Posts Tagged ‘Personal’

Devastated by Cavafy

I adore the poetry of Constantine P. Cavafy, the poet originally from Alexandria who made a habit of writing in demotic Greek in the early 20th Century. Often he drew on history for many of his poems, but he also wrote about personal experiences, about love, sex, long lost passion that still lived long in his bones and heart and mind and escaped through his pen. Last night I stayed up until 3:00 in the morning reading some off his poems aloud.

One poem in particular stunned me and kept me up long after I closed the book. You should know that Cavafy was a man who loved men and loved being physically intimate with men. Like many men in history (and today) he kept that fact hidden from most of the world. He needed to hide his true feelings. Only in his unpublished works and among his friends was he open about his sexuality. Many of his poems were published after his death in 1935.

Perhaps he wrote the following poem with you in mind.

Hidden Things

From all I did and all I said
let them not try to find out who I was.
An obstacle stood before me and transformed
my acts and my way of life.
An obstacle stood before me and stopped me
so often from what I was going to say.
My most unnoticed acts
and my most veiled writings–
only from these will they know me.
But maybe it’s not worth it to devote
so much care and effort to knowing me.
Later–in a more perfect society–
someone made like me
will certainly appear and act differently

(from The Collected Poems of C. P. Cavafy–A New Translation by Aliki Barnstone )

Read more at the Cavafy official site.

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Good News

The following is intended to be read aloud.

Good News. She didn’t even charge me for desert. Good News. Salim found the goat. Good News. I found it under the backseat, oh, and this too. Good News. I was able to salvage the carburetor. Good News. She fired me. Good News. He’s fine; thank God the police didn’t pull him over this time. Good News. I lost five pounds. Good News. I guess I’m not allergic anymore. Good News. Thanks to your faithful giving two more villages in Luapula province now have adequate water supplies. Good News. At least she didn’t suffer much in the end. Good News. We’re having a baby. Good News. I just saved a bundle on my car insurance. Good News. He said that he will cover my shift on Friday if I work for him on Saturday which is okay because I was going to go in anyway. Good News. We get in for half-price after five. Good News. We’ve just had a cancellation so we can make an appointment for about three o‘clock? Good News. She said yes. Good News. I will never have to talk to him or see him again in my life. Good News. We can pay this month’s rent. Good News. We’re having a HUGE sale on all electronics and appliances. Good News. Investigators say that if the weather cooperates later today they will recover the bodies from Tuesday’s crash. Good News. Looks like we’ll have a decent crop this year after all. Good News. She said no. Good News. I’m finally putting on some weight. Good News. They decided to build it somewhere else. Good News. They had over 50 people show up. Good News.. At least he didn’t spend all his paycheck on drinking. Good News. She will walk with only a slight limp. Good News. The initial reports show that only four people were killed during this year’s election season. Good News. Looking at this x-ray we see the bullet only just missed his lung. Good News. And it’s only 50 calories! Good News. She told me not to worry about it.Good News. No worries, I made sure I backed it up before we started.Good News. Under the circumstances, of course, we will waive the processing fee. Good News. She passed the entrance exams with flying colors.Good News. I happened to be in the next room when it happened. Good News. I am NOT pregnant. Good News. She said maybe. Good News. Analysts predict that over the next six months we should see a steady decline in gas prices. Good News. I have that in black too. Good News. In contrast to what you tell yourself (and what others have to say about it) God is not pissed off at you. Good News. Look, I can get into my jeans again. Good News. We should be able to get the stain out. Good News. The bite is deep but it did not get infected this time. Good News. They opened a new branch next to my work. Good News. They’ve given us a week to find a new place. Good News. He’s never coming back again. Good News. The tests were negative. Good News. The tests were positive.Good News. I’ll be able to stay here with the children for the time being. Good News. They will be hiring again soon. Good News. I’m eligible for a free upgrade. Good News. Chemicals derived from microbial defenses are leading to new antibiotics beginning with one to fight malaria, which causes 500 million annual cases of infection world wide—one million of which end in death.* Good News. She can still eat a little if it’s chopped up in tiny pieces. Good News. You can hardly see the scar. Good News. I should be able to just knock out the dents. Good News. We got to see her on our way back home. Good News. He won’t suffer any more. Good News. The baby survived. Good News. They serve coffee now. Good News. I’m going to try one more time.

*Nature’s Chemical Warfare – Good News for the Worldwide Malaria Epidemic

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Help My Sister Get Out of Jail

Seems another person in my tribe has gotten into trouble. My sister, Maria Toscano Forlenza is in jail right now in Monticello, NY. The good news is that we can bail her out and the money goes to a good cause–The Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Maria wrote me the other day,

I’m proud to tell you that I’m being locked up…that’s right, I’m going behind bars to help Jerry’s Kids and MDA. To be released on good behavior I have to raise bail and I need your help!

All you have to do is click here to make a secure, on-line donation.  Your donation will help families living in our community and help guarantee me an early release. I can’t wait to add you to my list of contributors.

She is in jail TODAY, so even a $5 donation will help her get out and more importantly, help the cause.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about sex these days. No, not the pornographic, salacious thoughts (well, not mostly). I’ve been thinking about the role of sex in my life and especially in the route I took to de-gay myself. In part these thoughts have been inspired by conversations with some folks who recently contacted me about wanting to go into an ex-gay program. The issue of sex addiction came up, one of the many reasons why someone may choose to go ex-gay.

Growing up I never wanted to be gay, but I always liked gay sex.  I started

Me age 14

Me age 14

fooling around with guys my age in my neighborhood when I was young 11, 12, 13 and by high school there was least one regular guy who did stuff with me (as I termed it then). He wasn’t really a friend, which was weird. We had no friendship apart from these sex play dates–yet they were incredibly intimate and even tender at times. No one even knew that we knew each other or would have imagined a connection since socially we were from different worlds and he was (and still is) very masculine and straight identified, but the sex kept us seeking each other out. But even in all the tenderness, it was not about romance. It was about sex.

Growing up back in the 70’s and 80’s (yes I am ancient) there was no concept of someone being openly gay in my school or my community. There was no gay dating. It was foreign. It didn’t even enter my head that a guy could date a guy. It would be like a guy dating a bicycle. Just not in the realm of reality.

To me to be gay meant to have gay sex. No romance. No gay identity. Just sex. In my late teens I began to attend a church that confirmed my suspicions that the “gay lifestyle” was all about sex. They added Biblical language to this and made it clear that one could not be gay AND Christan. It was about sexual immorality–not love, romance or companionship. Then AIDS hit big in the New York metropolitan area where I lived, and I witnessed what seemed a genuine plague against gay men, a plague transmitted through sex.

That’s when I decided to go to war against against sexuality. I wanted to be a good Christian, a respectable citizen and a healthy person. To me that meant I needed to eradicate the gay from my life.

Age 17 touring Europe with a Tuba

Age 17 touring Europe with a Tuba

Even in college when I met really nice guys who I felt drawn to romantically, I could never see it being anything but sex. I refused for there to be romance. We did it, and then I repented. Over and over again. (Yes, even at Christian college).

Years later, I finally left the ex-gay world. I began the process to detox from years of shame, fear and lies. I began to educate myself about sexuality. I began to find other constructs to being gay that extended far beyond the sex act without invalidating or demonizing sex.

I eventually moved to Hartford, CT and began working at a small private school. I was “out of the closet” but only just, and I had no idea what it meant to be gay. I knew it meant so much more than just having sex, but what exactly? I soon discovered a world of history, literature, culture and philosophy all having to do with being LGBT or queer. I plunged into a whole new gay world that included theology and dating and deep conversations and comedy and positive role models, music, faith and more.

I have since learned that there are stages of coming out that many LGB people (but not all) experience. There is a time after one accepts oneself when they primarily identify with being gay. It is all rainbows all the time. (Actually it  is quite similar to what happens when someone has a religious conversion. Goodness I remember how as a young born-again boy I raided the Christian bookstore of all their Jesus merchandise–even a Jesus pencil case!)

At Pendle Hill

At Pendle Hill

Then over time things balance out and the person integrates their sexual identity with the rest of them. In some ways they become “post-gay” where being gay is not such a big deal, just a part of who they are. I think I am much more at that place now. I see this reflected in the plays I have written most recently which have changed in themes over the years and shifted from being gay to  address politics, the environment, racism, etc. Most recently I focus on gender and transgender issues to the exclusion of gay orientation.

In a few days I will put up another post about sex (yes, more sex on the way). Funny, but on this blog and in my life sex takes up a tiny part of my attention, yet when I was ex-gay, well, we talked a lot about sex. A lot.

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My day started with a 6:10 am flight from Spokane, WA to Portland, OR. Joining me on the journey was Doris Lessing in the form of her novel, The Cleft, a chilling post-modern myth of human origin mixed in with a deft commentary on the politics of gender.

After an afternoon coffee with Ben, a fellow vegan with a penchant for adventures like train hopping, hitchhiking and vasectomy, I met up with a group of friends for my self-organized birthday party at the Blue Moose Cafe.

The Mediterranean chick pea soup (vegan with a surprisingly creamy broth) came with two slices of 21-grain bread. We spent almost 30 minutes attempting to name 21-grains that we knew.  We fell short even after the server informed us that the “21-grains” included some seeds. The full list of grains are as follows:

  1. whole wheat
  2. cracked wheat
  3. flax
  4. sunflower
  5. oats
  6. pumpkin seeds
  7. millet
  8. rye
  9. brown rice
  10. triticale
  11. barley
  12. sesame
  13. black sesame
  14. amaranth
  15. buckwheat
  16. spelt
  17. blue cornmeal
  18. yellow corn
  19. kamut
  20. poppy seeds
  21. quinoa (pronounced in Swedish as “Queer Noah”
  22. sorghum

Which proves that it should have been called 22-grain & seed bread. After the meal (they even served popcorn with nutritional yeast!) they served us a quadruple layer double chocolate vegan cake (that apparently took four hours to create). Can you say insulin shock? But what a way to go.

After the meal, a friend, Jonmark and I traveled in his car, the HMS Uranus U-Probe, to Cinetopia. I cannot properly describe the wonders of this cinema–perhaps the best cinema in the US. Check out the site to see why.

Jonmark took me out to see Coraline 3D, a new animated feature length film in gorgeous 3D about a little girl (Dakota Fanning) that gets trapped in a house diabolically designed to seduce her with slick promises of a better life while the evil force within seeks to suck the life out of her. (It sort of reminded me of the Homo No Mo Halfway House).

What a strange, wonderful and awful mixed bag. The film displayed amazing technical and creative genius, (those massive geriatric boobs will haunt and delight me for a long time,) but I hated the “made for video game” moments. (You found one eye, Coraline. Only two more left! But look out for the evil mother.)

And that whole magical negro cat written in to save the day felt outright offensive especially when it came to the critical moment when the little white girl throws the mangy wise black cat (Keith David) with its c0ol-jazz, Uncle Remus drawl at the witch woman (Teri Hatcher) in order to escape and then later offers a weak, “sorry about that” with the inference, “hey, I was the important one to save here , right?”

And what is up with the mixed-race boy with the name Wybie, as in “Why be born?” which is how he introduces himself to Coraline! Such bizarre racist and stereotypical gunk mixed in with stunningly original and riveting characters and animation. It could have been an absolutely brilliant movie, but sadly failed to deliver.

Off to bed with dreams of Lessing’s Clefts and Squirts (women and men) and with the hope that tomorrow I get to once more see the film Låt den rätte komma in, (Let the Right One In), which is still playing here in Portland at the cheap movie theater (only $3!) This Swedish romantic, coming of age horror film set in the 1970’s Swedish winter is by far the best vampire movie I have seen in years.

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Strange, but I have had nothing to write the past few days. Mostly because it has been busy with shows at Susquehanna and Bucknell Universities along with several meetings with folks here in Central PA.

Barry Sopfel

Barry Stopfel

Yesterday I had lunch with Rev. Barry Stopfel. Barry was in the middle of a religious fury over 10 years ago as an openly gay man ordained into the Episcopal Church. Back in 1995 Barbara Stewart of the New York Times wrote an article about Barry and the controversy,

When a St. George’s committee hired Mr. Stopfel in 1993, a few members — three or four families, say other parishioners — objected to having a gay man as pastor, and quit the parish. The vast majority who stayed seem to be his big fans. In a reasonably prosperous and reasonably staid community, people who are youngish, older and very old all sound startled when asked about having a gay pastor. To them, he is simply their priest, a smart and soothing man who happens to be gay.

But today, the 47-year-old Mr. Stopfel finds himself in the path of an ecclesiastical hurricane — not because he has battled for his rights but simply because he is gay. A sizable part of the national Episcopal hierarchy — 76 of the church’s 297 bishops — recently signed a letter leveling a formal charge of heresy against the bishop who ordained Mr. Stopfel as a deacon five years ago. The accusation means that the bishop, Walter C. Righter, now retired and living in New Hampshire, will be tried in a church court.

Courage to LoveBarry co-authored the book, Courage to Love : A Gay Priest Stands Up for His Beliefs Courage to Love : A Gay Priest Stands Up for His Beliefs in which he shares his story. Since all the hooplah, Barry has been quietly living his life in Central Pennsylvania for much of the past years pastoring a Unitarian Universalist church in the area.

We met up for lunch yesterday and talked mostly about Jesus and the Gospels and the powerful narratives that transcend doctrine and dogma. Since I so often come from the perspective of an actor and a playwright, when I read the Gospels (aka the Jesus Stories), I look at what is unsaid, who is not speakin,g and what double meanings might be taking place. Through Bibliodrama, we can physically explore the text to unearth details that get overlooked in reading.

Barry is preparing to return to the disocese where all the conrtroversy occured to give his congregation an update when he speaks there on Pride Sunday. He tells me that in the weeks leading up to that presentation, he will preach for several weeks from the Gospels, sticking with the stories.

I have been in communication with an LGBT activist from overseas who has been concerned about the rise of ex-gay programs in one of her country’s largest cities, a haven for LGBT people. She wrote an excellent article outlining the history of the ex-gay movement and the risks in submitting to reparative therapy and ex-gay ministires. She quoted the major medical associations and even some studies, essential citations for good journalism. She sent a copy and asked me for my input.

bxg-logoWhat she did not include in her first draft were the stories of ex-gay survivors, eyewitness accounts of those people who earnestly turned to ex-gay providers looking for helping but instead came away harmed. I pointed out that what moves many people and helps them to relate to an issue and better understand that issue is the inclusion of narratives. These do not take the place of studies and science and professional experts. Instead these give further weight and evidence to what the professionals have to say. We become living witnesses.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons people respond so positively to Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. I include the stories of many transgender people I interviewed woven into Bible stories. transfigcardfrontfinal_lrA reporter who interviewed me yesterday and had been to a recent show told me that she doesn’t ever remember being at a play where the audience was as silent and attentive as she did with Transfigurations. These powerful true stories ground the audience and more so ground me as performer. Performing the play really feels like an act of worship.

I fly out early tomorrow morning to Portland, OR where I will join in on the Thursday night worship and dinner with the Anawim community, a group of gay Christian men who meet weekly for prayer. I then spend the day in Salem, OR with my friend Peggy Sengers Parson giving us a chance to catch up, then I head to the winter gathering of Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC–a Queer Quaker group).

Queer Quakers Gather

Queer Quakers Gather

On Sunday I head to Seattle to do Transfigurations (actually Des Moines, WA) and then to Spokane the next day to do a variety show of sorts there and then back to Portland in time to celebrate my birthday with some friends at a vegan friendly restaurant. Hey you only turn 44 in Portland once!

I also just confirmed that I will be at Rice University in Houston,  TX on March 11 and then at University of CA in San Diego on March 27-29 for the Transgender Leadership Summit. I will post details soon. You can check out my current schedule here.

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postcard design by Christine Bakke

I will prepare all day for this evening’s performance of Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. In addition to the internal prep (running lines, envisioning each character, etc) I have external work to do. I need to iron all the costumes and scarves. I then need to work on a physical transformation–plucking eyebrows, shaving off all my hair from my face to my waist (a substantial job for this Italian-American), stretching out so that I am limber enough to do some of dance-like moves I need to do for a few of the characters, warming up my voice, and finally applying my make-up.

pre-show Transfigurations (Cape Town)

pre-show Transfigurations (Cape Town)

Playing multiple genders requires that I need to reshape my face as well as my body. Through make-up, I soften my eyes, make my eyebrows longer, and hollow out my cheeks. The goal is to create a gender mix in my look. As my main character states several times, Not male, not female, something in the middle or all together different.

One theme that runs through Transfigurations regards body type and the conflicts many of us experience over our bodies. We don’t always look on the outside how we perceive ourselves on the inside. The play serves in part as a meditation on the body and finding peace with it.

At one point my main character, speaking of the Last Supper and Jesus’ announcement that he is going away for a long time, quotes from the Gospel of Thomas.

We asked him, “When shall we see you and when will you appear before us?” Jesus said, “When you take off your clothes without being ashamed.”

For the character the line is like a spear in the heart and I make the character physically crumple a bit in the chest area.

But I have always been ashamed. I just thought that’s normal.

The world around us so often teaches us shame about our bodies–not thin enough, not enough muscle tone, too light, too dark, too tall, too short, just not right. But the images we so often see in the magazines have been worked over for hours through digital enhancement and outright removal of blemishes and “imperfections.”

Growing up a scrawny kid with asthma and then as the chubby kid living in a restaurant, I never felt at peace with my body. It seemed like it was always against me. When I entered college after a summer of thoughtful dieting and daily exercise, finally feeling like I weighed the right amount, I suddenly felt like a little Italian dwarf next to the giant WASPs towering over me.

My Mom

My Mom

Back in 2006 when my mom was sick and dying and continued to lose weight week after week, it seemed that for every pound she lost, I gained one. It was like I didn’t want her to fade away. Even after her death, I carried that extra 40+ pounds for a whole year, perhaps as a way to not yet let her go.

I recently saw a film that featured me and was shot during that time period. I saw my bulging stomach and my bloated face, and for once in my life I didn’t feel disgusted by an image of me looking overweight. It brought me back to my mother, to my love of her and her love for her children and how we as a family held her for as long as we could. The fat Peterson on the screen “transfigured” into my mother’s son and brought me in touch with the love I have for my mom. And looking up on that giant screen with my jiggling belly in my face, tapping into grief and love, I suddenly felt no shame.

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