GCN Radio - June 23, 2004
Transcribed by Vombatus
To listen to this episode, visit http://www.gaychristian.net/gcnradio
BRIAN: Welcome to another edition of GCN Radio. I’m Brian…
JUSTIN: …and I’m Justin.
BRIAN: Good to have everyone along today for show number sixteen. You know, Justin, I was thinking. We get up in the morning, we have our breakfast, we have our routine, and we go about our day and it seems like we’re always [somber] so deathly serious. I work in public radio so [changes tone] I have to announce in a very serious way, all of the time. I cannot have any fun or laugh at all. [resumes regular tone] You know, because that would just totally ruin the mystique of my career, public radio. Do you ever feel like you’re always too serious all of the time, or don’t take enough time for fun, or hilarity?
JUSTIN: Brian, I don’t think that anybody who knows me very well could accuse me of being too serious all of the time. [laughter] The people who think I’m too serious all of the time are usually people who only know me online. They’ve only read things that I’ve written. I have had people say that to me before, though. People meet me in person—I remember I met this one girl in person, we had communicated online for about a year. And the first thing she says is, “Wow, I thought you were going to be so serious! And then I met you, and you’re not!” [laughter] I wasn’t sure how to take that.
BRIAN: Well, it’s a good thing. It’s good to laugh; it’s good to be funny, to see the world in a quirky way. Our guest today on GCN Radio really embodies that. It’s Peterson from the message boards, and he’s a performing artist. He has a show that he does, a one-man show, called “Doing Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House”. That name alone is just intriguing enough, but we’re happy to be joined today from Connecticut by Peterson himself. Welcome!
PETERSON: “Dah-links, it’s a plea-sure to be here.”
BRIAN: Well, it’s great to have you here! So you’re just coming off of a show that you just performed in New York. How did that go?
PETERSON: I was so excited to be in New York because I lived in New York for ten years, so it was a ‘coming home’ sort of thing. There were all kinds of people in the audience from my former lives, beforehand. They were like, “Should we have it in the main sanctuary? Or maybe, like, some horrible hall in the basement?” [laughter] But I got the sanctuary. And it was awesome and they really liked it. It’s a funny, zany, crazy show but it’s also quite moving and people like that combination.
BRIAN: Let me take a second, by way of introduction… you have a video on your website, www.homonomo.com, and let me play a little segment from that:
[Welcome to the Homo No Mo Halfway House. My name is Chad, and I’ll be your tour guide. The Homo No Mo Halfway House is a Christian, residential 12-step program that helps men overcome their addiction to homosexuality and compulsive sexual behavior.]
BRIAN: Chad! Gosh! That’s the Homo No Mo Halfway House?
PETERSON: Well, that’s part of it; I play five characters, Chad being one of them. And what’s funny is, Chad is my first character so I go out there and I’m, like, on fire, like, in flames. And people laugh and they can kind of relate to that character, and some people are almost offended by it. “Why is he doing a stereotype of a gay man?” And I’m like, “Hello? Have you ever been in the ex-gay movement before?” Then what’s funny is I move from Chad to Tex, who’s this guy from Texarkana who’s a real solid, sexy, kind of straight-sounding guy, or who one would say would be straight-sounding. So it’s kind of nice, that juxtaposition. But then these other characters emerge too. But Chad is the tour guide who leads the tour of the house, because he’s a fifth-phaser in the program. That gives him the opportunity to lead the tour.
JUSTIN: So your whole show is in a sense sort of a send-up of the ex-gay movement, or your experiences in the ex-gay movement, is that right?
PETERSON: Right. I consider it a truth-telling piece. It’s my story and the stories of others that I have met. It’s not intentioned to trash the ex-gay ministries. My intention is just to tell what I saw and what I experienced and what other people’s stories are. Including my father; he’s one of the characters in the piece and people that I’ve met along the way, in South America and in England as well as in the United States.
BRIAN: How long have you been performing this show?
PETERSON: The show premiered in February, 2003, in Memphis, Tennessee which is the home of the Homo No Mo Halfway House which I attended. And it’s been touring since then.
BRIAN: How about people who have been involved in these houses, or these programs, with you? Have they seen the show, and what’s their reaction to it?
PETERSON: Yeah, in fact last night at the show one of my former ex-gays was there… we’re ex-ex-gays now. It’s interesting, they laugh, and they’re like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe you put that in, you remembered that, it’s super!” But they also are sad and angry afterwards too, because it brings up some things from their own experience and hits some tender spots for them as well.
JUSTIN: This is a show that, even though you’re using comedy, clearly is dealing with a lot of material that in many ways is very serious, very sad. Was that difficult for you to take some of these experience that you’ve had, and that other people have had, and kind of turn them around and poke fun at them a little bit?
PETERSON: Actually, that’s what made it easier. At first I was going to do it as a complete monologue of me just telling stories about what happened in the Homo No Mo Halfway House and it was so desperately sad. I was like, “I can’t do this to myself, or anybody. This is just so wrong!” Then I sifted through the funny stories too, and the best drama is couched in comedy. So that actually has made it easier. People are more willing to laugh at something and then—what I love about comedy, good comedy, is that you get people laughing so that they’re wide open and then hit them right in the heart with something powerful and moving and tender. And they’re ready for it. They get to experience it much deeper than if you just did it without the comedy.
BRIAN: Peterson, tell me a little bit about your own coming out experience in your own words. Obviously you’ve invested lots and lots of time and money in this ex-gay movement before you even began performing, so you must have had somewhat of a struggle in the coming out process.
PETERSON: Yeah, it’s interesting I was trying to calculate how much money I’ve spent in the ex-gay movement and probably I spent over $25,000 in counseling and in the ex-gay movement. And it was about seventeen years of my life that I spent trying to get straight, so unsuccessfully. And in the end, after I graduated successfully from the Love in Action ex-gay program in Memphis, I was attempting to live as an ex-gay man and the burden of it overwhelmed me. Every day waking up thinking about all the places I couldn’t go and all of the things that I couldn’t think and how futile it seemed, because I seemed so weak next to my same-sex desires. Finally one day I just woke up and said, “What in the world are you doing? This is crazy! You’ve done everything in your power to change. You’ve prayed every morning for years.” I’d done everything I could imagine short of a frontal lobotomy, and it’s like, this doesn’t work and if God really wants to change me then it’s His turn, because I’ve done my part and clearly He isn’t holding up His end of the bargain, so hang it, I’m done! And in a way that was the first step of coming out, but as most coming out experiences, it was progressive. I began to come to the place were I acknowledged I was gay, I accepted it, I announced it, and now I’m in the place of embracing it.
BRIAN: Why did you spend seventeen years going through ex-gay ministries?
PETERSON: My parents were not conservative Christians, in fact, they’re liberal Catholics from New York and they had more problems when I was 15 when I became born again than when they found out I was gay. To show where they were coming from… But for me, part of it was the distress that I felt from having been abused as a child, sexually abused, I’m an abuse survivor. I had that all mixed up with being gay. So I hated so much being gay because I thought it was a direct result of having been abused. And I put all of my energy into dealing with it that way. The anger, the hurt, the shame that I felt, I was like, “Well, let me just blast it all away?” Not knowing that there were two separate issues. It was actually at Love in Action, when one of the counselors sat down with me that I realized there were two separate issues. He said to me, “Peterson, you know there is a difference between being gay and being abused.” And I hadn’t known that and it was there at that moment that I started to get some light and clarity. The other thing that affected me were laws. As a kid I was very, very sensitive to what people thought was right and wrong in society, in the church. Even I somehow knew that sodomy was illegal in certain states, even though I didn’t quite know what sodomy was, I knew it had something to do with gays, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, if all these people are against this, and it’s illegal then it must be awful and I have to do everything in my power to change.”
JUSTIN: Do you think, from your experience—and this is a subjective question—but do you think from your experience in ex-gay ministries and the stories of people that you’ve known, that anyone out there is successfully become straight? Do you think that some people are and some people aren’t, or do you think it’s just not happening?
PETERSON: I think when we’re talking about sexuality, it gets very complex. A person’s sexuality is not a simple thing. I’ve met people who I believe, in essence, were straight, but they had a lot of gay sex in their life. Gay sex came to them at a time in their life when they were particularly vulnerable. I know this one man, his mom was dying of cancer when he was a young teenager and that’s when he developed a relationship with another boy in his community. And for him, gay sex became a source of comfort and he assumed he was gay because it was so comfortable for him. But he always wanted a wife and children and, in essence, I believe he was a straight guy and going to a Homo No Mo Halfway House helped to realign him back to what he really was. And to me, that’s a success and that’s a beautiful thing and I’m so happy for him, because now he’s married and he has kids and it’s a good thing for him. But I think it’s a very rare case. In most cases our sexual identity is set. And although some people are truly bisexual and some people may be more on one end of the scale more than the other, if you are something, that’s who you are. It’s not going to help to tamper with it and try to change it, because you are what you are. I think part of the issue is that anyone seeking to be ex-gay needs to really look in their heart and say, “Well, but who am I? And whoever I truly am, that’s what I need to pursue, not based on the Bible, or what my church says or society, but really know it in my heart. Who am I?” And for some of us, it takes some time to get to that place.
BRIAN: What was it for you—when was it for you, maybe I should say, where you had that light bulb go off in your head that said: “This is who I am.”?
PETERSON: You know, I think it’s been a progressive thing. I think the light bulb goes off and then a few weeks later gets brighter. Recently I was just thinking that being queer for me is not anymore some problem that I have to fix or a curse that has been brought to my life, but lately I’ve really been seeing it as one of God’s gifts to me. Just like I can write and I can act and I can make people laugh, these are gifts that God has given me; being queer is another one of those gifts. Coming to that realization is a light bulb for sure, and I expect that there will be other light bulb experiences like that for me.
JUSTIN: Well, it’s certainly very tempting for a lot of folks, especially those who are from a conservative background, or who have, as you indicated, other social pressures or every thing else to try to become straight, to get involved with these kind of programs. Because there is this promise of: “If you’re not happy with your life the way that it is, if you’re not happy with the feelings that you have and being different from everybody and the tension that that puts you in with the church and everything, we can just make it go away.” Or “God will make it go away if you’ll trust him.” But it’s exciting to me to see that people who have been through these programs are coming out and publicly talking about what it’s really like going through this. And the fact that you went through this and really were, desperately, trying to become straight, and it didn’t happen; I think that’s important for people to know going in.
PETERSON: Straight people when they come to the show, they are blown away, they’re like, “This really happened? Are you crazy?” Because ninety-five percent of the show is based on reality, which boggles the mind when they hear rules like: You’re not supposed to exceed more than 15 minutes a day behind a closed bathroom door. And they’re like, “You’re kidding me, right?” You know, crazy stuff like that, and they’re like, “That didn’t really happen!” Or like when we had football clinics to try to help us reclaim our masculinity. Of course, it was touch football, not tackle, which is a shame. But I think it’s real important to get out there and let people hear that, and I think similarly… there’s the classic Christian conversion story, you know, “I was in sin, I was lost, I came to Jesus, He saved me, now I’m okay, my life is great!” But we know that’s not really how it all works. Once someone comes to Christ, their life isn’t perfect—some important stuff happens, but their life isn’t perfect. Similarly, we have a similar conversion story in the queer community. “My life was a mess, I was stuck in the closet, didn’t know what to do, now I came out and my life is wonderful!” Well, that’s not true either. Because many queer people struggle with things just like everybody else, particularly if we lived in the closet for months and years. We experience confusion and depression and all those things, and that's part of being human. And the temptation often is, “Now that you’re out, isn’t everything great?!”, but it’s like, “No, not everything is great. A lot of things are better, but…no. There’s work to be done, and I have bad days just like everybody else.” And I think that’s important for people to know because we put an awful lot of pressure on ourselves to perform as Christians, as openly gay people and part of being human is being somewhat messed up.
BRIAN: It’s a messy job, being a human being.
PETERSON: But somebody’s got to do it!
JUSTIN: Thankfully, there’s grace. Well, the show is “Doing Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House”, and the website is www.homonomo.com, is that right?
PETERSON: That’s right. H-O-M-O-N-O-M-O dot com.
JUSTIN: Thanks again for being on the show, Peterson. Y’all check out his show, and let him know that you heard about it here so he’ll know that this was time well spent with us.
BRIAN: Really, we need as much validation as we can get.
JUSTIN: And you can check out us on the web every week at http://www.gaychristian.net/gcnradio. And send your questions, comments, concerns, and fruitcake recipes to Brian…
BRIAN: Money. Money always helps.
JUSTIN: …at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BRIAN: And so for this week, I’m Brian…
JUSTIN: …and I’m Justin.
BRIAN: Talk to you next time!