Monday, March 05, 2007

A Dyke in Sheep's Clothing

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

795 words.

The kids cry, the parents scream. You eat too much, and drink too much, and go home smelling so strongly of the barnyard that strange dogs follow you home.

That's the Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris, not so different from when I was six and left the Kentucky State Fair deranged from cotton candy, candied apples, bumper cars, and the dark strange smells of tobacco and cows.

This week, I went for an assignment I wrangled for my hometown paper. Nice work if you can get it, eating your way through the French countryside packed into a few square city blocks of convention center.

Besides, I actually like visiting all those animals in the midst of concrete and steel, at least once I choke down my antihistamine pills and my eyes quit watering.

I'm only one generation from the farm, and I remember making trips back to my great aunt's place and poking through the rows of corn that were taller than me, then getting put to work shucking it on the back porch.

I stepped barefoot in a cowpat once, and didn't squeal at all. It was cool and squishy and gross, but I was a better dyke then, and just washed it off without complaining too much, though yesterday morning I found some suspiciously crusty mud in the hall and didn't make a big deal about that either.

It's just recycled hay and the Salon was full of it. You notice right away. The smell hits you right between the eyes. After that it's the moos reverberating in the vast echo chamber of the convention center. Only later do you notice the slick spots you have to navigate around.

Keep going, the cows get bigger and bigger until each is about the size of an old VW van and pretty much the same shape. Imagine a Texas one with horns on the front, and a broken bag of fertilizer in the back and you get the idea.

The Salon features more than two dozen different cow breeds, the milk breeds, and the meat cattle, with and without horns, spots, bells. These French never lose a minute to instruct, so if you keep your eyes open there are exhibits teaching you all about them, from procreation to the hamburger on your plate. Or if you prefer, the cheese.

There was a hullabaloo a few weeks ago when it was revealed that one bull had done more than his share of fertilizing and half the cattle in Europe were related. That's bad breeding, from a genetically diverse sort of perspective, though unless I'm at a State Fair I tend hear the words more when I wipe my mouth with my shirt sleeve.

In fact, I thought a lot about good breeding when I got to the little pen with sheep. These days when I see them I want to ask, Are you a sister? At least that's what I think when I see the kids. A ewe doesn't get to the fair just on her looks. It's either how much wool or milk she produces, or the quality of the kids, lambs, I mean, (not the cute homo sapiens poking their hands through the bars).

Though after an afternoon looking at the breeding posters and displays, I have to wonder why anybody would invest in research to "cure" homo animals when so much fertilization is done artificially. I'm not much into conspiracy theories, but I did start to believe that Dr Charles Roselli's research in Britain is completely funded by the ultra-right wing in a plot to eliminate queers.

Which leads us to the irony that if our situations were reversed, and it was Paris dykes put there in the pens among other women, you couldn't pick us out by checking for an empty stall.

There's not much lesbian activism in France, but what exists is centered on adoption, the right to insemination, with a little marriage thrown in.

All we want to do is breed, breed, breed -- to such an extent I wonder if the urge isn't more powerful than biology, but part of the growing arsenal of lesbophobia and misogyny.

After all, not every straight woman wants kids. Why has it begun to define dykes now? Especially here, where society in general tends to be discrete about sex, your "private" life, but strictly enforces gender roles and still has a visceral reaction of repulsion to women doing what they shouldn't. Like running for President.

And while I think women should be able to adopt each other's kids, and get inseminated every spring if they want, I wouldn't mind seeing some young dykes take up space on their own account, burn a barn down, leave a hoof print on some deserving face.

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