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This week I began my three week Friend in Residence program at Haverford College, a historically Quaker undergraduate school outside of Philadelphia. According to the Quaker Affairs’ website,

The purpose of the Friend in Residence program is to enrich the educational experience for Haverford’s students, deepen the school’s appreciation of its Quaker roots and strengthen the College’s connections within the broader Quaker community.

Here is a full listing of my events

During my time here I will give two public performances to demonstrate the sort of work I do as a theatrical performance activist. On April 5th as part of the President’s Social Justice Series, I willl present Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. It will be a rare showing of the full theatrical production along with short pieces presented by trans people from Philadelphia.

But first this Saturday I will perform a stand-up comedy of sorts called Peterson Uncut! The Raw Version, which will give me a chance to tell some bawdy Bible stories and saucy tales from the Homo No Mo Halfway House and more. But earlier that same day I will help facilitate a Climate Summit. I am NO EXPERT when it comes to climate change as a scientific issue or a human rights issue. I will take part to learn from experts in the field both students and non-students–scientists, activists, and concerned citizens. What I bring to the event is my experience as a facilitator.

Tomorrow I head to Temple University to teach in a class about Sexuality and the Bible. The topic? Masturbation and Protestant Christianity. Again I have a scene from Homo No Mo that will come in handy as well as a scene from my play Jesus Had Two Daddies.

Haverford has given me access to their vast Special Collections, which includes thousands of Quaker publications as well as rare archival materials. So I got thinking about Quakers, who were so much involved with prison reform in the 18th and 19th centuries. They also ran hospitals, schools, and insane asylums. What did these Friends think about the sin of Onanism?

This week I have been reading biographies of Quaker members of the Prison Society that advocated many innovations in attempts to improve prison life. Guards were not paid back then and made their money by selling food, clothing, and alcohol to inmates. Also, all inmates were jumbled together regardless of the seriousness of the crime. Murderers and debtors were housed together. Also, men and women (sometimes with their children) were all living in one jail together with no segregation at all. The Prison Society lobbied the Pennsylvania Government and had that all changed.

The Prison Society, whose members also included non-Quakers like Benjamin Franklin, also strongly advocated for solitary confinement. They started with 16 solitary cells in the Walnut Street Jail. They assumed they were helping inmates, but ended up creating one of the cruelest forms of punishment regularly practiced in prisons today. Good intentions do not prevent people from causing harm.

Which got me thinking about masturbation and how prisons responded to inmates caught in the throes of the sin of Onanism. I recently read a reference in the book, New Jack City, about the writer’s time as a guard in Sing Sing Prison, that back in the day inmates were punished or sent off to an asylum in hopes of curing or curbing their masturbatory practices. Yesterday in reading a 1766 Treatise on Onanism I began to discover some of the attitudes and practices of that time–severe.

Who knows where the research will lead? It likely will lead all sorts of people discovering this blog post through all kinds of Google Searches. Next week I will research Hannah Whitall Smith and her very interesting offspring.

Here are some photos I took this week.
Special thanks to Diana Peterson, archivist for the Special Collections, Walter Hjelt Sullivan, director of Quaker Life and my kind handler and organizer of all these events, EarthQuakers, a Haverford sustainability group, Eileen Flannigan, a Quaker writer and climate change human rights activist, and Carl Sigmond and Sam Gant, Haverford students who I have known since they were in high school.

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Over the last two months, I have made a drastic and dramatic decision. No, Glen and I are not adopting a human child; our cats, Wally & Emma, are more than we can handle at the moment. And, no, I am not coming out more, although there is always room for more coming out.

For those who do not know, I am a performance artist and queer Bible scholar who travels throughout North America presenting at universities, seminaries, conferences, theaters, and churches. I live in Central Pennsylvania, a gay Quaker in Amish Mennonite Country, and I communte to California and Tennessee and a bunch of other places to do my work. And within that context, I have made a drastic and dramatic decicion.

I have decided that for the next five years or more I will not travel by plane within North America. No more flights from Pennsylvania to San Francisco or Vancouver or Memphis or Mexico City for business or pleasure. Other than in the case of an emergency, I have officially grounded myself.

Why? Short answer: It’s because of Climate Change and the excessive individual role flying has in pumping CO2 and other Greenhouse forming gases into the atmosphere. I have already flown much more than the average earthling. My individual contribution to the climate change compared with most people is off the charts, even with over ten years of being a vegan and seven years living without a car. For me, I cannot ethically fly any longer.

I recognize that this choice in and of itself will not drastically change the world at large. Nations, lawmakers, institutions, and businesses will have the largest impact in addressing the current global climate crisis. I have little to no power over what they choose, but I exercise vast amounts of agency over my own choices.

And with a choice like this, well, the world becomes a different place for me. In fact, it opens up opportunities previous unknown to me. (More about that in a future post.)

Notice I stated I will no longer fly within North America. I said nothing about flights to Europe or the UK or South Africa. The grief at the thought of possibly never seeing some of the dearest people I know, people who happen to live in Sweden, Malta, Northern Ireland, Wales, England, South Africa, Spain, and Norway, seizes up my heart and brings a tight sob immediately to my throat. I do not know about that yet. I understand that longer flights oddly have less impact than multiple shorter ones (something to do with disproportionate amount of fuel needed in take off and landing.) I know that I could also look into purchasing carbon off-sets to help balance out the carbon I expend. Today I do not have to make those decisions.

Instead today I am looking into train schedules for trips to Greensboro, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Albuquerque, and I’m planning a bus ride to Nashville. The choice to ground myself limits me, and it opens doors.

I welcome your comments.

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Like most Americans, I confess, at one time I had no idea where to find Malta on a map. I knew it was European and it was not a Greek island and it was not off the English coast, but for me it remained in the murky regions of “down there.” But as of 2008 I knew exactly where to find Malta, the island of rock and pea cakes, that sits in the Mediterranean, not too far from Sicily. The Drachma LGBT group brought me to Malta at that time to perform The Re-Education of George W. Bush and Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible, a play about gender non-conforming Bible characters.

It’s 2012 and I am back in Malta in the middle of a debates about co-habitation rights for LGB people and a growing ex-gay movement. This time I will perform my newest play, Jesus Had Two Daddies, a ridiculously serious comedy about the Bible and my own efforts to live as a heterosexual, including five years married to a women, my best friend from church. In the play I bring the audience back with me into The Closet, particularly My Closet, to revisit critical incidents in the past. The Closet can serve as Time Machine for some of us, and when we revisit it, we can see where we came from and if we left anything significant behind.

Turns out my closet is pretty much emptied out–my gay self, my sissy self, my theater self have all been liberated. But my closet has a special feature that many closets do not. I have a closet within the closet–my Prayer Closet, where I not only sought to store my gayness away from public view, I actually called on God Almighty to utterly destroy it for me in Jesus’ Name. In the play I replicate some of the prayers I prayed at key moments–when I gave my heart to Jesus, when I gave up studying theater for fear that it was leading me deeper into a “gay lifestyle, the day I got married to a woman and I was so very excited and so very afraid, the day I did spiritual warfare against the devil after I believed our home was infiltrated by demons trying to destroy our home, and so on. The prayers reveal my heart and mental state through my 17 year journey of trying to go straight for Jesus.

In a recent interview for Malta Today, I spoke about my motivation for trying to be straight,

“I truly believed I would be more valuable to the world if I were heterosexual. The messages I heard in church, at home, in the media, and on the playground all reinforced the idea that heterosexuality was superior to anything else and anyone who deviated from it would be punished in one way or another. In many ways I was a coward, afraid to face the consequences of being honest about who I was,” Toscano said…

Yesterday the Times of Malta also ran an interview in which I speak about the role that faith had in my own life in helping me accept the reality that I am gay. I recognize that for many LGBT people it is essential to divorce themselves from the oppressive religious organizations that shamed and shunned them. I had to do the same, but for me I also needed to find a spiritual path for my life. Just like I am wired gay, I am also wired for God. My faith helped me to accept that I was gay

Last week in London I gave a talk for the LGBT Humanists and also sat for an interview with Adam Knowles from The Pod Delusion. In it I speak more about faith, the Bible, and the Ex-Gay Movement.

In the USA I have virtually nothing more to do with the ex-gay movement. I have instructed all my friends and fellow activists that my focus has shifted. These days I am most keen on focusing on gender outlaws in the Bible. But since 2005 I have been raising the alarm about the growing exportation of gay reparative therapies and ex-gay ministries in Europe, South America, and Asia. While the Ex-Gay Movement in the USA is pretty much completely debunked and on a steady rapid decline, things are just ramping up in places like Malta. Fortunately we have many more resources now–documentary films, on-line ex-gay survivor testimonies, strong statements from the World Health Organization and every other major medical association, and a growing presence of LGBT people of faith and humanists who speak clearly and passionately about faith issues.

I’m thrilled to be back in Malta and to perform tonight and tomorrow at St. James Cavalier Center for Creativity in Valletta. My goal is to inspire critical thinking (while eating as many pastizzi pea cakes as humanly possible.)

Check out some of my YouTube my videos including my affair with Maltese pea cakes!

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Glen Retief, age 12, a sensitive boy in a violent world

(This post contains lots of info about upcoming gigs and ONE special personal announcement. Can you find it?)

Actually this orchestrated public display will not be the first noteworthy event in which Glen and I flop around, a tag team of heart, mind, and body resulting in artistic  man on man action.In addition to many  impromptu artistic intercourse where we reveled in at cozy corner spots on the couch replete with low lights and murmurs, we done it in cars, and on queues, and we have done it more than once  in the kitchen, the heart of the home, so suitable for two gay men to get it on in front of a mixed group of anxious, expectant, and trangressive folks as they marvel at the crazy risky behavior we flaunt in their faces.  (Wait! He used a semi colon THERE?! Crazy man.)

We have a good history of doing it in front a variety of friends and strangers. We once did it for a small friendly audience of Quaker Folks in Hartford, CT. Then there was mildly raucous audience in Belfast that plied us with beers and local legend. Sure we have known that some folks prefer spying on us doing our stuff separately–alone–our special time where we each have control of content and climax.

I know that after the audience witnesses me do my thing, as I hobble off the stage, I feel spent and tremulous. I love to see us do it alone, but doing it together is well, explosive. We can’t keep our hands and performance schedules off of each other.

So we are at it again. Glen Retief, the memoirist, and I, the theater Bible scholar queer activist guy will offer a joint presentation, this time in Washington, DC.(See Details Below)

I love book readings when authors read their own work, but  often I find something missing and get a little bored. Glen is a brilliant reader, very animated, “performance art bookstore quality” :–p No honestly I have been thrilled to see him deeply reach people causing them to listen, laugh, are moved by the words Glen skillfully crafted each sentence and paragraph and even phrase while never forgetting the the overall arc of the work.  over as if he was sculpture of stone peaces to flank a cathedral.  

What you will also get with us together is a conversation between us that goes beyond being Quaker who use art for public witness. We are both Quaker who are partnered together and hope to get under the care of our local meeting, Pennsdale. We will touch on the role of being supporter, critic, and all that comes with partnership.

Quaker Artist and Public Witness
Peterson Toscano performs feats of activism on the stage while Glen Retief reveals injustice in the world and within himself on the page. These two very different Quaker artists reach out through their art into the broader world as they explore racism, homophobia, privilege, violence, faith, and identity.

Glen Retief will read from his new book–The Jack Bank, A memoir of a South African Childhood (St. Martins Press.) Retief grew up during Apartheid, and as a white privileged boy, he received training on how to maintain white domination for a racist regime. But as a gay young man, he found that his position in a macho, heterosexist, religious society created tensions that led him to question the world around him. His memoir offers an honest reflection and insightful reflection.

Growing up outside of New York City during the early HIV/AIDS crisis, Peterson Toscano received only negative messages about his sexuality. Being a devout Christian with a gay orientation, Toscano longed for a “cure” that would make him straight.  17 years and $30,000 later Toscano began to question his journey ultimately leading him to come out gay. He has since become internationally recognized for his hilarious and eye-opening comic plays–Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House (now on DVD), The Re-Education of George W. Bush, and Queer 101–Now I Know my gAy,B,C’s. His most recent work exposes gender benders in the Bible. Toscano will perform excerpts from some of his play and read from his upcoming memoir.

Doin' It in Belfast

Glen Retief and Peterson Toscano live in Sunbury, PA and are members of Penndale Monthly Meeting. They will marry under the care of their meeting later this year. Retief is associate professor of writing at Susquehanna University. Toscano performs his original one-person plays and gives lectures at universities, high schools, and theaters throughout North America and Europe.
Praise for their work:

“Glen Retief’s Jack Bank is a transgressive, harrowing and illuminating work of literary art.  In a language marked by a brutal childhood in the last years of the apartheid regime, and with uncommon wisdom, Retief’s epiphanic narrative draws us into regions of  cultural importance beyond the scope of traditional memoir.  Thus, he changes what we imagine this genre to be, allowing it to become something truer.”—Carolyn Forché, author of The Country Between Us


“…Peterson Toscano is the quintessential storyteller. A theater artist capable of bringing together exciting characters into a dramatic world that informs, entertains, and creates a platform for dialogue and possible constructive change. I enjoyed his performance immensely and look forward to his future work.”
Roberto Prestigiacomo, Producing Artistic Director of AtticRep, San Antonio, TX

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

The Queer and Queerer Podcast!

Listen to this week’s episode

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

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

» Key findings of GLSEN’s latest climate study.

» Chronicle report on the higher ed climate survey.

» Learn about the UK’s Section 28 law.

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

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

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Zack has never heard Peterson’s “From Soup to Nuts” expression, but it apparently defines our tenth episode well! After several mono-topical episodes, we dramatically over-compensate by limiting discussion on any topic to three minutes. We have a big pile of topics in a hat. Some were submitted by listeners, but we each contributed some of our without the other knowing what they are. We don’t get to them all, but we do address a total of 19 topics! Tune in to hear about Muslims, Catholics, Country Music, Goth, Glee, pansexuality, hats, and more! Special thanks to Gavin, Christopher, Peter, Scott, and everyone else who submitted topic ideas this week!

The Queer and Queerer Podcast!

Listen to episode 10

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

» Study shows gay men are thinner and lesbians are more obese.

» Zack’s Recent Post: Why Celebrate a Conservative Gay Catholic?

» Documentary on coming out older: Latecomers.

» Towleroad: The Fate of I Love You Phillip Morris

» Learn more about Poe’s Law.

» Watch the Glee season finale on hulu!

» Just Fucking Google It.

Last week Zack and I recorded Episode 9 but I took to the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference before I could post it. So here it is!

Fetishes, Kinks, and Masturbation, Oh My! This week, Zack and Peterson delve into the topic of the sexually taboo! Why are kinks and fetishes taboo? What role does religion play in sexual repression and how can one’s faith intersect with the exploration of one’s sexuality? In what ways is the progress of the queer community impacted (for better or worse) by the kink, leather, and BDSM communities? The goal of today’s episode is not to be a tell-all about kink, but to open the door to having conversations about the taboo and showing support for the safe and consensual exploration of sexuality. (And it makes perfect sense to talk about sex when all the school buses are going by!)

Also, we need your help for next week’s episode. It’s going to be our “Topics out of a hat” episode, and we need you to suggest topics! They can be deep, shallow, serious, silly, political, social, or whatever. We’ll pick ten and talk for 3 minutes about each! Share them with us on Facebook or Twitter (@zackford and @p2son)!

The Queer and Queerer Podcast!

Listen to episode 9

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

» Looking to connect with the kink community? Check out FetLife.com! (NSFW)

» Tyler McCormick wins the 32nd Annual International Mr. Leather.

» Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference (June 3-5)

» Extra reading: Greta Christina explores how Lady Gaga implements porn and kink into her artistry.

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Yesterday I arrived in  Tacoma for my week as University of Puget Sound’s Artist in Residence. They comfortably settled me into the Trimble Guest Room, a cozy accommodation replete with imported Chinese rosewood furniture and delicious satiny sheets. Choreographer and dancer Twyla Tharp stayed her in February 2008 when she gave a lecture on campus. I adore Tharp and her work and get a creepy artistic thrill at lying in the same bed that supported her graceful frame.

The producer of my event, Jane Brazell, has organized a series of performances and classroom appearances that will showcase two presentations while also giving me a chance to connect with both theater and religious studies students (and lots of LGBTQ folks).

As I look over the week I am especially pleased about three theater classes I will teach on Tuesday. Often on campuses I teach classes but typically in subjects like Sexuality, Gender Studies, Sociology or Religion. I hardly ever get to do theater classes. You have to understand that in many universities the theater department doesn’t take kindly to a full-time performance artist who circumvents the tradition theater trajectory. But on this trip I will get to present to theater students about the work of a solo artist, the process of character development and the steps I take when building a play.

On Thursday I will also hang out in a Shakespeare class where we will focus on gender and the Bard. When I studied theater at City College in NYC back in the early 1980’s I was most drawn to modern classics by Ibsen, Strinberg, Shaw and O’Neil, mostly the most serious and tragic plays and to Shakespeare. I even got coaching from actress Diane Venora who had just completed her run as the first female Hamlet on Broadway. I wanted to be a SERIOUS actor doing SERIOUS plays. I wanted nothing to do with comedy.

Tonight  at Tacoma’s Rainbow Center I will perform excerpts from my comedy Queer 101–Now I know my gAy,B,Cs. In it I look at homophobia, identity and activism through the words and lives of lesbian and gay poets. I imagine I will also mention my own sordid past of trying desperate to be anything BUT a homosexual. I wholeheartedly believed that gender-normative straight men were more valuable than me, and I did everything in my power (and God’s) to change all that. The process weakened me considerably, but I did live to tell the story and to analyze why someone might spend so much time, money and effort to annihilate a part of themselves.

Tomorrow I will perform on campus Doin Time with Peterson Toscano, a variety show of sorts with performance arts bits mixed it. I give the audience a sampling of excerpts from most of my plays and also perform monologues specifically created for this presentation including my new Rainbow Monologue. I believe Marvin Bloom will also make an appearance and tell his story about his encounter with Samson. (It’s not what goes in your butt that makes you gay; it’s what’s in your heart.) Of course I will also share material from my newest (yet to be premiered) play, I Can See Sarah Palin from my Window! Lessons Before the Second Coming.

Wednesday is the BIG night with a special performance of  Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. It will include “inserts” between scenes when members from the trans community (turns out all male-identified trans people) will take a few minutes to read their poetry or share a moment from their lives. We are celebration Transgender Day of Visibility, and I am very excited to see how these men’s contributions will add to the evening and my performance.

I also get to spend time in a religion class where we will discuss gender non-conforming Bible characters and saints. The professor has done research and presentations around “transvestite Saints.” I imagine I will learn a thing or two.

As some of us met last night to consider the goals, expectations and hopes for the week, a strong and passionate ally to the transgender community made a mistake. We sat together on a couch. She was on my right and turned to the trans man on my left and then called him a female name. I imagine it was his birth name, the first name she learned associated with him. She immediately apologized, and we spoke briefly about how this happens and what we can do when this happens. Often it is an innocent mistake–using the wrong the name or pronoun after having used a different one for a time. Other times it is beyond a mistake, particularly when it seems someone does not try to use the correct name or pronoun and there is an attitude of intolerance coming off of the offender.

In my immediate family we all have long names. My oldest sister is Nardina, but we have always called her Dina. My sister Maria has always been Marie to my parents, and my family and school friends have always known me as Peter. I get that some family and childhood friends don’t call me Peterson. I have never asked them to do so, and I don’t mind because it reminds me of a special intimacy we share. BUT when people I meet today or who write about me on their blogs or in e-mails or in news stories refer to me as Peter, well I feel like they are talking about someone else. I feel like they are being rude. I feel they disrespect me.

What do we do when someone in our community refuses to use the correct name or pronoun? A transgender man in Hartford told me that he had been active in the gay male community for years before he came out to his gay friends as trans. He said suddenly people who ONLY ever knew him as male started screwing up pronouns. He told me how much that hurt, how he felt invalidated, disrespected and unaffirmed by his own community.

What can we do? A passive-agressive side of me (mixed in with my teacher side) wonders if we should give the offender a dose of their own medicine. How about a assign them a new name that is usually used for a different gender? How about I also use some new pronouns. So Chet  becomes Samantha and she is soooo unhappy about it. It might just get the point across. But it may be also practicing a form of violence. I’ll have to think about it.

Last night as we sat on couches together in the tense moment after a person was mis-named, I saw community and relationship at work. These are folks who are on a journey together. They both have transitioned in a public way–one female to male, the other unaware/uninformed lesbian to engaged and passionate ally to transgender people. They trust each other. They can talk. She apologized. He accepted. I suggested, “Hey, maybe every time someone messes up on a name, they have to pay $10. For misplaced pronouns–$5.” (of course the amounts can adjust according to the means of the people involved) From my right to my left $10 passed. Trans Action complete.

I have a good feeling this is going to be an excellent week.

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