Sunday, June 29, 2008

Moved & Stirred at FGC

Here at the annual gathering of the Friends General Conference of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), I have been moved in a way that has rarely happened to me among Quakers.

After lunch we gathered for worship to listen to a recording of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he addressed the same gathering in 1958. I expected to find it interesting from a historical perspective and even timely, but I had no idea that it would speak so directly to me and my current spiritual condition.

After a year of absorbing horror stories about ex-gay survivors and hearing cruel, inaccuate, twisted words from fellow Christians and even verbal bashing from people who say all manner of evil against my transgender, lesbian, bisexual, genderqueer and gay friends, I have felt angry and bruised and hateful.

My heart has begun to feel like a sour, half-rotten plum with a jagged stone inside it tearing up the flesh. The cumulative effect of so much spiritual and human violence and dishonesty has left me more battered than I had suspected.

Right now I find it a challenge to love my friends let alone my enemies. I have grown suspicious and judgemental in my heart and mind and taken the defensive position of a wounded bear.

Later in the day as I sat in Meeting for Worship sponsored by the Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns, I reflected on that hard saying of Jesus, echoed by King, to love my opponent, to pursue genuine reconciliation and to hope the best for them while always insisting on justice and truth. I thought about how I have chosen this work and gratefully so and will continue to choose it--to have those hard conversations with people who cannot yet see how beautiful we are, how we are whole and holy and have peace with God and so much to share.

But before I leave FGC, I need to experience the healing touch of Jesus, which I have readily available through my Friends gathered here. I experience the healing love and the soothing balm through the deep holding hug I get from Tom and the loving cuddles from Dennis and the short but honest exchanges with Liz and the caring listening from Wendy and the wise words from Mother Ahavia, a woman who has soaked in suffering and emerged filled with Light, love and humor.

Sometimes we can grow so strong that we forget how to be weak. This week I am in good hands among Friends as they tend my wounds, carry me for a time and then release me to go out to follow my leading.

UPDATE: I have received lots of loving along with some great times with the high schoolers (I co-lead a workshop for teens this week). It helps to identify what is going on within and then to ask for help. I feel so privilege to had micro communities around the world--in Oregon, Sweden, the UK and elsewhere. I think it is one of my biggest joys these past two years, connecting with people on deep levels around the world. So cool.

I give my plenary address on Thursday, so please hold me in the Light! Thanks


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Creating a Trans-Friendly Gathering

Yesterday I arrived in Johnstown, PA for the yearly meeting of the Friends General Conference, a gathering of about 1500 Quakers from North America and beyond. In my welcoming packet I found a one-page info sheet entitled Creating a Trans*-Friendly Gathering written by Kody Hersh. Kody gave a plenary address last year and shared some of his transgender experiences with the Gathering.

In addition, an Interest Group entitled Trans 101 will be offered later in the week. I feel so pleased to be part of a community that seeks to welcome all. The language in Kody's info sheet struck me as thoughtful, clear and helpful. So much so I thought I'd share it with you.
*trans: transsexual, transgender, or genderqueer; a person who experiences or expresses gender in a way that is different from social expectations of their assigned birth sex.

FGC Gathering seeks to be a welcoming space for all Friends, with a variety of life experiences and needs. It is our experience and belief that the entire community benefits from the diversity that can only be achieved by careful listening and accommodation.

A growing opportunity exists to welcome Friends into the fellowship of the Gathering who are "stretching the gender box." These Friends may identify with a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth, or they may simply present themselves in a way that challenges traditional models of female and male behavior or appearance.

The term "trans" includes a wide range of experiences, identities, and forms of expression. We can accommodate many of the needs of these Friends by small changes in how we live together at Gathering, such as the availability of gender-neutral bathrooms and housing options. We can all help to create safe space by our willingness to think outside the box, question our society's messages about gender and, most of all, to be respectful and loving listeners to the needs of those around us.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Water Bottles, Plastic, Quakers and Me

The Religious Society of Friends (aka Quakers) maintains a long tradition of queries, thoughtful questions to help Friends think deeply about important issues. (I alway carry a copy of Britain Yearly Meeting's Advices & Queries given to me by my Friend Esther, who replaced the plain Quaker red cover with a multi-colored one.)

Similarly Quakers have a tradition of testimonies, statements about issues that Friends have found vital for our faith and practice.

In August I will have the honor to attend and participate in the annual gathering of Baltimore Yearly Meeting to be held in the North West corner of Maryland at Frostburg State University. In filling out my registration form, I scanned the workshop offerings. The following workshop arrested me.
Bottled Water and the Quaker Testimonies: Can They be Compatible?

Americans spend $15,000,000,000 a year on bottled water. The world spends $15,000,000,000 a year to develop and to provide potable water to the developing world. The petroleum used to make the plastic bottles would fuel 100,000 US cars for a year and 80% of those bottles go to land fills. 3,000 children die each day from polluted water. We will use the Testimonies to examine our role and to set a new direction.

Leader: Byron Sandford is Executive Director of William Penn House, a Texan with roots in the Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas and southern New Mexico.

I have written before about bottled water and the trouble I have with it. (I don't even think about all the plastic bottles we use for soda and other fizzy drinks since I think they are stupid products that my dad used to remove barnacles from his boat and forget people drink then. But hey, drink the carbonated stuff if you like it). I understand that we can be in situations where we have little choice but to buy and use bottled water unless of course we cannot afford to do so.

Recently Auntie Doris got her very own SIGG water bottle (she actually nicked her mom's which sat in a cupboard in Gurensey). Why not use our own water bottles that we fill ourselves? In the US, the water industry goes unregulated. The water we buy in bottles comes untested by the government and often is no better than filtered tap water (which we already pay for through taxes and our water bill). Sometimes it is much worse.

One of the biggest issues around bottled water that has weighed on me recently is about plastic products. Plastic: What a wonderful and awful product! So versatile, and it's in EVERYTHING (probably even Cool Whip!). And it is not going away for a very very long time. Like pretty much never.

I recently have pondered this query:
Can I live without plastic?
To which I have had to answer a resounding NO, at least not with my current lifestyle (no I do not refer to the gay lifestyle, whatever that may be, but to the American lifestyle of one who you will find constantly on-line, on the phone, or on a plane).

So then I asked the question,
Can I live one day without plastic?
Sure on the island of Iona on a retreat, but consider all the plastic required to get me there and and hold all my stuff.

Finally I have considered,
Can I live one hour without plastic?
Barely. But I could spend one hour, barefoot, lying on the grass in my back garden. (Hey, that sounds like a great idea to do right now!)

I will continue to hold this query up in my mind. As a Christian, I feel I need to be a good steward of the Earth's limited resources. As a Christian living in the US, I feel that any effort I can do, I need to do since my country is one of the largest contributors of waste and the use of petroleum-based products in the world.

I realize that I am connected to people all over the world. I can never make the "perfect choice" that will not have any negative consequences. But I can be thoughtful. I can grapple with these things. I can listen to what the Spirit has to say to to help me do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before God among me. (Micah 6:8)

Now if you do use plastic bottles, try to recycle, although I don't see recycling as a real solution. It requires energy to transport these bottles and more energy and waste to "recycle" them. Most of these bottles do NOT get recycled anyway as creatively illustrated in the following video.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Marvin & Gay Pride

Ah, Marvin. Some of you may remember, Marvin Bloom, our favorite Jew-for-Jesus from Long Island, NY, is no longer ex-gay. See this post of his video announcement. Apparently Marvin has taken to the gay lifestyle with evangelistic zeal (gay lifestyle as in wearing tacky rainbow clothing and attending Pride Parades and bashing straights).

In this video he gives us an update and his very own pride message.

Of course this over the top embrace of all things gay commonly happens to those of us who crammed ourselves into closet, cupboards and wardrobes all those years. We burst out of those confined places, and suddenly we see the world through rainbow lenses.

It is not unlike the born-again experience, especially if one converts as a young adult. I remember dashing to the Salt Shaker, the local Christian bookstore, where I bought all manner of Jesus products. Not just books and music, I purchased Jesus pencils, Jesus t-shirts, Jesus glue sticks, etc. We see this same expression of new identity pride with impulse purchases during Pride events with those stalls that sell all that rainbow schlock. "No, thank you, I do not need a rainbow dream catcher with the rainbow candle holder attachment."

In the Stages of Coming Out, in Stage V we may exhibit lots of pride in our new-found identity. Marvin seems very much in Stage V Identity Pride,
Feel arrogance/pride in new identity and deep rage toward majority culture. May adopt/heighten stereotypical behaviors or characteristics (i.e. "I'm different and proud of it!". May isolate self from mainstream values and activities.
Question: Do Straight Allies goes through these same stages?

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Mom Accepts Transgender Tween

Jack Drescher sent me a link to the following article, a story that moved and encouraged me greatly.
MANCHESTER, NH – In the first grade, 6-year-old Nicholas stood up one day and told his teacher he had something important to say.

Not just to her. But to the whole class.

“My name is Nicholas, but I want to be called Nikki because I’m really a girl,” he told his classmates at Parker-Varney School in Manchester.

News of the incident did not come as a surprise to his mother, Diana. By the time Nicholas reached preschool, it had become obvious her foster son was never going to be “one of the boys.”
Nikki turned out to be a very insightful and aware young girl.
And then there was the issue of the “two hearts” – a pink one and a blue one. A young Nicholas insisted he had both, and then woke up one night and said he dreamed a monster took the blue one away, Diana said.
Nikki is now 11 years old, and with her mother's help, she has been able to live as a girl at her school. It took work, education and a lot of advocacy on her mother's part.

You can read the rest of the Nashua Telegraph article here.

I had a conversation with someone recently who confessed that she just doesn't "get it". A straight woman, she has come to understand and accept gay and lesbian people (we didn't discuss bisexual individuals who struggle with being silenced and marginalized by straights, gays and lesbians). Transgender issues boggled this woman's mind though.

Sure it is foreign for many, and it is complex. It doesn't help that gender and sex and orientation get all mashed up together. With the oppression of women in a society which still has deeply ingrained gender roles and gender rules, any discussion of gender and sex gets complex.

Even among people who have have transitioned, are transitioning or consider themselves transgender, we see diverse opinions often at odds with each other. To me this points to the health and maturity of many trans people. I meet so many who think for themselves. They don't follow a trans guide book on how to be, how to do it, how to express it. For many, they have been on a path of self-discovery that has helped them to become their own people on their own terms.

As I mentioned before, when we see stories of young children who insist that their outsides don't match their insides, that they are really girls or really boys regardless of what the birth certificate they, these honest children are the only ones who are not confused about their gender.

Yes, this is confusing for many of us who never had to seriously question our gender or sex. Even many gay and lesbian folks grapple to "get it". Added to the confusion is all the pressure that gets stirred up from the gender variant issues that have baffled many of us in our lives reminding us of the many ways we have tried to "pass" as man or woman enough for the gender police (both external and internal). I mean consider how much of the ex-gay experience is about gender realignment treatment (playing football for guys, Mary Kay makeovers for the gals, etc).

I also think of the complex and challenging world for people who are born intersex. Life is not always so simple. I recently received a moving message from a person who was born intersex. If the individual agrees, I will share some of it with you in an upcoming post.

For those of us who don't "get it". That is fine. It is understandable. But we don't have to stay in that place. By listening to other people's stories, hearing their journeys, listening to their heart message, seeing the integrity in their lives, it will help us to better understand.

For further "research," check out the amazing Trans-Ponder Podcast and (and Jayna's videos) as well as grishno's journey she chronicle through YouTube videos.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Weddings Weddings Everywhere

This is the June of the gay and lesbian marriages. So many of my friends and acquaintances got married in the past week. Most went to California to take part of the new marriage equality that now exists there (perhaps for a limited time only, but we shall see). I have seen so many beautiful photos of men with men and women with women dressed up and married.

Last week when I was in Memphis, my friend (& Friend) and fellow blogger Joe Moderate married his partner in a lovely Quaker ceremony. Pomoprophet, who I met last year during the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference in Irvine, CA attended and provides a first hand account.
Quakers do their wedding ceremonies much different than most of us are used to. Yet most of us really liked it! Quakers have no pastor and no one lead the service. We all sat in this simple white room, sitting in a big circle with the grooms near the middle. We started off with all of us introducing ourselves and sharing our relation to the grooms. This really set the tone for the entire wedding. I've been a groomsmen in 6 different weddings and attended numerous more and most of the time people only talk to the couple people there that they know. This whole wedding was about us, as a community, supporting the grooms on that day and into the future.

Next came about 15mins of silence (one of the major tenants of the quaker faith). Then the two grooms stood up and exchanged their vows. Each looked deeply into the others eyes. It was wonderful. They exchanged rings and kissed and sat back down. More silence followed until one of the quaker leaders started the group sharing time. What followed was amazing. I don't know how long it was. Maybe an hour. But most of the 100+ people in the room shared a story of one of the grooms or shared from Scripture or shared a blessing or words of encouragement. Joe's husband's family was in attendance and it was wonderful to hear them share of their support for their son. There were a few tears throughout the sharing but mostly smiles. I could tell that what was shared meant deeply to both Joe and his husband. And maybe thats why so many of us felt like it was an amazing wedding. I have seen beautiful ceremonies before, but it is always a pastor talking while the rest of us sit and watch. It's meaningful to the bride and groom, sure... but this was meaningful to ALL of us in attendence. And how much more for the ones getting married getting to hear from their friends who are going to be there for them long after the ceremony ends!

The ceremony finished with shaking hands (another quaker thing) and all of us signing the marriage certificate. Illinois doesn't have domestic partnerships so it was just a religious one. We then all headed over to the reception for an amazing dinner and a fun night.
Gosh, all this wedding talk is getting me tender. I hate that! :-)

Pomoprophet goes on to write about his own personal feelings about gay attractions in light of years of ex-gay theories and treatment in his life,
On a personal note I admit that part of me is still uncomfortable with being gay. And with all the gayness I was surrounded by. I mean I spent almost 7 years in exgay ministries trying to change and thinking how horrible homosexuality is. That's alot of residue to deal with. And i'm not just going to change over night. I wish I was alot more comfortable. I wish I was more secure in my relationship with Jesus over this stuff. So I haven't arrived yet. I'm still a mess. And i've got to work on the negative feelings I still hold towards homosexuality. But what I saw in that wedding was beautiful. And I hope that it becomes alot more common place in the future and more people get to see how wonderful love can be.
I just spoke with someone the other day on the phone about this very thing. All those years of hearing a negative message literally shapes our brains and our thought processes. It is not a matter of simply "coming out" but of remapping our brains, displacing misinformation with reality and truth. It is a messy process and one that can take a long time. I know I spent the last 10 years detoxing. One powerful way of doing that is to see and hear new things that was once taboo for us.

Over at Beyond Ex-Gay we are planning on two upcoming gatherings (Nashville Oct 22-25 & Denver Nov 7-9 with a possible gathering in NYC Oct 17,18). For some of us getting together with others who have had similar experiences can help us gain some clarity about our pasts, what we attempted to do, why and the damage that came from it. We can also talk about ways to recover. At a recent gathering in Memphis this past February, a group of Ex-Gay Survivors and some therapists developed a list of some things we have found helpful in our recovery process. Check it out here.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lost2Found Art Exhibit Announced

Back in January I mentioned the Lost2Found website and art project. Started by a high school student near LA, it is a place where LGBT folks can share their experiences through art (both visual and written).

The big art exhibit will be Friday June 27 (a week away). If you can make it, please do so. It should be amazing. (and they may still be receiving art submissions!)

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Video Round-Up

Here are some videos for you (cause I'm too lazy to do any proper blogging, but I do have enough energy to maintain a raw vegan diet this week. Yum)

1. Announcement about my upcoming trip to Malta (shot in the courtyard at the St. Albans during European Forum of Lesbian and Gay Christians.) Check out Drachma's blog here.

2. PFLAG protests Love Won Out

3. Vincent Cervantes talks about the impact of ex-gay treatment and theories on his creativity.

4. Jayna (of the fabulous Trans-Ponder podcast) talks about the importance of coming out of the closet

5. Grisno goes Under NYC! (Which reminds me of when Pastor David Wilkerson exhorted the Times Square Church congregation to pray for the C.H.U.D.s)

6. And finally Mittymoo has some great zany video's with someone who must be a close relative to Marvin Bloom. (starring John Roberts).
In My Son is Gay a mother comes to grips with the gayness of her son.

And if you liked that one, check out this year's Mother's Day video. Being from NY, I have relatives just like her on Long Island.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Memphis Pride & the new director of an Ex-Gay Progam

Wow, what a super Pride event in Memphis this weekend! The organizers put together a fun, family friendly and well organized series of events. They wisely chose a park with lots of shade for the festival, and they had loads of booths. The diversity of the crowd especially impressed me in a city where one can see people travel in their homogeneous packs. Young, old, black and white, transgender, straight, bisexual, lesbian and gay, the crowd showed off a wide cross-section of the population.

I enjoyed being in the parade more than I thought I would. Sitting in a car waving at folks felt like it would be awkward (let me be on stage doing stuff or a chance to talk, but just sitting waving--weird). I saw many friends along the way from the various groups that have helped me through the years--Holy Trinity Community Church of Christ, Integrity and most recently Mid-South Pride with their help during Beyond Ex-Gay's big weekend back in February.

Lindsey Melvin, a writer from the Commercial Appeal, read a recent blog post of mine and asked if she could interview me. The story appears in today's paper.

She shares a little of my journey going from participant of Love in Action, an ex-gay residential program in Memphis.

In the Pride parade's fifth year in Memphis, there was a big push for it to be a family-friendly gathering, and Toscano fit that mold, said Sean Alexander of Mid-South Pride Inc.

"He was chosen for putting a positive image on being gay," Alexander said.

Toscano also has become a highly recognizable figure in the Memphis gay community for leading ex-gay survivors' conferences and performing his one-man

A Catholic who became a born-again Christian as a teenager, Toscano was told he could not be a Christian and a homosexual.

Ashamed, and terrified for his salvation, he entered multiple church-operated gay converting programs.

"It was in many ways psychological warfare. Day after day you were hearing that there was something wrong with you," he said.

In this article we also get to hear from Love in Action's new director and a taste how he responds to the media and to criticism of his program.
But according to the group, Toscano's experience differs greatly from those of most other people getting treatment. Of 400 people who have gone through the program, more than 300 have been turned straight, the group says.

"Our success rate is higher than our dropout rate," said Love In Action director Jim Scott.

"It works for some people, and for some people it doesn't."

Really? 300 out of 400 are successful? Turned straight? Or does he mean that 300 of 400 actually finished the course and graduated? But how often does Jim Scott check up on these folks? What sort of on-going follow-up does he do? What sort of follow-up has Love in Action done over the past five years? 10 years? How long do these successes remain ex-gay? A year? Two? Three months? Two weeks? Who knows and who cares once they graduate and stop paying the outrageous fees that the program charges?

This is false advertisement--dishonest. I believe that Jim Scott bears false witness. Of the six people who entered LIA with me back in 1996, five have come out and accepted the reality that they are gay and there is nothing wrong with it (and two of us were in yesterday's Pride parade--one in drag!)

Love in Action has maintained a practice of "challenging" participants--(I wanna challenge you! See Homo No Mo for lots of examples) So I have two challenges for Jim Scott.
  1. Over the next five years keep track of these 300 newly straightened people, and then let us know where they are at and how it all worked out for them.
  2. Meet with 50 former participants who have tried the program and have experienced harm as a result of their experiences. Find out what goes wrong and the horrendous cost of pursuing the straight dream.

From my personal experiences and from connecting with over 1,000 ex-gay survivors, I have concluded that the process is not effective (no one actually becomes heterosexual), and it is unnecessary. Most importantly reparative therapy and ex-gay ministries almost always cause more harm than good.

I know a tiny handful of people with lesbian and gay backgrounds who have gone ex-gay and say they are happy as such. They are not ex-gay leaders nor do they pretend that their desires for the same gender have disappeared. For some it is a daily struggle that they willingly admit. They live in the reality that the ex-gay route is not possible for most people.

As Jim Scott begins his term as Love in Action director, I hope he chooses to be humble enough to listen to his detractors, to see that we are not a minority group of disgruntled failures for whom it did not work. We are the large percentage of people who came to Love in Action (and more importantly to God) looking for a cure and instead we found a curse. For some of us it has taken years to recover. We want to help spare other people from making the same mistakes we made. We want to counter the misinformation about people who are not straight. We want to help unearth the many reasons why people have pursued change. reasons often based on fear, shame and oppression.

Perhaps Jim Scott needs to come to next year's Memphis Pride to see the vibrant, healthy, well-adjusted group of transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay citizens who help make Memphis a wonderful place. Perhaps he needs to spend time at Holy Trinity Community Church of Christ or Integrity to experience the Spirit of God and the fruit of the Holy Spirit among Christians who also happen to be transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay, or straight allies.

I get the privilege of spending the morning with the folks at Holy Trinity where I will present the morning message--so I must get offline and finish preparing.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Memphis Pride

I flew into Memphis on Tuesday night, my third visit to this Mid-South city since February when Christine Bakke and I along with several other ex-gay survivors came to town to work with local LGBT folks in organizing Deconstructing the Ex-Gay Myth--A Weekend of Action & Art. Last night I performed my play The Re-Education of George W. Bush--No President Left Behind! making it the fourth play I have presented here in 2008. (I guess I need to write a new play before I return :-p )

10 years ago I lived in Memphis. I had gradutated Love in Action, a Memphis-based residential program designed to straighten folks out, in March of 1998, but I returned to the program around this time after a "relapse". (I think I was the first person to actually graduate then return for more treatment. Usually graduates only come back to work as staff, which in itself is a form of on-going treatment). I spent the rest of the summer of '98 up through October going through the five phases of the program once again.

Those days still hold dark memories for me. I think about the desperation and the fear that hung over me. After 17 years of seeking God with all my heart, of surrendering, of submitting to various teachings, programs, ex-gay leaders, church leaders, of praying, fasting, memorizing the scripture, worshipping Jesus, bonding with straight male mentors, digging up the roots to my homosexuality, making amends, binding the strong man, tapping into my masculine side, creating a mythology about my past that fit in with the ex-gay developmental model, of doing, hoping, longing, believing, I had experienced no shift whatsoever in regards to my same-sex attractions (a promise dangled before me for years). Worse yet, the more I sought to contain, crucify, hand over, stuff down, manage, and die daily to my same-sex desires, the stronger they propelled me and the deeper I felt depressed, confused, hopeless and ashamed.

10 years ago I sat perched on the rubble of years of believing God and bullying God for "victory over homosexuality." That I still remained "bound" meant that I had done something wrong. Ex-gay leaders, Christian counselors and uninformed pastors did a disservice to me when constantly put the blame back on me. I failed to turn myself around because:
  • I wasn't trying hard enough.
  • I was trying too hard.
  • I didn't want it badly enough.
  • I wanted it too much.
  • I hadn't yet discovered the root to my problems
  • I needed to find a different treatment plan.
  • I needed to pray more, read more, do more, more, more!
  • I had not yet repented from the heart.
  • I was not willing to resist until death.

In fact, not too long ago in a Conservative Christian anti-gay radio program, a pastor from Central Church, who I knew from my Love in Action days, brought up the need to suffer even until death in our fight against sin in our lives and specifically in regards to gay attraction.

About 10 years ago I finally came to my senses when I realized that change was not possible, change was not necessary, this "change" was destroying me. Instead I took the advice of Love in Action director, John Smid, who instructed us that if something was not working, try something new. He also regularly reminded us that a definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome. For years I tried to sort out my gay side, to rid myself of it or at least control it, but that only bore negative fruit--the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit. A little less than 10 years ago I decided to try something new, to accept the reality that I am a man who finds other men romantically and sexually attractive. I didn't feel happy at the time about this acceptance, but I needed to face reality, or the fantasy world I lived in would destroy me.

10 years later I enjoy the fruit of the Holy Spirit in a way I always dreamed of--charitas, gaudium, pax, longanimitas, benignitas, bonitus, fides, mansuetudo and continentia. This year's Pride celebration in Memphis means a lot to me. Over the past 10 years I have reclaimed my life, recovered from much of the ex-gay harm I experienced and grown into health.

Mid-South Pride, the organizers of this year's festivities, invited me to be the Grand Marshall of the Memphis Pride parade. I would have declined the invitation in any other city (not that others are asking :-) but I feel good and yes proud to celebrate Pride here in Memphis even if I will feel a little silly in a car waving to folks along the parade route. This year I celebrate my liberation from 17 years of ex-gay madness and my deliverance from fautly theories and oppressive practices. I celebrate the freedom that I have to be myself, to live in integrity, to embrace a healthy lifestyle based in reality.

Happy Pride!

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Doin' Time at Willow Creek

My blog posts will format in an odd fashion as I compose them on my new Centro phone/PDA (it's too hot to lug around a laptop!)

On Sunday my Dad and I joined about 20 other people for Soulforces's American Family Outing this time to Willow Creek Community Chruch, a 30,000 member mega church outside Chicago.

The church leaders knew we were coming months in advance so they organized a tour of their massive facilities, which could easily house my home town. We then attended the service, a wonderful theater experience that rivaled a Vegas show. With a sound system like Willow Creek's who needs the Holy Spirit?

Then we sat down for lunch with senior pastor Bill Hybel's and key members of the ministry team.

Much of the first half of the meeting consisted of introductions and explanations of why we chose to attend. Mary Lou, a former member of the church, spoke about her daughter Anna's suicide. Jay Bakker spoke about the cost of taking a stand for LGBT people. Julie, a transgender woman there with her wife of many years spoke about being a Baptist minister and her committment to serve in the church along with the challenges of finding a place at the table.

Others talked about their families, their faith and their personal experiences in churches that loved and accepted us as long as we "struggled with same-sex attractions," but rejected us once we accepted the reality of our orientation.

I spoke about my own conversion experience at 17 and the call I felt to become a missionary coupled with the distress from not being qualified because I was gay. I spoke about ex-gay survivors and the harm that often comes from trying to purge away our natural sexuality along with the harm that straight spouses of ex-gays often experience.

Willow Creek's staff maintained that a gay orientation is not sinful. They added that if one engaged in gay behaviors (and they're not talking about musical theater or lesbians camping) than that one is no longer sexually pure.

We tried to explain that it is not solely about sex. It is about having a companion and all that goes with that wonderful and challenging interdependence. It is about healthy relationships and families. It is about integrity and living in reality.And it is about healthy sexuality.

I did not say one thing that I have been considering for some days. It is not the church's business what any couple does in the privacy of their own home. That is between that couple, (unless something illegal or abusive is going on).

With this policing of sexuality along with gender roles and gender presentation, religious leaders take upon themselves the role of bully, a role that needed to stop on playground. In their obstinate pursuit to manage people who do not fit into the heterosexual tradtional norms (which are not even Biblical norms), the church simply reinforces the same dehumanizing oppression one often experiences in schoolyards, frat houses and other places where people freely attack those who they deem not man enough or woman enough, or who happened to be wired differently.

Overall. the meeting went well. It remained a dialog and did not devolve into debate. Fortunately some local gay men and a trans woman will keep in touch with church to do follow-up.

Windy City News did a piece about the visit. Here is an excerpt:

'According to Lutes, Hybels ?has no trouble with people being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, and he does not believe it's a choice, so he seemed appalled when we shared with him that many churches force LGBT people to get married in order to deal with their sexual orientation. He couldn't believe that. But we were surprised that he didn't seem to know about that. But that did not seem to make any sense to him whatsoever. Essentially what he advocates or what Willow Creek advocates, is celibacy. And that's where we differ.?'

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Speaking Out against Ex-Gay treatment in N. Ireland

I write this from my phone, so it will be short. Some of you may have heard about 27 year old Stephen Scott, a man in Northern Ireland who spoke out after three male teens attacked and beat him presumably because he is gay. In commenting about this story Northern Ireland DUP MP Iris Robinson publically judged reparative therapy (ex-gay treatment) as a viable option. (read story here )

The reaction by LGB folks and allies in both N. Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has been swift and strong. Some Christians have spoken out as witnesses that not all Christians condemn gays & lesbians, in fact some in N. Ireland welcome and affirm LGBT people. Just today, Shirley, a friend in N. Ireland started a Facebook group--Iris Robinson--Not in My Name.

Today (Tue) I will appear on Life! with Orla Barry Newstalk 106?108 fm (Dublin, Ireland) (6am NYC time :-p).

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Some Photos from Europe

During my recent trip to Europe, I did not take many pictures; I have to be in the mood. Someone in Barcelona will send me photos from our Beyond Ex-Gay conference there (which I will blog about soon--promise! It was AMAZING!)

Below are some photos (click on them for a HUGE view)

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Almost Home and Apparently Schizophrenic

I fly out of London tomorrow morning heading for NYC and then taking the bus up to Hartford. Phew. I have been away for a little more than a month, but it feels much longer. This trip has taken me to England, Wales, back to England, Northern Ireland, Catalonia, Spain, back to Catalonia, then back to England. I got to see LOADS of Auntie Doris (smooches) and even got little trips in to see Contemplative Activist, John Henson, and my dear friends Jo and Ali in Wakefield. Today I traveled down to Southampton for lunch with Candy, the mother of Esther, my lovely host in Reading and a fellow Quaker.

I had a lovely dinner over at the home Nalini's and her partner Robert, Esther's good friends. Had a GREAT show in Reading last night with a large enthusiastic crowd. (I did wind them up a little by promising that they had the power to make me do crazy things on stage just by their laughter and applause and if they played their cards right, I would become their very own performing monkey, which is sorta what happens during Vlad's dance).

Barcelona with our conference about Reparative Therapy was a HUGE success. We had over 100 people come to the event, people who represented a diverse swath of the population. We also had loads of press coverage with lots of TV interviews and such. I will write more and put up photos and videos in the next week.

Northern Ireland was also a real treat as I got to know the folks in the Icon Community as well as got to travel to Newcastle, Northern Ireland and stay with the sweetest family ever (and even got to practice my Spanish with a three year old)

All around an excellent trip, and I will write more and share more about it in the coming days. I return to Europe next month with a trip to Malta and then some presentations during the Lambeth Conference. My upcoming visit is getting some people chatting including this blog where one commenter unearthed the secret to my theatrical success--schizophrenia!

I am THRILLED to announce that next weekend my dad, Pete Toscano, and I will travel to Chicago to be part of Soulforce's American Family Outing which will take place this time at Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago. After hearing some about my father and seeing him recently on TV and in film talking about being the parent of someone who has survived the ex-gay movement, they asked if my dad would be willing to come with me to the event. He said yes, so off we go to this VERY large church. You can read more about the outing here.

Soulforce does organizes these outings in hopes of generating a conversation about LGBT issues among different types of families. I know my dad will be a wonderful addition to the team (and will very likely come up with some very original one-liners.) If you would like to contribute to getting my day and me to this event, visit the donation page and in the comments say that your gift is to go towards getting two wacky Toscanos to a mega church.

Must head off to bed for an early drive to Heathrow. Oh, but before I do, have you yet ordered your Homo No Mo Halfway House DVD???

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Homo No Mo now for Sale!

I got news yesterday that the DVD of Doin' Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House (edited by Morgan Jon Fox with designs by Christine Bakke--click on images for larger view) is now fully produced and ready for sale on-line. I have yet to see the final product, but the president of the company that did all the printing and copying sent me an e-mail to say how impressed he was with the final product and what a dream it was to work with Christine and Morgan.

Quaker Books Friends General Conference will be distributing the DVD which you can get at their site by clicking here.
After 15 years of submitting to reparative therapy, ex-gay support groups and even three exorcisms, Peterson Toscano enrolled in the ex-gay residential program, Love in Action. He graduated successfully from the program nearly two years later, but in January of 1999 decided he just needed to accept himself as a gay man. He weaves together humor, program jargon and outrageous eye witness accounts to form a piece that is hilarious, poignant and inspirational. Peterson co-founded and is a Quaker. He is appearing at the 2008 FGC Gathering. He retired the show in 2008 and this recording captures that final performance.
If you order one, let me know how long it takes for you to get it. For Quakers it will also be available at various yearly meetings and at FGC. I will also have some copies when I go to Memphis later this month. I am so excited, I just want to fly home from England to see my copy!

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