Nicolosi. Daniel has renounced his attempts to change his sexuality and now speaks out against "ex-gay" or "reparative therapy."

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Doin' Time on LOGO

The LOGO program Be Real will feature ex-gay survivors and me in their second episode. I won't get to see it myself, but I know my dad will be featured in it along with Christine Bakke, Scott Tucker and John Holm. If you see it, let me know how it came out.
Episode 2 - New Beginnings
Peterson Toscano spent the better part of 17 years in the "ex gay" movement struggling to change his sexuality. Now, after 5 years of performing his one person show, aimed at inspiring other ex-gay survivors to come out and tell their stories, he is ready to pass the torch and move on. Stephen, a 45-year-old former Mormon, decides to attend an all men's workshop in central Utah to learn how to confront his past and heal painful family memories.

Mon 05/05 10:00 PM
Wed 05/07 7:00 PM
Sat 05/10 10:00 PM
Mon 05/12 7:30 PM
(Oh, and to see some photos of Auntie Doris and Me in St. Albans and Windsor and on the party boat last night, go here.)

UPDATE: You can now view on-line video of the LOGO program here.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Out with the Old & In with the New

It is just lovely here in St. Albans, England with so many cool LGBTIQ Christians from all over Europe. (I got an invite to Malta in July!!) I got LOADS of time with Auntie Doris (in fact I will hang out with her next week after my trip to visit John Henson in Southern Wales.) I also got to hang out with Nancy Wilson, the moderator of the Metropolitan Church. She had come to the Ex-Gay Survivor's Conference last June, so we were finally able to catch up.

Last week I performed my last performance of Doin' Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House and tonight I made my UK premiere of Transfigurations—Transgressing Gender in the Bible. These are such different pieces that my fear has been that people who have seen Homo No Mo come in expecting much of the same zany, piled on humor.

Transfigurations is nothing like that. It functions more as a drama than a comedy with a slow, steady, meditative pace to it. As a performer, I don't have the advantage of hearing the audience laugh, so I still find it hard to gauge the audience until the very end. Tonight's audience gave me a long sustained standing ovation. Phew. I worry before a new show.

The local paper where I performed Homo No Mo wrote a piece about my final performance and quoted me from my Q&A session. I talked about the early days of my faith when I first came out as, about my feelings towards ex-gay leaders, and a little about my marriage to a woman. We were actually married for seven years, but had only been together for five of those years before we dramatically separated.

Toscano was so convinced that he could conquer his sexuality that he married a woman he met in New York City. The union lasted five years. He said it ended in disaster, as do most such marriages involving men who are ex-gay. He said, however, that while he was married, he was treated with more respect than before he was married, because people assumed he was straight. He said, “I was more respected, accepted at church, on jobs, everything. There’s some real straight privilege in this country, and you earn some of that when you get married.”

When Toscano ultimately rejected the notion that he could become ex-gay, he also rejected religion, at least for a time. Because, he said, “I was taught over and over that you can’t be gay and Christian.” He heard that message from the church and, often, from the gay community as well.

“For a time,” he said, “I aspired to be an atheist and failed miserably because I’m just far too wired for God. That caused me to go on another journey to try to figure out what I believe. And how I integrate my spirituality, my sexuality and my personality altogether.”

I even get a plug in there for the Quakers. (No, I don't get any kick backs from Quaker Oats when I do Quaker evangelism).

Ultimately, he said, his answer was the Quaker community, where he is now active at local, national and international levels. “For someone who’s been oppressed by the church, and bullied and told what to do so often, it’s very validating to go in a place where they basically say, you’re coming with something valuable and you’re welcome to share it here,” he said. “Also, they are very concerned about the environment and peace and social justice and equality, and those are things that are all very meaningful to me.”

About the play and my personal relationship to it, they write,

Critics have called the play funny and hysterical, but they have also remarked that Toscano does not bash the members of the organization that tried to help him change his ways. Instead, he treats them with a degree of affection. Responding to a question about this, Toscano said, “On the one hand, I’m being highly critical of them, but I do it with a great deal of passion and understanding because that was my world for many years. I know what it’s like to be a born-again, evangelical, conservative, Republican Christian. And when I was in that world, I really believed I was making the right choices, often out of deep compassion and moral conviction.”

You can read the whole article by Fritz Mayer over at the River Reporter.

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