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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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Cotswold stone wall

One of t the things I like about moving with the Quakers is the quality of questions we ask each other.  We have a long history of asking questions that cause of to reflect inwardly and outwardly.

For three decades (more?) queer Quakers have been meeting in North America under a variety of names that have changed as the group has changed and grown. Currently the Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC or as I like to say, Flibbity Gibbitz) meets each winter and summer for gatherings. (Next one is in February in New York State).

Last month I got involved with a lot of activism around transgender issues and particularly the inappropriate and offensive actions of some queer organizations and gay men. You can read about it at my post: Remembering Jorge while Forgetting what Binds Us to learn more.

Oliver Danni, a deliciously queer vegan transgender Quaker (and so much more) wrote a list of queries for the FLGBTQC to consider in regards to transgender inclusion in LGBT organizations. With Oliver Danni’s permission, I reprint the e-mail message here. Perhaps some of the reflections questions can contribute to the on-going discourse. Please feel free to copy any question and answer it in the comment section (or blog about it elsewhere!) There are some references to Quaker organizations and Quaker terms. You can learn about some of these terms here, but knowing them is not essential to appreciating Oliver Danni’s questions.

Peterson raised an interesting question on Facebook, and I thought it would be a good discussion for us to have here, too. His question,”What shall we do with all these GLb(t) organizations?”, lifts up the concern that amongst organizations which describe themselves as “GLBT”, it is common that only gay and lesbian people will be fully included, while bisexuals will be “kind of” included, and transgender people will not really be at all.

The discussion left me inspired to articulate some queries with which I have long since been dancing in this community, and once again I wish to invite you all to dance with me and my F/friendly queries. 🙂

  • What is your vision of a fully transgender-inclusive organization? What would that organization be doing? How would we evaluate that this organization had reached the same level of inclusiveness for transgender people as it had for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people?
  • In what ways do you feel that FLGBTQC has been successful in becoming a more fully transgender-inclusive organization?
  • In what ways do you feel that we could be more inclusive of transgender people in the FLGBTQC community?
  • What impact do you see FLGBTQC having currently on the inclusion of transgender people in the Quaker world (Meetings or churches, FGC, FUM, Quaker service organizations)? What is your vision of how we could have an even greater impact?
  • How has the ministry of FLGBTQC with regard to transgender people influenced you personally? How has your personal ministry influenced the FLGBTQC community’s inclusion of transgender people? (Yes, this question is flip-floppable!)

Please, respond to any of these queries which speaks to you, or to another to which you find yourself led. This is not a “survey” or assignment where you need to answer all the questions in essay form –just an invitation to some electronic worship sharing. 🙂

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Since first connecting with ex-gay survivors in 2003, I grew to understand that many of us come down on one side or another of what would seem to be a great and even potentially combative divide. While many ex-gay survivors come from Protestant Evangelical Christian traditions (but by no means all–we have also been in Mormon, Catholic, Christian Science and other faith traditions including Jewish, Muslim and still others), many no longer ascribe to Evangelicalism and have become post-Evangelical. Some of us have moved onto other Christian traditions (I transitioned from Evangelical to Anglican to Quaker) or to other religious/spiritual traditions–Buddhist, pagan, etc–or none in particular, identifying as non-theist, atheist, agnostic, and the list can go on and on.

Yet some of us have remained in our Evangelical Christian traditions or after a period of struggle reclaimed our place inthem and now feel joyful and proud to be Christian. For my part I am a Christian, not Evangelical; I am follower of Jesus within a particular Quaker tradition that practices a group mysticism of sorts. Christine Bakke, my fellow co-founder of Beyond Ex-Gay is not Christian. We have much admiration, affection and respect for each other and find that our differences in regards to faith and religion do not hinder us from being close friends and effective co-facilitators of Beyond Ex-Gay.

Recently we started a community site for ex-gay survivors, a place for ex-gay survivors to connect with each other specifically around our former attempts to de-gay ourselves through diverse methods. We are committed to keeping this space ONLY for ex-gay survivors, so that we can connect with others with similar experiences as we unpack what we did, why we did it, and how we have or are finding recovery from the harm we may have experienced as a result of our ex-gay efforts and those others imposed on us.

Many of us have been deeply wounded by religion and particularly by Christians and Christian institutions (including Bible schools, ministries, and para church organizations.)  Since coming out, some of us have continued to suffer, even at the hands of gay Christians.

On Facebook I asked my friends,


Many ex-gay survivors are either Christian OR Post-Christian. How can we create & maintain a respectful & helpful community & dialog?

Jacobus from the UK wrote:

I imagine many of the Christians are evangelical (since that’s the type most likely to feel the need to go into ex-gay programmes). They are, by definition, most likely to want to bring the ex- or post-Christians “back into the fold”.

The ex- and post-Christians are likely to find that kind of talk at least annoying if not hurtful. They would most likely have left the faith to protect themselves from further hurt or after making a series of rational decisions based on an increasingly skeptical view of the nature of the bible. Some of them might be “evangelical” in their desire to see the Christians escape from their perceived religious prison.

Unless both groups take an “each to their own” approach, antagonism and rancour will be the result.

In ex-gay survivor gatherings I have seen fellow Christians, enthusiastic about their faith, end up saying things in such a way as to silence or shame those ex-gay survivors who no longer ascribe to Christianity. Some non-Christian ex-gay survivors say they walked away with hearing that they are double-failures–failed at being ex-gay and now the suggestion they are failures for not holding on to the very faith that for them turned out to be toxic. (I guess the same sort of shaming/silence can happen from post-Christians towards Christians, but I have not yet experienced this in ex-ex-gay settings.)

Steve, a gay Christian from the US writes:

I think it’s only difficult if *we* are actively trying to be recruiters, healers or promoters. It’s a lot easier if we are just respectful, welcoming neighbors.

So much of it about communication–finding a common language. There are also amazing benefits for me as a Christian to communicate my experiences without using religious language. I have benefited directly from changing up the way in which I talk about my past. When lecturing at academic conferences among non-religious scholars, as I first spoke about my mostly religious-based ex-gay experiences, I suddenly better understood what happened to me in the church & ex-gay programs. The process helped me to unearth the many non-religious reasons I went ex-gay, reasons that had been swallowed up by the religious rhetoric I used as a second-language.

So what does this mean for the bXg Community site? For many of us, the ex-gay experience was so deeply couched in the religious experience that even after we have left it, we struggle to talk about it without drawing on religious language and imagery. In so doing though we may inadvertently undermine the discussion for those who can no longer comfortably communicate with religious language. The reality is that no matter how we identify today, most of us experienced a form of religious violence and abuse in our churches and ex-gay programs, often by people who seemed to be or may have been very sincere and loving but woefully misguided people. Such language can be a trigger for folks and may hinder us from gaining understanding for ourselves.

Among ex-gay survivors both on-line and in our gatherings like the upcoming one in West Palm Beach,  we have a wonderful opportunity to experiment communication beyond our religious differences in part because of our shared pasts. By doing so we may foster a process that gets to the heart of our ex-gay experiences and avenues for recovery.

Many ex-gay survivors are either Christian OR Post-Christian. How can we create & maintain a respectful & helpful community & dialog?

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On-air WNPR (photo by Catie Talarski)

On-air WNPR (photo by Catie Talarski)

About an hour ago I stepped out of the studios of WNPR, the Hartford local public radio stations, where I appeared on the Where We Live program to talk about transgender Bible characters as they appear in my play Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. Also on the show performance artist Scott Turner Schofield spoke about his one-person show, How to Become Man in 127 Easy Steps. Scott, who is a female-to-male transgender person shares much of his own story in his theater work–and what a skilled artist he is! I saw his show Debutante Balls in North Carolina earlier in the year.

This is my second time on Where We Live. As host John Dankosky led me into the studio, he pointed out a plate prominently displayed outside the studio announcing that his program won the 2007 PRNDI award as the best public radio talk show in the country that year. The episode that they submitted to be judged was one they did about gender identity that included a chat with Jerimarie Liesegang, PhD. Director, Ct TransAdvocacy Coalition and me. Catie Talarski was the mastermind behind that show and in particular in having it focus on gender identity instead of just orientation. (You can hear that show here.)

On today’s program, Scott and I got to talk to John about our performance work, which touches on transgender issues and identity through storytelling. In telling his own story Scott invariably connects with the audience and their own stories. In my play I don’t tell my story but that of other people in the ancient past and today interweaving the two together. My hope is that people will also recognize themselves in some of my characters and narratives.  Hopefully beyond that they will also expand their understanding of the gender spectrum and the many different ways people identify and present their gender. As Kory, a guy at one of the sessions I attended at Gender Odyssey, stated, “I have a fancy gender.”

Scott and I have seen each others work before, and both initially didn’t want to see the others show, but we were both delightfully surprised by what we experienced. We get to talk about each others work on the show. I even get to recite a new favorite poem by Cavafy.

Have a listen to today’s Where We Live program Transgressing Gender.

I perform my show tonight at Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford and it will be a fundraiser for the CT TransAdvocacy Coalition, and Scott will have two performances next weekend at Real Art Ways.

How to Become a Man in 127 Easy Steps, written & performed by Scott Turner Schofield

I changed my sex. Now what?
Irreverent and dynamic, graceful and playful, this one-person show engages the deep questions (and the locker room jokes) about what it means to become a man. Moving beyond the transgender narrative that focuses on the experience of transition, Schofield’s stories explore the drama and hilarity of living a new life in the “opposite” gender.

Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible, written & performed by Peterson Toscano

Drawing on inspiration from interviews with transgender and genderqueer individuals, Peterson Toscano weaves their experiences into the stories of transgender and gender-variant people from the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Hilarious and moving, Toscano’s one-person play deepens well-known (and lesser-known) Bible stories as he presents an array of characters with an array of genders.

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quaker_1At the Friends General Conference gathering (FGC) this summer and then again at the New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (NEYM) I got lots of Quaker action!  Sitting in silent worship for an hour at a time, some might think of it as Quaker inaction. Ah, but things happen, and often Friends (as Quakers refer to each other) offer long and ponderous messages (some quite brilliant and revelatory others a bit obtuse or simply a rehashing of something I had already heard on National Public Radio.) I joked more than once this summer that instead of Meeting for Worship, we need to establish Tweeting for Worship where if anyone stands up to offer vocal ministry, their message cannot exceed 140 characters. I’m bringing sexy plain speech back!

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a college student  who saw me perform at the William Penn House this past spring. She was in DC for an internship and has since returned home and is looking to connect with Friends in her area. She writes:

Hi Peterson. was wondering if you might talk to me a bit about the Friends meetings you’ve been part of since encountering and then becoming Quaker. I would like to link up with my local liberal group sometime this fall and so am asking the few Friends i know about their experiences. What might a lapsed evangelical expect that first visit and the first few times after that? What would not be so wise to expect? And, more personally, what has being part of the community brought to you?
Sent via Facebook Mobile

I love assignments. I spent time this morning thinking about her questions and reflecting on the many different Quaker meetings I have attended over the past eight years, mostly among what we call unprogrammed Friends, (Quakers who typically meet for an hour of silent worship with the opportunity for anyone present to speak out of the silence and present a short [or not so short] message.) Below is an edited version of my answer.

<———————————————————->

Dear ________,

all lovely questions. Hmm, well, I think the most challenging thing for folks with Evangelical pasts going into Quaker worship and spaces is that with Friends there is no stated creed or list of beliefs. Asking a Quaker, What do Quakers believe? will often get you blank looks. That or about 5 different answers for every three Friends you ask. It is not that we don’t individually believe in stuff, but corporately it is much more subtle than that. It is more about what you PRACTICE than what you PROFESS. We do maintain community values and even unspoken rules, but these I have found to be more pliable than anything I encountered in Evangelical churches.

quakersYou will find that Quakers are a quiet bunch and seemingly stuck with the PAUSE button on when it appears NOTHING is happening in a room full of people. Often there is no greeting or opening of any kind. Folks just sit down and settle in. At  first I found this both disconcerting and comforting. I thought, Wait, did we start? Did someone forget to do something? Sometimes during the worship time we have children in the meeting for the first 10 minutes or so or the last 10 minutes. They exit and enter with a flurry of delicious activity with hushes and smiles from the adults.

Most of the meeting time is maintained in relative silence and stillness. We sit. We wait. We cough. We fidget, well I do. We each have our own way of settling into the silence.  Sometimes individuals will give messages. Unlike in my Evangelical days when the sermon was the centerpiece of every service, I receive these Quaker messages with an open hand. If it speaks to me, fine. If not, I just settle back down to worship. I listen for what the Spirit has to say to me. We listen to what the Spirit has to say to us, and that is not always through a haiku about a math formula remembered during a walk in the snow towards the meeting house one winter morning (true story) 🙂

For me, although the “service” is so quiet and still, so much happens in Meeting for Worship. It becomes a pentecostal experience of sort with much inner activity (and yes extends beyond the gurgling in my stomach.) This may not be not true of everyone, but as I settle, let go of the many things vying for my attention, as I listen, I become aware of how much connection we have with each other. My mind and heart open up to God. I sit and let the Spirit do a scan disk of

Mwa mwah, mwah, mwah, mwah, mwah

Mwa mwah, mwah, mwah, mwah, mwah

my hard drive–my soul.  I bring a notebook so that I can jot down ideas and messages and comforts and reminders that come to me during the worship time. I feel as if when I am in these meetings a curtain gets parted or I break through a gauzy filmy wall, and I become more aware of the world around me, of what is important and what is not. It is in these meetings that quietly, gently new ideas and leading in new directions form for me. An interest becomes a concern and over time becomes a passion and a calling.

Be aware, unlike many Evangelical churches you may have attended with all the effusive greetings and outreach, Quakers can seem shy and even stand-offish. This is a group of many introverts, not all of course, but we have plenty, so if the first few times you don’t feel welcome, don’t take it personally. They warm up soon enough, particularly when it is time to nominate people for the various committees operating. I have had lovely reception especially among the British friends. I attended the Disley Meeting back in May and was greeted like a long-lost son.

At the end of meeting (we say the rise of meeting) look out for LOTS of announcements. Often this is a tedious affair although I recently attended the Friends meeting in Pittsburgh where the announcement time was downright celebratory and theatrical.  Many meetings also serve coffee or tea or sometimes pot luck at the rise of meeting post-announcements (consider it a reward for sticking it through the announcement time.) There will be vegetarian food and often vegan and gluten-free options. Again, during this social time people may seem strangely disinterested in you and may not even approach you. It is odd, but seems to happen a lot when I visit various meetings. Maybe I am just funny looking or suspect as someone who will drag a Friend into a long drawn out conversation.  I think this social aloofness is in part about being shy around religion and not pushing oneself or ones faith on another. Also, sometimes after a time of deep silent worship, I don’t feel ready to talk or engage much with others. I am a reflective state.

Disley Friends Meeting, UK

Disley Friends Meeting, UK

What worship among Quakers has brought to me has been a maturing of my faith. I often say that Quaker meeting for worship is church for adults. We don’t have the programming and the pomp and circumstance, the readings, the sermons,  etc provided for us. We have to make our own magic happen. We can’t jive off the hymns or the sermons which go on Sunday after Sunday at many churches with or without the Spirit. We sit, We wait, We hope, We fail, We wait some more, We listen, We hear, We change. It seems all so subtle but the changes in me have been profound. The peace and clarity and direction I have gotten as a result have astounded me.

For me it is the way I prefer to worship, but I recognize it is not the only way and not the best way for everyone. In its simplicity and directness, I find God present, which is especially astounding to me as a former Evangelical since so many people bring with them to meeting a variety of theologies. I come as a Christian, albeit it a queer and questioning one. Others come with affinity to all sorts of other traditions–Jewish, pagan, Buddhist, non-theist, etc. Meeting for worship at its best can be the leveling ground where like Paul said of Christ there are no gender, ethnic or social distinctions. This of course takes work within the community as we listen to the Spirit even in messages that are not worded according to our own tradition or inclination.

I hope you have a good experience in your first few Meetings for Worship. Oh, yeah, and you will hear lots of jargon. Quaker Speak. Just go with it. 🙂
Peterson

If you live in North America and want to find a Quaker meeting near you, check out Quaker Finder. If you live in the UK check out the Quakers in Britain.   To read a bunch of Quaker blogs, see sweet and corny videos, meet some nice Quakers from all sorts of backgrounds, check out QuakerQuaker.

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I just spent an utterly delightful and exhausting week in Rhode Island for the 349th annual gathering of the New England Quakers. I served as an adult “resource person” (RP) for the Young Friends (YF) high school program, which meant spending most of time assisting with the high school-age Quakers in their worship meetings and play times.

In spite of the many hours per day devoted to the YF’s, I found I still had plenty of time to attend other events and even spent at least an hour a day working on my memoir as well as doing a little blogging. With the beginning of the  two-year theme of Living into Jubilee, this week we focused on letting go of those things that tie us down, releasing our debt, clearing the land.

The Homo No Mo Halfway House

The Homo No Mo Halfway House

Back in 2003 I premiered my play Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House–How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement! I had a sense at that time what was in store for me, and sure enough over the next five years I took my work throughout North America and beyond into Sweden and the UK and Cameroon. I also got to speak often in the media helping to shape and deepen the discussion around the ex-gay movement. (See a listing of some media here.)  I knew it was time to lay down that play in 2008, so I stopped performing it and  had a DVD produced, which you can purchase at Quaker Books.

Since that time I have focused much of my energies on transgender issues and concerns through performing my play Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. I cannot properly express to you how different it feels to do this play than the Homo No Mo play.  With Homo No Mo I felt that I had to relive in detail some of my own history and oppression. It was important trauma work for me and for others, but it came to the point where to perform the play dragged me down instead of lifted me up. With Transfigurations I experience an opening of my heart, an expansion of my soul. It doesn’t exhaust me nearly as much as when I performed Homo No Mo.

Transgressing Gender in the Bible

Transgressing Gender in the Bible

This week’s BIG ex-gay news is that we heard the result of a two year review by the APA in regards to gay reparative therapy and ex-gay ministry.  There are tons of stories about it right now.  What they concluded is what most of us have known for a long time. Reparative therapy and ex-gay ministry does not work. No one actually changes from gay to straight. Most likely to try to make that change through therapy will cause harm, in some cases serious harm. If someone continues to have a conflict with their sexuality, possibly stemming from their faith, but most likely influenced by several other sources, they can pursue a celibate life or else change churches.

In a way I feel this puts to rest the question completely. For those who wish to pursue a celibate life, I imagine many can successfully, particularly as they remain open and honest about their orientation adn feelings. One can live without sex. I do wonder though about the need for intimacy and partnership. That is another matter altogether. By encouraging gay and lesbians to close the door to partnership, ministers put burdens on other people’s backs that they are not willing to carry themselves leading to hellish outcomes.

Loads of people are blogging about this right now, so I don’t feel like I have much more to say. In a way I don’t have the energy for it or the interest.  We have seen in the past few years several ex-gay survivors and concerned citizens come forrward to talk about the ex-gay phenomenon and the related issues.These folks are doing an excellent job of telling their stories and addressing the lies and misinformation that so often comes from Christian organizations whenever they speak about sexuality.

On Wednesday, the day the APA released their study and I hung out with the Quakers,  I met for the penultimate time with my  “affinity group”. This small group of teens gathered daily with fellow RP Adrianne and me for “check-ins,” silent worship, personal sharing, silly jokes, stories and games. At the Wednesday meeting we shared affirmations, each person writing about what we appreicate and admire about each person in the group.

One teenager wrote to me,

Although I think you must have been dilusional to think the world would be better with you straight,  I am so so so so so so so so so so so glad that you came from your dilusion into the light.

Yeah me too, now I can walk in the Light and move on in my life to the business of living and serving and loving.

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Today much of the gay activism world and ex-gay survivors digest the expected but still very happy news that after a thorough two year review, the APA has announced that there is NO evidence in support of ex-gay therapy. Wayne Beson reports,

This conclusion did not surprise those of us who work with people who have been harmed by such programs. For example, I just interviewed Patrick McAlvey, who entered therapy to change his sexual orientation at the age of 19. His counselor, Mike Jones, is the director of Corduroy Stone, an affiliate of Exodus International.

McAlvey says that his sessions included prolonged hugs, the suggestion that he use handyman tools to increase his masculinity and questions about the size of his genitalia. There was also an episode of “holding therapy” where he reclined into the lap of his supposedly “ex-gay” counselor for an hour. The goal, according to McAlvey, was to get comfortable with his own manliness by “feeling the strength” and “smelling the smell” of another man.

What Jones and other ex-gay counselors routinely call “therapy” can seem a great deal like foreplay to the rest of us.

“I think it does a lot of damage to peoples’ mental health,” said McAlvey. “If I had had a fair representation (of gay life) I could have avoided a lot of suffering.”

I will take a look at the very large document over the weekend, but for now I will enjoy the final 18 hours of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends here in Smithfield, RI. Tonight is the BIG night with the community wide Coffee House sponsored by the Young Friends (YF=High School) where anyone can showcase their “talent.” Corny, sweet, intense and amazing, these performances get the crowd wild. Then the YF’s have their dance that goes to 2:30 in the morning. I had a sneak peek at the DJ’s play list. HOT!

We had our first shower today, which did not dampen the Frisbee playing and also gave us an hour for quiet activities indoors before it cleared up leaving everything sparlking. Below are some photos from the last 24 hours. I will write more tomorrow.

Nathan & helper making paper

Nathan & helper making paper

Alternative Transportation at NEYM

Alternative Transportation at NEYM

Original Masking Tape Art

Original Masking Tape Art

restful moment by lake (look out for geese poop)

restful moment by lake (look out for geese poop)

Table Display

Table Display

Amy & Allon prep for Coffee House

Amy & Allon prep for Coffee House

From YF's Meeting Room

From YF's Meeting Room

Young Friend Relax During Storm

Young Friend Relax During Storm

Meeting 4 Worshop w/ Attention 2 Business

Meeting 4 Worship w/ Attention 2 Business

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This afternoon I attended the Worship Sharing* group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) Friends, one of many worship sharing groups held each day of the New England Yearly Meeting of Quakers (NEYM) during our week-long gathering. Unlike the much larger North American gathering call Friends General Conference, which has a full program of LGBTQ activities organized by the Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC or as I like to call them the Flibity-Gibitz) this worship sharing is the only LGBTQ-specific programming during the New England gathering.

Among New England Quakers we have LOADS of LGBTQ folks. One of the lead couples in the landmark Marriage Equality lawsuit resulting in marriage for same-gender folks are Quakers from Northampton Meeting and will soon celebrate 20 years living as couple. Pretty much everywhere I turn in every group, commitee, meeting for worship, and dinning room table I see LGBTQ Quakers at this gathering.

I do find it odd at NEYM to enter an LGBTQ-designated space when so much of the gathering is queer. Even the straight Quakers here are queer–so many non-gender normative and exceptionally open people! Wse have little need for our own space because we are fully integrated into the community. Even among the high school Quakers (Young Friends) I find a safe healthy space for people to be honest about their gender identity/expression and their orientation. Straight athletic teen boys have no problems suggesting that for an upcoming Rest & Relaxation high school retreat the program might consider offering spa treatments including facials with cucumber eye masks. No one snickered when it was suggested. The other boys agreed it would be a super idea.  Another asked if they could do bread making again. In their discussions about sexuality, they are frank about their orientation, experimentation and questioning.

At NEYM I find that the LGBTQ people gather together because of our affinity with each other not because of the affliction of oppression leveled against us by the majority population making it necessary to seek refuge. We don’t have to meet in order to survive or to assert a part of ourselves that we must hide in all other spaces. And as a result, we grow, we thrive, we serve and strengthen the community. You will find one or more of us on nearly every committee and working in the youth programs with infants to high schoolers. Some of us have our own children in these programs. We’re part of the furniture and the fabric of this gathered community.

We are becoming old news which is good news–post-LGBTQ–with the queer part of us being just that, a part of us, an important part with a rich and sometimes challenging history, but still only a part of the whole integrated person. You will not find most of us even taking on LGBTQ issues. We are freed up to actively contribute to disccusion and action on issues of torture,  earth care, myriad peace and social justice concerns, Quaker outreach and so much more. Since we don’t have to expend all of our energy living in closeted stealth mode or fighting for our right to belong, we instead use that energy to contribute to the community.

This week at sessions most LGBTQ folks will not atteend the LGBTQ worship sharing. Those who do, like I did today, will most likely experience blessing and fellowship and friendship. And those who don’t enter this designated LGBTQ space will also find the same in multiple places without having to compromise who they are in order to be full members of the community.

*from the LGBTQ Worship Sharing handout.

About Worship Sharing. This is a process to enable deep meaningful sharing to take place in a non-judgmental atmosphere. One person shares, distilling the promptions of the Spirit on a subject (perhaps but not necessarily, related to the themeof Yearly Meeting or an experience at Sessions) into a single statement, speaking from their won experience. Others actively listen. The contribution is received and reflected on in the silence. Everyone gets a turn to speak. There is no immediate response, no debate or discussion but a period ofsilence between contributions.

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RP Nathan holding a song book

RP Nathan holding a song book

It’s my third day  (and the second official day) at New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (NEYM). This is the first FULL day of sessions with a large intergenerational worship service in the morning and Capture the Flag in the afternoon. In preparation for the morning worship the junior high Friends put on a skit highlighting the need to thoughtfully consider a message before standing up and sharing it during the sacred silence of the meeting. Though lighthearted it seemed to have a profound effect as evidenced by the lack of messages about Friend’s cats and favorite poems or a rebroadcasting of a recent National Public Radio segment that a Friend found interesting. The worship remained centered with insightful and challenging messages.

Today I decided to record in my journal things I heard around me during worship, meals, meetings, etc so that I could share these with you on the blog.  It is not exactly a “found poem” but a sampling of some of what was said so far today at gathering.

Do not sing that again!
-mother to child as child resumes singing the “Lego Song” during breakfast

Greetings Friend!

-a Quaker woman in a bonnet to me as she enters meeting for worship

I’m heading into silent meeting so I gotta get off the phone
-overheard cell phone conversation as usher points dramatically to a cell phone he’s displaying as Friends gather for worship. (Even so someone’s cell phone went off TWICE!)

Jubilee is a time for preparing, for emptying of oneself and opening to God.
-intro to the Junior Young Friends (JYM) skit

It’s very complicated and depressing. I don’t think this is the time or the place to share it.
-said with a deadpan delivery. Advice from the “Worship Fairy” when a Friend considers reading a poem in meeting for worship (part of the JYM skit)

Can’t we just stay on the floor?
– feeble and fruitless plea of high school student when told they must sit in chairs for the next 90 minutes of worship after sitting on the floor for the first hour

God is not calling me to be the judge of the message but to follow that voice I hear. Let us return to that practice.
-spontaneous message during meeting for worship

Friends, do we hold out the possibility that we we might be wrong?
-spontaneous message during meeting for worship

Friends, we’ve just had three long and deeply spiritual messages without a pause. I call us now to reflection and silence.
-spontaneous message during meeting for worship

He’s not well. He’s not well! If I was his friend, I would say, “George, are you okay?”
-keynote speaker Philip Raines remarking on Early Quaker George Fox’s sometimes outrageous behavior

It’s almost as if they lived in a different time and place that was the future.
-Philip Raines referring to the way early Quakers lived and viewed the world.

I have a problem with the theme. Jubilee never happened. Sorry, it just couldn’t work in real life. Second beef I have with Jubilee–if it’s such a good idea to free your slaves, why wait?
-Philip Raines talking about gathering theme, Living in Jubilee

It’s my sense that we are at the time of the breakdown of Capitalism. We see the consequences of our greed and oppression…Are we courageous enough to open ourselves to God’s leading so we can take our place in the reconstruction of the Peaceable Kingdom rather than get in its way?
-spontaneous message after keynote address

Are all hearts clear? (pause) Thank thee Friends.
-Elder closes the meeting for worship

My vocal chords are laminated in phlegm.
-RP Allon struggling with allergies explains why he can’t lead the high school singing

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains you never change your socks/ And the little streams of alcohol come a-trickling down the rocks
-lyrics from the Big Rock Candy Mountain a folk song about a hobo’s paradise

Ah, glad I I didn’t wake you. We’re doing a sweep of the dorms.
-Kim Allen, the high school program coordinator in her never ending quest for stray teens. Instead she found me blogging

What do you think you need in your life right now?
-query for high school students to consider during affinity group meeting

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Well, technically the New England Yearly Meeting (NEYM) of Friends starts tomorrow, Saturday, but since I am a Resource Person (RP, it’s like a camp counselor plus something more) for the Young Friends (high school Quakers) I arrived a day early. The first RP meeting is at 10 am tomorrow.

I have decided to write daily about this year’s NEYM to share some thoughts, observations, “found poems,” and news. I hope that both Quakers and non-Quakers will appreciate these updates.

I first attended this gathering of about 700 Quakers from all over New England in August 2002. I had only just begun attending Quaker Meeting in the fall of 2001 soon after 911. In August of 2001 I moved from Memphis, TN to Hartford, CT, a refugee of sorts having just emerged from the Love in Action ex-gay program for wayward husbands and hounded homosexuals in fall 1998.

I felt leery about getting involved with another faith community, particularly if they were going to treat me as a second class citizen. I most recently had attended an Episcopal church in Memphis where when I informed the relatively friendly priest that I was gay, he responded, “Yes, I have known people with that problem.” I shot back, “I didn’t realize we were talking about a problem. Oh, it’s not a problem, at least not for me, not anymore.” But it remained a problem for others even in Christian churches that strove to be accepting.

I moved to Hartford for a position as a teacher in a private school, the first job where I was openly gay, albeit very tentatively and selectively initially.  By this time in my life I had comprehended that I was gay and that I was also wired for God. Although much of my experience up until that time  told me that I had to choose one identity over the other, I knew it would be madness if I denied either of these realities. In late fall 20oo1 I first attended Hartford Friends Meeting after one of my fellow teachers told me she was a member. There must have been about 25 or 30 people present. For an entire hour no one spoke. We sang no songs. We heard no sermon. No one uttered a prayer.  We sat in silence and what felt to me a profound stillness.

Just because it was quiet with no programmed activity didn’t mean that it was stagnate, not for me at least. I experienced what I have since come to call the “scanning of the Spirit.” It’s like my body is a computer and my soul the hard drive. The Spirit then does a scan disk (and sometimes a defrag) going into the various pockets and corners of my soul, shining the light, comforting, challenging, guiding.

It was at that first meeting where I understood that I didn’t need to say anything. What could I even say to a deity who knows everything, my inmost thoughts, knows me better than I know myself, knows the desire of my heart hidden behind all the words I stammered in prayer?  I sat on that bench and opened my whole being to God, the God I knew from when I was little, the God who I felt wooed me and drew me in my teens. (That was before I began to listen to ministers instead of God, trusting that these straight men of God knew better than me.) In that Hartford meeting for worship I let God scan me, and I felt peace. I felt I had come home.

During that time opening up to God honestly felt liberating; opening up to the folks at Hartford meeting was another matter altogether, one that I relentlessly avoided for the next two years. I came in most First Days (Sundays) just as meeting started, and then as soon as announcements were complete, I gave them the slip before anyone could talk to me. I didn’t even sign the guest book.

That was until summer of 2003 when I first RPed for the Young Friends teen program. I had done lots of youth work before and had met loads of young people who were excited about their faith, but I had never experienced anything quite like this Young Friends group before (I have seen it replicated since). These young people valued their time of silent worship, jealously guarded it and kept it deep and meaningful. They conducted their business in a centered worshipful manner. And in the midst of the worship and meals, snacks and games like Wink and Spanking Yoda they expressed a genuine and thoughtful love for each other, listening to each other, comforting, encouraging, challenging each other. christmas-grinch

I saw them with their open hearts and with a faith they could barely articulate yet one they put into practice skillfully and joyfully.  I felt like the Grinch when after he attempted to steal Christmas and he looked down on Whoville and the Whos, young and old, singing their songs, enjoying each other and Christmas without a tree and the trimmings, without the Who Feast, without the roast beast.

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,who christmas
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?”
“It came with out ribbons! It came without tags!”
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.”
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
And what happened then? Well…in Whoville they say,
That the Grinch’s small heart Grew three sizes that day!

grinch smileWatching the young friends in action, true love in action, my heart melted, and it was then I decided I would join Hartford Friends Meeting and become active in this faith community.

This evening I wrote to my partner Glen, who stayed behind in Central PA to work on his book, about why I keep coming back to NEYM and why I most likely will continue to do so even if I move away from CT one day.

What I appreciate about NEYM is how loved I feel. I mean these Quakers seem like my people in many ways, even if my faith in Jesus, the way I see God seems like a cultural oddity for some. They knew me before I had done much Homo No Mo stuff, when I was just a high school teaching sorting himself out. We have mostly a pre-performance history. It’s comforting. Feels like coming back to one’s hometown, a good hometown where one has had many good memories and feels pleased to see everyone again. It’s not quite family always, but homey all the same and safe.

What do I look forward to this week?

  • Worship and Business Meeting with the Young Friends
  • Impromptu talks at meals, walking to meetings, sitting on the grass
  • NOT having a performance to present

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In a move to unify their stance on marriages between two men or two women, the British Yearly Meeting of Quakers have had long discussions about their practice and beliefs. In the UK although people of the same sex can partner legally, marriage is reserved for opposite-sex couples.

According the British Yearly Meeting blog a minute has been put forward to extend fully equal treatment of same-sex couples–to recognize AND record these marriages, even if it means defying the law.

We therefore ask Meeting for Sufferings to take steps to put this leading into practice and to arrange for a draft revision of the relevant sections of Quaker faith and practice, so that same sex marriages can be prepared, celebrated, witnessed, recorded and reported to the state, as opposite sex marriages are. We also ask Meeting for Sufferings to engage with our governments to seek a change in the relevant laws so that same sex marriages notified in this way can be recognised as legally valid, without further process, in the same way as opposite sex marriages celebrated in our meetings. We will not at this time require our registering officers to act contrary to the law, but understand that the law does not preclude them from playing a central role in the celebration and recording of same sex marriages.

The BBC has reported this story here although they don’t have the story quite right. Jacobus Rex, a gay Christian Quaker friend in Wales wrote on my Facebook wall,

I’m not sure that the article is entirely accurate. One of the men from my meeting is on the Meeting for Sufferings that was looking at this in advance of Yearly Meeting. I believe that, though pushing for a change in legislation was considered by them, they decided not to advise the Yearly Meeting to do that. I believe that YM will rather be discussing making changes to Quaker Faith and Practice (Friends’ book of discipline) so that committed relationships of same- or mixed-sex couples are referred to with parity throughout.

This will not be the first time British Quakers stirred up the marriage waters or took on the gay issue. Early on in the late 1700s Quakers refuse to get married by priests of the established church. In regards to homosexuality, British Quakers issued strong supportive statements as early as 1963 with the publication of Towards a Quaker View of Sex, “which affirmed that gender or sexual orientation were unimportant in a judgement of an intimate relationship and that the true criterion was the presence of ‘selfless love'”

Hat tip to UK friends Auntie Doris and Rob Hunt for greeting me this morning on Facebook with this announcement (and Heidi who would have posted it if Anna hadn’t beaten her to the punch.)

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Job of the Week

Job of the Week

Recently the UK-based website Ideas Tap interviewed me for their on-line magazine featuring me in their Job of the Week section. They were especially interested in potentially controversial aspects of my work as a queer theatrical performance activist.

People often ask me if I run into problems/opposition when I perform my plays. Really I rarely do, and if so it is mostly on-line. Evangelical and Conservative Christians don’t much fuss over what I do (at least not to my face). Usually the fussing comes from fellow gays and from Quakers. (I love me some Quakers, but Friends can be the most difficult audience member when they take things too literally. They can get so caught up in words that they miss the point.)

Do you consider yourself to be controversial?

Let’s see. I recently retired a play called “The Re-Education of George W.Bush–No President Left Behind!” after I got more bookings for it in the UK and Sweden than in the USA. My newest play is about transgender Bible characters (the BBC had me on-air for nearly two hours talking about this topic.) And I once spent nearly 20 years trying to ‘de-gay’ myself (and completely failed) because I believed I could not be gay AND Christian. Controversial stuff.

Perhaps most controversial for lots of people is that I currently identify as Gay AND Christian. People on many sides get upset about this. In fact, I find it harder to come out Christian among queer folks than to come out gay among church folks.

Do you think controversy is useful?

At times controversy is essential. We sometimes need to jar people out of their slumber and their fears. The goal is not simply to BE shocking, but to uncover what already IS shocking and help people see this for themselves.

Towards the end of the interview they wanted me to name five organizations/websites/resources that you find useful which would be beneficial to other people. Included in the five I listed my favorite podcast–Trans-Ponder. (Mila & Jayna you are brilliant!)

I would have mentioned Joe G’s Bored Beyond the Belief (check out his latest podcast–Michael and Me at 50) but I only find it beneficial for killing 11 minutes or so when I am waiting for my jeans to dry. Now if they asked for an entertaining resource, his pod would have been first on the list!

Check out the full interview here. You have to create a free account, but it takes seconds and Ideas Tap has lots of cool stuff on it worth checking out.

In my list of beneficial resources I also included the Religious Society of Friends–Quakers. There is actually controversy among Friends about whether we should or should not share our faith/practice. Wanna see a Quaker get huffy in Meeting for Worship with attention to Business? Say that you want to start an outreach committee to do proselytizing. You will witness the closest thing to a Quaker smack-down. You may even experience the famous Quaker Bitch Slap.

I believe it is vital that I share the Quaker part of me (which influences so much of what I do and how I do it) and choose to live as what some call “a Public Friend,” traveling widely and sharing the Quaker way. Shoot we have good news to share. We can gather in silent worship together (regardless of our faith traditions) and listen deeply to each other and to the leading of the divine (or whatever you call the invisible, mystical teacher).  We welcome so many refugees from other faith traditions who are looking for a faith community for adults where we have to work out our own walk, where we can contribute on a regular basis through messages we share–something usually reserved for the select few in most faith communities.

Just today I received an e-mail from Beth, one of the Quakers on my Support Committee. She wrote to check-in, to let me know she is thinking about me, holding me in the Light. I love that what I do as a solo performance artist, I get to do in community (Quaker and non-Quaker from all over the place) and with a team of people supporting me, challenging me, encouraging me–without whom it would be nearly impossible to do what I do.

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