Section: Arts

Peterson Toscano merges faith, gender and environmentalism

Peterson Toscano merges faith, gender and environmentalism

Peterson Toscano voluntarily spent over $30,000 dollars on conversion therapy and faith-based “ex-gay programs” to try to change his same-sex orientation for 17 years in the 1980s and 1990s. For many people, these 17 years would be considered lost time, something that they would rather forget.

But Toscano channeled this experience into his art.

In his affecting, unconventional and comical one-man performances, Toscano uses his time in conversion therapy as a jumping-off point to explore topics like gender, sexual orientation, religion and climate change.

When he comes to campus, Toscano will put on a performance that will encapsulate his experiences entitled “Everything Is Connected: An Evening of Stories, Most Weird, Many True.”

After coming out in 1999, Toscano became outspoken about his experiences trying to suppress his sexual orientation.

His activism quickly grew to include much more than his experiences coming out as a gay man. Today, his blend of performance and lecture incorporates his sexual orientation into biblical studies and climate change.

These topics may seem disparate, but the underlying factor that unites them is inequality.

Because bringing comedy into serious topics like LGBTQ+ issues and Bible scholarship risks offending some groups, Toscano works to avoid controversy by targeting himself in his comedy. “Putting the focus on me and finding the humor in that disarms people and it opens up a discussion,” he said.

The first act of his performance will cover Toscano’s time in conversion therapy. While he considers it a terrible experience, he is dedicated to finding its funniest moments.

“It was horrible, it was tragic, it was painful — yet there was a lot of comedy in it because it was just so wacky,” he said.

This past Sunday, there was a screening of Toscano’s film version of his one-man show Transfigurations — Transgressing Gender in the Bible in Higley Hall Auditorium.

In the beginning of the film, Toscano claims, “I was shocked to discover that some of the most important people in the most important Bible stories are gender non-conforming.”

By playing each character, Toscano shows how blurring the lines between gender roles has a biblical precedent.

The first section is about the biblical figure Deborah, a woman who is a poet, prophet, judge and warrior — in Toscano’s words, “not your typical Jewish mother.”

Toscano uses Deborah’s story to explain to the viewer how gender should be considered a spectrum, not a binary.

“It shows that there are multiple ways of being female,” he says in the film.

“You can present it. You can identify it. You can take on the roles in multiple ways.”

Toscano will be at Kenyon for a two-day residency on Feb. 5 and 6. In addition to his lecture on Tuesday, Feb. 6, Canterbury Kenyon Student Episcopal Organization will host a Dinner and Discussion with him on Monday, Feb. 5 at 5:30 p.m. at the Parish House, and on Tuesday, Feb. 6, Unity House will host a discussion with him at 11:10 a.m. in Peirce Lounge.

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