Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Queer Economies: When the Truth Doesn't Pay

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

804 words

Come on out. Knowing a real queer is the only thing that gets homophobic chickens to cross to our side of the street. On the other hand, it can wait until you have your own apartment, or better yet, a job and health insurance.

I'm not as adamant about coming out as I used to be. I grew up believing Jesus' promise that the truth will set you free, and when I was a teenager I took it to heart and liberated everybody to death.

Whoever dared ask, "How are you?" got an earful about my homework and my health. I never said good morning unless it actually was sunny outside, and my mood was equally bright. If I'd've known I was a dyke, I would have told you so. As it was, if your thighs bulged out inconveniently, and you asked how your pants looked, I'd confirm they made you seem fat.

That went on until college when somebody broke the news, "You're not so perfect yourself." Which I knew, but just didn't think everyone else did. And that was that. I bit my tongue, got civilized.

My last real stab at the truth was 1990, when in an agonized graduate school confession, I told this one professor, "I lie all the time. Everything I say from beginning to end is a half-truth or lie. From the time I first get up in the morning until I go to bed, I fudge, shade, hack, twist, and mangle the truth."

"That's terrible thing to say about yourself," she said, with wide, horrified eyes. "You can't mean that."

"I guess not," I said, accepting my life of lies, until a couple of years later when I came out to my family, my boss, and everyone else I could think of.

I mostly don't need to now. I look like a dyke, walk like a dyke, and go places accompanied by packs of dykes. I couldn't lie in the closet if I tried, though I'm not always sure where the truth gets you.

I've learned that as a tissue, lies wear better than you'd expect. In my ripe old age, I say, "Good morning" on rainy days with everybody else. When my friends ask, "How are you?" I answer, "Fine, fine," even if I'm broke and miserable and ready to jump off a bridge. "Fine" is a tiny little lie, a squirt of oil really, for the social cogs.

Besides, lying is almost a prerequisite to get an apartment anywhere. In Paris, I've jettisoned Marina by omission so I can be single again. It's not that I want landlords to think I'm straight, just alone. That's the only explanation for why someone might be applying for such miniscule digs. Except for poverty, which you don't want to cross their minds.

When you're talking about housing, you better adjust both your income and prospects upward. The only thing you can't lie about is your skin, and even there, you might give it a shot.

New York's as bad. When we were apartment hunting for Marina's mom, we had to drop her age by a decade just to see a roach-infested hole.

We found too that all the decent places wanted you to have not just an income that equaled three or four times the rent, but in some places ten or twenty-five or more. Where does that leave middle-class people, or god forbid, poor, without a few white lies or a wealthy cosigner?

The rich get the best of everything, even the truth.

Sometimes I sit back and imagine the luxury of it. April 15 rolls around, and you have receipts for everything you declare, and an accountant to go through them looking for loopholes. No worries about audits. Or files or pay stubs. No fear.

Not everybody can afford the truth. Fresh out of college, lying was the only way to get a job. They turned me away at McDonald's because I had an insincere, wolfish smile. An agency thought I looked too depressed to be a receptionist. Nowhere was there an opening for a poet.

My pal Amy convinced me to upgrade my computer skills, on my resume, anyway. When I finally got a job, I kept her on the phone walking me through the programs every day until I learned. What else should I have done? Recited verse on the subway? No. Lie, lie through your teeth.

In every big U.S. city, you see teenaged queers on the street. Baby dykes and fags, trannies who couldn't pass, or in a burst of youthful hopefulness and pride decided to come out. For a reward, maybe an uncle raped them, or their parents threw them out.

To tell the truth, the truth won't help them. What they need is a home -- and cold hard cash.

No comments: