Tuesday, September 27, 2016

President Trump?

By Kelly Cogswell

Well, I won't do that again. Not without a lot more alcohol down the hatch. But I did it. I watched the first Trump-Clinton debate. I will summarize it for you as a rational, mostly truthful woman answering the moderator's questions on one side, and on the other a shrieky, red-faced man interrupting her twice a minute with a mix of gobbledygook and factually challenged, often terrifying statements, all delivered with the absolute conviction of a sleazy used car salesman.

FYI, Ford is not packing up and taking its plant to Mexico. No, Clinton is not responsible for ISIS. Or the Iraq war, either. (See Bush, George W.; unilateralism). And the fourteen million your pops gave you to start a business was not a "small" loan. And no, you absolutely don't get to bomb another country's ship just because somebody made a rude gesture to yours. Yes, Russia is to blame for recent cyber attacks and hacking meant to elect Trump and/or discredit our electoral process.

And long before Trump declared Obama and illegal immigrants were responsible for the uptick in murders in Chicago, while repeating his dog-whistle call for law and order, I was thinking for the millionth time that you'd have to be nuts to vote for him, and have no idea at all of how the world works, or even your own country. But then I remembered-- that's entirely possible. This is America, where half the people that get federal entitlements are against federal entitlements because they don't understand that that's what disability payments are, for instance. Or social security checks. Public schools. Medicare. VA programs.

Reason and logic and knowledge have nothing to do with it. We've proudly announced for years that we vote for whomever we want to have a beer with, so why not that smirker Trump who rails against the politicians who screw everything up, and positively gloats about not paying taxes "because they would just be squandered"? Yeah, he tells it like it is. So heck yeah, I'm for Trump, his supporters say. So what if he's declared bankruptcy a whopping six times, he must be a smart business man because he always seems to come out ahead. And ISIS is a big problem. And Secretary Clinton has been in power for like a million years, so it's all that cunt's fault.

Almost as deluded are the folks on the other side who believe that just because Trump uses imaginary words like "bigly" bigly! and lies every time he opens his mouth, that voters will laugh him out of contention, a tactic that worked so well in previous elections (ibid). It was almost heartbreaking how happy they were last night that the polls after the debate showed viewers believed Clinton trounced Trump, as if a poll actually had some long-term impact.

A large part of the problem is that the mainstream, and even alternative media, does little to challenge Trump directly. Mostly because they don't really care about fairness or justice, just the illusion of it. Remember their coverage of same-sex marriage? They'd have one person rationally explaining the importance of equality under the law and what it meant to lesbian and gay citizens, and then some random preacher ranting that The Gays were going to destroy the family and we should all be killed. And both were equivalent, as if we were discussing whether tax penalties or incentives were more effective.

This time, we end up with rags like The New York Times using their op-ed page to offer the unprecedented acknowledgement that a candidate is entirely, one hundred percent unfit to be president, but this morning sends out an email again reporting on the attacks and responses in the debate as if the strengths and weaknesses of both candidates were equal.

Ditto after the debate, when I watched the PBS commentators lift a few mild eyebrows at Trump, but then go after Clinton, quibbling with how she responded to Trump's criticism of her economic proposals, but mostly offering the usual Hermione-hating crap like "her answers were too long" "she didn't offer us a vision" "she didn't reveal herself." In short, she didn't slide down in the stirrups and let us see a vagina bursting with rainbows and unicorns.

So I'll tell you all what I've been telling my friends for months. Don't underestimate the power of stupidity and misogyny in this election. If Democrats continue to smugly laugh at Trump, if the extreme left and independent voters continue to say both parties are equal, advocating protest votes, we could very well end up with President Trump. He would not only support conservative white nationalists that hate minorities of all kinds, including queers, (seriously! they hate our guts), but would ravage the economy and environment for his personal gain. Trump might even employ nuclear weapons to avenge the slight insults. And I will be the first rat off this sinking American ship.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Season of Grief

By Kelly Cogswell

My uncle died a couple days ago in Kentucky. I can't digest it. Maybe because I'd only seen him once since I left almost three decades ago. At first I'd make occasional pilgrimages back to visit my gay-hating mother, but there was too much suffering involved, it messed me up. So I finally quit going altogether, and lost them all-- cousins, uncles, sisters. Even now, with small reconciliations, it's too late to recover what's gone, or grieve what I already mourned.

I won't go back for the funeral. Who needs to revisit old wounds? Who needs a memorial, installation, TV program, anyway, to remind us of the dead? I know what I'm talking about. Saw both towers fall with my own eyes. Today, September 12th, 2016, it's enough to look at the sky which is the same bright blue that the passengers saw fifteen years ago before they crashed, the same gorgeous blue in which we first saw the two enormous plumes of smoke that would loom over the city for months. Or are burning still.

I've never been to the 9/11 memorial, though I've seen the selfies of friends who've grinned in front of it for their camera phones. I guess that´s better than the fake solemnity you sometimes get. One of New York's football teams went and during the pre-game show we got to see a video of this beefy white guy trying to bow his head but having trouble because his neck was so stiff with muscle. Probably we don't deserve better. The streets were still covered with ash when vendors began to sell tee-shirts, "I survived the Twin Towers" or whatever.

There's not much dignity in human history. It keeps repeating itself, sometimes in tragedy but mostly farce. We didn't even get a gloomy sky as backdrop. Worse, it was an election Tuesday in New York with the usual cast of ridiculous Democrats running for mayor. The big, red-faced, meaty-fingered Hevesi. The flip-flopper Ferrer. And whatshisname Green. I want to say Al, but that's just wishful thinking. Ana and I woke up to shouting from our neighbors behind us, and for some reason turned on the tube. Then Ana went downtown with her journalist's notebook, while I went up on the roof, saw the world changed, then went back downstairs and, after Ana returned safe, but covered in dust, predicted the rise of a stupid new American nationalism, cycles of revenge and retribution, foreign wars, racism, Islamophobia.

Nothing that came after was a surprise, not even the Islamophilia in which "progressives" absolve themselves of their own privilege and bigotry by letting that religion off the hook for misogyny and queer-bashing we'd never let slide in Catholics or Southern Baptists.

Still, I had nightmares. For weeks afterwards, local TV showed nothing but the buildings burning then falling, then burning, then falling, and people jumping from the upper stories again and again and again, and every night I'd be fleeing fireballs. When the bombing started in Afghanistan, portions of ravaged bodies would also enter my dreams. I was overcome with fury and grief, mourning the victims here in New York, but also those in Kabul, and then all of us who would be destroyed by the delayed real and metaphorical explosions any idiot could see coming in Bagdad, Aleppo, Orlando, Nice. Moscow.

Remember how Putin was emboldened to become less and less democratic after Bush's unilateral actions in Iraq? Remember that while the world was distracted, the Cuban regime arrested a huge swath of disgruntled bricklayers and independent librarians, many of which are still in jail, or exiled, or conveniently dead?

Our whole response was so stupid, but it's too late now. Even this cult of September 11th is weird because we usually mark the ends of wars, not the beginning, except in local ceremonies. And we're still in the middle of this one as a nation with no end in sight because the "War" Bush declared "On Terror" wasn't against a human enemy, but an abstraction, requiring not just the usual boots on the ground, but an army of watchdogs, an infrastructure of new language and a legacy of fear and loathing that we must continually replenish.

There's something so… made-up … about the whole thing I sometimes think we should be able to unravel it. We've been duped. Before September 11th we Americans didn't even have a Homeland to defend, just a home. Or a country that may or may not have embraced us, but was ours. Sadly, the history we repeat doesn't offer quick solutions. It's only easy to destroy.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Queer Kitchen

By Kelly Cogswell

So, I've been trying to write a cookbook for the last couple of years, deluded into thinking it would be a nice, light-hearted distraction from the horrors of politics. And why not? I had a bunch of good Kentucky recipes and decent home cook creds. There was even that summer during college that I did a stint in a professional kitchen at Yellowstone National Park.

I began as a dish dog, and got promoted to prep cook where I chopped about a thousand pounds of onions for French onion soup and made broccoli quiche. The adventure came to a quick and very painful end when I was lifting an enormous pot of boiling pasta, hit the edge of the stove, and tipped it over on myself. Who knew polyester pants could actually melt and stick to your flesh?

After that they shuttled me out of there as fast as they could. The guys didn't like having a girl in the kitchen, and they reassigned me to the gift shop where the most dangerous things I faced were the mice attracted by the huge blocks of fudge. It was too late, though. I was hooked, had learned how to use a chef's knife and cutting board like Julia Child on TV. When my mother or grandmother wanted to chop anything from a potato to a peach they'd hold it in their left hand and cut away at it with a small paring knife in their right. It was a miracle no one ended up with nubs.

For cookbook text, I thought I could tell a few stories like that about my family, and maybe even make them funny. You'd have to, after all. Cookbooks are a peculiar genre in which we all love the mothers and grandmothers that influenced us as home cooks, or even as professional ones. The cooking of our roots is shared without resentment. Healthy recipes are offered without the anxiety, self-loathing and fear that spawned them. If we admit we grew up on fried bologna sandwiches, Hamburger Helper, and canned green beans it is done only with sophisticated irony. In fact, let's have a dinner party with Jell-O salad and tuna casserole slathered with cream of mushroom soup and those crispy little onion rings. A martini will help us choke it down.

I tried to write that way, I really did. But it came off as false. I am as disgruntled in the kitchen as I am in the activist street, and have such mixed feelings about the whole thing it's a miracle that my cakes rise and the milk doesn't curdle. I have an abject fear of getting fat which is partly vanity, but mostly the diabetes that runs rampant in my family. One of my aunts died not long after they amputated both her legs.

And while my grandmother would bring out the baked ham and homemade cucumber pickles on holidays, and maybe a big pan of apple crisp, the rest of the time, she just wanted to boil up a hotdog for dinner or eat cheese and crackers. If she wanted to work all day in a hot kitchen, she could have stayed on the farm, working like a dog, and popping babies. Lord, she was happy when she got her tubes tied after her fourth baby. It was a step up to work in a factory. I think of her when I read about the slow food movement, or some writer hectoring us to get back in the luminous kitchen.

Then there are the cookbooks by black writers who carefully describe the contribution of black chefs to the Southern kitchen, detailing everything from cooking techniques to the actual seeds that they brought along on the slave ships. They celebrate survival and ingenuity, the ability to transform the leavings from the master's kitchen into haute cuisine.

And I can only marvel at how rational yet heartfelt it is, and begin to imagine the writer on Xanax. Yes, I know that "soul" food was reclaimed during the Black Power era, in the same way many of us have reclaimed the words fag or dyke or queer, but doesn't that recipe for mustard greens stick in your craw? Don't you want to throw that okra in my white face? I mean, the food is tasty and all, but doesn't it leave a bitter taste in your mouth?

I often forget just how deep my own grief goes until I step into the kitchen and roll out a pie crust or drop some biscuits onto a pan, and evoke my family and Kentucky, remember how my Southern Baptist mother disowned me for decades. And the preachers and politicians there still wish I were dead. And should that happen as it did in Orlando, would refuse to bury me, or bring a covered dish to my mourning lesbian family.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Politics of Fear

By Kelly Cogswell

It's time to quit blaming poor white people for the rise of Donald Trump and his immigrant-hating, misogynist, racist, anti-everything minions. No, according to a huge study by Jonathan Rothwell of 87,000 Gallup poll responses, Trump supporters include a lot of white men with blue-collar jobs, but they aren't poor. In fact, their incomes are a little bit above average even if they don't have college degrees. Trump's not particularly popular in manufacturing areas either, even those affected by, for instance, the migration of jobs to China.

Trump's main supporters are white men working in occupations like construction, repair or transportation — all of which Max Ehrenfreund and Jeff Guo of the Washington Post noted, "are protected from Chinese competition. Chinese workers might be assembling semiconductors, but they are not adjusting the thermostat or changing the oil."

So why do they respond to Trump's anti-immigrant message? Why do they come across as poor and precarious, clamoring about the denials of opportunities, stolen chances, when they're actually doing somewhat better than most of us?

Probably their family history is a little like mine. Probably they had grandparents somewhere back there who, to keep from starving, left the countryside for the nearest big city and a factory job. With a little bit of luck, and white skin that allowed access to decent mortgage rates, they were able to buy a house in the suburbs and after twenty-odd years, pay it off. Their kids did it, too. No shame in wearing that blue-collared shirt with your name stitched over your heart when it meant you could get ahead, take care of your family. And when you retired there was a pension and social security, and maybe enough savings to ride around in an RV for a while, then go into some kind of retirement home if you had to.

This fairytale of an American Dream shaped my expectations, led me to imagine that ordinary decent-paying jobs would always be there for the taking. Like most girls, I'd actually learned to type in high school because it was "something to fall back on." And after graduating from college in '88 with a liberal arts degree, I temped as a secretary, which gave me enough money to pay my share of the rent. Only a few years later, there were less jobs of this kind because by then PC's and email began to make letters and the people who typed them nearly obsolete. Like jobs on now automated assembly lines.

A few years later, journalism changed too. The financial crisis hit and the market was flooded with A-list journalists from newspapers who were consolidating and downsizing. Sites like the Huffington Post popped up which managed to get writers to work for free, claiming the experience and exposure were good for them. Free labor pushed down rates in the pro market, and as a result, independent journalists work for a fraction of what we used to get. Without a trust fund you're screwed. And don't get me started on how many job descriptions now require an MA because what's experience next to a brand-spanking new graduate degree?

I'm kin to these Trump's supporters who grew up with these expectations, which aren't realistic anymore. And now they're angry and afraid. Maybe not even for themselves, but for their kids or their community. They're afraid of the poverty they heard about with no shoes, and no food. They're afraid of difference. And of change. Afraid of you. Of me. And when we're afraid, we feel helpless and weak. We need something to fight against that is more tangible than the passage of time, or a changing economy that we feel doesn't have our best interests at heart.

Any canny politician can take that fear and find a target for it. Blame other humans for what is not in our direct control. If our crops fail, it was our neighbor's evil eye. AIDS is the fault of The Gays. Those “beaners” are taking our jobs.

Scapegoating is so easy when you don't personally know the target. One unsurprising result of the Gallup study is that a great many of Trump's anti-immigrant supporters live in white neighborhoods that are more segregated than others populated by white people of their same background and class. Exposure means everything. A lesson queers have long known, and why coming out days make such a difference.

Which is why it's not enough to vote blue to defeat Trump. He's unleashed a huge wave of fear and hate and anger that job growth won't cure. And neither will more outrage at each new Trumpian atrocity. Queers and people of color, immigrants, women, other social minorities have got to find other ways to bridge the gap. If not knocking on terrifying doors, then supporting artists and writers, pushing our way into American culture and introducing ourselves again and again until we're known.