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Back in October of 2001 I walked into a Quaker meeting house in Hartford, CT to finally attend silent worship. Over 10 years before in Wales I nearly sat through a meeting during my honeymoon with my wife. We were both 25 years old, conservative, Bible-believing, Pentecostal Christians looking for a place to meet with Jesus.

Since we had arrived at the Quaker meeting house about 20 minutes before the service, we nosed around in the front room and perused the literature prominently displayed. None of it sounded familiar. The language seemed vague, shadowy to us–suspect. “…that of God in everyone…the Light of the divine…the seed within.” We understood these words individually, but the way the Quakers strung them together, they smacked of the dreaded heresy of our day–NEW AGE. We dashed out of there in search of a proper church with a proper God that we recognized.

Years later, no longer married, no longer “straight,” I felt adrift in my spiritual life. I had just moved back up North from Memphis, TN. After two years of coming out and attending a warm (though not completely affirming) Episcopal church, I wanted to find a place of worship in my new home of Hartford, CT. I tried the Episcopal churches in the area, but although they were effusively welcoming of gays, I perpetually felt underdressed among the posh and well-groomed New England Episcopalians. Also, the churches I visited felt dry, stuffy, and conservative in the restrained way the priests and their staff conducted business.

I had begun work as an infusion teacher at the Watkinson School, the first job in which I was openly gay, and a place where the administration encouraged my creativity as I worked with both teachers and students to infuse the 9th grade with innovative, and hopefully effective, teaching and learning strategies and techniques. Through working with students like Daniel, May, and John and collaborating with teachers like Christina, Jen, and Steve, I felt the sludge in my brain begin to loosen up as critical thinking and fresh ideas began to flow.

Since a co-worker, Diane worked in the Middle School, I did not have too much interaction with her. I heard rumors that she was openly Quaker. This intrigued me. I never met an actual Quaker, and here was one among us in this progressive private school. I learned that David, an Upper School history teacher was also a practicing Quaker. After interrogating Diane to find out what actually happens in a Quaker meeting, I decided I to visit.

A few weeks before terrorists had attacked the USA. I visited lower Manhattan nearly a month after the downing of the World Trade Towers and other buildings. In my early 20’s I worked in the executive dinning room on the 50th floor at the American Express building directly next door to one of the towers. On a Saturday in October 2011 I returned to my old stomping grounds, but nothing looked the same, and the fire still smoldered. Military personnel with guns patrolled. Workmen removed debris and hammered more plywood over building facades as dazed tourists walked around silently. Most businesses were closed. Everything was covered in grey ash. The scenes I saw that day in New York mirrored the emotional state of the country at the time. Citizens were shocked and stunned. Many of us felt terrorized and vulnerable for the first time in our lives.

In that state of mind a week after my visit to NYC, I entered the Hartford Friends Meeting. There were perhaps 25 people sitting on pews facing each other. The pews formed concentric squares. There was no altar, no pulpit. There were no songs, no prayers, no sermon. Just silence. Stillness. This quiet lasted a full hour.

I did not feel bored or uncomfortable, which surprised me. Instead I felt I had come home, but to a home I had never been in before. The silence surrounded me and filled me and comforted me. After years of being pummeled by words, and weeks of terror alerts, breaking news, and a quick buildup to war, the silence felt like a balm to my troubled mind and panicked heart. I sat in that silence like in a hot bath, surrendering to it.

Over the next few years I continued attending meeting for worship. I would sit there and imagine I was as an overused clunky desktop computer in need of maintenance. Each meeting I sat in silence allowing the Spirit to do a scan disc operation over all the data I had collected through the years. I imagined God conducting a defrag of my mental and spiritual hard drive closing up the gaps, removing digital junk that took up room and slowed down processing.

A year later I began writing Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House. My brain felt freer as I began to process nearly two decades receiving gay conversion therapy and ex-gay ministry. By 2004, after a clearness process with a small group of Quakers at Hartford Meeting, I decided to leave the Watkinson School and attempt to work as a theatrical performance activist. Now, nearly 10 years after attending my first Quaker meeting, I will embark on a six state, cross-country, train tour sharing my work about gender non-conformists in the Bible and my growing concern about climate change.

The practice of quiet contemplation may seem to some like a bland, heartless exercise for the rare esoteric mystic. Perhaps it’s not for everyone. I know I cannot do it for long by myself in my own study. But gathering with others in that silent place week after week, I have sifted through much inner debris. I have wrestled with my own demons. I have developed new ideas and found new direction for my work.

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Read about the three weeks I just spent at Haverford College as Friend in Residence. All my worlds collide–queer, Quaker, scholar, activist.

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Photos from Green Street Friends Meeting and Haverford Friends Meeting

In January I announced that I will no longer fly for work or pleasure within North America (I haven’t sorted out yet what I will do with Europe and South Africa, but since there are no trips to sort for well over a year, I have time.)

Strange how one decision like that–grounding myself–can actually open up doors. I travel for 97% of my performances. I have a rare local presentation this week at Susquehanna University, but mostly I have to travel to present.

Some months ago Dr. Erin Runions of Pomona College invited me to come to Claremont, CA (in South California) to present Transfigurations and to work with a group of her students on developing queer readings of Bible texts through theater. The request came just as I had made my decision to no longer fly. That meant I needed to look into a three day train journey, which may sound romantic, but romance costs some serious money if you hope to experience it in a sleeper car. Since I cannot afford that sort of romance, I need to ride coach.

I put the word out that I could make stops along the way and on the way back and BAM! I now have the Very Grounded Cross-Country Train Tour with stops on the way to CA in Chicago (4/16-18) and Albuquerque (4/19). On the way back I will stop to visit a dear friend who will travel up to see me in Flagstaff (4/29) then I have a few days in Wichita with friends and family (5/1,2), a performance in Manhattan, OK (5/3), Kansas City, MO (5/4), Akron, (5/6) and Cleveland, OH. You can see the whole schedule here.

I am still looking for a possible venue in Wichita if anyone is the the position to invite me to perform or present at a community center, theater, place of worship, etc.

A trip like this takes much longer than if I were going to fly, but instead of flying over a chunk of the US, I get to stop, connect with old friends and new, and present in places that I have long schemed with friends about, but never had the chance to do it.

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The story of Easter resonates for many. A death–an ending–is overturned.

Unexpected, impossible New Life.

Many of us who lived in the closet felt as if we were reborn when we finally came out. Or perhaps we were trapped in a bad relationship or after a long illness, we experienced new life. The tomb takes on many forms.

Lazarus comes out of his tomb after four days dead and decomposing. Wrapped tight in the grave clothes, unable to move freely or see, Jesus tells his disciples, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

We may come out of our tombs, but we are not necessarily immediately free. We may have had years of grave clothes–fear, shame, low-self esteem, self-doubts, and lies, choking us.

That’s when we can experience the power of community, which may include learning to trust again. Loving friends come along side of us to help us unwrap from the tangled past, to love us back to life, so that we can fully enjoy this new life that came to us so unexpectedly.

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I seriously avoid “gay” news most days. On my Twitter Feed I mostly follow people who tweet about trans* issues or climate change. The rare exception is Zack Ford but that’s because I hold out hope that we will once again record an episode of Queer and Queerer podcast.

This week it is all gay all the time what with the US Supreme Court hearing two cases on California Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA.) Even Climate Change people have been writing about these cases and what it all might mean. Of course the justices will now toy with us for another several more months as we wait for their ruling. It’s worse than waiting for the Sequester to kick in and kick butts.

Although I am a man married to a man (in our Quaker Meeting not legally–not yet) I do not focus on the marriage equality battles. But since all of my social networks and news feeds have been jammed with minute by minute updates about SCOTUS, what they said, when they burped, and what it all might mean, I have tweeted about the topic some. Here’s my 2 Cents:

LGBT people have the rights to love, to partner, to build homes together. It is an insult for us to sit & wait for legal permission

That “gay marriage” has been the single biggest social issue of our time points to the moral poverty of the USA. #SocialBlindness #distracted

Social Security Benefits. Inheritance. Housing ownership & rental rights. Immigration. Hospital Visitation–>Marriage Issues

I look forward to the end of the “gay marriage” debate so marriage equality orgs can use their resources to advance queer rights.

Let me speak plainly. Most anti-marriage equality arguments are based on irrational fears, homo hate, & straight supremacy

You get the idea.

In other Gay News there is a law moving forward through the New Jersey congress in that will ban gay reparative therapy, (aka conversion therapy or ex-gay ministry) from being inflicted upon people under the age of 18. If voted on, the law is likely to pass the Democratic controlled congress. No one yet knows if Governor Chris Christie will sign the bill into law, but its emergence has resulted in robust news coverage.

These days I rarely speak in the media about my own sordid ex-gay past, but as Friend in Residence at Haverford College, WHYY public radio in Philadelphia had my bio from Walter Hjelt Sullivan, Haverford Quaker Life Director. They contacted me to be on the Radio Times program with the amazing Marty Moss-Coane. Today I spent a glorious hour with Marty and shared my own story and weighed in on the harm of reparative therapy and the complicated process of recovering from the harm. Other guests included Brigid Harrison, Montclair State University political science professor and Clinton Anderson, director of the APA LGBT Concern office.

I feel gratitude that Marty and her excellent team decided they would not include a pro-ex-gay/gay conversion therapy guest as so often happens. With the weight of evidence from so many medical associations, including anti-gay “therapists” in these public discussions is becoming as unnecessary as including global warming deniers in public discussions about Climate Change.

Ok I feel gayed out! I think I will read Bill McKibben’s book Eaarth.

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Doin’ Time at Haverford

This week I began my three week Friend in Residence program at Haverford College, a historically Quaker undergraduate school outside of Philadelphia. According to the Quaker Affairs’ website,

The purpose of the Friend in Residence program is to enrich the educational experience for Haverford’s students, deepen the school’s appreciation of its Quaker roots and strengthen the College’s connections within the broader Quaker community.

Here is a full listing of my events

During my time here I will give two public performances to demonstrate the sort of work I do as a theatrical performance activist. On April 5th as part of the President’s Social Justice Series, I willl present Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. It will be a rare showing of the full theatrical production along with short pieces presented by trans people from Philadelphia.

But first this Saturday I will perform a stand-up comedy of sorts called Peterson Uncut! The Raw Version, which will give me a chance to tell some bawdy Bible stories and saucy tales from the Homo No Mo Halfway House and more. But earlier that same day I will help facilitate a Climate Summit. I am NO EXPERT when it comes to climate change as a scientific issue or a human rights issue. I will take part to learn from experts in the field both students and non-students–scientists, activists, and concerned citizens. What I bring to the event is my experience as a facilitator.

Tomorrow I head to Temple University to teach in a class about Sexuality and the Bible. The topic? Masturbation and Protestant Christianity. Again I have a scene from Homo No Mo that will come in handy as well as a scene from my play Jesus Had Two Daddies.

Haverford has given me access to their vast Special Collections, which includes thousands of Quaker publications as well as rare archival materials. So I got thinking about Quakers, who were so much involved with prison reform in the 18th and 19th centuries. They also ran hospitals, schools, and insane asylums. What did these Friends think about the sin of Onanism?

This week I have been reading biographies of Quaker members of the Prison Society that advocated many innovations in attempts to improve prison life. Guards were not paid back then and made their money by selling food, clothing, and alcohol to inmates. Also, all inmates were jumbled together regardless of the seriousness of the crime. Murderers and debtors were housed together. Also, men and women (sometimes with their children) were all living in one jail together with no segregation at all. The Prison Society lobbied the Pennsylvania Government and had that all changed.

The Prison Society, whose members also included non-Quakers like Benjamin Franklin, also strongly advocated for solitary confinement. They started with 16 solitary cells in the Walnut Street Jail. They assumed they were helping inmates, but ended up creating one of the cruelest forms of punishment regularly practiced in prisons today. Good intentions do not prevent people from causing harm.

Which got me thinking about masturbation and how prisons responded to inmates caught in the throes of the sin of Onanism. I recently read a reference in the book, New Jack City, about the writer’s time as a guard in Sing Sing Prison, that back in the day inmates were punished or sent off to an asylum in hopes of curing or curbing their masturbatory practices. Yesterday in reading a 1766 Treatise on Onanism I began to discover some of the attitudes and practices of that time–severe.

Who knows where the research will lead? It likely will lead all sorts of people discovering this blog post through all kinds of Google Searches. Next week I will research Hannah Whitall Smith and her very interesting offspring.

Here are some photos I took this week.
Special thanks to Diana Peterson, archivist for the Special Collections, Walter Hjelt Sullivan, director of Quaker Life and my kind handler and organizer of all these events, EarthQuakers, a Haverford sustainability group, Eileen Flannigan, a Quaker writer and climate change human rights activist, and Carl Sigmond and Sam Gant, Haverford students who I have known since they were in high school.

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Last night I heard the Heritage Blues Orchestra singing an old song about taking the train home. Now that I have a few medium-sized Amtrak train trips under my belt, I am ready for a BIG trip out West (and the joy of returning home.) NOTE to self: Must create train songs Spotify playlist

I just booked my train ticket* from Harrisburg, PA to Los Angeles, CA. Normally the trip takes three days, so to save my back (and my sanity,) I will make three stops along the way.


1. Pittsburgh for 3.5 hours on April 15 for dinner

2. Chicago April 16-18 I will perform at a seminary. I am also actively looking for other places to give a talk or performance on April 17. I also get to see friends Charlie, Jaxon, and others

3. Albuquerque April 19: I have NO plans yet on what I will do in this New Mexican city, so if you live there and want to meet up or if you want a performance/talk (including my new one: A Queer Response to Climate Change–What Would Walt Whitman Do?) let me know!

I arrive in Los Angeles the morning of Sunday, April 21 and have the day to hang with friends before I head to Pomona College for a few days in residence before performing on April 26 in LaVerne then off to Palm Springs.

My return route begins on April 29 will include stops in Flagstaff, Topeka, Kansas City MO, and Cleveland, OH.

And what exactly do I do?? Well here is a sample of a talk/performance I gave this summer at Friends General Conference about Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Princess Dress. I love me a Patriarch who can rock a frock!

*NOTE: train travel is a part of my low-carbon diet. It also gives me a chance to see folks along the way.

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Being Itinerant

Since 2004 when I began traveling and performing full-time, I have avoided certain words to describe what I do. People I met kept hurling them at me, and I repelled these titles with the same force that I rejected slurs.

Minister, prophetic ministry, doing the Lord’s work, missionary.

These are loaded words for me, in large part because of the many years I spent as a born-again, Evangelical, Conservative, Republican Christian. No wonder I have opted for a faith tradition, Quaker, that does not include ordination and clergy.

Instead I created a different title for myself Theatrical Performance Activist. Lately I have also taken on the title of Bible Scholar, Comic, Lecturer, and Trouble Maker. Among Quakers I don’t mind being called a Traveling Friend, which has an old timey ring to it.

While I have always had to travel to do the work that I do, typically these travels included a flight to a distant place with one or two performances and then the return flight. Lately though because of my distress over climate change and the need to raise awareness about the desperate need to radically decrease our reliance on fossil fuels, I have grounded myself, opting to only travel long-distances by train or bus. This sort of travel is performance art for me as I blog about it, tweet, and share stories in my new presentation, A Queer Response to Climate Change–What Would Walt Whitman Do?

I have spent the last 10 days in North Carolina beginning with my bus ride to Harrisburg, PA, overnight with cool friends and then the Amtrak train trip from Harrisburg, PA to Burlington, NC. About 7 days into the trip I began to feel weary from all the performances, multiple accommodations (all very pleasant) and many many people (who I adore but I am introvert by nature.) On Tuesday I had about 75 minutes between events, so I asked Jennifer Bird, my host at Greensboro College if I could crash in her empty office.

With my “man-bag” wrapped in my scarf as a pillow and my favorite long grey overcoat as a blanket, I took a nap on her carpeted office floor. I suddenly felt like one of those itinerant preachers–George Fox, Charles Wesley, or Sojourner Truth. The weariness had a pleasure that reached my bones. I felt that the work is good, well worth the effort, with the privilege to speak to so many people about gender outlaws in the Bible, waking up from biblically induced comas, and the many ways we can still have hope as we respond to the climate crisis upon us.

Still I am tired and ready for a rest this weekend before presenting over three days at Virginia Theological Seminary starting on Monday.

itinerant noun a person who travels from place to place (especially a traveling church minister or magistrate.

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