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Posts Tagged ‘Hartford’

Today during worship at Hartford Friends Meeting, the story of the Good Samaritan came up and reverberated in subsequent messages. (At Quaker meetings anyone can share a message. We don’t have a sermon or a pastor like they do in churches. Most messages are under five minutes) One of the key messages to emerge today was that in order to be a Good Samaritan, one often needs to see the humanity in people or as we say in Quaker circles “that of God within.” Look beyond the externals of identity to find our kinship.

Wayne, a man in the meeting who always strikes me as such a nice guy, someone with whom I feel I could attend either a baseball game or an opera and have a good time, told the following story.

Back on Christmas Eve in 1990, when he must have been in his early 20’s as he he walked around downtown Hartford with a male friend suddenly a large black SUV pulled up next to them and four young white guys jumped out. Without a word spoken they begin to beat and then kick Wayne and his friend. They hurt them badly. Wayne was unconscious and only learned later after waking up in the hospital how he survived the attack. As Wayne was on the ground already unconscious getting kicked in the head, a car pulled up with four others guys–two Black, two Latinos. They drove off the attackers and picked up Wayne and his friend and brought them in their car to the hospital. In contemporary Hartford with its vast class and race and geographic divides, the story serves as a modern remaking of the Good Samaritan parable.

The police later told Wayne that he and his friend were likely the victims of a hate crime–a gay bashing. Neither one of them are gay though. The assailants seeing two men walking identified them as gay and then targeted them to physically assault. Quite possibly Wayne or his friend would have died without the intervention of those four other guys.

Wayne got to meet the men who saved him and asked, “Why did you stop to help me?” The response was something like, “Because what they were doing to you was wrong and you needed help.”

Simple concepts here that somehow can get confused. Straight people can be gay-bashed. Gay men can be the victims of transphobic crimes. People stand up and become active, informed allies because it is the right thing to do. Simple.

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Still buzzing from the amazing Gender Odyssey conference, today I fly from Seattle to Miami to be part of a Spanish language talk show (I feel so elated by the conference, I doubt I’ll need the plane.) No time to blog about what happened right now, but I will have something up in a few days, but work to do first.

After Miami I head back to Hartford, CT (aka home) to perform my play about transgender Bible characters at the Charter Oak Cultural Center. I recently sat down with Meghan and Kevin from the RadioActive program. We covered a broad range of topics including ex-gay experiences, addressing homophobia in schools, transgender Bible characters and veganism. ūüėÄ

Find out about “no homo” and so much more!

Have a listen here.

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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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peterson toscanoThis weekend I will be home (aka Hartford, Connecticut) and it is a good thing too because lots of cool stuff is happening that I get to attend, AND I will also get to contribute to the coolness.

All day on Saturday will be the Trangender Lives Conference held at UCONN Health Center in Farmington, CT from 8:00 am until 5:00 pm.

Participate in a day long conference that will challenge your views, expand your horizons and engage you with a topic that many of us take for granted: Trans Health and Law!

I will be there the whole day and at 12:30 I have 10 minutes to perform an excerpt from Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible ūüôā¬† For those who have seen it, any suggestions of which excerpt I should perform???

Another super event taking place all day Saturday is the F.A.D.G.E. Fest (Feminism, Autonomy, Diversity, and Gender Expression!) from 11:00 am until midnight at the Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford. Loads of great speakers and performers. I will arrive for dinner and stay for the evening entertainment and also offer up some excerpts from Doin’ Time in¬† the Homo No Mo Halfway House and Queer 101.

Also earlier in the day on Saturday I will be the guest on GayTalk Radio, a live radio program out of Seattle from 9:00 am – 11:00 am PST (12:00 pm – 2:00 pm Eastern time). Yes, this is at the very same time I will be performing at the Transgender Lives Conference, thus giving me a chance to offer live updates from the conference. You can also call in to ask questions, request excerpts for me to perform, etc. Who knows Vlad may even show up or even Federico!

On Sunday afternoon I will head over to the local Integrity group for their monthly meeting held at Grace Church in Hartford. Integrity is an LGBT-affirming Epsicopal  (Anglican) group. In fact, the first gay friendly religious space I entered was the Integrity group in Memphis (oh, how frightening for a recently out pentecostal holiness conservative fundamentalist!)

Integrity Harford will hold their meeting at 3:00 pm and will focus on transder lives and stories.

The title of our meeting will be, TRANSCENDING the LGBT Spectrum. Our guest speakers will be our own Barbara Curry who will lead a discussion along with other guest speakers. This presentation will be a combination of life stories and guided discussions about the confusion over trans people in and out of the LGBT community and how we can be sure our parishes are welcoming to them. Resources from the TransAction curriculum will be utilized. All are welcome to join us for worship, forum and fellowship. Please bring friends and share this announcement in your faith communities.

‚ÄúMost transgender Christians are searching for the same things that other believers want: a connection to their God within a loving community where worship and working for equality and justice are the focus of the Christian experience. Unfortunately, these searching transgender people are too often left without a place to call their ‚Äúchurch home‚ÄĚ because most congregations and religious institutions are not ready to welcome them as their Christian companions.‚ÄĚ
-From the TransAction Curriculum statement

If you or someone you know live in the Hartford-area, come by, come by! You will find all the details on my schedule page.

Now I have to to return to my regularly scheduled activity–prepping for six weeks in the UK and Sweden! I arrive in London a week from today. YES! Tour will include Oxford, Cambridge, Southampton, London and so much more! I still am confirming details for Northern Ireland and Sweden. YUMMY. (someone alert the Swedes to increase their Tartex supplies.)

You can check out the full (and growing) schedule here. (um, that sounds a little wrong, or just right, hmmm)

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I feel like I just stepped out of a Dr. Seuss book–Oh the Places You’ll Go!

new_logo_with_words_non_anniversaryYesterday I spent about six hours with Christopher Hitchens, Peter Gomes, and Harold Kushner. No, I was not having a read-a-thon about faith or the need to annihilate it. Instead I had the privilege of volunteering for the Connecticut Forum, an organization in Hartford, CT that creates public conversations among luminaries. Last night’s topic? GOD-Big Questions…BIGGER Questions.

And what role did they offer to this queer Quaker Christian?¬† I was the personal valet to Christopher Hitchens. In addition to the main stage event at the Bushnell Theater, the Forum runs a series of pre-Forum events with their guests–a book signing, a press conference run by Youth Forum members, a cocktail party, dinner, and then all the¬† backstage activities. The role of the valet is to make sure his or her guest is¬† comfortable, not harassed by fans, and most importantly, that he or she gets to the next event on time (preferably sober).

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

I somehow think the Forum continues to ask me back to valet because as a performance artist, they understand that no one fascinates me much than myself.  That and I lived in NYC for 10 years where one gets trained to walk with a catlike aloofness toward all manner of celebrities. (As a result, some years back I got to spend a glorious Forum evening with Kurt Vonnegut and his secondhand smoke.)

Of all the Forums that I’ve done, this is the¬† one that generated the most buzz from my friends. On Facebook I announced that I would spend the evening with these three men, and immediately the requests came pouring in.

  • Give Peter Gomes a hug and kiss from me
  • Tell Rabbi Kushner I said hi
  • Take ME with you!

Even my agent, Sarah B. Miller, who can suntan next to Orlando Bloom in Palm Springs and not bat an eyelash, got all giddy and asked me to get Hitchens to sign a book for her boyfriend. (Which of course I did in completely unobtrusive valet fashion.)

Richard Sugarman, the cuddly Buckeye fan who runs the Forum with his wife Doris, (who looked super stylish in a tailored Chanel black and white tweed suit), asked me why I thought people showed so much interest in this “God” Forum. In fact, they expected over 2500 people that evening to sit and listen to three guys talk about religion. I said I think it is because religion matters to believers and non-believers. These are conversations that we don’t often have, yet religion effects our lives culturally, politically and personally.

Other staff and volunteers at the Forum who know me and my quirky Quaker ways wondered why Richard wanted me to valet for¬† Hitchens, the outspoken atheist. I admit I felt a natural inclination towards Peter Gomes, who recently spoke at the Gay Christian Network Conference. (“They were delightful!” he told me in his charming high Bostonian¬†accent. “I didn’t even know such a thing existed.”)

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

Hitchens and I turned out to be an effective pairing. When introduced as his valet for the evening, Hitchens broke into a mischievous grin and replied in his Oxford/Cambridge drawl (he attended both schools) “I’ve always wanted a valet.” For all the public bluster and aggression (you should have seen him take on genital mutilation with Kushner–yikes!) I found Hitchens to be thoughtful, engaging and very very smart.

Turns out Hitchens’ daughter attends a Quaker school where they have silent worship most mornings. I asked him why he would choose a religious school for his¬† daughter, to which he replied, “Well it is a good school.” When I asked about the worship, he stated, “Ah, but they just sit in silence,” which I think we can take as a passive endorsement of Quakerism from this outspoken non-believer.

In preparation for the¬† evening I read Hitchens’ book God is Not Great–How Religion Poisons Everything. Even as someone who thinks that God is pretty great, I enjoyed the book and agreed with much of his reasoning about the negative impact that religion has had on individuals, societies and governments. Dogma, doctrine, control, fear, shame, subordination of women–these elements sadly have been the hallmarks of many if not most religious traditions. Perhaps this is why I have chosen a strain of Quakers for myself where we do not have ministers laying down the law, a creed to profess or sacraments to enact. Instead we have to work much of it out for ourselves as we sit together and listen. (I see it as a church for adults).

Whatever one may feel about Hitchens and his views on religion, one can’t help but admire his taste in literature. He is a huge fan of George Eliot (Marian Evans) and Saki (H.H. Munro), two of my all time favorite English writers. As we chatted during the intermission, Hitchens told me how he thought that Saki had been a man who liked men, although we have no proof of this (other than his writing which bristles with camp and fops). Hitchens told me that during the Edwardian period no one even mentioned¬† Oscar Wildes’ name, yet in Saki we see echoes of Wilde all over the place.

Peter Gomes

Peter Gomes

For me the most exciting moment of the evening took place during transport from dinner at the Marriott to the Bushnell Theater, a 10 minute ride in a limo-bus contraption replete with disco lights and a bar. I positioned myself across from Peter Gomes, chaplain at Harvard and writer of many progressive books on theology including his newest The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus–What’s So Good about the Good News. My goal? To seduce Peter Gomes with my unorthodox Biblical interpretation on gender.

After a brief introduction and some talk about the Gay Christian Network Conference, I casually dropped my theological bait,

Me: I perform a play about Transgender Bible characters. (pause for effect)
Gomes: Really?!? Who is transgender in the Bible?
Me: Well, the eunuchs for one. The story of Esther would completely fall apart without the surgically altered, differently-gendered eunuchs. And of course one of the first converts to the Christian faith was a Black African eunuch.
Gomes: That’s really something! I am going to have to use that in a sermon.

Knowing I had tapped into his geeky exegetical side, I pressed in with stories of Joseph from Genesis and “the man” carrying a pitcher of water in the Gospels. Gomes seemed genuinely dazzled by all this (Hey, not only am I a performer, I do have a unique take on the scriptures virtually unheard of in most churches, synagogues, and seminaries.)

harold_kushner

Harold Kushner

All this took place in a span of  seven minutes. As we arrived and shuffled off the limo-bus, Harold Kushner, having overheard the conversation about gender variant Bible characters, turned towards me to comment. I somehow expected a rebuke or a correction for mishandling the scriptures. Instead he told me that in the Midrash there are stories of Joseph putting on makeup and looking as beautiful as his mother. Ha!

Connie Schultz

Connie Schultz

Backstage at the Bushnell Pulitzer prize winner, Connie Schultz, the moderator for the evening, prepped for the colossal task of facilitating a conversation between these three men. (One question that arose later in the program–Why no women panelists talking about faith? Indeed.) During the pre-show run up, Connie also connected with much of the backstage staff–the doorman, the caterer, the tech folks–asking about the theater and interacting with genuine interest. I thought that if I had been in her shoes, I would have been a nervous wreck. Instead she helped everyone else feel at ease and valued.

Finally the three men and Connie sat on stage to began their conversation, a roller coaster discussion that ranged in topics on faith, religion, politics, God, President Obama, and, well,  genital mutilation. Hey, it is the Connecticut Forum. Anything can happen.

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