Monday, April 10, 2017

Don't Mention Gender or Race

By Kelly Cogswell

For the next four years our only strategy on the national level can be to persistently say, "no." And "no." And "no." No! to every single thing Trump does, or that the Republicans propose from Supreme Court candidates to financial reform, and next season's wars. Odds are we'll still lose. But as bad as things seem, they'll be worse if we sit at home with our mouths closed.

Of course, there are also proactive things we can do on the local level if we can just get out of bed. Many of the rights and privileges we've already seen stripped away can be restored or protected, at least in part, by the states. Let us then work in our hometowns for access to health care, and education, and jobs, for righteous police forces, immigrant rights, environmental protection, fair voting districts. Not to mention gender and racial inequalities.

Really, seriously, don't bother mentioning those at all. We've known since before the election that Trump voters actually had a higher income than Clinton voters. And now that it's over, studies confirm that having strongly bigoted ideas predicted Trump voters much more closely than income. But no, let's continue to dissect the Democratic campaign and its "failure" to reach white working class voters.

Especially don't contradict that large minority on the left still asserting that Sanders would have won, "If the Dems hadn't rigged, rigged, rigged the primary in favor of that horrible bitch." They still believe everything Sanders said in his speeches. Nothing that Clinton did. Believe none of the criticism about their white-haired masculine savior. Believe every single attack on that girly-bitted, establishment cunt who dared talk about race or gender when it's only class that matters. Especially the heart-breaking struggles of former factory workers and coal miners that just happened to be white. And male.

It's almost funny to watch the contortions of the white, masculinized left as they try to hide their scorn for the really, truly, actually poor. Like, for instance, immigrant women of color trying to survive in service jobs, turning up as home aides even if they can barely walk themselves after years of caring for heavy bodies, and no time off or decent insurance to fix that back, that knee.

The French are no better. I was out with a friend at a bar when he suddenly became monstrous in his hardline lefty manliness explaining that poor people shouldn't be polled on political issues because they weren't educated, didn't have time to be informed, or have the intellectual tools to think deeply about their conditions. And when I asked if he really meant that poor people couldn't be trusted to serve as experts even on their own lives, he actually said yes.

That's patriarchy. That's paternalism. That's my ticket to the nuthouse. All those men who won't let poor women stand in their way as saviors of the working class. They are all just victims themselves. Losing ground in politics, in business. Even the arts. Take that cute little animation film, "Alike", by Daniel Martínez Lara and Rafa Cano Méndez which has picked up zillions of prizes for its heartfelt observations about how society grounds out your creativity.

But in the midst of the sappy music and all the manipulated feels, nobody seems to have noticed that every single one of the hundreds of carefully universal figures whose creativity has been... let's say emasculated... by society were all male. For the entire seven minutes, females didn't exist at all. Weren't in the identical dead-end cubicles, weren't staggering down the streets to grey jobs. Weren't among the children learning how to be grey adults.

Perhaps the animators thought our bodies would have introduced a degree of difference that would have ruined their aesthetics of their metaphor which also carefully made the men all blue-grey, and "alike" in their white collars and ties, because race would also have distracted us from talking about what really matters: the freedom and happiness of those poor disappointed men of the ruling class who expected more out of life than all this horrible sameness (that they themselves willingly reproduce).

We've got plenty of similar men in the LGBT community. Some even think Trump's not such a big deal. And maybe he's not--for them. You're not really a fag if you're a white, straight-acting top, can put on a collar and tie. The one they'll come for is the guy who swishes a little. Giggles. Or snickers and snipes. Maybe even has a few curves. Or wears colors outside the golf course. Or is of color. Or erodes the assumption that there's something inherently, "universal" or "superior" about being born with a dick. In short, challenges the idea of just what a man is, or should be-- an endeavor that is as worthy as calling your senator or rep. And taking to the street one more time.

Monday, March 27, 2017

More Radical Than Hate

By Kelly Cogswell

A couple of decades ago, the Lesbian Avengers did a Valentine's Day action at Bryant Park reuniting the statue of Gertrude Stein with Alice B. Toklas. Veteran activist Maxine Wolfe launched the proceedings with a speech explaining that the purpose of the action was to make "visible the fact of lesbian existence and lesbian love in all its forms and expressions including (…) the love we have for ourselves and each other when we organize and take direct action together on our own behalf."

I don't think I really understood it at the time, but now it reinforces my idea that we're missing something essential in our resistance to Trump. We're certainly not lacking in organizing skills. If there's something queers know how to do, it's how to monitor politicians and throw a demo. We ACTed-up against AIDS. Avenged lesbian invisibility. STARred in the fight for trans rights. Even now, we're winning battles, stopping Muslim bans dead--but not anti-immigrant hate. Putting Trumpcare on pause --but not destroying our unlikely bedfellows in the extreme right.

The problem is that direct action is really only a tool, especially good as triage to keep the patient alive, while we try to find a path through this flaming shit storm, hopefully coming out somewhere different than where we went in.

But so far, the largest difference I see between my pre- and post-Trump community is the fullness of our demo calendars, and the amount of alcohol we're sucking down in anger and fear. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are still full of activists that are just as fact-challenged as voters who want to Make America Great Again. Do you hate that the Republicans took the White House? Let's bash a hillbilly. Are you enraged at trans murders and legal defeats? How 'bout we erase the many times trans people and lesbians have worked successfully together, and blame the dykes? Or let's slam Hillary. Why not? We're the Democrats. We're the queers. We're puritanical crabs in a barrel. That's just how we roll.

Since George W. Bush was elected in 2000, we've preferred to scape-goat whole regions rather than support the large groups of embattled activists of all races in the South that have been resisting Christian Zealots and White Nationalists for decades. More and more we chase our enemies from campuses instead of debating and debunking them. We attack our allies like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie with the same zest as Jeff Sessions or Donald Trump, if they don't stick exactly to our scripts, our language.

We refuse nuance. Reflection. Doubt. Even generosity. Maybe because we are desperate to believe we are different from the monsters who so clearly want us powerless and afraid. Health care is the least of it, when they reject not just our identities, but our bodies, our pleasure, our love. When they want us dead.

But believing ourselves separate, believing ourselves different is a fundamental mistake. Audre Lorde wrote that, "the true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations that we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us." We have more in common than we think. We’re equally governed by fear. Things like race and class, ability, and politics divide us, but only in the middle ground. When you get extremely close, our DNA is practically identical. Pull back as far as you can go, we are indistinguishable as ants. Countries and borders seem irrelevant. Our faces despising our enemies look the same as their faces despising us.

Everything in them is in us. We all embrace hate, usually under a different name, like uprightness. Justice. Self-defense. I'll admit naked hate is even good for some things, like getting a crowd on the street, but then what?

Love? It embarrasses me to talk about it, admit that Maxine's speech has begun to make sense. Love seems so soft. So retro. There's no street cred in it. And it took me so long to get Old Testament angry. I was raised female in the Southern Baptist Church. Turn the other cheek, they said, and I did. I was so fucking humble and mild and loving I was ready to kill myself to save them the trouble.

When I finally tried to get mad, I had to get past the fear of being that shrill, shrieking cunt of a woman. The angry, man-hating dyke. You don't know what it costs me even now to raise my voice. Send something back in a restaurant. And yet. And yet. I've been in the world long enough to know just how corrosive anger is. You can't build a movement, or a life, on it. If we want to endure beyond Trump, and we have to, only love, pure love, will be radical enough.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Temptations of Direct Action

By Kelly Cogswell

Right before it happened, I'd turn on the news and watch a black or brown woman interviewing the likes of Al Sharpton, or Margarita Lopez, who was the first out Latina dyke on the New York City Council. It didn't seem remarkable then, seeing so many women, so many people of color on the tube. And queers, even. But after September 11, suddenly the newscasters were all white straight men with a certain, forced gravitas, their interviewee the pale-faced mayor Rudolph Giuliani available twenty-four hours a day complete with a NYFD or NYPD ball cap. Bush Jr. was there, too, surrounded by grimacing white congressmen.

In her book, The Terror Dream: Myth and Misogyny in an Insecure America, Susan Faludi argued that those terrorist acts actually launched a new attack on feminism. Focusing on the post-attack media, politics, and popular culture, she showed how they were all committed to elevating "traditional" manhood and gender roles, celebrating cops and firemen, sidelining women from nearly every heroic narrative of September 11.

I can feel it happening again. Not just because a pussy-grabber's sitting in the White House. But because a large minority of the besieged left, apparently emasculated by Clinton's successful primary campaign, is still going on about how Bernie "Big Dick" Sanders would have beaten Trump for sure. Our current problems are all Hillary's fault and the Dems that anointed her. So much for all those votes she got, all the people she mobilized. And now that the white nationalist kleptocracy is in full swing, that's somehow the fault, too, of girly liberals like her for not destroying it while we had a chance. What we need are more broken windows. More burning cars. More radicalized radicals taking names and kicking ass. Down with the effete failure of liberal democracy. Up with a vaguely defined utopian working class state that will rise magically from the ashes of what we have now.

Just for the record, I'm all for holding demos, and blocking airports and streets, along with Trump and his truly horrifying agenda. Direct action is perfect to voice a giant, "No!" And has always played an important role in social change, not just because it disrupts the steamrollers of power, but because a vibrant, visible left gives teeth to more modest, yet crucial measures like letter-writing, phone calls, voting, running for office -- the things that take root. When politicians have to compromise, and they always do, crowds in the street mean they can bargain from a position of power and won't have to give up so much.

Direct action as a tactic is also one of the few ways to make things visible that society wishes to remain hidden, an AIDS epidemic, for instance, lesbians, police brutality, the erosion of abortion rights. Activism can also transform those of us who have never tasted power before, never had a public voice. There's something intoxicating about confronting your fear, stepping into the street, and feeling the adrenaline kick in with an amazing whoosh. You feel good, powerful for a change, as your voice is amplified by all the bodies around you.

The problem is that this power can also corrupt, especially those young straight men that were born to it. Who, after all, already dominates the street? Ride the subway after 10 p.m. it's almost all men. Women are home taking care of the kids. Or they're just scared to go out alone. Pretty soon young men aren't satisfied with waving a sign and chanting, but take a brick and toss it through the nearest McDonald's window in the name of the working class and a healthy environment.

You get a positively explosive formula when you mix this temptation to violence with the activist tendency to imagine that getting arrested for blocking traffic is somehow more noble than making a phone call. Or that a sympathizer in the Senate who knows how to compromise and wrangle votes is nothing more than a turncoat.

Like the "alt-right," the “alt-left” is going beyond rejecting the conservative nature of our institutions, to rejecting the institutions themselves, despite the fact that they consolidate our gains, and have the resources to protect them, if only we insist on it. They never see the change democracy permits, only its failures. They think stability is always bad. And demand bulldozers and steamrollers.

So even as I rejoice at the vast numbers on the streets blocking everything Trump conceives of, I remember that revolutions so many activists are calling for have always and only benefited men—particularly white men-- in multiracial societies. Women are sidelined, along with disenfranchised people of color who were deluded to believe this was ever for them. As usual, the Puritans of the left will also purge queers, if not for our sex lives, then liberal alliances, not to mention the tasteless jokes we make when we despair of the world.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Baiting Trump

By Kelly Cogswell

I was so happy when I saw the SNL skit for the first time with the brilliant Melissa McCarthy decked out as Sean Spicer, guzzling gum, throwing tantrums, blasting the press for questioning Trump's Muslim ban, destroying language itself and offering an imaginary narrative, while accusing journalists of spreading fake news.

It was a blistering characterization that not only ridiculed the incompetent, know-nothing Spicer, but highlighted the undercurrent of violence in Trump's blustering, authoritarian administration which aims to rule through sheer domination, destabilizing tactics, and fear.

McCarthy seemed the perfect choice after her role as Detective Joyce Nelson in the movie The Heat with her potty-mouthed rage and extreme physical comedy. You want fury? She's a bundle of it. Want fearlessness? I can't think of a male actor in recent times who's thrown their body around as audaciously as McCarthy.

It seemed irrelevant that she was doing it drag. The script didn't mention women, and Alex Baldwin's fake blonde wig seemed more of a stretch than her thinning brown wig, and ill-fitting suit. She dominated the room, not with a dick, but the pure force of her personality. What did gender have to do with anything?

But then the news broke that what had Trump and Spicey going nuts was not so much the portrait of Spicer as an enraged, gum-chewing, shit-gibbon, but that he was played by a woman. Once we heard that, the game was on. Rosie O'Donnell replaced her Twitter profile with a convincing image of herself as Bannon.

Stephen Colbert declared "... If the president thinks a woman playing Sean Spicer makes him look weak, then he’s really not going to like this picture we made of a little girl pretending to be Donald Trump. And he’s especially not going to like it when you retweet at him with the hashtag #largerhands."

This statement, which came with the release of a photo of a little girl in a pink dress with a big Trump wig, was where I started to squirm. Because there's a big difference between a grown woman laying bare the rage of a toxic white masculinity, and a photo of a pretty little girl in a Trump wig designed to impugn his manhood, not critique it.

Apparently, the only thing worse than being a little girl, is throwing like one, crying like one. What could be worse, in fact, than being a man touched by femininity? A fucking fag? A trans woman who abdicated her rights in a man's world? Sorry, but we don't need more misogyny -- ever. So fuck you, Stephen Colbert. And everybody whose Trump-baiting humor doesn't go beyond jokes about Trump's small, feminine hands.

This is especially important with the Renaissance of White Nationalism where the subjugation of women by men is the model for every other domination, Christians over Muslims, White over Blacks, Straights over Queers, good old American English over every other language, every nation in the world. Yeah, let's grab 'em all by the pussy. Who's the bitch, now?

The control of female bodies, forcing us to remain pregnant and have children whether we want to or not, is not a separate issue from the control of black and brown bodies in the street, and workplace, and school. The defense, even encouragement, of domestic violence against women, is the same as the bullying of certain young white males to insure they remain in their place. On top. And know what to do once they get there.

Using a little girl to attack Trump actually reminded me of Lynndie England--the U.S. Army Reserve private serving in Iraq who got her 15 minutes of fame for agreeing to pose for a photo holding the leash of a naked detainee cowering on the ground at Abu Ghraib prison. In another, she gave a thumbs-up behind a pyramid of naked prisoners. In another, she smiled as a guy was forced to whack off.

She was one of the few who went to jail for abuse of prisoners, but women soldiers under Bush were regularly used to humiliate men who were compelled to crawl on the floor, wear women's underwear, pose naked. Men were also forced to engage in homosexual acts. Let's humiliate those Muslim bastards any way we can.

While Colbert didn't torture anybody, the image of the little girl was used in the same way, to pollute, to provoke disgust and ridicule. Like the SNL jokes about Trump's attraction for a bare-chested Putin.

Nothing good will come of it. It never has. The Abu Ghraib photos boosted anti-U.S. sentiment worldwide, became big recruiting tools for Al Qaeda, were cited for the execution of American Nicholas Berg, and set back progress for women and queers.

In the U.S., sneering only at his masculinity might piss off Trump, but it won't help us, won't do anything to undercut his desire to be a “real man”, and dominate America by violence, instability, and hate.