Actor Peterson Toscano skillfully solicited laughs with his comic one-man play, titled “Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo’ Halfway House,” last night in Olde Club. The play was part of this year’s Sager Symposium, Swarthmore’s annual week of events dedicated to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) issues funded in part by Richard Sager ’74. Toscano’s largely autobiographical story dealt with what he termed the ex-gay movement, the hundred-plus number of support programs existing in the U.S. today which aim to “save men and women from homosexuality.” Told from the perspective of five different characters, Toscano’s entertaining performance shed light on the impact of such programs on the lives of people who participate in them, as well as their families and friends.
The play opened with a partially deluded character named Chad who affably conducted the audience on a tour through the Homo No Mo’ House, a residential, twelve-step, Christian-based program located in Memphis, Tennessee. “There are about 275 rules,” veteran participant Chad explained, mentioning restrictions against everything from Broadway showtunes to more than fifteen minutes of privacy daily. In the living room, is filled with books but “no fictionÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ nothing except the Bible.” The kitchen is the only place where creativity is allowed, but bananas and cucumbers are forbidden because of one inhabitant’s fetish for phallic fruits and vegetables. On a more serious note, Chad spoke of missing his older brother and the harsh impact his death from AIDS had on his missionary parents, who believed his disease derived from his sins.
Other characters of Homo No Mo’ included Tex, who spoke in a Southern drawl and had a wife and two children. Tex had suffered a setback in the program from having sex with one of the deacons at his church (“in God’s bathroom,” no less). After feeling intense guilt and overdosing, the program required him to humiliatingly explain his transgressions publicly to an audience including his parents. This introduced a third character to the play: Pete, a father of one of the participants attending a family weekend held by the Homo No Mo’ House. Describing the church as a huge, circular “spaceship,” the not-very-religious Pete and his wife find the program alienating and degrading. Pete is forced to confront the fact that unknown to him his son was sexually abused as a child and laments that he only sees his son smile once the whole weekend.
The fourth character was a reassuringly irreverent minister, who spoke particularly about the Biblical story of Lazarus. The minister questioned Jesus’ several days’ delay in attending to the sick Lazarus and painted the unraveling of the resurrected Lazarus’ grave clothes as an apt metaphor for gay people coming out. The delicate process deserves support from all Christians, the minister argued. The last character, Peterson (Toscano himself), appearing at a poetry reading, spoke of his graduation from his ex-gay program and subsequent coming out, also using the imagery of Lazarus being unwrapped in his finale poem.
Toscano conducted a fifteen-minute question and answer session afterwards, sharing more of his personal experience with the interested audience. Though obviously criticizing the ex-gay movement both in his play and his answers, he emphasized that those conducting the programs are also victims and that he implicates himself the most in his participation. He also acknowledged that there are many gay Christians and that he himself is now a practicing Quaker. More information about Toscano can be found on his website, http://www.homonomo.com, which even includes video clips from his show. Toscano will also be performing the show again in Philadelphia next month, on April 22 at the Calvary United Methodist Church.
The Sager Symposium, themed “Making and Breaking with Queer Culture,” continues this weekend with multimedia art creations for Sager party decorations at 3 in Upper Tarble today; a closed dinner for LGBTQ students, faculty, staff and alumni tonight; a lecture by University of Pennsylvania professor Jose Munoz on Leroi Jones and Amiri Baraka’s homoerotic plays of the 1960’s, Black Nationalist “homophobia” and his current work as an LGBT anti-violence activist Saturday at 4:30 in the Scheuer Room; and, of course, the party Saturday night which promises to dress up Paces and Olde Club as the Gardens of Good and Evil.