Posts Tagged ‘Personal’

Over at OpenSalon.com I posted a new personal essay, Cancer. What a Joke!

As soon as a friend, an acquaintance, or even the man-on-the-street discovered I had a loved one who was seriously ill, I ran into a typical line of questioning.

They: Oh no, your mother is not well. What does she have?

Me: Cancer.

They: Awful, what kind of cancer?

Me: Lung Cancer

(Bet you can predict the next question.)

They: Did she smoke?

Now perhaps pre-cancerous mom I would have asked a similar line of questions to a grieving friend. These questions seem automatic, like when you start to pee; it’s just so darn hard to stop midstream. But suddenly, in the Cancer Zone, though the final question seemed ugly, cruel, and  completely unnecessary.

Discover how I ultimately answered that question here.

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Thinking about Moms

I’m thinking about moms today, particularly my own, but other people’s moms too. When my mother was only nine years old, she lost her own mom to tuberculosis. The death happened after several months of being separated from her mother who was hidden away in a sanatorium as they did in those days. My mom often told me and my sisters, “I have never stopped missing my mother.” She also would remind us, “You only have one mother.” I realize some have do not even have one.

My Mom

Today is my mother’s 75th birthday. My sister, Maria,  is celebrating by baking a cake and sharing it with her own family and some friends, a tradition Maria started since 2007 a few months after our mother passed away from cancer. We have creative ways of mourning in our family.

My father likes to leave doughnuts and bread on his mother’s grave. Birds and animals come by “to keep her company.” Once when he saw a bunch of droppings left by deer that chowed down on coffee cake, he remarked, “Yeah, look, the deers left little rosary beads for your grandmother.” Grandma Toscano (my dad’s mother) said the rosary daily, and in her later years recited it out loud with Sister Frangelica on the TV and the volume turned up to 25 blaring the incessant Hail Marys and Our Fathers throughout the small house where she lived with my parents. My own mom, Anita Toscano, NEVER said the rosary and had little patience with the Roman Catholic Church (after being raised Catholic.) It is a testament to her good nature and self-control that she never bashed in the TV.

A friend of mine unexpectedly saw her mom yesterday. They have had a strained relationship over my friend being lesbian and the mom being, well, Christian, (as in not affirming of lesbians type of Christian.) It’s more complicated than that of course, but that was where the line between them has been most clearly drawn. Lots of parents struggle with homosexuality, particularly in having a child who is bisexual or gay or lesbian or questioning. I know my own parents had their own struggles with the issue when they discovered I liked guys back in nineteen eighty something when I was in my late teens and the HIV/AIDS crisis was still only known as GRID or else “God’s punishment against homosexuals.” My parents didn’t know many (any?) happy homosexuals, lucky lesbians, or beautiful bisexuals. The queers of their lives were often outcasts and treated badly, while heterosexuals received all sorts of praise and privileges.

Parents often feel blamed for the choices their children make (particularly bad choices) and moms have been especially blamed for making kids turn queer. In reading an article, My Son, the Pink Boy, a mother of a gender non-conforming child regularly gets corrected by other mothers. She is told to toughen up her young son. Stop indulging him in his girly interests, behaviors, and dress (he opted to wear dresses for a couple of years.) Then the experts weigh in–Dr. Phil, the ex-gay folks, etc–with their theories about how bad mothers can screw up their children. According to lots of ex-gay teaching, the worst thing for a mother is to be too strong, too in charge. That somehow messes up the natural order of things and turns the world upside down. I like what the mom who wrote the article has to say,

The problem is that, as a mother, I’m too powerful. Or too weak. We’re not sure which. Because I’ve also been told that I need to learn to parent forcefully, to learn to stand up and say NO. That my son wouldn’t be like he is if I simply didn’t allow him to be like he is. But here’s the truth: I’m actually kind of a NO-saying badass. Check me out: Can we throw this baseball in the kitchen? NO. Can we eat chocolate cake for breakfast? NO. Can we make fun of the girl in the wheelchair? NO. I really can haul out a NO when I need to, and I whip it out many times a day. But I try to save NO for things that actually cause demonstrable harm to property, to my children or to other people.

Is it really my maternal strength/weakness that caused my son to adore pink Marabou-feather slippers at age 3? You decide. But consider that mothers have regularly been blamed for their children’s — especially their sons’ — quirks and challenges.

My mom regularly reminded us kids, “There’s no love like a mother’s love.” Well, she never said those words directly to us. I heard other people say it to me throughout my life, but especially right after my mom passed away. I think about all the forgiving mothers (and fathers) too. I shudder when I think of the jams I got into and my mom was always there to help out, or to offer advice, a rebuke, some money, and a chance to explain myself.

Last night I cooked a fancy dinner for nine guests (in the end seven showed up so we have lots of leftovers.) My mom ran a restaurant for over thirty years until my sister, Maria took over. As a result, I learned almost everything I know about cooking and serving food and putting on a party from mother. She taught me all her tricks. Last night I knew how to prepare the meal so that the fish was cooked just right without being overdone or too cold by the time it reached the table. Although an amazing cook, my mom was a picky eater, and ended up cooking many dishes she would never ever  dream of eating. Somehow she cared enough about those people around the table to give them the food they liked, and not simply all of her favorites.

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Peterson is finally back from the West Coast and rejoins Zack for a continued discussion about bullying in the wake of an appalling number of teenage suicides in the past week. In this sobering discussion, they discuss how we have conversations about anti-gay bullying and the experience of young members of the LGBT community. What can we do when we see how dire the situation is? How do we communicate to young people that life does get better? The Queer and Queerer duo also contribute their own It Gets Better video. Special guest Rev. Meadows joins us at the end of the episode for a Biblical lesson on the importance of hospitality (A scene from Peterson’s new play I Can See Sarah Palin from my Window.)

The Queer and Queerer Podcast!

(Please click here to listen to this week’s episode

Here’s our It Gets Better Video

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

» Help support the It Gets Better campaign with your own video.

»Listen to past Queer and Queerer episodes about bullying (Episode 8 and Episode 23).

» Learn more about The Trevor Project, suicide hotline for gay and questioning youth.

» Learn more about the State of Higher Education for LGBT People.

»Kate Bornstein’s Hello Cruel World

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Zack talked about atheism with Marvin back in Episode 6, and now it’s Peterson’s turn to talk about faith as a Christian and a Quaker. Then, the two delve into the muck in this extended episode! The Zack-Peterson rapport’s gotten particularly spicy! In this exciting discussion, Zack challenges Peterson about faith and Peterson challenges Zack about his (lack of) faith. Of course it goes unresolved… to be continued another day. Share your own thoughts about faith on the Queer and Queerer post or on the Queer and Queerer Facebook page!

The Queer and Queerer Podcast!

Listen to this week’s episode

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After a week of trying to connect with me via phone, emil, text message, and Facebook, my good friend and partner at Beyond Ex-Gay, Christine Bakke, finally appealed to my agent in hopes of getting a response from me.

Yeah, I’ve been sorta out of it this summer so far. My greatest interest and passion has been my garden (my tomatoes are so large and luscious right now! 😛 ) I have found little motivation to do anything but housework and cooking. (Ah, I made a frittata the other day that would make you cry with joy.) My normal activities–e-mail, writing, activism, etc had all gone into remission. Perhaps I needed a rest after moving twice since January and bouncing all over the place the past six months. Maybe I just needed a vacation of sorts.

Of course I think of my life as an on-going vacation. The work I do is so much fun that it doesn’t feel fair to call it work. But it is, and I remind myself that in the work of activism, we must be certain to take care of ourselves.

Even so, I want to be vigilant. I have for a long time felt dismay (and scorn) at some gay men who have been on the front lines for a season and then find love and move to the suburbs and disappear into Bed, Bath and Beyond. Perhaps people have a natural instinct to settle down. Of course not all of us have that luxury, and I want to balance out my new found stability (partner, home, garden) with engagement in the world around me, both locally and beyond. But then I can be sactimonious (it is one of my superpowers that seem to only be used for evil, or well at least for being annoying.)

What am I trying to say? Do I feel guilty for enjoying my life? Yeah, sometimes. Perhaps it is a mixture of the old time religion telling me I don’t deserve to be happy mixed in with the pressure to be the best queer ever–always engaged and passionate and making the world a better place. Yes, one can do the right thing for the wrong reasons. And one can justify doing nothing for high sounding reasons. And one can (this one I am speaking of) can lay off the pressure and simply be responsible for the tasks at hand.

So with that I sign off and will use one of the many methods I have on hand to reach out to Christine. We have some delicious work to do.

If you have not done so yet, consider listening to the latest episode of Queer and Queerer podcast. Episode #12 That’s So Fat! Body Image, Metrosexuality & More

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The Homo No Mo Halfway House DVD

One of the most exciting features I see among many ex-gay survivors is the many ways we seek to process our experiences through art, be it theater, film, visual art, writing, music, etc. Through the act of writing and then performing my one-man play Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House–How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement, (now available only on DVD) I grew to understand my story better as both connected with others about their own and communicated to the broader world about the potential dangers of ex-gay therapy (as well as the inherent humor in some ex-gay programs.)

Last June I began a memoir–new genre and in some ways a new story, as I will not only share my time at the Love in Action ex-gay program, but also write much about my failed marriage and the myriad reasons I went ex-gay. I have about 100 pages complete and will work on it throughout the summer. Last week I also began a stint as co-host of a NEW podcast with blogger Zack Ford. It’s called Queer and Queerer, and no doubt I will talk about my sordid ex-gay past along with other LGBTQ issues, religion and higher education.

In 2007 and 2008 Beyond Ex-Gay focused on regional, national and international events. Once we got the movement going with the voices of ex-gay survivors in the media and on-line, we turned our attention toward community and the important question, how can we best support ex-gay survivors as they process their own past experiences and embrace their new lives. In 2009 we created the Beyond Ex-Gay Community site, an on-line social networking site ONLY for ex-gay survivors. Membership has steadily grown, but more importantly ex-gay survivors are sharing their experiences in a venue with other folks who understand the complexity of the ex-gay world, the lure it once held for us, the damage it caused many of us, and the creative and at times challenging ways we have discovered to overcome that trauma while holding onto any good we may have gotten from our time in the ex-gay world. Art has been an important means of recovery for some of us. Christine Bakke and others have done lots of visual art about ex-gay experiences and poets like Scott Tucker have posted their poetry over at the bXg site.

Daniel Gonzales, an ex-gay survivor who has attended most of the Beyond Ex-Gay events in the past three years and whose YouTube video in which he shares his story has had over 130,000 hits, recently sat down with former founder of Exodus International and now ex-gay survivor, Michael Bussee and here shares the first of many to be released videos interviews.

I know of two new works by ex-gay survivors.

NEW BOOK! by Dr. Jallen Rix

Jallen Rix, Ph.D, an active member of Beyond Ex-Gay, who attended the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference in Irvine, CA, the Ex-Gay Exposé in Denver and the recent Anti-Heterosexism Conference in Miami, has published a book called Ex-Gay No Way! Survival and Recovery from Religious Abuse.

Jallen Rix, as a young Southern Baptist, joined an ex-gay ministry when he discovered his same-sex attractions. Although the ministry did not make him heterosexual, it did manage to destroy any sense of stability and self-esteem.

Ex-Gay No Way is Dr. Rix’s journey through the ex-gay world and what he did in the aftermath to reintegrate positive sexuality with healthy spirituality. Further, he demonstrates that the tactics used in these oppressive environments are many of the same damaging schemes used everywhere in power-abusive religious organizations today.

Check out more at his site and order your copy HERE or at Amazon.

Jason T Ingram, who attended and displayed art at the 2008 Deconstructing the Ex-Gay Myth events in Memphis, has created a new one-person, multimedia performance art piece called Identity Thieves which will premiere on April 25th in Seattle, WA. Over at his site Jason has lots of info about the piece including some video.


About three years in the making, Identity Thieves is a multi-media performance piece written and performed by Jason T. Ingram about his five-year journey through the “ex-gay” movement and how he survived. Jason integrates his singing and instrumental live music with background accompaniments and visual projections of stills and film clips. Jason’s goal is to raise awareness about these issues as well as to help others heal from religious abuse and to show that creative expression can be a powerful outlet for growth and recovery. The complete piece without intermission should be just over an hour and may be done with a brief discussion following. Jason’s style is artistic, edgy and uplifting. Some of his music sounds aggressive as well as gentle and most of his works do not resemble church culture, but tries to stay cutting edge

If you are in the Seattle area, check it out.

Living Water Fellowship – 7204 NE 175 ST, Kenmore, WA 98028 – 206-963-0807

What other projects are out there by ex-gay survivors. Please feel free to share your projects with the bXg community, and congratulations to Jallen and Jason!

If you are an ex-gay survivor (someone who attended ex-gay treatment and/or tried on your own to suppress or change your orientation and/or gender differences only to discover that such a change was not necessary, possible or healthy, consider becoming a part of the Beyond Ex-Gay Community.

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After sleeping until past noon (9.5 hours of blissful slumber), I slowly emerged and glided through the day eating some of my favorite foods (compressed tofu lightly sauteed with baby spinach, kimchi, and raw carrots) and reading the poetry of Cavafy and Lorca. I have the most complete collection of Federico Garcia Lorca poems, a bilingual edition edited by Christopher Maurer (for a long time I have been looking for a similar edition of poems by Charles Baudelaire with the original on the left and the translation on the right.)

For music today I have enjoyed a steady Pandora diet of Sigur Ros and Mogwai. I also played a little I’m From Barcelona, the 30+ member Swedish band. Last night I heard the similar sounding and delightfully queer band, Dangerous Ponies in Hartford after my gig.

The concept of the “starving artist” abounds in pop culture and public consciousness. Fortunately I have plenty of tofu in my fridge, but artists need other types of feeding–artist food–namely art. Reading poems, fiction and literary non-fiction as well as attending plays, going to art museums, and listening to music feeds my artist soul and gives me artistic energy and inspiration.

Earlier I read a poem by Lorca that I’ve been munching on all day.  Below is the first stanza:

Corazón Nuevo

Mi corazón, como una sierpe,
se ha desprendido de su piel,
y aquí la miro entre mis dedos
llena de heridas y de miel.

and in English

New Heart

Like a snake, my heart
has shed its skin.
I hold it here in my hand,
full of honey and wounds.

You can experience the whole poem here.

While in Seattle I got to enjoy the art of Coyote Grace, the “left coast bluesy folkroots duo – with a fruity twist.” One of the members, Joe, writes and sings openly about his experience as a female to male (FtM) transgender person. Watch their very tasty video currently on Logo on-line (and then VOTE for them so that lots of folks who watch Logo can experience them.) And what a blast I had with my friend Jane on our way to the Coyote Grace concert–that was comic art in itself! (read Jane’s insightful blog post about her experience as a non-trans person seeing my play at a primarily female-to-male transgender conference.)

In Seattle I got to meet a skilled and passionate poet named Cole Arden Peake. Post-Gender Odyssey Conference Cole and I got together for some vegan Vietnamese Pho soup and a time of sharing our writing with each other for desert. The first poem Cole read me is called Recovery, and after he read it, I asked him to read it again. I so wish you could hear it in his own voice (Cole–recite it on video and post it on YouTube 🙂 )

Cole gave me permission to share his poem on my blog (sorry that WordPress doesn’t let me format it properly.) I suggest you read it aloud.

by Cole Arden Peake

Spend years forgetting your body. Notice only improvements; become practiced at ignoring the things that stay.

Remember them briefly enough to do something about them. Be angry at God. Be exited. Tell everyone just how afraid you are.

Submit to this changing because it’s your only option. Curse God for this. Allow hands on forgotten flesh, let them open you. Wake up growling and curl around your wounds.

Bleed for days.

Remain angry at God while you bleed. Sleep more than usual. Watch your body do what it was made to do. Marvel at the intelligence of healing. Let a stranger finish your sentence and feel less alone.

Feel better. Come out of hiding. Stretch yourself, first with caution—then with wild abandon. Be surprised at what you will wear and how you will hold yourself. Love God—with the caveat that he never pull that bullshit again and place your hand over your heart daily. Let another trace your scars and try to remember yourself before, Fail. Turn back to what you have now and hold it. Know it is the only real thing and hold it.

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