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In a few hours I will perform once again in Umeå, Sweden, a progressive city in the North of Sweden. I believe it is the fifth time I have been here, and arriving at the home of Alex & Noa Resare, I feel like I have come home. In fact, the past two days I have slept about 13 hours each night. Their home with their three children is a place where I can relax, recuperate, and just be myself (a person who likes to sleep 13 hours a night and then sit in bed and do my work.)

Tonight I will perform a variety show of sorts, “Doin’ Time with Peterson Toscano–Just when you thought it was safe to laugh.” I have done this show more and more the past two years, and have enjoyed being able to pick and choose from nearly a hundred different options of what I can present. Even though it is guaranteed that I will do some bits (Chad & Lorca from Queer 101 & The Identity Monologue) each show turns out different from the last with a clear theme emerging. Tonight’s show I will focus on sexism, misogyny, bodies, and strong women. Here is an outline of possible bits I will perform.

Doin’ Time in Umeå

Intro: Sweden is TOO progressive for my comedy. You all need to elect a racist, homophobic government so that my jokes will mean something (said sarcastically.) I also notice that the flight over alters my body. Once I get off the plane and walk among the Swedes, I am twice as fat as I was in the States. You are all so beautiful, naturally beautiful. Even your fat people here are fit. We could learn from your natural living to just learn to embrace ourselves for who we are.

1. Henry Kissinger had a boob job
2. scene from Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House (Chad & Vlad intro)
3. scenes from “Queer 101–Now I Know My gAy,B,Cs” Chad &Lorca, Earthel
4. scene fromRe-Education of George W Bush–Dr. Meadows does Sodomy
5. scene from I Can See Sarah Palin from my Window–NEW monologue about woman with “issue of blood”
6. scene(s) from Transfigurations–Deborah and possibly man with pitcher of water (I will do all of Transfigurations on Sunday, so I don’t need to do it all tonight)
7. Stand up: some cancer comedy. Don’t you hate it when your mom gets lung cancer? People ask such stupid questions. “Did she smoke?” WTF etc
8. Comedy sketch: Marvin & Samson or How Marvin “did it” kinda
9. Vlad and his superpower. Invisibility can be complicated
10. Identity Monologue

Chances are I will not get to all of this and in fact may end up doing some very different bits. A lot of it depends on the audience. Part of doing solo performance work requires building a dynamic relationship with one’s audience. They give me energy and direction as I share my mind and heart. A bond occurs, often unique from audience to audience, and the show and my performance gets influenced by that bond and our shared needs, interests, and personalities. What I love about LIVE solo performances is that truly anything can happen. And often I discover new material, new jokes, new insights that I incorporate into the act during a future performance, an imprint of that one audience on the enduring work.

I imagine this happens a lot with teachers in the classroom who present some of the same lessons year after year or pastors who repeat sermons (come on, you can confess that you recycle ministerial material.) Jazz musicians have a long history of improv and immediate creation in front of a live audience. There is something magical about the whole thing. If I think about it, I see it is also scary, so I won’t think too much about it. Instead I will rehearse rehearse rehearse and have the words roll around my mouth and tongue and let my body shape shift into characters very different (and some not so different) from me.

I’ll let you know how it goes…

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Via Detroit and Amsterdam I arrived in Oslo yesterday morning strangely rested in spite of over an hour or two of sleep on the flights. I catch up on all those movies I want to see but don’t want to pay to see. I dozed in and out so they all sort of merged at one point. There was the spy thriller with Angelina and Johnny Depp (The Tourist) and then the country singer movie (Country Strong) and something silly but now I can’t remember what. Actually a pretty poor selection except for a French film which made no sense even with subtitles, but the people were all so pretty and the mood was so dreamy I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sadly I cannot remember the name.

What really kept me up was Lush Life, the Billy Strayhorn biography. Strayhorn collaborated with Duke Ellington for years. Openly gay even in the 1940s when virtually no one was out, he wrote and co-wrote some of the best American music to come out of the 20th Century. But like Bayard Rustin, who was so long overlooked and hidden away, historians are only beginning to give Strayhorn much needed attention. Although the writing is so so, the content was enough to keep me awake much of the flight while I waited in vain for the sleeping drugs to kick in.

Tonight I will have my European debut of “I Can See Sarah Palin from my Window! Lessons Before the Second Coming.” In March of 2010 I travelled to Oslo with Glen, my partner (the memoirist and dishy South African writing professor at Susquehanna University) where I performed excerpts from the play. It finally premiered in Allentown, PA in September, and I have not performed it since. Although Glen thinks it is probably my best structured and most artistic play, I did not feel it was yet ready to tour. I needed to cut cut cut much from it. Not only was it too long, but there were parts I loved to perform that took away more than they added.

In writing plays, like most writing, editing down can be the hardest and most essential part of the work. How does one clip all those buds? It’s like when I am working in my garden and I have too much growth happening on a plant. Clear out the extra and the yield may be smaller but a better quality in the end. It took me the months between the premiere and tonight’s performance to mull over the play and what I want to say and do in it. Fortunately I know how to recycle material, so no doubt some of the better cut bits will resurface at some point.

While the title may suggest that the play is all about Sarah Palin with snide comments and all sorts of Palin jokes, I don’t go there. For one it is too easy. There is a whole market right now with people who live off of poking fun at Sarah Palin. It is being done all the time. I wanted to do something different. So my play becomes more personal while remaining comic. It is a comedy about cancer, misogyny, and hospitality. It is also a play about women. I think of the Spanish filmmaker, Almodovar (particularly his early work) who served up comic meditations and homages to women.

My mother, Anita Toscano, plays a central role in the play (much like she did in my earlier work, “The Re-Education of George W. Bush–No President Left Behind!”) And with it being Mother’s Day on Sunday in the USA, it seems especially fitting that I perform this memorial about my own mom.

In rehearsal I totally broke down crying. It was at the point in the play when I talk about my mom and her fight against cancer. Perhaps it wasn’t a fight, more of an endurance test. She passed the test, but she still died. In the play I talk about the role reversal that happened. As she grew more and more ill, her children and our dad began to take more and more care of her. Dad learned how to clean house and wash clothes. My sisters and I cooked for my mom after decades of mom cooking for us. And she was an amazing cook, not only because she is my mom, but people paid to eat her cooking at Pete’s Pub for over 30 years. In the play I share a poem I wrote after I served my mom the last meal I would prepare for her before she died. She couldn’t eat it because of the advance stage of cancer, but she took a bite, and we pretended she would finish it later.

Today at the Nasjonalgalleriet (the Norwegian National Gallery of Art) in addition to seeing famous works by artists like Edvard Munch (yes, I saw Scream, the painting, but preferred Mannen i kålåkeren–Man in the Cabbage Field) I viewed two artist I do not remember seeing before–Halfdan Egedius and Harriet Backer. Egedius presents his figures in dark backgrounds, and in the pieces and often features women. One piece reminded me of my mother–a solid rock of a woman. Egedius placed the figure in the center of the painting, body in profile with the woman’s head turned facing out with a steady, firm, yet welcoming gaze. In another he placed two dancers in black skirts swirling amidst a dark backdrop. He captured so much movement amongst the dancers, all in dark dark tones, murky but still vibrant.

Harriet Backer was one of the few female artist represented in the art museum. This is nothing new. Glen knows how happy I get when I finally stumble upon a female artist’s work on display in the art museums we visit. In Blått interiør (Blue Interior) a woman dressed in dark blue sitting in a middle class parlor works on some sewing. The only light comes from the window she is facing. She looks defeated to me, trapped, like Nora in Ibsen’s Doll House. But by the window is a plant, tall with shiny leaves, and although we cannot see out the window, we see the light, and the world beyond that parlor.

With my soul fed with good art, I am nearly ready to perform my play. First a tech rehearsal (so many sound cues!) a little rest and BAM, I will be on stage. And maybe I can even sell a Homo No Mo DVD so I can afford one of these insanely expensive excellent coffees they sell around here.

Current mood–content, slightly anxious, mostly feeling anticipation for tonight. So many sounds cues!

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“It” meaning my perforamnce work. I live in Hartford, CT, but I rarely perform there these days. That will change this week.

After a whirlwind surge through the US (Tue in Seattle, Wed in Miami, Thur in Hartford) I return home. Tomorrow morning at 9:00 am I will be on our local public radio station WNPR for the ‘Where We Live’ program to talk about my Transfigurations play. Scott Turner Schofield will also be featured to discuss his upcoming performances next week in Hartford. The Hartford Advocate did a piece on the two of us–queer performance artists doing transgender related theater (see http://www.hartfordadvocate.com/article.cfm?aid=14514 )

Tomorrow evening I will perform Transfigurations in Hartford, technically a CT premiere after nearly two years of presenting it throughout the US, and in Canada, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Sweden, Malta and South Africa.

I feel excited about presenting it to folks in the city where I live.

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Puzzled

Last night I performed Transfigurations-Transgressing Gender in the Bible at Imago Dei Metropolitan Community Church in Glen Mills, PA (about 15 miles outside of Philly).

I had a diverse audience of about 45 people — college students, Quakers, straight, bi, trans and lesbian, young and old. I took my time with the piece maintaining a gentle meditative pace.

For the ending when I reveal the identity of the narrator, I had instructed the light tech to dim the lights. Then as the closing music swelled, I asked her to raise the lights to their brigthest intensity. With the music playing, I exited.

Always (up until last night) at this point the audience applauds, I wait 5 seconds then come out to take a bow. Last night I exited and then nothing. No one clapped. They sat quietly as the music played.

I stood back stage puzzled, baffled. Now what do I do? Wait? Go out anyway? And I wondered for a moment, Did they hate it? Did I confuse them? Offend them? Bore them into a coma?

After what felt like 5 minutes, I walked out onto the stage, and the audience erupted into enthusiastic applause, so much so that I had three curtain calls (I normally do two or ony one.)

So what happened? In talking to Kody and others in attendance they said they knew the play ended when I excited.

I felt the silence helped to settle the messages and images–many new and even startling for some. In many ways I felt pleased with the audience sitting in the stillness of that moment. As a performer I wonder if I did something differently this time. If so, what, and can I do it again? The whole thing puzzles and intrigues me.

Any thoughts?

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After a few weeks of barely leaving the house except for social reasons, I head out today by train to Philadelphia for the beginning of travel that will bring me to Washington, DC, Baltimore, MD and Vancouver, BC (that’s in Canada). After that I am off to Nashville, TN, Denver, CO, Boulder, CO, Colorado Springs, CO and Seattle, WA. You can see my full schedule here.

This weekend I will be in Glen Mills, PA at Imago Dei Metropolitan Community Church about 15 miles out of Philadelphia. Tonight (Fri) I will perform Queer 101—Now I Know My gAy,B,Cs, a play that looks at homophobia, identity and activism through the words and lives of lesbian and gay poets. I last performed this piece in April at Manchester Community College. In it I get to perform my FAVORITE scene of any of have written, the fantasy date between Chad and Federico Garcia Lorca. (Which you can see here.)

Tomorrow (Sat) I will present Transfigurations—Transgressing Gender in the Bible. This play is probably the hardest one I do requiring the most concentration and work as an actor. It also feels like the most spiritual for me. There is one moment of intimacy and vulnerability that that has taken me years to get to. Alex once asked me how writing and performing this play has changed me. It’s a profound question, and I have yet to fully grasp the impact of this piece on my own life. I guess that is what I like about art. As Kurt Vonnegut repeated often towards the end of his life, “Everyone needs to practice art because art enlarges the soul.”

On Tuesday I head to Washington, DC to perform The Re-Education of George W. Bush—No President Left Behind! How exciting to present this piece at the nation’s capital. There is a whole section about Russia with Vlad using an Russian folk pop interpretive dance to seduce Condoleezza Rice to see Russia as foreign enemy number 1. Of course when I premiered the play back in January 2007, Russia seemed much more of an ally than it is today. Vlad’s moves are working! (That and Russian aggression and a return to Cold War politics)

From what I have scheduled thus far this presentation of the Bush play will be my penultimate performance before I retire it. 😦 I am happy that I won’t have to perform it anymore after the November election, but PLEASE don’t make me have to write a play about McCain/Palin–Bridge to No Where and Beyond! (Goodness! I already have a title) If you live in the US, register to vote.

Have a great weekend! And if you live far from all those places where I will be the next few weeks, check out Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House–the DVD!

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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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Today I did something I’ve never done before. I watched my play Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House—How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement! I have had video, DVD and audio versions of the play since as early as 2003, but the most I ever watched or listened was about 10 minutes. I always had an image in my head of what the play looked like on stage and worried that if I saw what it really looks like than it would mess something up for me in subsequent performances.

Yesterday I arrived in Memphis, TN (one of my favorite places on the planet). Today I met with Morgan Jon Fox, that fine filmmaker, to look at his edits of my Homo No Mo play which he and his crew filmed back in February. I had to watch the entire film version and give Morgan feedback about the edits and the artistic touches he added.

The crew did an amazing job with the taping of the show, and even though I knew every line, I still found myself laughing out loud at least twice. Towards the end, when the character Chad speaks about his brother’s death, I found myself tearing up a bit. (I know, I know, Joe G is going to accuse me of artistic masturbation or something).

I will have DVDs available for me to take to the UK and Europe during my May trip. If you got one of last year’s DVDs (with the really crap sound quality) let me know, and I will give you a replacement.

Friday I will go back to where I grew up and where my dad still lives so that I can perform my final performance of Homo No Mo in Narrowsburg, NY where I went to school. My agent, Sarah B. Miller, asked me some questions then worked on a blrub for the program.

25 years ago Peterson Toscano graduated from Narrowsburg Central School. He then spent nearly two decades struggling with his faith and his gay orientation, but by 1999 he finally came out as gay. In 2003 he premiered his one-person play, Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House—How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement! a comedy about his experiences in various “change” ministries including two years at the Love in Action ex-gay program where he submitted himself to a de-gayification process.

In the past five years Peterson has become an international sensation performing in over 30 US states, throughout Canada and regularly in Europe and the UK. Praised for both his skills as a playwright and a character actor, he performs at universities, theaters, conferences and progressive faith communities. The two pieces he presents at the Tusten Theatre this weekend are his most personal.

With his comedy Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House—How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement! in addition to morphing into several zany and endearing characters, he also plays his own father, Pete Toscano. In The Re-Education of George W. Bush—No President Left Behind! Peterson shares the wisdom and wit of his mother, Anita Toscano. The Toscanos owned and ran Pete’s Pub (now Our Place on the Lake) in Lake Huntington for over 30 years.

Peterson recently announced that he will retire his Homo No Mo play. In fact, the performance at the Tusten Theatre this weekend will be his the final presentation of it. He will continue to tour with The Re-Education of George W. Bush—No President Left Behind! along with two of his other original works, Queer 101—Now I Know My gAy,B,Cs and Transfigurations—Transgressing Gender in the Bible, a performance piece about transgender Bible characters. Next week he heads out for a month to offer a series of presentations in England, Northern Ireland and Spain.

Peterson Toscano appeared in the documentary film, Fish Can’t Fly and with his his father, Pete, is featured in the new documentary film Chasing the Devil, Inside the Ex-Gay Movement which recently premiered at the Birmingham Gay and Lesbian film festival. Peterson also appears in the documentary Cure for Love which aired earlier this month on Canadian national TV.

Peterson is an executive producer of a soon to be released feature length documentary film about the ex-gay movement called This is What Love in Action Looks Like. Peterson has appeared on several TV programs including the Tyra Banks Show, Montel Williams and the Morning Show with Mike and Juliet, on the pages of People Magazine, the New York Times and Glamour Magazine, and on national public radio programs in the US, Sweden and Austria. He along with Christine Bakke co-founded the organization Beyond Ex-Gay (www.beyondexgay.com), a support network for people who survived the de-gayification process.

Peterson lives in Hartford, CT and has a little cottage in Lake Huntington, NY. His web site is www.petersontoscano.com

He dedicates this weekend’s performances to his parents, Pete and Anita Toscano and in recognition of Narrowsburg Central School. He also gives a special shout out to his sister, Maria Forlenza, her two sons Gregory and Geoffrey, and Maria’s husband, Pat Forlenza!

Thanks Christine for the crazy photo!

So in celebration of five fun and meaningful years of Homo No Mo, for those of you who have seen the show, I would love for you to write in the comments about your favorite character or moment from the play. For me right now my favorite part to perform is Marvin Bloom’s scene (he’s the newest character and he casts demons out of his computer just like I used to do!)

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From Urban Dictionary
Phallic Fruit Fetish

A “disorder” popularized by gay Quaker performing artist Peterson Toscano in his play “Doin’ Time the Homonomo Halfway House” about his time spent as a patient in a Christian residential program to “cure” gay people. Another resident in the program suffered from Phallic Fruit Fetish (or PFF) and had a persistent desire to commit sexual acts with phallically shaped fruits. The problem was alleviated when all phallic shaped fruits were removed from the facility.
Rev. Smid ordered all bananas removed from the house upon learning of a patient’s phallic fruit fetish.

And as I have Chad explain in the play,

He had a PFF, a Phallic Fruit Fetish, but he had a really serious case of it that actually extended into the vegetable word. As a result, no cucumbers, no zucchini, no carrots–oh, except for the little mini carrots; they don’t bother him so much.

Urban Dictionary submission by Daniel Gonzales
Artwork by Christine Bakke
Crazy Character Chad by me.

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Multi-Media Roundup

Below are some important videos that address ex-gay stuff AND when you are done, at the very bottom, see Christine Bakke’s handiwork.

Over at YouTube ProfMTH put up a movie review of the anti-gay propaganda movie Sodom and Gomorrah. No it is not one of the Biblical porn films Love in Action forbade us from watching, rather a contemporary story about the lavender menace threatening the world as we know it. I felt especially pleased when I heard the reviewer referenced the apologies of former ex-gay leaders that Beyond Ex-Gay and Soulforce featured at our press conference last June in LA.

Next we have a video brought to us by Daniel Gonzales over at Box Turtle Bulletin. This one features Jeff Williamson. Christine writes an EXCELLENT post inspired by this video. Daniel writes,

When Jeff Williamson of Denver came out to his parents a year ago they sent him to see Christian counselor Bob Hudson whom they had been referred to through Focus On The Family. Jeff, who knew there’s nothing wrong with being gay, researched the ex-gay movement and pro-gay theology before his appointment, during which he ceded no ground to his counselor’s agenda. Jeff’s story is presented as a triumphant model for all too many youth who are sent, by their parents, against their will to ex-gay programs.

Also at Box Turtle Bulletin, Jim Burroway speaks about ex-gay programs and money. Lots of people think there is gold in them thar hills, but Jim breaks it down for us to reveal that money is not such a huge factor in promoting and providing ex-gay ministry (a concept lost on some folks who think it is all about the money and thus overlook what is really going on).

Finally, I just got off the phone with Morgan Jon Fox who is editing my Homo No Mo DVD. Christine graciously agreed to design the DVD cover art, so I sent her some files from the original poster designs. She started playing with my image immediately with some creative outcomes as evidenced by the random image below. When the DVD comes out in May, don’t be surprised if you see my Chad character flailing in a tub of bananas or something.

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In my play, The Re-Education of George W. Bush—No President Left Behind, my character Chad offers an environmental lesson. His primary point outlines how being a vegan helps the planet. In his deliciously flaming style he states that,

Gas from cars has a significantly less impact on the planet than that emitted from cows in the forms of burps and farts.

And as I say the line, I put my left hand to my mouth ( for burps) and then down by my behind (for farts) and add, “I think that’s the sign language for those.”

After last night’s performance, two women approached me and said that they knew American Sign Language. One asked if I wanted to learn the actual signs for burp and fart. Um, yeah! So next time you see the show, if you don’t know them already, you will also learn these signs. Brilliant.

The Chad environmental lesson serves as a pivotal scene in the performance because it is the first lesson that does not simply target the president. It speaks directly to the audience and their own personal practices. It forces people to look at the global outcomes of one of their daily actions. It opens the door for me to talk about other issues to examine. By the end of the play, I can state that as someone raised in the USA, I have been programmed to be racist, sexist, homophobic, wasteful and violent. I suggest that this may be true for many of us and conclude by affirming that I need to re-educate the little George W. Bush lurking inside of me.

I received an e-mail from an audience member who overheard two women commenting about my show (and the Chad scene in particular) as they exited the hall. One of the women said,

Hitler was a vegetarian so you have to be careful with that moral superiority stuff.

Um, right. He also wore trousers, drove in cars and clipped his fingernails. So should I run around in a skirt sporting Howard Hughes-like curly nails? (Although I like the idea of the skirt)

I feel pleased by the remark. I hope my Bush play provokes people, gets them to look at their lives and practices and ask, “How might I be part of the problem?” Anyone can bash George W. Bush and thus feel a little better about themselves. Looking inward takes more work.

What if we place ourselves on a continuum based on how we live our lives? On one end stood George W. Bush, and the other was say Gandhi or Mother Theresa. Based on our lifestyles and regular practices, where do we fall? To whom are we closest? Although I admire Gandhi and Mother Theresa much more than the current US president, I have to admit that I fall much nearer to Bush. In this exercise George W. Bush stands as a symbol for a particular attitude or excess. Instead we could place other folks there–Paris Hilton for instance or Joe G 🙂

None of us can ever live the perfect life or one where we leave no damage no matter how hard we try. We can greatly lessen the harm we do to the planet and to each other. The complete solution to global warming will not be all of us going vegan, but when we reduce our meat and dairy consumption, (along with an increased commitment to buying local products), we will make a BIG difference. (Besides a vegan diet improves our health and, more importantly, our skin considerably!)

I had a blast last night with the 200 plus people in the audience right here in Hartford where I live. I even got to meet Becca, who visits my blog (you have beautiful eyes!) During the talk-back time afterwards, I spoke directly to the audience, mostly progressive liberals, about the verbal violence we dish out towards other humans because they happen to be Conservatives, Republicans or Christians.

Part of the re-education process requires that I recognize everyone has some good in them even if I’d prefer to write them off as intolerant, hateful, bigots, but doing so serves as easy way out and creates further conflicts while leaving us feeling smug and self-satisfied. As a Quaker, I hear over and over about how “that of God is in everyone.” This optimistic teaching interferes with my desire to assume the worse in people, to discount their needs, and invalidate their values.

In virtually every Hollywood movie I have seen, they drum into me the message that we have only two types of people in the world–good guys and bad guys. That binary exists in fiction. And on this my 1010th blog post (a lovely example of beautiful actual binary), I feel encouraged and challenged once again to view anti-gay conservative leaders, ex-gay ministers, and even George W. Bush (oh and Dick Chaney too) as humans, fellow travelers, offspring of the divine.

That doesn’t mean they are not responsible for any cruel, thoughtless or harmful things they may say or do. It means that I recognize we are made of the same stuff, and, yes, we all burp and fart.

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I performed Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible at SMYRC, the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center in Portland, OR. In my opening remarks I also performed my identity monologue, which I already have up on YouTube, but it feels so different in front of a live audience.

After the play, I also did and excerpt from Queer 101–Now I Know My gAy,B,Cs. Yes, it is the scene between Chad and Federico Garcia Lorca. Folks have been clamoring for it for over a year, so for your view and sharing pleasure, below you will see that famous scene.

Much thanks to Mark Middleton for taping and editing and uploading the video and then treating me to Pix Patisserie!!!

Identity Monologue


Excerpt from Queer 101

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Tomorrow I premiere my newest one-person show, Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. I don’t often share about my process as a playwright, mainly because I assume most people find it boring. Lately though people have asked me about how I create and build a new theater piece. If you are interested in process, read away. If not, surf away to your next blog.

I don’t actually write the play, not with pen and paper or through a word processing program. In fact, I never have a script written until after the 12th performance. I find that when I script lines of dialog, they sound bulky, clumsy, wooden. I want an authentic sound. So once I have all my basic ideas in my head, with some written notes, I create my characters, and then I have fun and play. I speak as these characters and let the words form in my mouth.

Sometimes I leave funny messages on friends’ voice mails, or I walk around the house composing lines. This is the power of the oral tradition. For many of our ancestors, most stories were told and heard, not written and read. Just like the ear can distinguish the difference between the cold digital sound of a CD and the more natural sound of a live performance or even an LP, I believe that we hear lines of dialog differently when it is scripted or when it flows out of natural speech. This may not be true for other playwrights, but it works for me.

But I’ve jumped ahead. In writing Transfigurations, I first had to discover my content and my characters. This always proceeds dialog. For the past two years I have soaked in the stories and lives of dozens of amazing trans people. I never intended to write a play at first. Instead I desired to be a better ally to transgender people. I saw how in the LGB part of the community, the T was most often just tagged onto the name of a group, but no real trans presence or deep knowledge of trans issues existed.

I began by reading blogs written by trans men, women and others who defy gender classification (by their own choosing). From there I learned about several important books written by trans people about trans issues. (see below a list of blogs and books). Then I began to meet more and more trans people face to face. Some of these I met through True Colors or the Quaker group Friends for LGBTQ Concerns. I discovered so much diversity among trans folks and began to see how misinformed I had been.

About the time I met Sarah Jones, a transgender priest in the Church of England, I decided I needed to create a play about the trans characters in the Bible. For one I have not yet discovered any book or work of art that identifies many trans Bible characters, specifically the ones that I began to see materialize on the page. Also, I process information through my art, so in order for me to really grasp it, I need to turn to art. (sorta like many teachers learn the most about their subject when they teach it).

I next began interview trans people. Interviews have played and important role in my creative process from the time I was first asked to write a performance poem for Judy Shepard when she spoke in Memphis back in 2000. In order to do that, I interviewed nearly 100 LGBT people and discovered so much about my people, this group that I had finally allowed myself to embrace and let embrace me.

Over the last year I sat with transsexuals, cross-dressers, genderqueer individuals who agreed to meet with me, and I listened to their stories while I took notes. Often I asked a broad, open-ended question. So tell me about your experience as a trans person? They answered how they wanted. I also asked more specific questions about family and romance and career based on what they already shared, but mostly I stuck with the broader type questions.

Apart from the play, and not at all part of any official research into trans issues, I discovered true friends and at least one soul mate. My life became fuller with each trans person I met. I dated a trans man for a time, and my time with him changed me profoundly and opened me up as a gay man and a person.

I took in the stories I read, saw in film and most importantly heard firsthand. At the same time I read over and over again the Bible narratives of the trans characters I identified in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

Then I began to speak and write about the play and some of my ideas. People responded with their own thoughts and gave me vital information about the Bible stories and the original language and meanings of words in Hebrew that I would not have known. (I studied Koine Greek in college, but never Hebrew).

In May I began to share the Transgender Bible Stories publicly, first at the Courage UK London meeting then later in the year at the Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham, England and then most recently at the Colorado Regional Gathering of Friends (Quakers).

The audience reaction surprised me. One person wrote on his blog about how the material gave him the “holy creeps,” and about how blasphemous it all seemed to him. But most audience members responded enthusiastically, at least three telling me that as a result they wanted to dive into the Bible themselves after never having anything to do with it or put it down long ago.

These last two weeks I have spoken with trans friends about the play, my ideas for characters, specific parts of the plot and certain technical aspects. For instance, if I were a female to male trans person not taking testosterone, what might I do differently with my voice so that it would pass more as a male voice. How do males and females speak differently in our cultures? How would a female attack a word compared to a male?

Sometimes seemingly unrelated interests suddenly jumps into one of my plays and affixes itself to the work. I recently re-read Elaine Pagels’ book about the Gospel of Thomas. There I found all sorts of fascinating references to gender. That got me thinking about the Apostle Thomas. I knew he went all the way to India to share the Jesus message and ultimately got killed there by the sword. Thomas in Southern India got me thinking about the hijras, the eunuchs of India also referred to as the third sex. This got me talking to filmmaker and scholar Harjant Gill about hijras, their history and their current roles in Indian life. Suddenly the confluence of information gave new direction and depth to my ideas for the play. I won’t reveal how it all turns out, but I tell you all this to share some of the organic nature of the creative process for me.

The audience plays a major role in the creation of my plays. I’m always thinking about who my audience members might be and consider them in my content, characters and in crafting lines. Before I premiere a piece, I present a preview version to close friends who have seen my other work and usually a few people who have never seen any of my plays.

I come with scrapes of ideas I have, and I literally build the piece right before their eyes. They give me feedback about what worked and what didn’t. I consider their feedback, make changes and then a day or two later do another preview performance with another group of people. Get more feedback and make more changes. Even after I premiere a piece, I take in how my audiences respond and ask individuals for feedback. I continue to tinker and tune the play even years after it premieres. This is one of the reasons why I am loathed to record any of my shows. They seem to me living organisms always growing and changing.

This week I have already done two preview performances and have a third this afternoon. The piece is coming along nicely. Each time I do it, it settles into place more and more. So far the audiences have found it to be funny and moving, and for some, enlightening.

Having considered my trans audience members, I wanted to keep some of the revelations subtle, knowing that they will figure it out right away. Having non-trans folks in the audience this week helped me see that I was too subtle for them and need to spell out some things more clearly.

Tomorrow I premiere the piece at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I believe a large crowd will gather including some coming from as far as an hour away. Some dear trusted friends will be there. Ultimately I want Transfigurations to transition into a musical. I can write lyrics and have found at least two different people willing to write music.

So cross your fingers, tell me to break a leg, and hold me in the Light or shoot up a prayer if you do that sort of thing because ready or not, I am about to premiere Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible.

Here are some resources that have influenced me:

blogs:
Jen Burkes’ Transcending Gender
Elliot’s many blogs including Little Bits and Boi
Alex Resare’s Across and Beyond
Diana’s Little Corner in the Nutmeg State
Jay Sennett’s newly retitled blog On Zen and the Art of Anti Assclownery

books:
Omnigender–A Trans-Religious Approach by Virgina Mollenkott
Queer Theory, Gender Theory by Riki Wilchins
Butch is a Noun by S. Bear Bergman
Orlando by Virginia Wolfe
Beyond Belief–The Secret Gospel of Thomas by Elaine Pagels

Special Thanks
Elliot, Alex, Ally, Diana, and Oliver Danni for your recent help!

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