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Posts Tagged ‘marriage’

Since finally coming out gay in my early 30’s (after 17 years of self-imposed therapies to de-gay myself) I was never that keen on finding a partner. Sure I dated, and I met some great guys, but first off I knew I had a ton of gunk to work through. One cannot go to war against one’s sexuality and personality the way I did without needing serious recovery. The Ex-Gay Movement with all the faulty oppressive teaching  “ministers” and “therapists” served up with a warm loving touch did a number on me. Honestly I never thought I could ever be partner material.

Although “change” was not possible (as the ex-gays vaguely promised) recovery has been. Not that I have everything sorted out. Sadly I believe I will live with some of the negative effects of ex-gay treatment for the rest of my life. But not only does life go on for me, I have been able to reclaim much of my life, my art, my hope, and my sanity. With a handful of thoughtful, faithful, loving friends, I was prepared and content to live single the rest of my life.

In regards to romance and partnership, I hate it when people say things like, “Once you stop looking, that’s when you will find love.” Perhaps anecdotal evidence supports this claim, and unfortunately my own romantic situation plops me into the data pool of those who found love when not looking. Surely most people who find a partner have been looking for said partner. These folks don’t just drop out of the sky.

Glen Retief in Lesotho

Still, my partner did, in a matter of speaking, dropped from the sky. In 2008 I attended the Friends General Conference, an annual gathering of North American Quakers. We met that year on a college campus in Johnston, PA, and I roomed with my conference buddy, Dennis, a 65 year old+ scientist and dancer from Denver.   We roomed in a wing of the dorm where many of the LGBTQ folks clustered (you get to request what cluster you prefer when you register.) The dorm rooms were such that two rooms shared a bathroom. When I heard someone on the other side of the two bathroom walls, I thought that we should meet and devise a protocol so that we do not inadvertently barge in on each other.

Just as I cracked open my bathroom door, the stranger in the next room burst in. Tall, gorgeous, and wearing only his underwear, he practically ran into me. I quickly explained, “Um, yeah, so, like, I guess we share a bathroom, so maybe we need to knock or do something before we enter.” Although he was the near naked one, he did not seem flustered one bit. “Yes, I did not realize.” he said with a lilting foreign-accent that sounded a mash-up of British and German. “My name is Glen.”

And that dear friends, is how I met my partner–in the bathroom at a religious conference. Glen, Dennis, and I spent much of the week together going to meals, talks, and Quaker worship. I was a bit harried as I co-led a daily workshop for teens and was scheduled to offer a plenary address to the 1000+ Quakers at the end of the weekend. Glen told me months later that at the time he did not know if Dennis and I were just friends or something more, and he hoped I was available.

I struggled with a sore throat the whole week. I obsessed so much that I would not be able to speak by the time I did my presentation, The Re-Education of George W. Bush, that I paid little attention to Glen. He did catch my attention after one of the plenary addresses when he expressed his strong, thoughtful opinion contrary to my own about something the speaker said. I found this to be extremely alluring. At one point he told me that he was a writer, and inwardly I remarked, “Yeah, right, everyone is a writer these days.”

He saw my play and although he did not say so at the time, he was struck by my ability as an artist–not just another pretty face 😛 He then emailed me a chapter of a book he had begun, something about growing up in South Africa which I promised to read when I had some quiet time away from all the wild Quakers with all their many activities. Then we abruptly parted ways. He left a little early because he was concerned for the welfare of his cats, and I hurried back to Hartford to catch a  plane to London to speak at the Lambeth Conference.

I meet so many people. I like many of them and stay in touch, but I felt something different about Glen, and found myself thinking of him and speaking about him to friends in the UK. “I met this really nice guy…but I’m sure it is nothing.” Then on a train going up North to visit friends in Wakefield I cracked open the email that held the attachment of Glen’s memoir excerpt. The prose was gorgeous. The story deeply moving. I concluded, “He really is a writer–not just another pretty face.”

And as they say, the rest is history. Of course we took other steps to get to know each other before we literally fell in love while hiking in the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. We also each found the other to be freakishly compatible. We are both odd ducks in our own ways, and to find another that fits so well, is well, nothing short of miraculous–a statistical improbability. We compliment each other in multiple ways. We enjoy ourselves together immensely and we help each other to become better artists and better people. We intellectually spar, we comfort each other, we cook for each other, look out for each other, we partner in every aspect of our lives–personally, professionally, spiritually, domestically.

Glen Retief and Peterson Toscano

Next month in Washington, DC we will appeared together to present our work. Glen will read from his memoir, The Jack Bank, and I will perform scenes from my plays, I Can See Sarah Palin from my Window and Transfigurations (a play about transgender Bible characters.”

Glen and I often quote a favorite passage from the book of Ecclesiastes, a text used in many wedding ceremonies. It can easily apply to all sorts of couples, but the text appears to be speaking directly about two males (at least in the English translations I have read. I will have to check in on the Hebrew one of these days.)

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

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Wanna check us out?

Tuesday, April 26, 11:00 AM Radio Interview with Glen about his book. WVIA’s ArtScene with Erica Funke

Wednesday, April 27, 7:30 PM Reading and book signing, The Jack Bank, at Susquehanna University

Saturday, April 30, 7:00 PM Reading and book signing, The Jack Bank, at Midtown Scholar, Harrisburg, PA

Friday, Saturday May 7 and 8 Peterson will perform I Can See Sarah Palin from my Window and Transfigurations in Oslo, Norway.

Wednesday, May 25, 7:00 PM Quaker and Public Witness, a joint presentation by Peterson Toscano & Glen Retief, at the William Penn House, Washington, DC

Thursday, May 26, 700 PM An evening with Glen Retief and Susi Wyss, Atomic Books, Baltimore, MD

Friday, Saturday June 24, 25 Reading by Glen Retief, performance by Peterson Toscano at Wild Goose Festival, Shakori Hills NC

Glen will also read at the Friends General Conference and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (details to be announced)

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My graduation from Love in Action

I am one of the loudest critics of “ex-gay” groups like Exodus International. You see, like so many others, there was a time I turned to Exodus for help. Weighed down with fear and shame over being gay and a deep desire to please God as I understood God at the time, I heard the bold hopeful promise–Change is Possible! I wanted to be a faithful servant of Jesus, and I did not care about the personal cost if it only meant I could hear my Savior say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” But in the end I was wrong–seriously wrong.

I thought I would be more valuable to God, the church, my family, and society if I rid myself of my “unwanted same-sex desires.” Instead I learned that it was not necessary to change my orientation, nor was it possible. Exodus now agrees with this and publicly announces that they do not offer cures.

Art by Ex-Gay Survivor, Christine Bakke

What I did not count on was the terrible toll it would take trying to change and suppress my orientation and gender differences.  And when it comes to harm, I am not alone. Alan Chambers, head of Exodus since 2001, estimates that his programs have a 70% failure rate (and he is their most enthusiastic spokesperson.) What happens to the 70%+ folks who leave the ex-gay world?

Exodus does not know because virtually no Exodus member ministry or counselor have any sort of follow-up or aftercare. Once you stop attending  they have no clue what is going on in your life.

In an effort to help promoters & providers of ex-gay ministry and reparative therapy learn about our experiences, we began to blog, post narratives, artwork, and articles. We wanted to educate Exodus leaders about the negative consequences of their program (and in churches that insisted we must go to war against our gay side in order to get a seat at the table.)

In 2007 we even went to various program headquarters, individual programs, churches with our stories and framed collages revealing some of our experiences.

Any sort of successful business values any data they can collect on customer satisfaction–particularly from the disgruntled. If nothing else for the pragmatic purpose that they want to improve so they can do more business. How much more is this essential for a group of ministers who want to offer loving pastoral care? Do they care?

But we get no response. No serious consideration of our claims. Like lots of big corporations who dismiss whistle blowers, Exodus International staff and Alan Chambers avoid our claims of harm and invalidate them. They spend energy crying foul about their free speech being denied by Apple yet they block their ears to the vital messages we have to tell them.

Yesterday Alan Chambers embarked on a Twitter good will tour of sorts explaining to people that he is reasonable and willing to listen and take questions. I took him up on this (after tweeting for days about Exodus and raising questions of harm) Through my Twitter account I asked:

@AlanMChambers @ExodusIntl Are you willing to dialogue w/ critics? Former participants?

His replied?

AlanMChambers Alan Chambers
@p2son dialogue is a 2 way. You’ve been to my office, know me personally and yet continue to say things that are untrue & inflammatory.

What has likely inflamed Alan is that I recently pointed out in a blog post and on Twitter that Exodus is not only an anti-gay group. They are also exceedingly pro-straight.

They believe that heterosexual marriage is morally and spiritually superior to two men or two women marrying. They have acted on this politically to block marriage equality. They believe that a gay orientation is condemned by God while a heterosexual orientation is holy in God’s eyes. Alan Chambers believes gay Christians have fallen short yet once a former homosexual takes an anti-gay stance in his life  he is right with God. Exodus teaches and believes that lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, and queer people are inferior. Therfore, I concluded that Exodus is a straight supremacist organization.

I can see why this might inflame Alan. But surely he can see some truth in what I am saying even if he doesn’t like the language I use.

The other point that I have been making (for years) is the one I stated above. Most of us went to Exodus to improve our lives and faith were HARMED. That may be hard for someone like Alan Chambers to hear, especially if someone genuinely meant to help. For our part, many have taken responsibility to get our lives back on track.

I have spent at least 10 years in therapy undoing the damage of the treatment I received by Exodus ministers and others in the church who insisted I had to suppress or change my gay side and gender-variant expression.

I was not forced to attend Exodus programs like some of the youth in 2005-2007 in the Love in Action Refuge program. I got myself into the mess, so I have been working to get myself out. BUT that does not mean Exodus is free of their responsibility to take our claims seriously, to take stock of what they do and how they do it, and to consider the consequences for the people they say they want so much to help.

Former Ex-Gay Leaders Apologize

Jeremy Marks was head of Exodus Europe and ran an ex-gay program in England. He stayed in touch with former clients and was shocked to learn that his group was not helping anyone. Considering what he heard, he decided that change was indeed possible for his organization and learned how to affirm gays instead of incur further damage as a result of shame and bad teaching. He has since  issued a public apology for the harm he inadvertently caused to his clients.
Exodus leaders claim they simply want to help people who come to them with unwanted same-sex attractions. What they don’t understand is that they are not qualified to do so. For the most part they are untrained and unlicensed. They have a decided prejudice against the desires, relationships, faith, and lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trangender and queer people.

Yet year after year they operate the same way and never ever consider the harm they cause and the ways they can address this harm. They change their language — “We are not ex-gay. We do not cure. We are not anti-gay.” –But they do not change their message or methods. They play the martyr and do not consider their victims.

If you are someone who has been harmed as a result of trying to change or suppress your orientation or gender differences, through a program, counselor, or on your own, we have begun to look at creative ways to recover from this harm. We also connect with each other on a community site as we learn to live new lives of clarity, health, and authenticity. Please join us.

Share your story too on Twitter. Use the hash tag #exgaysurvivor to let Exodus and others know what sort of harm you experienced, what it has taken to recover, and what your life is like today.

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Are programs that tell people they need not be gay simply silly, misguided throwbacks? Surely the media has gotten a lot of mileage out of covering the “ex-gay” phenomenon.  It can be a sexy and entertaining story. But the portrayals of the people who run these programs run counter to the aims and ideology behind the treatments they offer. It’s time to see these “ex-gay” programs for what they are–Straight Supremacist groups.

Two leaders of the Ex-Gay Movement, Alan Chambers and Janet Boynes, recently received a sympathetic treatment on Lisa Ling’s Our America episode Pray Away the Gay? And some have asked, “Why not? It was not a ‘hard’ news story, rather a portrait of overlooked Americans on the fringe.” Hmmm, if it were that simple.

Another story getting buzz has to do with an Apple iphone app. A petition (with over 30,000 signatures) demands that Apple must remove an Apple approved app linking people to Exodus International, the world’s largest ex-gay group which for a long time has claimed people can find freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ. Alan Chambers, the man prominently featured in a positive light on the Lisa Ling program, has headed Exodus since 2001.

Why all the fuss? Why not let these folks have their freedom of speech even if what they have to say is wacky, antiquated, and panned by proper medical folks?

In the case of Exodus, here’s why we fuss. For one, we are NOT talking about a freedom of speech issue. Exodus is free to say whatever they want on their blogs and pulpits. No private company like Apple has to use their resources to promote Exodus’ message. Apple has the right to say, no.

Exodus spokespeople  paint themselves in the media as kindly folks who simply want to help those who are unhappy with being gay. They don’t force anyone to do anything against their will. They do not want to interrupt the lives of happy homosexuals who are content with their sexuality or identity. That’s what they say, but that’s not what they mean. They are being wise as serpents and gentle as doves. They are duplicitous.

Exodus is a Straight Supremacist group that believes that heterosexuality, straight marriage, and gender normative behavior are superior to anything lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) people have going on in their lives. At Exodus conferences, in their books, through their many local programs they state that LGBTQ people are inferior to heterosexuals. They say over and over that LGBTQ folks are morally, spiritually, developmentally damaged. Just last week Alan wrote that even celibate gays who still identify as gay “fall short of God’s best.” In fact, he makes it clear that God’s best is for people to be heterosexually partnered, even if they are not heterosexual. They do not seem to consider the needs of a straight person who may well suffersas a result of this union (which is often the case.)

Under Alan Chamber’s leadership of Exodus, the group has made aggressive moves to target young people–in the words anti-gay Christians have often used concerning gays–Exodus has attempted to recruit and convert queer youth to a straight lifestyle. Exodus came under fire in 2005 when their flagship program, Love in Action, began to take teenagers against their will into their youth program, Refuge. A young man by the name of Zack cried out to his friends for help before he was cut off from the world and forced to attend a straight camp.

Under Alan Chamber’s leadership Exodus has taken over the Love One Out conferences, a day long event that assures parents and church youth workers that their queer youth need not stay that way. They offer testimonies of people who claim they have changed, and project photographs of former homosexuals now heterosexually partnered surrounded by spouse and children. They provide false hope and leave out important information–namely that the vast majority of people who attend their programs (70% by Alan Chamber’s own reckoning) find that a straight (or straightish) life is not realistic or healthy to pursue. At Love Won Out they do not mention the psychological, emotional, and spiritual damage many of us experienced as a result of going to war against our sexuality and identity. They do not mention that ever major medical association has denounced reparative therapy and ex-gay treatments saying they do not work and may likely damage those who try them.

And what is Exodus’ big goal for 2011? To reach out to youth in middle school and high school with a message of hope! You don’t have to be bullied for being gay because you can chose the superior identity of being straight. They have a new iphone app in large part to reach out to the younger generation with their straight supremacist message. In essence they say, “The bullies are right. You are a worthless piece of shit, but we can bring value to your life. We can help you leave all that gayness behind and become holy and valuable to the world around you.”

Apple does not find the message of Exodus objectionable. Lisa Ling’s Our America also did not find fault with the message. Perhaps they do not know enough about it. Perhaps they have mostly heard from Exodus which has developed a slick public persona over the years while politically opposing pro-LGBTQ legislation, while trying to eradicate gayness in themselves and the world around them.

Over at Beyond Ex-Gay, the site created by ex-gay survivors, we state,

We believe that ex-gay experiences cause more harm than good. Certain people who currently identify as ex-gay say they are content as such. We don’t seek to invalidate their experience. For us such a lifestyle was not possible or healthy.

If someone like Alan Chambers wants to live a straight life and he is happy with that life, that’s fine. But that he insists that his lifestyle choice is superior to the lives and identities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer people is objectionable. Perhaps he has not yet allowed himself to meet happy, well-adjusted queer folks. Once we leave his programs and sort ourselves out, he wants nothing to do with us and his discounts our stories. But ultimately this is not about Alan Chambers or even Exodus, it is about a message that gets sent out by churches that make it clear that queer folks are not allowed at a seat at the table unless they conform to the heterosexual, gender-normative pattern of the world around us. In that light, perhaps some can see Alan Chambers as a victim of a system that in turn transforms him into a victimizer of others. And why would Lisa Ling or Apple want any part of that? Why not call it what it is and stop pretending or ignoring reality.

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And why do I care…

Peterson Toscano protesting Love Won Out

For me the Ex-Gay story is a personal one. I spent 17 years, and over $30,000 on three continents attempting to change and suppress my gay orientation and gender differences. I spent much of that time in Exodus programs including two years at the infamous Love in Action residential facility (gay rehab?) in Memphis, TN. Through the years I have met over 1,500 people who have been through these programs and heard first hand the damage their time in these programs has caused. In 2003 I began to tell my story through comedy in the one-person play, Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House, and in 2007 co-founded Beyond Ex-Gay with fellow ex-gay survivor, Christine Bakke. I’m currently writing a memoir about my experiences trying (and failing) to go straight and the many reasons I did it. 

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It’s Spirit Day! Zack and Peterson are here to have an important conversation about a challenging topic. What is heterosexual privilege? We throw around the terminology a lot, but what does it really mean? Today we try to help our audience understand exactly what it is and why we need our allies to be more aware of it. We know that 38 minutes is not enough to understand the nuances of this issue, so we hope you’ll join in the conversation on the blog posting or on Facebook! Also, don’t forget to submit your answers to The Heterosexual Questionnaire. Click below to access the questions. Enjoy!

The Queer and Queerer Podcast!

Listen to this week’s episode

Download Right-click and save as to download.

Here’s some more information about what we talked about this week:

» The Heterosexual Questionnaire. (Remember, this is for self-avowed heterosexuals only.)

» The list of heterosexual privileges we read from. Here’s another.

» Curious about cisgender privilege? Here’s a list. Here’s another.

» Peterson’s Post on “Straight Pride.”

» Shannon’s Post on engaging in action for Spirit Day.

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Over at Facebook I have many different types of friends (like 2200 friends) and of course they have friends who represent many perspectives. Today on a friend’s wall posting about wearing purple in support of LGBT youth two straight folks raised objectives revealing that they felt “bullied” into showing support of gay kids. In frustration one of them said, “We need to have a Heterosexual Pride Parade.” The other agreedMr. & Mrs. Salt & Pepper.

Now I know a lot of straight people. Some of my best friends are heterosexual. In fact, I come from a distinctly heterosexual family that I love. I know that some straight folks feel put upon by all of the recent news about gay. lesbian and transgender suicides and bullying. “Why do we have to hear about THEM all the time?” Hmmmm. Welcome to my world where I constantly have to go out of my way to hear about anything other than straight lives.

Lately I have been thinking of the subtle powerful force of heterosexism, like high blood pressure, I consider it the “silent killer” insistent and constant in its messaging that heterosexuality is NORMAL, the idealized norm, what everyone is expected to be, an identity that is celebrated, rewarded and represented to the exclusion of all others.

Like a low-grade fever or undetected high blood pressure, non-straight, non-gender normative people live with a steady barrage of pro-heterosexual messages mixed in with anti-LGBT messages. Even in US states where they offer “gay marriage” everyone knows it is not the same as a straight marriage because of the federal protections granted to heterosexual couples and denied to all others. But beyond the legal protections or lack of protections in the household, on the job and elsewhere, we get a deluge of pro-straight messages in pop songs, commercials, movies, religious ceremonies, proms–shoot even salt and pepper shakers! I know that there is a growing movement to include LGBT lives and voices in the media and on the agenda of the board of education, but it’s spotty at best and is often drowned out by the heterosexism that exists in almost every encounter silly and sublime.

Here’s an example of straight pride & privilege.

Marueen says, “My husband Bill & I got together w/ our two daughters & their husbands to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary and Cindy & Todd’s first baby. At church the pastor said a blessing over the family & we recommitted our vows.”

And everyone says, “Oh, that is so nice.” And it is and there are gifts and cards and photos and public sharing on Facebook and beyond revealing pride and affirmation and celebration of Bill & Maureen’s successful heterosexuality.

Of course most don’t think of Maureen & Bill expressing “Heterosexual Pride.”

It’s just “normal.”

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Zack and Peterson are still getting along, don’t worry! This week, after listening to a ranting voicemail from the ineffable Marvin Bloom about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, they talk about the mysterious concept of “promoting homosexuality.” From the UK’s Section 28 to hands-off bullying policies in United States schools, the idea of erasing gay people from society has been a signature strategy for anti-gay opponents, with deadly consequences. The enshrined invisibility of gay people continues to foster not just homophobia, but gender norms and expectations. Join another rousing conversation with your own comments on the post and on our Facebook wall!

The Queer and Queerer Podcast!

Listen to this week’s episode

Here’s some more information about what we talked about this week:

» Zack’s posts about the DADT decision and recent teen suicides.

» Key findings of GLSEN’s latest climate study.

» Chronicle report on the higher ed climate survey.

» Learn about the UK’s Section 28 law.

» Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation on Amazon.com.

» Check out Peterson’s new play: “I Can See Sarah Palin From My Window,” premiering this weekend in Allentown!

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Nikki Araguz

Nikki Araguz

In securing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, national and regional LGBTQ organizations have not typically been supportive of or engaged in transgender rights and issues. For many of these organizations the “T” for transgender is merely a silent “T” or an accessory.

Routinely at transgender-themed events, I see that virtually no  non-trans gay and lesbians leaders and community members attend unless they are partnered with a trans person. In spite of all the publicity and outreach in the queer press and directly to LGBTQ orgs, I see precious few non-trans gays and lesbians at TransForm events and Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR.) Last year one well-known “international” LGBT organization, the Equality Forum, acted thoughtlessly and with great hubris when it organized a memorial for a gay male victim of violence the same night as the International Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The Dallas Voice reports:

Phyllis Randolph Frye, the well-known transgender attorney from Houston whose clients include trans widow Nikki Araguz, sent out an e-mail Sunday slamming national gay-rights groups for ignoring the issue of “‘tranny’ same-sex marriage” in Texas.

Although the plight of Mrs. Araguz and her fight for justice has been covered by the mainstream media and some queer press outlets and blogs, Lesbian/Gay organizations have not even offered a tepid or token respond. In referencing recent marriage equality struggles in California and Maine, Ms Frye raises critical questions,

Where is the same national support given for the L and G same-sex marriage struggles?” she added. “Has it remained nonexistent for over six weeks now because this Texas fight is insignificantly and merely a ‘tranny’ same-sex marriage fight, so who nationally gives a shit? Then are we a National LGBT-inclusive community, but NOT when it comes to financing the ‘tranny’ same-sex marriage fights?

Mrs. Araguz is in a fight for marriage equality, for the recognition of her identity, for human dignity. You can learn more about Mrs. Araguz’ story at MetroWeekly.

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