Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Flying Blind in Paris

Kelly Jean Cogswell

803 words.

Last week, the French TV networks showed the new transgender mayor of Cambridge, England getting feted after winning her election. A couple of nights later, it was queers getting bashed at the Moscow Gay Pride.

France is literally in between. On the legal side, there's a pathetic civil union bill and no hope of better as long as the little Bush, Nicolas Sarkozy, is the head of state. In society, most queers still operate on the "don't ask, don't tell" principle, which has unexpected implications since my gaydar has been haywire in Paris these last few months.

First, it was these two long-haired femmes in the subway with curvy waists and tight low-slung pants that were making out. Nice to see lesbians kissing in public, I thought, watching an old lady looking at them in disgust, until the pair got on the subway next to me and it turned out the shorter one with the flowing curls and soft little ass was actually a guy, then I gagged, too.

Last week, it was the dyke couple in my favorite grec frite place across the street. The two shorties with crew cuts and heavy metal tee shirts were feeding each other fries and sharing a gyro. One clearly had tits, but when I checked out the other more closely, he was concave where he should have been convex, and vice versa.

After I got over my disappointment, I wondered what straight French guy would want a girl with short hair and no makeup.

In Paris, lipstick is issued at birth to females, while males of all orientations are allowed to run the gender gamut from the testosterone-defined hulks to the Oscar Wildean, ruffle-wearing aesthetes who for all that pink, haven't left their macho entitlement at home.

If anything they're worse, dominating in mind games rather sheer bulk. It's hard not to look at the large, hard bodies of Serena Williams and Amelie Mauresmo this week at the French Open and wish they'd break these skinny little men in two.

American men stick out a mile here, with their thick arms and stiff ham-legged strides that make it seem like all the discs of their spines were fused together after kindergarten.

Even the American fags I saw last month at a wine fair have clearly spent way too much time at the gym, as if taxis hadn't been invented, and they expected to have to haul every crate home with their bare hands and then dig a cellar to keep it in. Do they have the same text inside, the same stories, these guys intent on changing the book cover?

Is it different when men and women transgress? When the TV featured the transgender Cambridge mayor, the journalists did a couple of interviews with men on the street who were asked how they felt about having a transgendered woman running the place, in fact, the first trannie mayor in all England.

It was clear they were looking for a couple of juicy insults, but even the tough, shaved head, footballer types said, "I think it's great. It shows Cambridge can still lead the way."

For them, crossing gender was a sign of progress -- despite what the mayor, Genny Baily, told the London Times, "People can take me as a role model if they want... But for transgender people, all we want is to disappear and become normal."

If Mayor Baily wanted to disappear, would she have run for office? Would she have chosen for her life partner another trannie woman making them doubly visible? You have to suspect a huge, unseemly "masculine" desire that she's forced to hide, now (s)he's a woman. What could it be, something on the national stage, even the PM spot?

More than the Williams sisters with their enormous shoulders, it's female ambition that creates real outrage these days. Fury comes from women as much as men, leaving only a hair's breadth between the rock and the hard place.

In France, that's where the former presidential candidate Segolene Royal is living again as she begins the battle to control the Socialist Party whose old bull elephants would rather trample the first new growths of political bamboo in years, than cede control to a woman.

Polls still show her the embodiment of the left in France, more than anyone else, but the old boys won't back her, as they didn't in the election, preferring to watch the rightist Sarkozy win, his two older sons shaking their long bleached blond hair at the cameras, his step-daughters smiling their lipsticked smiles which should not be dismissed.

Segolene smiles as brightly as any of them, but pairs her gender to an open, unsheathed ambition that will end by creating space for women, especially dykes who need that model of audacity and desire more than bare, naked lips.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Evolution: Putting God in His Place

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

803 words.

This weekend, the twenty-seven million dollar extravaganza of a Creation Museum opens up in Northern Kentucky. It was supposed to give God a boost, but by all accounts it's more like an expensive raspberry.

Kids will snicker at the exhibit showing what happens to young Christians when they doubt the infallible Word of God. Girls apparently end up at Planned Parenthood, and boys in their bedrooms with a girlie mag in one hand, and their dicks in the other.

On the science end, the museum has a model ark penning dinosaurs in with humans even though most of the rest of the world agrees Tyrannosaurus Rex died out long before the first raindrops fell on Noah's head.

I don't actually have a problem with that. I doubt evolution myself when Kansas creationist Kenneth R. Willard is on the verge of being elected President of the National Association of State Boards of Education.

Jerry Falwell may be dead now, but it seems like we keep having all the same fights, and it mostly boils down to sex, namely that no one, especially queers, should be having any.

The thing I really resent is that it's an Australian creationist, Ken Ham, behind the Kentucky museum.

With the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary housed there in my hometown of Louisville, and snake-handlers in the hills, don't we have plenty of our own homegrown fundamentalists to hatch hare-brained creationist exhibits?

Growing up, I swallowed it all, how God created the earth in six days, and rested on the seventh after declaring it all good. The only other story I heard more was the G-rated version of Noah and the Ark, maybe because they both had animals and the furry little creatures are supposed to lodge in the minds of children, or adults think so, anyway.

I'm pretty sure we'd have remembered as well if they'd told us how later on one of Noah's wives, or was it daughter, got him drunk so he'd screw her there in some cave and beget a lot of children to deal with post-flood depopulation and all. But again, screw sex.

As a kid, I used to close my eyes and try to imagine that vast, black, empty space that was all the world before the world was called into being by God whom I thought of as a kind of flashy magician.

He pulled the heavens and earth and animals and plants out of his hat, and then last of all, Adam and Eve, who could be considered the first taxonomists, forced to name everything in a kind of sub-contracting act of creation.

God getting all that done in six long days seemed just about right when each excruciating second of naptime at the Baptist Church kindergarten was like an eternity.

I couldn't tell time yet, and without those creaking hands dividing life into minutes and hours and days I was pretty sure you could create a whole universe between the snack and blankets and laying still, and the moment the teacher said, "You can get up now."

Even in Middle School, when I was studying that heretical nonsense of earth science and biology, it never crossed my mind to doubt the reality of the story. The two worlds coexisted, like water and air.

Not everything has to be reconciled. Like why Christians cling to that Old Testament creation story when there's another one found in the Jesus-filled New Testament. "In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God."

It is that image that still sticks with me. I don't even think of it as metaphor, but a kind of literal description of creation.

There are the novels that get written over decades, and others that spring forth almost full grown like children from the head of Zeus. Why not animals from the hand of God, if you believe in one? Why not the world in six days? I don't scorn the literal-minded believer. After all, anything is possible with God. It's the definition of a supreme being.

The problem with the Creation Museum, science aside, is embedded in its title. It reduces the power of the God they're trying to promote to a couple of hi-tech tricks you can gape at, and then go buy a tee shirt and postcards afterwards. There's a short shrift for mystery, glory, awe, all the things I remember from childhood, or even from the struggle to fill paper with words.

The reverse is missing, too. I remember the old days, when there was the very real terror of hell, and I shivered in my bed at the thought of my soul rotting in sin.

Let's call it the Devolution Museum, reducing Creation to an Ark, Sin to the banality of abortion, or getting discovered whacking off.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Against Families

Kelly Jean Cogswell

800 words

If I could, I'd put a match to the institution of family and burn it down, then I'd sift the ashes for any large chunks, pour gasoline on them, and light the heap again until the whole thing blew away on the wind.

Do I hear an, "Amen, Sister"? Or did you send your mother a Mother's Day card, perhaps take her out to lunch last Sunday at some cheesy restaurant where they handed all the ladies a rose some Chilean woman picked, her skin rotting with insecticides, while someone else plucked off all the thorns?

The day before Mother's Day, a million and a half mostly Catholic people turned up in Rome for a "Family Day" rally. They smiled and cooed for the cameras, wiping the snotty noses of their children and complaining mildly, of course, this being a happy day, about homosexuals parading around like they were normal and persuading those Italian legislators to give them civil unions. Why, the Holy Father can hear the pillars of civilization crumbling all around Him.

If only it were that easy. Hell, I'd get married myself and bury them all in the dust of Saint Paul's. As it is, all those breeders are busy propping the institution up. And I include queers there, too, as the caryatid on the right, make no mistake.

Maybe I just don't know what families are. Watching the rally on TV, I didn't recognize any among the smiling greeting card faces. I didn't see one knife come out of the sheath, one father's noose get pulled around the tender throat of a boy, or a girl push a blade into her mother's flesh, and as the double-edge sword you hear so much about, feel it emerge into her own wounded heart.

There are other ways to have families, I guess. We queers like to talk about how we make our own, a question of choice and love, rather than blood. This is my family around me, we say at Thanksgiving when we're avoiding a trip back home to the genetic relations. Once, when I complained about my mother, someone said, "We're your family now," and gave me a hug. I'd only known her a few weeks. It creeped me out.

What happened to the word "friend"? I'm sorry it counts for so little. Even I misuse the word "family," though with a modifying "like." "She's like a sister," I say of a dyke friend, when we share an easy kind of familiarity and some affection behind it.

In the queer community, family can also mean people with shared history. There's that woman you played softball with for years, and on the strength of that lend her twenty when you see her in a coffee shop. The word works, too, with the ex of your current girlfriend who fills a big gap in the timeline before you, and can tell the kind of embarrassing stories about your true love that only family can. Remember that haircut? Then there's an activist you got arrested with a couple of times, before you started having political fights. She's family, too, even if you cross the street to avoid her, just like a real relation.

But, in the press when you read the words gay families, they don't mean that vast interlocking mix of personal and community history. It's only the two dykes with their kids. Or two fags. That nuclear thing that strangles us with an intimacy that was never quite intended. God, all the expectations we have for each other. The lines that get drawn like national borders between us and them. Inside are all the roles we haven't escaped.

Families are something out of context, like states, with their visas and quick deportations.

Last week, I got an email telling me my own congressman, Jerrold Nadler, along with Senator Patrick Leahy was reintroducing the Uniting American Families Act that would help queer bi-national couples. I was supposed to send letter of support, because, as Immigration Equality Director Rachel B. Tiven, says, "Dividing loving families, simply because they are gay or lesbian, is un-American..."

I support queer equality in everything, even our use of the word family, but I wish we wouldn't. We haven't changed the meaning enough. Whenever I hear it, my throat closes like there's a hand around it. Add American to the phrase, wave a few flags, kiss a baby, and the saccharine, sanctimonious tinge has me puking in the street. What word will we take next? Values? American family values? I'm sure it's been done.

Instead of more rights for more families, maybe we should give them all less, loosen their stranglehold on everything, tax rights, property, immigration, children, love. We should liberate that fierce affection that persists in spite of everything, that heals.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Election Night Tears in France

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

802 words.

A few hours after rightist candidate Nicolas Sarkozy won the presidential election here in France last Sunday, I got tear-gassed at the Bastille.

I was on my way to catch the metro, but this fog rose around me like a dream, the thin column with the gold figure on top disappearing in smoke, and the cops moving around beside it.

There were anti-Sarkozy shouts, the sound of glass breaking, then one canister hit almost at my feet and I was blinded, stumbling around with the other stumbling figures.

I'd open my eyes for a split second, run half a block with my eyes closed and arms outstretched, then force them open briefly again, and run more until I was far enough away to crouch and weep the gas out of my eyes.

Politics is like that, I think, a lot of stumbling forward with a few quick moments of excruciating clarity.

And after Sunday night you can see what's going to happen here in France, the same way any idiot could predict how Bush's War on Terror would destroy civil liberties at home, and his war in Iraq enflame the Middle East.

Here, Sarkozy's ham-handed economic programs will rip apart the social fabric. Like Bush, he is less a social conservative than radical reformist. In his victory speech, he vowed to "rehabilitate work, authority, morality, respect and merit."

In practice, he's going to hack away at job protection and health care to improve the economy, while trying to squelch dissent and deport illegal immigrants. Deep racial rifts will widen. And struggling working class people and small farmers will be pitted against the middle and upper classes as globalization hits home.

At a big pre-election rally a few weeks ago, he even promised to erase May '68, a phenomenon that began as student strikes for education reform and ended in a groundbreaking liberation movement that brought down the de Gaulle government and exploded an asphyxiating society. Ten million workers went on strike, and labor also saw huge gains.

While May '68 did leave behind mammoth and expensive social programs, and inflexible labor laws, what Sarkozy hates more than the economic legacy, is that of social justice and freedom.

Queers can forget about gay marriage. Despite his gestures towards affirmative action, people of color won't see a real fight against racism as long as what he's preaching is merit. And the immigrants, well...

In a preview of his new France, we've already seen sting operations at grade schools in which cops threaten to deport small children alone unless the whole family turn up ready to go.

Anybody not white is constantly in danger of being held if they don't have proper ID. One related episode of racial profiling set off a riot at the Gare du Nord. Ten thousand have already been deported, many of whom have lived their whole lives in France.

Sarkozy continually touts his background as the son of a Hungarian immigrant, but besides quick deportations, he has actually gone so far as to propose a Minister of Immigration and National Identity, to enforce assimilation.

In the weeks prior to the first round of the election, his campaign courted the extreme right supporters of Jean-Marie Le Pen. While maintaining a carefully deniable distance for the candidate, Sarkozy's right-hand man suggested that members of Le Pen's anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-queer National Front party might even be welcome in the Sarko government.

Sarkozy's promise to erase a whole era has an unsavory taste when you put it together with stings at grade schools and mass deportations. Most schools in Paris have a plaque in front commemorating the five or six or twenty Jewish kids sent to the camps.

If it hadn't been for Segolene's speech, I'd be weeping and writhing in pain, or maybe buying a ticket back home. After each of the two Bush elections, the opposition pretty much disappeared. Like Gore. Like Kerry.

The difference here, though, when I pry my eyes open, is Segolene Royal, who is refusing to retreat quietly. As a candidate, she persevered despite lackluster support of her decrepit Socialist Party.

Why should she disappear from politics now because she can't be president? She cares about the country. The key to her campaign was grassroots organizing, and internet activism, not the faltering party machine that never quite gave her its full support. Like the number of her supporters, you could see her grow with every stage of her campaign.

Sunday night, when she gave her final speech to an enormous cheering crowd, saying that the election wasn't an ending but a beginning, you actually believed her.

Like her, her supporters have promised to stick around. Already the following morning, I got emails echoing the words of her final speech, "It's not over." That's enough for hope.