Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Queers As Terrorists -- Again!

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

The Europeans have climbed into the gutter with the Americans, agreeing to give the lowdown on air travelers headed for the U.S.

Forget criminal records or terrorist ties, what Uncle Same wants to know about is race and ethnicity, politics, religion, and union membership, not to mention travel partners, health, and sexual orientation.

That's right, if you're a dyke or fag, you might be a terrorist, and Homeland Security is gonna find out, even if it means asking travel agents to keep track of who has requested a single queen-sized bed instead of two doubles, or who gets listed as next of kin.

Why? It might have prevented the attacks on September 11th. That's what Homeland Security Tzar Michael Chertoff says. Information like this would have, "within a matter of moments, helped to identify many of the nineteen hijackers by linking their methods of payment, phone numbers and seat assignments." Right, Mike.

What repulsive lies. What gall to drape our dead New Yorkers in the Stars and Stripes and use it to justify the new and improved American Stasi.

On Sunday, I watched the Tour de France hurtle to its dope-riddled conclusion along the Champs-Elysée. There were a couple of actual French people there, but most were tourists waving flags and cheering. All I could think of was how I wanted to burn them, the flags, I mean.

Sew a couple of strips of material together you can brighten up a picnic or car lot, spy on neighbors, send kids to die. What do we want nations for, even queer ones? Why do we need flags? I'll bring the gas. You bring the zippo.

Not that getting rid of them will help much. The gaggle of American tourists waiting with me on the pavement didn't have one between them, but they somehow managed to stake their claim. And over four excruciating hours, pressed against a metal barricade and holding in pee to hold my place, I got a crash course on what Americans think of the world, Europe, anyway.

To sum up, in Brussels they make great Belgian waffles. Chinese Italians don't make the best the pizza in Rome, and arranging the finale of a race to make eight loops along the Champs-Elysée is "so gay. Isn't it gay? They're not going anywhere."

That was the P.E. teacher and youth group leader, a muscular twenty-something white man with fair hair, fair skin and a slight twang, my compatriot, brother practically. After weeks of getting himself some culture, seeing the world, the best he could do was, "Isn't it gay?"

His companion, a sweet blonde girl who works in sales at the Body Shop, thought it was nice. "It means everybody gets to take lots of pictures."

I don't hate them. I'm just so depressed that it's clearly these folks that Homeland Security is making the country safe for. Me, I catch a plane, I'd be flagged for a dozen things. I could be hauled off to jail, and would these folks notice? They can barely find their way to the nearest Hard Rock Café.

How could you begin to explain to them that what's happening now makes New Yorkers both victims and perps? Half the 9/11 dead arrived in planes, or their parents did, and they came with big ideas, and their skins were all kinds of colors. And the next time somebody blows up something again, I bet it'll be the New York melting pot again.

I'm ashamed I didn't say anything about that whole "gay" thing. But I couldn't face them knowing what I was -- an American. Here, if you reveal that you share an accent, a language, Americans give you a fat complicit grin of Us against Them and I couldn't stand it.

I shouldn't have worried. When I finally did say something to one of the women after the racers had gone by in their first gay circuit, she said, "I thought you were foreign." "Nope." "So you're American?"

She didn't quite believe me. Maybe she'd never seen a dyke before, just a girl on the "L" Word series. And I hardly look like them with camo pants, tee, and short spiky hair nobody's spent a week on.

But it means something that the word which came to her mind wasn't lesbian or dyke, but foreign, even though she was the one far from home. It brought back images of those days in pre-med biology where foreign matter got lodged in throats, foreign cells tried to invade, and the protecting ones slowly enveloped and killed them.

I think the word foreign suits me, no matter where I am. My customs aren't yours. I burn flags. Or want to. In my mouth, all the words in your tongue mean something new.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Cut It Off -- And Stop AIDS

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Women are dying of AIDS while some researcher bends over his penis, smiles at it fondly and imagines what little alteration would make it an all purpose tool safe to use again.

He's not the only one with his dick in his hand. Each new report on male circumcision pumps up the protection of that little snip, snip until pretty soon, I expect to see the numbers not only show the procedure will stop HIV dead, but reduce global warming, and maybe slow the Iraq war, too.

Not that it doesn't have limited benefits. Circumcision may lower the rate of transmission as much as fifty or sixty percent for men, as long as they screw in the missionary position, and only between the sheets of a few very controlled studies.

In the real world of South Africa, there's very little difference in HIV rates between communities that snip, and those that don't. In Northern Zambia, the difference only lasts until the young men move to the big city with its bright lights and Manolo Blahniks, metaphorically speaking.

Forgotten also are all the circumcised men in the States that dropped dead before ARV's came on the scene. A foreskin more or less didn't help them. Or don't faggots count when you're counting heads?

Women aren't factored in at all except as a vector of disease. While millions of dollars are already pouring into circumcision programs even if only men have foreskins to whack off, women are struggling for equivalent funds for female condoms and microbicides, forget programs with as vague a goal as girl power, the real key to HIV prevention.

It's young women getting AIDS these days. UNAIDS says we already make up sixty percent of the fifteen to twenty-four year olds living with HIV/AIDS.

In sub-Saharan Africa girls of that age are three times more likely to be positive than their male peers. In the Caribbean it's 2.5 times. Why? Because in most places we still don't own our own bodies. Men think we're dirt and they treat us that way.

At a recent conference of HIV+ women in Kenya, activists talked about how more and men are raping virgins because they're assured of a "clean" screw.

It's a kind of rape, too, those men who know they're positive, or do plenty of high risk messing around, and still refuse to wear protection with their wives. Insist, and a woman may face violence from her husband and community, too.

Some activists told stories about how women are used as "testing kits" for their husbands, sent to clinics and when they come back positive, tossed out of the house with their kids. Often they are beaten first, sometimes raped. The men then find new "clean" wives that will get infected soon enough, but at least last long enough to take care of their bastard husbands.

The women in one seminar began by introducing themselves as widowed or separated with one kid or two or three, each proclaiming in no uncertain terms, they weren't in the market for another man. Maybe when pigs fly or hell freezes over.

If circumcision means anything to these positive women, it's just more of the same or worse. They're worried men may respond to the increased protection by throwing away their condoms and screwing everything that moves, hastening the spread of HIV. And having been promised near immunity, who will men blame when they catch it? Who risks violence and death? Ladies first, and girls.

Beyond the problem of HIV is the greater one of misogyny with a deep thread of lesbophobia. Women fighting AIDS are women fighting, stepping out of their place. In South Africa that can mean a death sentence.

Just last week, Sizakele Sigasa, an outreach coordinator at Positive Women's Network and queer activist, and Salome, a dyke friend of hers, were tortured and murdered. Sizakele when she was found, had her hands tied together by her underpants and her ankles tied together by her shoelaces. She had three bullet holes in her head and three in her collarbone.

In June, Simangele Nhlapho, a member of an HIV postive support group run by the same Positive Women's Network, was found dead with her two year old daughter. Both were raped before they were killed. The daughter also had her legs broken.

It's time for AIDS activists and researchers to shift their attention away from the penis and see the connection between hate and HIV and dead women. Only power will save us, not cuts, not even condoms unless we can make men wear them.

And if somebody still insists on tinkering around with men's dicks to stop spreading HIV, maybe they should do a more comprehensive procedure, call it the Bobbitt and cut the whole thing off.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Selling Obama

By Kelly Cogswell

794 words

So Obama's really getting it done, in fundraising anyway, picking up four dollars here, four thousand there. He's fudging a bit, by counting sales of key chains, but why not? All those little contributions add up, not so much in money, but in sheer numbers. Count enough hat buyers, he can go to big donors saying, look at my grassroots support.

It would be nice if it were real, especially in modest black neighborhoods. It's not easy to mobilize people, get them to open their wallets--or their mouths. Women won Roe v. Wade and fell asleep. The biggest queer movement now is about gay marriage, and if we ever get that, watch the big snooze begin until the next Matthew Shepard.

Mobilizing anybody in the U.S. usually takes an enormous injustice, if not outright blood. It's nice to see Obama people rallying for something positive, having the first serious black candidate, maybe even the first black president of the United States of America.

It's a knife's edge he's walking on, though, portraying himself primarily as an American, and a black person second. He can't be too black or he'll scare off whites, as for people of color, plenty are buying those key chains to collect mostly because of the face printed on them.

Obama's lucky he has a nice one. The guy's handsome, no doubt about it. And his face reflects the youthful, outsider's energy he brings to his electoral campaign, though every now and again, you catch a glimpse of pure ambition behind the sincere smile and remember he's a politician. Listen closely, you can hear him change the cadence of his voice from venue to venue, all Ivy League on Charlie Rose, in front of a black crowd, nothing but preacherman.

I minded for a while, being Southernish myself, how people like him use our drawling intonations to show how down home they are, just folks. Remember Bush with his big grey cowboy hat?

It's just image, right? The foundation of politics. Hell, what are the stained-glass windows and stone carvings of all those European cathedrals but a kind of election poster for Christ?

But images without words aren't enough. Politics requires the human body, politicians making stump speeches to cheering or braying crowds. As soon as they could, men in top hats rode trains from one town to another in "whistle-stop campaigns."

At the same time, words are nothing without the face. This morning I'm thinking of Sojourner Truth. Probably some of her audiences had seen black people only as slaves up on auction blocks, animals really, baring their teeth so buyers could examine them like cattle for signs of ill health.

I imagine her, yet another black face, as she climbs up on a box, and instead of standing there silently, opens her mouth and demands equality. That image itself must have been a shock, even for progressive whites who had read abolitionist stuff.

Her declaration was even more revolutionary. "Ain't I a woman?" Those words plus her face were cultural dynamite. Not only was she a human with powers of speech, but a woman, a member of the fair sex, too.

Patrick Lozés of CRAN [Conseil Représentatif des Associations Noires] likes to joke that there weren't any black people in France until a couple of years ago -- that was the first time activists used the word noir, black.

National unity and a kind of universalism is hugely important here, and groups used to shy away from any phrase that separated themselves out into communities. They contorted themselves with names like "people of African origin and other places not white, working to promote friendship, harmony, and diversity in a glorious France." I exaggerate, a little.

It took me a while to get exactly what he meant. I understood the "invisible man" of society and politics, but to say there were no blacks, hmmm. After all, queers have to come out, but as a general rule we wear our race, our skin outside, like pink triangles or yellow stars.

His point was, we can't see a thing until we name it. And I remembered how until I owned the word dyke for myself, whole hordes of lesbians passed by unnoticed. In college, I defended the besmirched reputations of girls on the field hockey team.

Once I owned the word, I could see. Not only them, but a little network of threads in the air connecting each to each.

With any luck, by accepting a word like black, understanding words like poor, Obama can see their real potential, and win or lose, accept the responsibility so many have given him. They're much more than little donor fish he can dangle as bait for the big.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Darwin, Robespierre, and the Guillotine

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

On Saturday, Marina and I visited the Jardin des Plantes, settling in a sunny spot near the Natural History Museum where they unashamedly profess the gospel according to Darwin.

If reproduction is the key to the evolution of our species, we saw French society changing in front of our park bench. The gardens were crawling with breeders and their babies. Toddlers made their breaks for freedom down gravel paths. Babies squirmed in those belly pouches of eager fathers.

I'd forgotten heterosexuals didn't just have a different sexual orientation, but a whole host of squealing side effects. We had to wait two hours to see two other dykes, blissfully childless. As to fags, forget it.

In all that time, the only real sign of evolution was a white grandmother waiting for her brown grandkid to catch up. She stood there smiling as he reached in his trouser pockets for a tiny hanky, pretended to blow his nose then put the hanky back again. As kids will, he did it over and over and over until she in turn pretended to leave and he screamed and ran after.

It's not strange to see mixed race couples in Paris, or their offspring with white grandmothers. What with all the miscegenation, you'd almost get the idea the French have moved beyond racism.

In fact, Friday, the gay Paris mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, hitched a desperate and light-skinned Hispanic housewife to a black basketball star at City Hall, congratulating him on his work against racism. On Saturday, their nuptials continued in a cathedral near the Louvre Palace where kings used to marry their queens. That's progress, I guess.

So what if the mayor still doesn't have the right to get married himself, and the Latina housewife, Eva Longoria, represents the bigoted French cosmetics conglomerate, L'Oréal?

As she and Tony Parker were saying their "I do's," at the Hotel de Ville, L'Oréal's Garnier division was getting slammed for racial discrimination during a promotional campaign in 2000 when a company fax made it clear, if you weren't white, or "BBR," (bleu, blanc, rouge -- the colors of the French flag) they didn't want you handing out shampoo samples in France.

They may have hired Vanessa Williams, Beyoncé Knowles, and Longoria in the States, but especially in the global South, L'Oréal's "white is wonderful campaign" is still in full swing.

The TV in India is full of ads for Garnier Light, promising "fairer skin in just four weeks." In Korea, the L'Oreal brand, Vichy, touts BI-White. That print ad shows a dark-skinned face literally being unzipped to reveal fairer skin just under the surface. Black, I guess, is abominable.

As bigots, they're not alone in France. White grandparents may adore their little brown grandchildren, but they wouldn't give them a job.

Something like seventy-five percent of employers would prefer to hire whites. In fact, they not only prefer, they do. If you have the wrong name, the wrong address, they won't even read your resume. Which is why kids from the mostly black and "beur" suburbs go on sprees torching cars.

Call it a smoke signal. It's time for change, and breeding won't do it among humans. We can hold a pencil with our opposable thumbs, but in our brains we're still prehistoric beasts seeing everything as Us against Them.

Human evolution, now, is a question of society and law and politics.

Oddly, it's the right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy who seems prepped for change in France. Socialists talk about equality and social justice nonstop, but it's him that's done a Bush and stacked his cabinet with people of color.

Rachida Dati is Minister of Justice, making her the first woman of North African origin to hold a ministerial post. She's preparing to set up special departments in prosecutors' offices to handle cases of racial discrimination in hiring.

Later this month, another Sarko appointee of color, Secretary of State for Urban Policies, Fadela Amara, will visit an army recruiting office with the Minister of Defense in an attempt to address racism in the army.

The problem came to the forefront this week as France prepares to celebrate Bastille Day with a big military parade. Black activist, Patrick Lozés, published an open letter asking why you could see plenty of enlisted men of color, but almost no officers, none at all at the top. That may change under Sarkozy.

Not because he's a great guy. Critics say his appointments are just a PR ploy, stealing the thunder from the Socialists. After all, he continues to deport immigrants by the thousands.

I'm not sure his intentions matter. In the age of L'Oréal, dark faces at the top are by themselves a revolution in France.

As we bring out the bottles of blood red wine, the establishment "elephants" would do well to consider the lesson of the guillotine -- evolve or die.

Monday, July 02, 2007


By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Last week, the Supreme Court gutted Brown v. the Board of Education, and so what? Maybe that'll get us lazy progressives off our fat self-satisfied couches and we'll come up with something better than these quota-based programs.

Busing, like affirmative action, was A-Okay for a decade or so, but lately seems more like opium for the masses than anything resembling salvation.

One of the cases that broke Brown's back came from my own hometown of Louisville. I was eleven when desegregation kicked in there. We lived a couple blocks away from a high school on an all white street, and most of the neighbors, my mother included, howled a lot about "the blacks" and their "special treatment" and declared the world about to end.

Well, the sky didn't fall for white people, no matter what my Mom says. But neither did African Americans get the moon.

Pipes got busted over heads, and students fought with knives and chains and fists. There was blood in the hallways along with tear gas and prone bodies in a kind of convulsion of mutual hate, then it was over.

A rainbow of kids used the same bathrooms, carved their initials into the same desks. When one of my big sisters got into fights at the high school, it was with other white girls, and the problem was over some greasy haired boy, not what color somebody was.

I guess that made busing a success -- if you threw out the "monkey" and "honkey" insults you'd hear sometimes, and ignored how there were only one or two black kids in the college prep programs, and how everybody shared the hallways, but white kids walked with white and black with black.

Interracial couples caught crap from both sides, though that may be different now, three decades years later, what with all the interskinned kisses in the movies.

Yep, everything's sweetness and light, thanks to a few kids stuck on a few buses leveling things out. We've got to protect that at all cost. As dissenting Justice Stephen G. Breyer warned, "This is a decision that the court and the nation will come to regret."

Maybe, maybe not. I personally think it might do us good to have to try something else.

Altogether we've been lulled into complacency by a congenial multiculturalism made up of good wishes and right thinking and not much else. You want a real benchmark of successful education, count up all the minority students in Ivy League colleges, better yet, try senators in Congress. You don't even need a whole hand.

It makes me sick how in the new millennium we practically wet ourselves thinking of the first black president, the first female. Obama and Hillary should have happened ages ago. Why are we still clinging to the ridiculous, primitive tools we had in 1975 that have only carried us this far?

We've dumped the computers and phones and TV's we used back then. Why not take this chance to trade in school busing and affirmative action for a new and improved anything?

Part of the problem was a failure of vision. We got rulings like Brown, but didn't understand just how important it was to keep pushing society to support successful women and people of color. Since the beginning of raced-based programs, the beneficiaries have been plagued by whispers. "They're tokens. They got special treatment. If they hadn't been black..." The laws changed, and I did, too, but not people like my mother.

Then there's the question of means. The ringleader of last week's decision, Chief Justice Roberts said, "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

Can you really argue with that? It's a simple idea, simply stated. If discrimination is wrong, it's wrong. In fact I'd like to plug sexual identity into Robert's clever phrase. We'd be home free with gay marriage. I'm not holding my breath, though, if it comes up on the docket.

Affirmative action, called positive discrimination in France, should raise questions when used as a lifetime crutch. You can't dismantle the master's house with the master's tools.

It might have been different if we thought of quotas in temporary terms. We'll use busing, affirmative action, just for twenty years, long enough to level the playing field, get one generation of kids educated, accustom businessmen to seeing other kinds of people in positions of power, then it's over.

We squandered our chance, assuming our victory was written in stone, like Roe v. Wade, and there was no urgency to press forward to consolidate these legal gains in the face of society.

I don't know where that leaves us. Some districts are trying to get around the ruling by integrating schools according to income rather than race. I don't see a future in it.