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The time has come to say goodbye to all our company…

Peterson & weird green plant

Peterson & weird green plant

No! Wait! Not Goodbye at all. I have just moved my blog address to my new and improved website.

From now on you will find my cheeky and serious blog posts about queer, transgender, bisexual, lesbian, and gay issues, gender, climate change, faith, and whatever weird stuff happens to catch my fancy over at the Peterson Toscano blog. (yo, yo, update that delicious blog roll of yours)

Also, feel free to feast on the buffet of social media I serve up on a daily basis. I got something for everyone!
Tumblr
Pinterest (check out my board If Jesus had Pinterest, WWJP??)
Twitter
Facebook
YouTube

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I had the privilege to write a post for Ex-Gay Watch, which has presented news and analysis of ex-gay politics and culture since 2003. They were the first to review my play, Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House, which ultimately led me to some important friends in my life today.

After surveying others like me who tried to go ex-gay or to alter their gender differences, I shared some analysis about the many reasons why someone might choose that route for themselves.

I recently began a discussion with other ex-gay survivors about the reasons they tried to alter their sexuality, gender presentation, or gender identity. To help dig into the question, I prompted them:

Think about the point in time when you began to seek out ex-gay treatment. Then ask: “During that time, if I suddenly woke up the next day 100% heterosexual/gender normative, how would my life be different? How would my relationships be different? How would my future be different? How would my career be different?”

Here is a sampling of what folks had to say to the question, Why did you try to change?

Juli–Guilt. Never cared about god (or believed), but knew my parents would be ashamed and feel responsible (and ashamed for being responsible). Forty years and three marriages, and I still have to remind myself at least once a day they were wrong.

Derek–I was always the “good kid” so the thought of being gay didn’t mesh well with who I felt I was or more what others thought I should be. Faith, family, a desire for what was modeled as normalcy were blanket reasons.

Gail Dickert–I was highly motivated by the fear of hell and the idealism of hetero-supremacy that was proclaimed in my churches and especially in Bible College (Bridal College, as it was referred to by the women in search of their perfect husbands).  [Gail is the author of Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams]

You can read my entire Ex-Gay Watch post here. Others are weighing and sharing their own reasons in the comments section.

Anthony Venn-Brown

Anthony Venn-Brown, an ex-gay survivor from Australia, reminded me through his own comment of a potent incentive that propelled me to seek “change.” The criminality of homosexuality:

simply put…when I was growing up and realised I was gay it meant society viewed me as a pervert, the law said I was a criminal if I acted on it and would be imprisoned, the church said I was an abomination. I didn’t want to be any of these things so this launched me on a 22 year journey to do all I could to change which included a six month live in program, exorcisms, 2 x 40 day fasts and marriage.

Of course nothing actually worked in the end. it was like getting of a stationary bike you’ve been peddling. You are still in the same place.

Had I been growing up today with the new understanding of sexual orientation, change in laws and new understanding of the bible verses……how different my life would be.

Perhaps with informed consent, people today will not make the same mistakes that Anthony, I, and so many others made.

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I will be off-line for about three weeks as I soak in the sun in Southern Mexico (Oaxaca) and visit my dear old friend Frida Kahlo. I have a stack of yummy books to read as Glen and I unwind on the beach. We each are bringing six books (we needed to limit ourselves). After much deliberation I offer my selections:

Any comments on these books? I am sure you each have suggestions, but they will have to wait for Spring Break. The great thing about having a professor of Creative Writing as a partner is access to so many tasty books and an instant commentary by the professor himself. I doubt I will get to them all (it’s not a contest) but it’s nice to have options for whatever mood strikes me. I typically can read up to five books at a time so I jump back and forth from book to book–Poly-literate?

Fear not, I will not leave you bereft (ah, the depths of my self-importance.) In my absence from blogging and tweeting and farting on US soil, I have scheduled Jesus Loves You tweets through a site called Twaitter. They will appear on this blog on the right, on Facebook (where you can comment if you are one of my 1750 closest friends) and of course on Twitter which you can follow here. What first started as text messages to a handful of friends has grown into a daily ritual for several hundred folks around the world. Adam, a friend in VA, wrote, I’m addicted to your “Jesus Loves You” comments. Adam, and be sure to know they are addicted to you too.

I also want to lead you to some wonderful resources to fill in the void I leave you.

Gwendolyn Glover blogs over at Open Salon. Here is a sample from her piece Thank God for Gay Boys and Girls.

I began wondering if God had something against girls. There were so many differences that seemed inherently unfair. Girls had this embarrassing and painful thing called menstruation. Girls were doomed to go through agonizing childbirth. I felt like it was nothing beautiful or magical because Mom never talked about it. She seemed utterly humiliated by the experience. Dad would only tell us birthing stories that had morals about how doctors were evil and women should have their babies at home..

Also at Open Salon check out Charles Bivona’s modest proposal: The Homo No Mo House: a Business Plan

Always entertaining and informative (with little Moments with Marvin Bloom and Elizabeth Jeremiah, two of the identies I carry with me) the Trans-Ponder Podcast with Jayna & Mila deserves your attention. Also check out their artwork: Jayna’s and Mila’s.

I’ve just starting reading Zack Ford Blogs and appreciate Zack’s insight, humor and abilities as a writer taking on issues of faith, atheism and queer stuff. In his post Why Is It “Disrespectful” and “Offensive” to Challenge Religious Beliefs? Zach writes:

So let’s consider a hypothetical example. One I face often is, “I believe homosexuality is wrong/immoral/whatever.” This belief still wields quite a bit of power and popularity in our society. I would argue this belief is totally invalid, because homosexuality cannot be immoral. Sexual orientations are innate dimensions of identity and a same-sex orientation is no more a choice than an opposite-sex one. Calling homosexuality “immoral” sounds as absurd as calling brown eyes “wrong” or calling the sun “immoral” just for existing. I work really hard to debunk this belief, because it has absolutely no intellectual merit and it is incredibly hurtful to many people.

Although Ze is taking a little break from blogging too, check out the short blog entries on gender and more that nome posts over at That’s What Ze Says.

Cracker Lilo’s Front Porch In addition to serving up personal reflections about faith, sexuality and family, this NYC-based blogger provides posts jammed with yummy links (and gorgeous vegan recipes, oh and PANDAS!)

Need a Quaker fix? Check out Quaker Quaker which offers links to scores of Quaker blogs and resources. If you want to sample the Quakers further, why not visit a Quaker meeting house? Discover the closest meetings to you over at Quaker Finder.

What are some of your favorite blogs, podcasts and cyber-distractions. Feel free to share in the comments section.

Bueno, me voy pronto. Felicidades.

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Grinch pre-informed

For the past three weeks some gay men have publicly offended, marginalized, and misrepresented transgender issues and individuals. I have written about some of that mess here: Remembering Jorge while Forgetting what Binds Us. People have been at work publicly and behind the scenes to speak directly to the gay men responsible for words and actions that serve to break down community rather than build it.

The Bilerico Project, a blog that attempts daily experiments with LGBTQ issues, offered a truly failed experiment in the form of a post by Ron Gold, a new contributor to the site.  Ron comes with an impressive CV in queer activism.  According to one site,

Ron Gold was one of the five original founders of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in the USA, and he was the driving force behind the movement that got the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of “mental illnesses” in 1973.

That’s great stuff, and as a gay man, based on that information alone, Ron would stand out as a hero to me.  But in his first post at Bilerico Project,  No, to the Notion of Transgender, he instead takes the role of an uninformed and insensitive critic of transgender issues and individuals. He uses language that demeans the transgender experience and is outright offensive. Now perhaps Ron attempted to offer a post-modern philosophical musing about the nature of identity and that our idea of gender arises in part from a social construct, (something that Rikki Wilchens does expertly in the book Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer.) In his blog post, Ron failed miserably.

Instead he reinforced the long experienced expectation that non-transgender gay men do not get it and instead go out of their way to denigrate and bully transgender people. As more than one commenter to Ron’s blog post stated, with allies like that who needs enemies.

A new friend, Abby from Arizona, an intelligent lawyer with a delicious wit, first brought  Ron’s Bilerico piece to my attention through a tweet she made to the site.

@bilerico I’m so angry about this, I counldn’t read it all. | New on TBP: “No” to the notion of transgender http://bit.ly/6JNyeM #lgbt

As I waited in the lobby of the Hartford Health Collective for my regular check up, I read on my phone the many comments that people posted in a very short time. I appreciated the directness and the clarity of many of the comments as well as the willingness of some people to share their experiences, perhaps in hopes that narrative will help some people like Ron to “get it.” I have found many transgender people like Abby express themselves brilliantly and advocate for themselves expertly. Mercedes Allen, a bisexual transsexual in a lesbian relationship  who contributes to Bilerico Project wrote a post in response Thank You For Flying Bilerio Airlines and provides links to other responses.  Even so, everyone benefits from allies. I was glad to see some non-trans (cisgender) folks also comment to denounce the post and announce their support of transgender people.

When I got home last night, I posted the following comment,

Yikes! This is an outrageously offensive & misinformed post.

Like you I am a non-transgender gay guy, and I strongly disagree with the content of your blog post. You messed up big time. Perhaps these many comments will serve as a wake-up call. Hopefully you will not react defensively. Rather I hope you reflect, read, listen. Some. The work of being an ally means we will get it wrong. We will get corrected. We will need to educate ourselves, listen deeply and educate ourselves some more. Think of the clumsy ill-informed gay allies you may have met in your early gay days. Clueless and uneducated allies can make a mess.

But then maybe you don’t even wish to be an ally to transgender people. Perhaps you want to correct people with experiences different from your own, to sort them out like the reparative therapists tried to sort us gay guys out. Perhaps you learned that trick from our oppressors. It’s time to learn some new tricks. Start by listening deeply, then listen some more.

Ron’s blog post at Bilerico Project hurts a lot of people, and not just their feelings, although that pain should not be minimized. His words can injure community and the often tentative ties between trangenger people and non-transgender people who stand in clumps under the broad and often leaky LGBTQ umbrella. But it doesn’t have to end with hurt and further breakdown of community.

Over on a Facebook note, Michael Eric Brown of TransMentors International offers support to transgender people who have been negatively affected by the Bilerico post. He writes,

Mr. Gold’s posting has brought out a myriad of emotions in all of us, and has affected not only the trans-identified community, but also those who are our true allies (some who are gay, lesbian, bi or hetero-identified).

Some are angry (livid even), some have begun the descent into depression. Some are losing faith in the activism and advocacy work they’ve been involved in, thinking “What’s the use? It’s a lost cause.”

What’s the use? It’s a lost cause. I have felt that myself around the inclusion of lesbians and gays in the church. I have felt it in regards to activism to counter the lies and damage perpetuated by the Ex-Gay Movement.

I have grown weary and discouraged when someone who I thought was an ally took a potshot or totally misrepresented the work some of us carefully built over time. At those times straight friends like Auntie Doris and members of my Quaker meeting and colleagues like Fran, Jen, Steve and Christina from the Watkinson School  and my sister Maria and my US Marine Bronx-raised Dad and others encouraged me, told me that it is not in vain, reminded me that I am not alone. They let me know they stand with me–allies.

Grinch-post-informed

And I know that in the past year I have met MANY non-transgender lesbian, gay and bisexual queer folks who stand with their transgender friends and the transgender community. I think of Brian in New York and Jane in Washington State and Sharon in London and Suzy in Maryland and Christine in Colorado and Doug in Oregon and Doris in Vancouver and Tim in Tennessee and many many more.

I ask fellow allies to take a moment to write a comment of support for your transgender friends and the transgender community. What have you learned from knowing transgender folks? How has your life been enriched? Log in your support.

Thank you.

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Jeff Harwood, who I first met back in 1996 when we entered the Love in Action ex-gay program in Memphis, TN, has done a lot of good work in coming out and in detoxing from those years of de-gaying himself. He has shared some of his story on my blog here. Every time I have the privilege to see him when I am in Memphis, he comes out more and more as himself.

Over at Facebook he wrote a note about Masks and his ex-gay experience. I asked if he would post it over at the Beyond Ex-Gay Community Site and if I could repost it here. He generously agreed.

To Hell With Masks
by Jeff Harwood

As part of my Stage Movement class we are required to keep a journal. Our instructor gives us a quote and then a question/statement based on the quote and we are supposed to write a response to it. Below is one of the more recent quotes/statements. The response went in a quite a different direction for me personally. While I was writing it, I felt the need to post the note here and tag people from all the different areas of my life and to get your response to it. Thanks.

QUOTE:
“The heart of clowning, to me, is how to get yourself into dilemmas. I don’t have to for them they come my way.” – Bill Irwin

QUESTION:
The mask that you personally wear everyday…talk about those masks and those situations in which you wear them and hide your true self.

RESPONSE:

Detail at entrance of Drill Hall, London

BLEAH! I hate talking about the masks that I wear everyday, because I believe that I’ve grown up enough to throw away any pretense. I’ve come through a lot in my life and I believe that I really have learned to be genuine with others and with myself.

When I think of masks, I think of my entire time that I spent in the ex-gay movement. (In case you don’t know, the ex-gay movement is a religious therapeutic movement that attempts to “cure” LGBT people and make them straight.) That was a time of masks and hiding, a time of constant fear that someone might find out who I really was. I was coerced and manipulated into putting on masks so that I would fit what is hetero-normative, what is “proper and normal” for my gender.

I am now almost ten years outside of that repressive and destructive environment. It took several of those years to come to tear away all those life-destroying encumbrances that were put on me and that I made a part of myself. That process hurt like a son-of-bitch. I still feel sadness and pain when I think about it.

If there is one that I have learned from it is that masks will kill you. They destroy who you are. You get to a point where you can’t distinguish between your masks (lies) and you. God! That is such a pitiful life.

I honestly don’t believe that I function with masks anymore. I can’t begin to explain how freer I am since I’ve thrown off all that crap that was pushed down on me. I was given the liberty to explore all aspects of who I am…the good, the bad, the taboo, everything. I have found parts of me that I didn’t know existed and I love them. You know, I even love the part of me that is still fucking pissed off at the church, at religion and at all the evil that was done to me and others in the of name of god and jesus. Why do I love it? Because it’s me! It’s part of me that I wasn’t allowed to have.

So now, I say what I think. If I have a question, I ask it. Who cares if someone thinks it’s stupid? If I want to hold my partner’s hand across the table in a restaurant, I do. If I need to speak out against something, I speak out. If I don’t say just quite the right way, I don’t care.

If someone gets all bent out of shape and uncomfortable because they don’t like who I am…this new me, it’s not my problem. The funny thing is that I find more acceptance, love and respect from others now than before. Since I have embraced everything—and I mean everything—about who I am, I don’t have to worry or be frightened because there are no more secrets. There is nothing for me to be frightened of.

Those who are bent out of shape and uncomfortable are the ones who are still living behind their own masks. They are afraid. I don’t believe that they are afraid of what others might think or how others might react. I believe that they are afraid of themselves. I believe that they are afraid of the secret parts inside that they have been told, “This is part of you, but you CAN’T HAVE IT.” That part stays locked up inside and it becomes a secret compounded with lies for the sake of some false sense of propriety.

You know, sometimes I think I see that fear on the faces of some of my friends. I just want to go up to them a rip the mask off and tell them, “Who cares if you’re beautiful or ugly? Who cares if that little part of you doesn’t fit what people tell you should be or what is acceptable?” I see it hold them back and it hurts because the truth is that little secret part of them is beautiful just because it is them.

Have me put on a mask, real or imagined, to play a character. That’s fine. I can handle that. It’s no lie. But tell me that I have to put on a mask to live from day to day and I will fight you tooth and nail.

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Frank Rizzo of the Hartford Courant asks,

Is there a transgender show trend emerging?

He’s referring to back to back one-person performances about transgender issues happening in Hartford, CT next month.

Peterson Toscano will present his newest solo theater piece, Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible on Sept. 11 at Hartford’s Charter Oak Cultural Center. It’s about “gender-variant Bible characters,” he says. He has toured with the show in the UK, Sweden and North America.

The performance artist/activist is best known for his solo show, Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House.

Also on Sept. 18 and 19 at Hartford’s Real Art Ways, Scott Turner Schofield, a transgender performance artist, will present How to Become a Man in 127 Easy Steps.

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Peterson Toscano

Scott Turner Schofield

Scott Turner Schofield

Scott and I both performed at the “Sweet T” Unity Conference held at UNC Chapel Hill this past spring. He is an incredible writer and performer–intelligent and skilled. While he is in town, he will take part in a variety of workshops about transgender issues. The Trans-Community Forum will happen at Real Art Ways on Wednesday, September 16 at 7pm and will have a diversity of people on a panel for a community discussion.

Hartford has a vibrant Transgender community with a strong and active organization called CT TransAdvocacy. JeriMarie Liesegang and I both took part in what turned out to be a PRNDI Award winning radio episode of WNPR’s Where We Live with the topic of Gender Identity. (Check it out here)

Hartford is also the new base for the True Colors organization, an advocacy group for LGBTIQ youth which organizes the nation’s largest conference for youth and service providers (teachers, social workers, ministers, etc). They recently moved into the offices of Love Makes a Family, a marriage equality organization which joyfully worked it way out of theneed for office space now that Connecticut offers marriage equality.

As an artist and a queer activist, I have found Hartford to be a place that encourages, affirms and challenges me in my craft and my public witness. With many Hartford-based progressive bloggers at Queers Without Borders raising issues of economic injustice, immigration and torture, I have seen a model of LGBTQ activism that reaches beyond our own interests  to include a broad umbrella of individuals and groups deserving  justice. Hartford models a transection of race and sexuality issues as demonstrated by the successful campaign to ban an offensive black face drag queen performance from taking place at a local gay bar.

Some Hartford-area sheroes, heros and legends of mine include

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Diana, an openly transgender woman (a male to female trans activist) on her blog considers the question:

What does gender variance mean?

That question was asked on a forum that I read and of course, I took it literally. I answered in part…

“To me being “Gender Variant” mean not acting or behaving the way you are expected for your birth gender. Crossing the gender “norms.”

For me, “Gender Variant” is a very broad term. It means being androgynous or a male with long hair or a female with short masculine style of hair, it also mean a woman who likes to dress in male style clothing. It also includes gays or lesbians, as well as a trans-person.”

However, other members answered more personal answers…

Diana then goes on to list the various answers she saw listed, many of which reveal the challenges and dangers of being gender variant.

As a gay man, part of my story is that I was gender variant from a young age. I always understood and felt I was a boy yet I performed and presented in ways that others read as feminine or girly, particular for the rural NY State community where I lived. A good deal of the ex-gay/de-gaying process I endured dealt with butching me up. They trained me to speak in shorter sentences and to maintain a flatter tone when I spoke without going up at the end of a statement as if it were a question. They encouraged a more business casual clean-cut look in my clothing without bright colors, distinguishing accessories or designs. (And let me tell you, I look fetching in a scarf.) They stressed that proper men sit and walk with their legs and feet wider apart than women. They pushed us into sporting activities and car maintenance. And the list goes on with all sorts of silly sounding stereotypical behaviors of what some believe marks a man as a man.

Even today moving around in some gay circles, particularly among gay men over 35, I receive the message that to be “straight-acting” gender-normative, masculine in my presentation is more valuable and attractive then to be fem–even if my natural inclination is to be nelly (or as they say in Spain–con plumas–with feathers.) To me this echoes the heterosexism and gender norms of society at large–a sexist, misogynistic society that oppresses females and femininity in males and male bodied-people. Some try to correct and contain gender variance. What I find sexy and attractive in a person is that that person in comfortable in their own skin–they know themselves and live with authenticity. That’s hot!

As a Quaker we speak often about the Testimony of Integrity. This commitment to honesty and truthfulness covered all areas of life including business transactions. Quakers became such trustworthy business people with fixed prices that didn’t change with the buyer, that a slew of products that used the name Quaker emerged on the market.

According to Wikepedia’s entry on the Testimony of Integrity,

Testimony to integrity and truth, refers to the way many members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) testify or bear witness to their belief that one should live a life that is true to God, true to oneself, and true to others. To Friends, the concept of integrity includes personal wholeness and consistency as well as honesty and fair dealings. From personal and inward integrity flow the outward signs of integrity, which include honesty and fairness.

Not everyone finds integrity and authenticity to be attractive, especially when it questions and upsets the norms. Diana after speaking about the difficulties she has faced because of gender variance, concludes her post,

Now I have transitioned none of this has changed; I’m still to some extent a loner, I still get ridiculed and laughed at, I still feel angry sometimes, and think that I didn’t ask for this, what did I ever do to deserve this?

What did change? I now have pride in who I am, I now have self-esteem, I have accepted myself. I am a member of a very unique tribe, whose membership is very limited. I have developed many new friendships and I have met so many people who accept me for myself. Being gender variant has made me stronger and has challenged me in ways I have never imagined.

Check out her posting over at Diana’s Little Corner in the Nutmeg State.

Also have a listen funky and feisty Mila and Jayna in the latest Trans-Ponder Podcast:

Episode 133 – (right click and and save to download here) In this episode, we talk about the recent attempt of a blogger to compare the trans experience with voluntary amputation. We discuss the recent rise in cis-gender women getting surgeries that are usually reserved for Trans-Women during SRS.
Focus on the Family is going broke, and we enjoy giving everyone the news. Mila goes on a rant about the one letter difference between Tyranny and a certain word that is used to put down trans people, and why we should care that about that little letter Y. We wrap it up with a story of a failed hate crime/attempted murder in the sex change capitol of the world, that left the attacker looking like an incompetent moron, and the victim wondering why their hairdryer was wet?

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