08 September 2012

Brief Encounter

Peterson Toscano will soon be in Malta with his new one-person comedy Jesus had Two Daddies to be performed at St James Cavalier on 21 and 22 September. He talks to Marie Benoit mostly about the things he enjoys in his everyday life.

Peterson Toscano is an American theatrical performance activist currently on tour in the UK and Malta.  47-year-old Peterson says he can easily pass for 44 and on a good day, ever 43 because of his Italian genes. He writes and performs one-person comedies about faith, sexuality, and justice issues.

Peterson is also a Bible scholar presenting lectures about Biblical characters who do not fit traditional gender roles – warrior women judges, princess patriarchs, eunuch saviours, etc.

He lives in USA, in the state of Pennsylvania in what is known as Amish Country. ‘Those are the folks who live without electricity and ride horse and buggies,’ Peterson explains. He is not Amish, but a Christian from a Roman Catholic family who now attends a Quaker Meeting. Day to day most people observing him assume he never works, except perhaps in the garden or surfing the Internet, but the whole time he’s writing plays in his head, sharing theology through Twitter, or organizing upcoming talks. He tours for weeks at a time speaking, performing, lecturing, and stirring up conversation. He says he has spent 17 years and over $30,000 USD on three continents trying to cure himself of being gay. It didn’t work, but he did get some excellent material for his stand-up comedy routine he assures me.

I have a husband, Glen Retief, and two cats Wally, named after South African poet, Mongane Wally Serote and Emma, named after anarchist feminist Emma Goldman.  

I love eating fresh vegetables from my own garden. This year I grew tomatoes, basil, kale, green beans, shallots, and five types of peppers. Sadly while I am on tour, my husband is responsible for looking after the garden; he is lovely, but he is a writer, not a gardener. 

When I have some time to spare I enjoy walks in the woods or watching YouTube and clicking on suggested video links for hours seeing where it might lead. Usually to ridiculous cat videos. 

My favourite holiday destination is Memphis, Tennessee, home of the Blues and Elvis Presley and mega churches, but I always get into some sort of trouble there. In 1996 I actually moved to Memphis in order to attend a programme designed to straighten out gays. I submitted to two years of church-run treatments that caused me psychological harm and did nothing to de-gay me. I eventually came to my senses and realized that being gay was simply a part of me that I needed to embrace and integrate into my life. It was in Memphis that I experienced a resurrection of sorts, coming out. I found myself again – my personality, my art, and my desire to live. 

One living person I admire is Jeremy Marks. He once ran a programme in the UK to ‘cure’ homosexuals, then realised that his treatments were actually harming people. He then challenged his own thinking and transformed his organisation into one that affirms gay and lesbian Christians.   

A character in fiction I like very much is Dorothea, from George Eliot’s Middlemarch, so earnest yet so short sighted. 

If I could change one thing about myself it would be my height. I’m not exactly short, but I wonder what the world is like for a taller person. However on long flights I prefer being shorter.  

The writers I like best are Mary Anne Evans, (her pen name is George Eliot), Doris Lessing, and Federico Garcia Lorca. 

My dream job is to be a jazz lounge singer with a really ugly tuxedo and an aging band on constant tour in Japan. 

My kind of music is wildly eclectic: from Elgar to Lady GaGa. Lately I have been enjoying American singer Martha Wainwright, the first Italian pop diva, Mina, and my favourite diva of all, Maria Callas. 

If I won the lottery I would tell NO ONE!

My motto is ‘The most beautiful people in the world, and the most powerful, are those people who are unashamedly themselves.’ 

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