Monday, July 18, 2016

Anti-Queer Terrorism, What a Joke

By Kelly Cogswell

Listen to this. It's hilarious. So a guy walks into a bar. A gay bar in Orlando on Latino night. He has an MCX and a 9mm-- No, you haven't heard this one before. That was a pipe bomb and New York. No, not that it either. That was New Orleans and fire. Let me finish. -- So a guy walks into the bar where all these Puerto Rican fags are dancing and drinking, maybe even kissing or something, and he starts shooting.

And I forgot to tell you. He's called 9-1-1 to explain he's doing it in the name of the Islamic State. So anyway, he kills 49 people and wounds 53. Almost every single one is queer. And here's the hilarious thing, nobody says it’s anti-gay or terrorism. I mean, aren't you just ROTFL? C'mon, you have to laugh.

I'm not making it up. It started as soon as they released his photo and name, and several men came forward identifying Omar Mateen as a gay man, or at least somebody who had sex with men. That's when the U.S. media changed gears and the narrative of "Terrorist Attack in Orlando" became a story about "One More Self-loathing Faggot Bashes Other Queers." Which is funny, because in France the coverage focused almost exclusively on terrorism. French media and politicians twisted themselves into knots to avoid mentioning that Pulse was a gay club and the dead were almost all unseemly queers.

If U.S. queer activists didn't put up much of a fuss at how the story shifted, it's because we'd rather talk about anything besides religion, especially Islam, or even plain-old homophobia. Gun control quickly became the big story. Because nobody would ever think of plowing a truck into a crowd like they did in Nice and killing a scant hundred people that way.

Black Lives Matter especially, in a bizarro statement on their website, did a real intersectional number on Orlando. Denouncing anybody that blamed Islam even a tiny little bit for the attack, and explaining it was "... born from the anti-Black white supremacy, patriarchy and homophobia of the conservative right and of those who would use religious extremism as a weapon to gain power for the few and take power from the rest...Homegrown terror is the product of a long history of colonialism, including state and vigilante violence. It is the product of white supremacy and capitalism..."

I don't know if it was their goal, but they seemed to imply that the victims, who were mostly Puerto Rican, weren't really killed because they were unapologetically and even joyfully gay. Readers also might get the misleading impression that the killer was a white American. Not a Muslim-American of Afghan origin who lived in terror of his fundamentalist Muslim Afghan father. And quite clearly announced that he was going to kill a bunch of people in the name of the Islamic State. Whatever.

I still wasn't prepared for the FBI to join the ranks of the jokers, and declare that there was no evidence that Omar targeted Pulse because it was a gay club. It's like they bought the whole fucked up homo-narrative that it was all about his mental health and personal history. So they threw up their hands when they didn't discover any real evidence of his reportedly gay lifestyle that reportedly left him conflicted. No photos in his computer. No Grindr account. No "gay slurs during the shooting spree inside the club."

So much for the dead gay bodies. And the 9-1-1 call, and his commitment to ISIS, which encourage good Muslims to kill us and regularly puts videos on YouTube of jihadi tossing queers out of windows and over balconies and parapets. For committing sodomy. For extramarital sex. Maybe most importantly, for polluting a pure and sacred apocalyptic Caliphate. But Why? Why? Why would Omar Mateen target Pulse?

What is everyone's fucking problem? A guy goes into a synagogue, a black church, and kills a bunch of people we know it's anti-Semitic, or anti-black and racist. We don't need somebody to draw us a picture. And it used to be that when somebody explained their act as terrorism we believed them as soon as we saw the blood. We didn't ask for a membership card or a certificate of mental health. We certainly didn't look for alternative explanations. Did you trip with your finger on the trigger? Were you playing Pokeman Go? Was it... capitalism?

Terrorism has always been a DIY operation with small cells run by borderline crazies. And post-social media it's easy to recruit worldwide. ISIS is brilliant in this regard. While Christianity produces queer killers pretty regularly, that was not the case here. And it does no good to look away. You can almost hear them chant, "We're here, we kill queers. (And Jews and those secular French) Get used to it."

Monday, July 04, 2016

Income and Equality on Independence Day

By Kelly Cogswell

It's the Fourth of July, and Independence Day in the U.S. seems especially ironic this year, since Britain, the country we won our independence from, just voted to sever ties with the European Union and is already regretting it.

Those who voted to leave said they didn't like EU taxation, (even though they had representation!) Neither did they like how EU immigrants could compete for jobs in Britain. They were shocked to discover that dumping their obligations would also mean losing access to the benefits, like the EU single market and trade deals (the source of many jobs), or even that agreement with the French to stop migrants from crossing the Channel at Calais.

They seemed particularly surprised to learn that the European banking industry that made London its capital and spent years fueling British growth no longer had any reason to be there post-Brexit. So out with the bath water go those massive companies and their employees who spent a gazillion pounds a day on goods and services, paying taxes, creating work.

I'd sneer, except that both Trump and Sanders are happily pushing for the same isolationism and anti-globalization. This is partly to satisfy garden-variety xenophobia and racism, but also as an alternative reality solution for income inequality. If you believe them, there will be plenty of good jobs at home once corporations are forced to keep them in the states.

It might even have been true at one point, but at last week's summit between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, Obama reminded us that one of the biggest reasons for job loss wasn't outsourcing, but automation. The U.S. is actually manufacturing more steel than a decade ago, but there are simply less jobs for humans. Robots do everything from building cars to assembling computers. They even stock shelves and pack boxes, carry and fetch, count and send.

Tech of course has affected middle-class jobs too. Retail stores have given way to Amazon's robots, too. Like bank tellers, though not bankers. Thanks to the Huffington Post, and other new media, journalists exist, but are expected to work for free.

For the U.S. to create, industrial-economy jobs in the twenty-first century, you wouldn’t just have to roll back trade deals and alliances, you would have to smash the machines and turn back time. Anything short of that, would be Brexit redux. We'd maybe gain a few jobs here and there, but we'd lose far, far more which have been created by our global, service economy. And we'd also lose manufacturing jobs, because the global shock waves would devastate developing markets. All we'd create are more poor people.

The world these days is complicated and interdependent. Solutions to inequality and poverty have to be, too. Even improved means of communication can build invisible walls. These walls don't divide the 1 percent and the rest, but the great bulk of our population from a bottom tier that includes a disproportionate amount of people of color, and LGBT people of all races.

It's not like the old days when the differences between the rich and middle-class and poor had a lot to do with the model of your car, or the size of your TV. Even most poor people could afford a set, and no matter what size TV you had, or how many, they still broadcast the same shows. Even if they excluded you, and you were watching them from outside with your nose pressed up against the screen.

Now, money doesn't just buy better technology or more, but something entirely different. You can't replicate the experience of owning a smart phone, for instance, by having a cheap cell, plus spending a few hours on a computer at the library. No, without a smartphone you're in a different universe where even the sense of time is different.

News doesn't depend on daily newspapers but instantaneous pings from Facebook, Twitter, and newsfeeds. A question can be answered as soon as it is posed. A wrong turn in the real world can be corrected immediately by GPS and Google maps. Instead of waiting for a car service or a cab, you log in to the Uber app and get a ride that is both quicker and cheaper.

And of course, you can network perpetually and instantaneously without taking the time out for coffee or meals or cocktails, reinforcing and augmenting the privileges you already have. Which helps some people when they need to do a job search. Because employers look not only at the resume you submitted online but at your entire network of friends and followers to see if you'll fit in with the company culture. The drawback is you may find yourself on the employment version of Grindr. No fats, no fems. No...

Maybe most troubling is how this technological divide leaves the poor on the wrong side of the tracks in the democratic process which we are supposed to use to fix things. And even as politicians celebrate the apparent accessibility of social media, and hold town meetings there, we discover that smart phones and internet access are like entry fees. And not everyone can go.

Friday, June 17, 2016

When Religion Bolsters Violence

By Kelly Cogswell

I was eating fennel salad a couple weeks ago in this Italian dyke's house when she asked if I knew why fags there were called "finocchio" or fennel. And in between bites she explained that in the old days when the Catholic Church burned inherently heretical fags at the stake, they'd throw fennel on the fire so heterosexual nostrils wouldn't be offended by the stench.

The story made me queasy, but I finished eating anyway, even had a second helping imagining each crunch as a kind of sacrament. Like when I finally went back to the Café Voltaire where a guy blew himself up in November, and lifted my glass of pastis to all the Paris dead, men and women killed together for their secular, wine-drinking, music-loving, gender-consorting apostasy.

I also thought of the so-called Islamic State who beheads queers, or tosses us out of window, or off balconies, or any other high place they find because there are sacred texts calling for sinners to be cast down from mountains, or be stoned. ISIS regularly feature our murders in their video feeds and encourage their supporters to kill us, or maybe some Jews, or school teachers who dare educate the young using nonreligious texts. The list is far longer than that, but you get the idea.

It seems to be working. There was that shooting in San Bernardino. Then all those dead Latino queers in Orlando. There have been several "incidents" here in France. The most recent was just the day after Orlando, when Larossi Abballa killed a cop and his wife, stabbing them to death in their own home in response to the latest, pre-Ramadan call by ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani to target civilians in Europe and the US.

No need for big, shady networks. It's the kind of do-it-yourself terrorism we saw at the height of the anti-gay Culture Wars in the U.S. when our murderers were egged on by the Christian Right and queers dropped like flies. Pat Robertson in particular harangued us as sinners, degenerates, and child molesters, even enemies of the nation, and as a result the public at large cheered our deaths from AIDS. Some took more immediate measures.

In 1992 alone, a student at Auburn leaned out his dormitory window with a gun and picked off members of the lesbian and gay organization. In Virginia, a gang of children--one was eight years old ! --shot a gay bartender. An off-duty cop and his pal attacked some dykes in Massachusetts. A month later, a lesbian couple was shot by their neighbor. Trans hero Marsha P. Johnson was killed and dumped in the Hudson. Brian Mock and Hattie Mae Cohen, a white queer and black lesbian were burned alive when some neo-Nazi wannabees threw a Molotov cocktail through their rooming house window in Colorado. And these were just the attacks that were known.

Queers fought back, made progress, but Christians worldwide are still in the queer-hating business, even if plenty of Muslims are challenging their monopoly. A few hours after we were massacred in Orlando by an Islamist zealot, Catholic leaders in the Dominican Republic joined forces with Evangelicals to participate in a previously scheduled march against the "Gay Agenda." The Vatican fights tooth and nail against marriage equality, sneers at trans youth, continues to demonize us as sinners and degenerates, hideous to God. Plenty of American preachers and politicians responded to the attack saying that we deserved it. The repulsive Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick tweeted, "You reap what you sow." Unsurprisingly, about 500 LGBTQ people have been killed all over the Americas in 2016 so far according to the website, Al Momento.

So why consider Omar Mateen crazy when he was just pursing hate and fear to its logical end? If we are abominations to God, why not rid the earth of us? After all, God cleansed the earth with the flood. Destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire because of people just like us. Most of the people screaming outside Planned Parenthoods are perfectly sane, perfectly sure that the care providers are bound for hell, and leading others there.

That's the beauty of religion. It can give such certainty and power. We have God on our side after all. We search the sacred texts to uncover our heart's desire, and if there is love inside of us, that's what we find. If there's hate and fear, and a desire for vengeance, we can find that, too. Even Jesus lost his cool, overturning tables in the temple, and chasing out the loan sharks and tchotchke vendors. He himself was crucified, which is an encouragement to sacrifice yourself with as much blood and drama as possible for whatever you believe in. Yes, what would Jesus do?

We queers, in this religion-loving America, have to face that religion is intertwined with past violence and will be a part of it in the future, too. It intoxicates, like alcohol. Cynical politicians wrap themselves in its authority, use it to justify their own homophobia and misogyny. It guides the hands that pick up the guns we surely have to get rid of. But if there's not a gun, there's a knife, there's a cliff. Or rock or bomb. And even one death is too much.

Equal rights aren't enough either. We have to go after the root, which is pure hatred and an addiction to violence. That means, in part, supporting queer and progressive Muslims, and listening to ex Muslims, too, as they battle for the soul of Islam. Ditto for progressive Christians and Jews, other religious people, former believers, atheists, and anybody else grappling with hate.

But we also have to turn a skeptical eye on the enterprise of religion itself, and vigorously defend the separation between the Church (which regularly tries to strip us of our civil rights) and the State (which is supposed to defend them). Because as long as religion exists we'll never be safe. Fundamentalists and extremists will always emerge, and the hatred of queers, and of women, is right there in the text.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Trading in Rage

By Kelly Cogswell

Donald Trump is all my fault. So are the Bernie Bros. I left the door open behind me and they snuck in with their red-faced, white-knuckled rage. I didn't know it would matter. Since mostly anger and rage propelled people onto the street to protest dyke-bashings, people dying of AIDS, I tried to provoke raw emotion when I co-founded The Gully online magazine in 2000 and first started writing commentary. I thought if only people knew about police brutality, the stolen election, anti-gay campaigns and betrayed revolutions, and poverty… If only we shared enough facts, explained them, drew connections, wrote about them with enough feeling to make them real, then people would be compelled to act.

Style was half the message. We wrote informally, usually in the first person. Sometimes we reported moderately, but often we ranted in outrage. It was the early days of the internet and our truthful anger stood in refreshing contrast to the decrepit and sterilized style of the usual mainstream newspapers. Our first tagline was even "digested news, raw opinion from the queer edge of America." Which meant we shouted. And why not? What else do you want from two dykes who had fought for years to draw attention to lesbian issues? Especially those affecting dykes of color, and queers on the global front?

What we said was important and hugely urgent. Everything online always is, and this style became the norm so quickly that outrage now trumps content online, and shoutiness and rage is considered an indicator of truth on both the Right and Left. As we see the flowering of it in the presidential campaign this year, I find myself going around like the stereotypical librarian whispering, "Shhhhhhhhhhhh" and trying to write like the über-civilized Henry James because it's the only way to ask what the endgame is these days, especially for so-called progressives. Liberation? Equality? Revenge?

Anger and rage have their limits. At first, it's liberating to voice them, denounce our oppressors, sneer at the powerful, and marvel at how our angry voices resound. But then we fall in love with the sound of them. Outrage becomes a habit. It narrows our gaze until we sometimes confuse the goals of justice or social change with a simple desire to humiliate and wound.

I recognize it in myself, trained to hate by a mother who was a specialist. A broken glass could set off an earthquake. She was worse during her divorce. I remember how she ranted against my horribly lazy, good-for-nothing father who really was kind of a dick. But there was something disgusting, too, about how the litany of her very real complaints, her grief and anguish always provided her with the grotesque satisfaction of a case proved. He was a monster with nothing redeeming at all. By contrast she was the victim, absolved and pure.

She took such pleasure in her hate, and with that hate the generalizations that always imply simplification and lies, the amnesia of her own failings. And sometimes I say, "Men are pigs", or even, "I hate men" just to see what it feels like to dip my toes back into hate, to see if I can get myself worked up. But the man-hating lesbian stereotype just requires too much energy, and like most dykes I'm nearly indifferent to the category of men except maybe for an hour or two after getting harassed on the street, or trying and failing to find work without smearing on the lipstick and dick-sucking smile. If the myth persists it's so that interested men can feel they've still got a central place in our female lives, and indirectly in our beds even if it's just as the objects of scorn. In terms of persistence, hate is far better than love.

That's really why I say "I hate men," to remind myself of the consequences. How that "hate" joins and opposes "I" to "men" immediately gendering my body and brain as female, caging me with males condemned to a toxic masculinity. Phrases like that leave none of us free. Which is why feminists prefer to denounce patriarchy and its systems which subjugate women, instead of accusing "men", so that all individuals have more room to maneuver. And more importantly, space to think and change.

In either case, hate is a trap, like shame. You can see the addicts online, the militants who take such pleasure in publically denouncing even unimportant people for racism or transphobia or misogyny, and the violent responses by bigots large and small to any accusation until all sides seem inextricably bound together, with people as happy to be hated as to hate.

It's hard to break free. I'm not sure we're supposed to. Like a bloodless war hate distracts us from the real enemies, from grappling with the systems that are resistant to change, and as indifferent to our anger or fear as the floodwaters of the Seine.