Monday, June 18, 2018

State of the Queer Nation 2018: Choosing Hope

By Kelly Cogswell

I've found them--out and proud young lesbians on Twitter. They're influenced by queer theory, denounce transphobia, but embrace the word lesbian, too, no matter what their pronouns are. One posts a series of lesbian laments along the lines of, "Over a week into Pride month and I still don't have a girlfriend. Why?" Another jokes about going full lesbian in the morning as she walks down the street remembering a kiss.

One day they squee over Janelle Monáe, Hayley Kiyoko and Kehlani-- and another day comment on how few lines the women of color get in Ocean's 8. For them the world goes on. Trump is banished to the margins. Not in an act of ignorance, but a kind of life-preserving resistance. We have to have hope after all. Why bother fighting for a future if there's no laughter or no love in it?

What a shock, what a delight to read their posts after the apocalyptical notes on Facebook from middle-aged queers like me, who occasionally polka-dot their desperation with videos of heroic Minnesotan raccoons. Not that the young ones aren't occasionally frightened. Not that they don't take to the streets sometimes. But for them, the daily news has a different resonance and weight. Or at least they hide their terror better.

After all, they haven't done this before. They woke with the 2014 murder by cop of Michael Brown, but were barely in diapers or not yet thought of in 1998 when the African American man James Byrd was drug behind a pick-up truck--by his neck. Or when the young, gay, and white Matthew Shepard was beaten and left bound to a fence. And retrovirals hit the scene transforming AIDS which up until then left gay men skeletons and women, well, women don't get AIDS. They just die from it.

Perhaps they were in pre-school when the Supremes awarded George W. Bush the election, the planes struck the Twin Towers, and anybody at all could predict the surge of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sentiment, the erosion of civil rights and the destruction of American democracy.

By the time they hit high school, many of them found Gay and Straight Alliances or had vicarious support with GLEE. Obama was president. Marriage was quickly on the table, though not buying a home.

Their mix of whimsy, anger, lust is a great relief. After glancing at the headlines, catching the news, I'm slumped in the corner muttering, "We're fucked, we're fucked, we're fucked." We Americans slap immigrant children in cages, adults in prison camps, yank naturalized citizens from their homes.

Since the Supremes declared open season on queers "No Gays" signs have sprouted on businesses. I'm afraid HIV will be a death sentence again as Obamacare is slashed by a wannabe dictator president embracing killers and grifters, while our imperfect Democracy, which has allowed whatever progress we've made, is laying drunk in a ditch.

The sun should topple from the sky in shame. The earth should swallow us all. But never does. I often feel exhausted and alone. Especially when the cynical left gleefully lectures us, America never was great. We've always destroyed families--except nice white ones. We've always been the absolute worst. Nothing really has changed.

They deny the groundbreaking catastrophe of Trump. And ignore as well the sea change that gave birth to these young dykes on Twitter, most of them young people of color.

They deny history as much as the bible-embracing a-historians of Fake News and Trump. By forgetting--despite this attempted counter revolution--how much things have changed since the 1990s when Homophobia, Racism, Misogyny, all the Hates, really, hunted openly together like packs of conjoined wolves and activists acting up and fighting back and avenging would be careful to leave demos together, or at least in pairs because everybody had a friend that woke up in the hospital or not at all.

I remember hiding my sexual identity, rarely seeing black people on TV except as pimps and hookers. I remember funerals, lots of funerals, and straight people on TV laughing as they said we should all die of AIDS. I remember how the first red ribbons were a big deal. And how girls in my generation were the first to regularly be told we could be doctors. We could be lawyers.

Yes, things changed. Not enough. Not for everyone. But things change. There's no stasis. Neither is history some convenient lyrical arc bending towards justice. Or towards hell. It's more like a mechanical bull, an electrocardiogram bouncing up and down, sometimes in slow motion, sometimes with a violent lurch.

I don't know what tomorrow holds. But I do know that we have changed things-- for the better --before. Why not believe what history tells us is possible? Why not embrace hope? It’s the only thing that will save us.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Men, Women, Dykes, and the Language of Hate

By Kelly Cogswell

A couple weeks ago a man jumped in a van, drove down a sidewalk in Toronto and killed as many women as he could. Pretty soon the news media was full of how this man was one of those men who goes online to rant with other men about how horrible women are, and how they should pay with their lives for rejecting men like them.

Almost every article, every think-piece and interview was about these suffering men, troubled men, unwillingly chaste men, pitiful men, poor men, angry men, violent men. Men who had been disappointed. Men who had been rejected. Men who thought they deserved better. Men who were thrilled to see our blood on the streets. Men who thought there should be more. Men, men, men, men, men.

I had to make a special effort to Google the names of the eight female dead and two dead men who got caught by mistake. #sayhername Anne Marie D'Amico, 30, Dorothy Sewell, 80, Renuka Amarasingha, 45, Mary Elizabeth (Betty) Forsyth, 94, Sohe Chung, 22, Andrea Bradden, 33, Geraldine Brady, 83, Ji Hun Kim, 22. The two men were Munir Najjar, 85, and Chul Min (Eddie) Kang, 45. #saytheirnamestoo.

It didn't surprise me. After very briefly listening to women declare #pussygrabsback, and #metoo, the press largely refocused their attention on man after man after man dissecting ad barfium the impact of accusations on their careers, speculating on future revelations, past omissions, their complicit friends. Meanwhile, women themselves were increasingly sidelined, mentioned only occasionally as victims, their credibility examined as such, and rarely given air time as humans trying to find some way out of the terrifying status quo.

There is only one time men seem to disappear. That's when we start talking about "violence against women," whose statistics are reported in grammatical constructions that are entirely passive, leaving the real subject, the real actors, undefined. All we learn is that X number of women report being harassed. X number of women are raped every year. X number killed by their domestic partners. No matter that, with very few exceptions, the unspoken subject is men. Men harass women. Men rape women. Men kill women. Subject verb object. Women don't actually walk into doors. We don't ever beat ourselves to death. Or lie down in front of vans of “involuntarily celibate” losers like Alek Minassian, (key words I include only for search engines and algorithms, lest I be erased too). We do not bare our pussies for you to grab uninvited.

If Bill Cosby hadn't assaulted a dyke who could prove she'd never been interested in him, the rapist would have gotten off. Because we all want it, you know. Or should. Even caught with his hand in the roofie jar, it's never the man's fault. It's no one's. Poor men faced with our less than human faces. Poor Junot Diaz. Poor David Foster Wallace. We turned you into monsters, no doubt, by refusing to grin like idiots when you commanded, Smile. By refusing to suck you off. If not your dick, your ego.

As a dyke I should by all rights be considered a noncombatant, but am not. We're just as often victims. More frequently perhaps, because the only word that comes from our mouths is an infuriating "no." Though, like other women, nobody ever hears us. Even women. This straight girl I know, while she was living in my house asked "Why are you so angry all the time? Why do you have to keep talking about dykes?" Because you don't. And if I don't who will? And who will listen, when even straight women aren't heard? When at least half the queers consider dykes monstrous? As suspect. Two women off alone doing what?

And meanwhile, two men, eight women are dead, fourteen hurt, erased just like that. As an example to the others. A terrorism that we refuse to name.

I've had enough. I'm done. "You do not do, you do not do / Any more, black shoe."

I will become like Sylvia Plath. That pathetically female poet. Whose language like her body smashed up against glass walls until she smashed herself. I'd like to sometimes. There are so many straight people in the world. So many men. I get bruised so often when I speak.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Baby Dykes in Danger: The School to Prison Pipeline

By Kelly Cogswell

I'm trying to remember what school was like. Having to beg permission to pee. Grades that seemed almost arbitrary. Hallways where boys regularly grabbed or pinched my ass. I didn't know if they did that to all the girls, or just me, because I never told anyone, or even think about it. Why would you? I was taught girls were always in danger. Always prey. Don't wear short skirts or make-up. Don't call attention to yourself.

I didn't, but walking home from high school, white guys from the neighborhood would still inch along behind me in their cars. Sometimes they'd say something, sometimes they'd just lurk. That's when I started to walk like the black guys, with a confident, "don't fuck with me" stride.

My classmates, anyway, were okay. I wasn't actually bullied for being a dyke, which was good, because I didn't know I was one yet. That was in the Seventies and Eighties, and I had no role models. Not one student or teacher was out-- though rumors burned hot. He's a faggot. She's a lezzzzzz.

I didn't see myself in the hiss, but try to imagine myself in school now that things have changed, kind of. Having a woman teacher I know for a fact is a dyke. Wondering whether or not to go to a meeting of the Gay and Straight Alliance. A 2015 study found that LGBT youth were 91 percent more likely to be bullied than kids perceived as straight. I wonder if it was always like that, or if the problem is worse now that kids like me can put a name to their difference—and so can the other kids. I don't think I would have dared. It would have gotten back to my mother whom I can't imagine as anything other than a panicky homophobe even in her dementia, afraid someone might think she is gay, because she used the word girlfriend.

We don't talk enough about how vulnerable young queers still are. We especially don't talk about lesbian and bi girls. Earlier this year, Joel Mittleman, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Princeton crunched the numbers in their ongoing "Fragile Families and Childhood Wellbeing Study," and discovered that LGBT teens were 29 percent more likely to be suspended or expelled than their straight peers. But when he broke it down by sex, he found that there was almost no additional risk for boys. It was queer girls who skewed the numbers, being 95, NINETY-FIVE! percent more likely to be disciplined at school than their straight peers.

I don't know how to fathom that. Not just that it happens, but that I didn't know. Or that the school to prison pipeline isn't just for young black men. Mittleman noted that “…sexual minority girls are dramatically overrepresented in the juvenile justice system in a way that sexual minority boys are not.” Become known as a "disciplinary" problem, pretty soon they just call the cops. No matter that half the times young dykes get in fights it's because they finally decided to fight back against their tormenting bullies.

I'd known that dykes were overrepresented in prison, but I thought it happened during sentencing. Didn't realize it went as far back as this. And that our lost lives were in the hands of teachers and administrators who destroyed our futures just for liking other girls. Or for being a little masculine, a little butch.

Mittleman blamed them for 62 percent of the cases, noting that parents reported behavioral problems for 38 percent of the other girls. I'm suspicious of that figure, suspicious that some of those parents were like my Southern Baptist mother who, if I had come out, or been caught with a girl, would have drug me to the preacher, then the shrink. Maybe I would have ended up in one of those conversion camps. I would certainly have rebelled. Been labeled a "disciplinary problem." All for kissing a girl, refusing to giggle coyly at the sight of pimply faced boys.

Why didn't we know? Does anybody care?

These are not idle questions. The fact is we almost never hear about the problems of young lesbians, and bi girls. Even queers, even lesbians, who rage against the prison industrial complex which gobbles up black men by the millions are largely mute when it comes to the dykes of all races that represent almost 42 percent of the rapidly expanding population of women's prison. Feminists are silent, too.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Dykes to the Front: In Brazil, Ukraine, U.S.

By Kelly Cogswell

Lesbians have always been part of every social change movement, and in 2018, we are finally out of the shadows. For better and for worse. People hate women so much. Add a touch of dykeness and our bodies/our lives are red flags to the patriarchal bull which likes to leave us gored and bleeding in the sand.

Especially if we fight back. Marielle Franco was not only a feminist and lesbian, but the only black woman on Rio de Janeiro's 51-member city council. Known for denouncing racism, homophobia, the epidemic of murdered women, police brutality, and the assassination of young black men in the favelas, she was shot dead on March 14, probably by the same far-right militias that she frequently attacked.

She must have known it was coming. Inconvenient people have a way of disappearing in Brazil, especially when they come from the slums. So do women of all races. It must have shocked her murderers to discover that this particular brown woman didn't fade into insignificance, and instead became a martyr, galvanizing enormous marches throughout the world.

A few days earlier, and a world away in Ukraine, Olena Shevchenko, director of the feminist LGBTQI rights organization Insight, was a main organizer of the International Women's Day march in Kiev, where they took to the streets chanting, "Women's rights are human rights!" and "Liberty, Equality, Women’s' Solidarity!" For their trouble, 200 far-right nationalist thugs attacked them with sticks, paint and tear gas.

That must have been expected, too. Ukraine is no defender of women's rights, dragging their feet on ratifying the 2011 Istanbul Convention on violence against women. In fact, citing its Soviet-imposed origins, they've decided to drop Women's Day from their list of official holidays, making this the last official celebration of March 8. Add in the fact that homophobic bashings in Ukraine have risen in tandem with the virulent anti-gay propaganda coming out of Moscow, their arch-enemy and former ruler, and that all feminists are dismissed as man-hating dykes, then attacking the march was a no-brainer for the brainless Ukrainian ultranationalists, who miss the irony of it all.

Several people were injured, but instead of investigating their attackers, the cops charged Shevchenko with “violation of the procedure for conducting peaceful assemblies” and for allowing marchers to display a banner which “offended national symbols of Ukraine.” It portrayed a women's body being attacked a cross, a coat hanger, a coin, a rope and a trident, the symbol of a far-right group, which closely resembles the official coat of arms of Ukraine.

When Shevchenko appeared for her hearing on March 12th, the courtroom was packed with far-right thugs insulting and threatening her, and she and her lawyer were forced to hide. Even the presiding judge encouraged her to sneak out the back. The cops didn't help, and Shevchenko and her lawyer had to call a private security firm to get them out. A couple of days later, the charges were dropped, and she celebrated in a Facebook post, declaring, "Freedom of Assembly and human rights won!" No matter that the death threats continue.

I worry for Olena Shevchenko’s safety. I worry about Emma González, too, a student leader of the new U.S. movement for gun control. Yes, we are still more of a democracy than Brazil, more of a democracy than Ukraine-- at least for the moment. But there are just so many fucking guns here. So many men willing to use them.

And there she is, this young queer leading the charge as the most visible survivor of the Parkland, Florida attack. And as such the flashpoint for the crowd of right-wing politicians and media stars who've been suckling the poisonous NRA teat their entire careers.

Leslie Gibson, a local Republican candidate in Maine sneered at her as a "skinhead lesbian." Fox news has ridiculed her and her co-organizers, accusing the massacre survivors of enjoying the attention. Somebody photo-shopped an image of her ripping apart a paper target, replacing it with the Constitution to inflame patriotic hate.

So far, she's taking it in stride. The young, bi, Cuban American cut her activist teeth as president of her school's Gay-Straight alliance, and told Yahoo lifestyle that her latest inspiration was trans activist Sylvia Rivera who persisted in spite of attacks, even from the LGBT community. "…there will always be people that hate you, and that they’re always going to be wrong. So it’s good to use that, and remember that whatever you’re doing, if it’s making people that mad, then it’s probably a good thing.”

She doesn't even seem particularly phased by the possibility that this anger could lead to violence. Maybe she's been reading Audre Lorde, too. "When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak."