Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Gonzo's Gone, Who's Next?

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

So Alberto Gonzales finally stepped down as U.S. Attorney General, declaring himself smarmily thankful for his "remarkable journey" and popping the champagne cork of the pity party by evoking his immigrant roots.

"I have lived the American dream," he said. "Even my worst days as attorney general were better than my father's best days."

I bet not. Alberto's been in the hot seat for Bush & Co. wire-tapping schemes, and for firing uncooperative U.S. attorneys. For an all too brief moment years and years ago he was wanly criticized for calling the Geneva Conventions, "quaint" in a post-9/11 world.

It was at his urging, the Department of Justice drafted a memo redefining the word "torture" to allow interrogators to do almost everything short of killing.

He defended Bush's secret prisons, stymied voting rights cases, reports of racial profiling, and according to the New York Times, undercut the federal case against Big Tobacco.

What heights for the son of an immigrant. He's even come a long way since he was Bush's Secretary of State in Texas where he and W. combined to kill more prisoners there than ever--fifty-six. What's a couple of humans more or less? What's a life if it's not yours?

His father must be rolling in his grave at a son who considers that a day spent rolling in the sewers of consecutive Bush administrations is better than any of his father's best. As if poor people can't have good days, too, moments of transcendence. A ragpicker is better than Gonzales. The prisoners he shat on sleep better than him.

The only funny thing about his resignation is that Gonzales tried to resign on the phone, but Bush wouldn't let him. He had to go all the way to Crawford, Texas, hat in hand, and do it over lunch. I'm not sure if it was a sign of Bush's misplaced loyalty, a desire to look his old pal in the eye and make sure things between them were square, or if it was just to make up the numbers at the Sunday family barbecue.

Bush's Texas entourage has been dwindling lately what with Rummy long gone, and Ken Rove, was it? The French President Nicolas Sarkozy came running for hamburgers an hour late, but his wife Cecilia backed out with a cold, a terrible, terrible cold that lasted about as long as the picnic.

Mrs. Gonzales, though, was polite enough to come for the last meal. I wonder what was on the menu. Hotdogs? Crow? Did Alberto get a request like prisoners spending their last night on death row? Maybe a nice rice pudding with extra cinnamon? That's calming, if nothing else.

At the press conference, Gonzales didn't give any reasons for resigning, and after making a brief statement literally fled the room before anybody could ask questions, or slap on cuffs.

"Better late than never," said Senator John Edwards when he heard about the resignation.

You could say that about the Democrats, too. They were impotent and fearful under a Republican majority, and barely show signs of life even now, when the tables are turned. What about all of them that gave the White House a free pass recently on a new spying bill? Are they gonna step down, too?

I wish all these people would get what they deserve like in those old Victorian novels where the bad old rich people would lose all their money and have to go begging to their former (now incredibly wealthy) victims for help.

What about the kind of justice you sometimes get in New York housing court where a judge will on occasion condemn landlords to live in their own crumbling rat- and roach-infested buildings until they do the repairs? There's a secret cell in a secret prison labeled Fredo, another for Bush.

Impeachment's not good enough. What is that really, but a chance for some other president to give a pardon? Congress will never throw anybody in the clink. I bet they don't even start proceedings against Bush. For that you need to get a blow job in the Oral Office.

With Bush, it's the American people that got screwed, and Iraqis, and Afghanis, and all the women globally who suffered when he banned health funds to programs offering family planning. Then there are the people living on islands and coasts as the sea levels rise... queers...

Our own Senator Schumer, who has been calling for Mr. Gonzales' departure weighed in with his own two cents, or being a politician, a good half dollar. "It has been a long and difficult struggle, but at last the attorney general has done the right thing and stepped down. For the previous six months, the Justice Department has been virtually nonfunctional, and desperately needs new leadership."

Don't we all?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Queer in the Age of Torture

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

For the last couple of weeks, French newsstands have been displaying this beefcake in a red speedo. He's got his hands behind his head and arches just a little to emphasize his bare naked chest. It's the cover of the struggling gay rag Tetu, but I'm not tempted to buy it.

The white, unmarked flesh seems so vulnerable plastered there in the plexiglass booth. I can't help but wonder what they'd do to it in Guantanamo or one of those secret prisons in Egypt where they practice torture, often on queers.

Sometimes I imagine the perfect pecs shot through with arrows like St. Sebastian. Other times, I see the body with a heap of others, blinded with hoods, piled naked on a cold concrete floor with Private Lindy England smiling over them right at the camera.

Then I think of Matthew Shepard beaten and left to die tied to a fence in Wyoming, and David Wojnarowicz whose flesh was mortified more slowly by AIDS because there were no ARVs yet, and who cared about another dead fag? "If you want to stop AIDS shoot the queers," said one Texas governor.

We think we're safe now. In America, this week alone, we have all the Democratic candidates crowding the civil union bandwagon or leaping on the gay marriage horse, promising to dismantle the Defense of Marriage Act, and the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy for homo soldiers.

Lutherans have even cracked open the gates to heaven. The denomination still bars us from being openly queer in the ministry, but now recommends to its bishops that they pray a lot before dumping us like hot fag potatoes if we somehow come out. In 2009 they hope to come to some kind of consensus about "human sexuality" and until then, caution is the better part of velour, and don't throw bricks at glass menageries.

There's one current moving forward, and one underneath tugging back. Either could drown us.

Think about it. What the Lutheran decision really means is that homophobic pastors are asked to stay their hands while in the backrooms of churches a bunch of others discuss us like plants or animals, considering whether we have souls, if we can serve God, be blessed in a union. If anybody wants to know how many of us can dance on the head of a pin, tell them about 982 fit, but only if we do the rumba.

Can progress root itself in this kind of shame? If it does, will it last? They hate us so much. And our meager gains aren't written in stone. Look at Roe v. Wade. After a couple of years under Bush, the decision that gave women control over basic little things like bearing children has eroded like the Jersey shoreline.

The gains of women and queers have almost always been linked. Maybe the losses will be, too. Maybe they are already, all those anti-gay marriage amendments thriving in individual States.

No matter how many times we've tried to sanitize our image, replacing drag queens and leather bears and dykes on bikes with two guys or two girls in tuxedoes, kissing chastely in front of a judge, declaring gay rights to be all about love and families, sir, please give us gay marriage, the hets still see boys in speedos rolling around on their sanctuary floors.

That's dangerous for us in the age of torture, when sex is a tool for humiliation and bodies alone are almost as superfluous as the limbs of our soldiers in Iraq. We've become hardened to words like waterboarding, stress positions, isolation. We saw corpses floating in New Orleans, lying bloated in muddy gutters, but we went on.

Justice with her blind eyes and sword isn't enough. You can't ask her for compassion, just dollars on the barrelhead when victims sue. Me, I prefer slatternly Liberty with her tits spilling from her dress leading a ragtag band to freedom. Perhaps soon in America there will be an epic battle like Godzilla and Mothra, but with Justice and Liberty duking it out.

It would be better if they worked together, but I don't see it happening. I don't see much of anything lately but unguarded flesh and a bruising world, an America that's turned her eyes away from what her hands do.

If words don't work, I'm not sure demos do either. There's something to the Buddhists priests that set themselves alight in protest. It's a last resort though. For when things get dire enough. The problem is yesterday was already bad. When will we know it's too much?

And will we even dare act? Queers think fondly of Stonewall, but most of us, if handed a bottle and pointed towards the plate glass window, would never have the guts to rare back and throw.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Cry Fowl on Torture

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

It's a crime against nature, but I did it anyway, saved some pigeon from a prolonged and horrible death after the stupid thing slammed into our sliding glass balcony doors, and got stuck on the terrace.

That's what I think happened, anyway. I only came after the first thud, saw the pigeon and the pigeon-shaped smear on the door and made my assumptions.

I considered leaving it there. A month ago, its cousin caught me in the head with such a splashing shower of crap it took a roll of paper towels, a bath, and a Laundromat to get it all off. Now I had one on my balcony, and could have turned the tables, maybe shat on it for a change.

Despite my hard-boiled self I was moved. Every time it worked up the energy to fly off into space, it smashed against the dirty Plexiglass designed to keep toddlers from falling into the noxious schoolyard below. Three or four times it tried, each with a sickening thud that caught me in the gut.

There was something familiar about it. A bird in the hand, then the Bush, our great U.S. President getting ready to bomb Iran after his resounding failures in Iraq, not to mention that jolly vacation destination Afghanistan.

Opium growing is up again, and the Taliban retaking villages where they can, and elsewhere exploding suicide bombs. In Iraq, soldiers and civilians alike are still dropping like crows with West Nile. Women are back under wraps that Saddam at least didn't insist on. Queers get a couple of bullets in their heads for wearing ponytails.

Now Cheney's pushing for fun and games in Iran, and why not throw ourselves against that brick wall with U.S. commanders blaming Tehran for everything from the suicide bombers to the roadside bombs in Iraq? It's all a terrible plot, though for once Condi is up in arms against it, pushing for dialogue and diplomacy instead of the heavy artillery.

The smart money's on Cheney. He always gets his way. I imagine he will now, too. After a few harsh words from Dick and a prayer meeting Bush will claim the idea as his own and fly with it no matter if his father intervenes, or that little French pipsqueak Sarkozy who was invited for a picnic this weekend, but however much he loves the U.S. can never get behind this war unless he wants Paris to burn.

How many times can you set off with such optimism, slam into a solid object dragging a nation behind, without a little self-reflection?

If you're like the pigeon, endlessly. With each false start, each collision I'm astounded Bush hasn't put it together with the bruises on the U.S. economy, our heritage ripped to shreds with that black op torture.

You must have read the New Yorker piece about what the U.S. is doing in secret prisons for our "War on Terror," turning sinners into saints by mortifying their flesh, destroying their minds. Destroying ours.

Even the interrogators have nightmares. "When you cross over that line of darkness, it's hard to come back. You lose your soul. You can do your best to justify it, but it's well outside the norm. You can't go to that dark a place without it changing you."

As for me, I turned away from my small chance for revenge, the pleasure of a helpless foe, the power.

Pigeon feathers were starting to accumulate in the corners, and there was poop on the tile. Each thumping crunch pointed to a new concussion, and the withering chance the creature would get itself off without an injury. There's nothing I can do for my country, but this pigeon anyway, had a lesbian rescuer.

I did hesitate. I'm afraid of birds, and I was on my way out to sign a contract for an apartment. I wanted to leave it there, hoping against hope the creature would think to fly up first, up, goshdangit, up, and then out, before I got back, but every time I watched the stupid thing just tried to go directly out.

Imagining a return to broken wings and filth, I pulled on a raincoat and gloves, everything but goggles which I would have worn if I'd had some after watching Hitchcock's birds, and went out on the balcony, muttering lies I would have said to a horse, like "Calm down darling, everything's fine, just fine."

I pushed a broom towards it, slipped it under the scared flapping wings, lifted it up, complete with bird, and watched the fat dirty thing fly away at an astounding speed considering the bird brain damage.

I got no backwards glance, or coo of thanks, nothing but a little stray fuzz and the greasy pigeon-shaped smear of Turin marking pity on my door.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Terrorism: The Inside Job

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Acts of revolt aren't what they used to be. Either you blow a couple of thousand to kingdom come, or wear a Che Guevara tee-shirt and call it a revolution.

Sunday, a gaggle of fags on bikes almost ran me down on the sidewalk, and when I shouted, "Try using the road," one screamed back, "It's an act of transgression, you bourgeois pig." Apparently in Paris, if you take down a dyke pedestrian, the status quo crumbles at your feet.

In Rome, all it takes is a kiss, not Judas this time, but two guys going at it in front of the Coliseum. After getting arrested by an army of carabinieri, they turned into heroes, mobilizing thousands for a kiss-in, and winning for their tribe a gay street shut off from traffic for a few days a week.

Then there's Charles Merrill, the queer Palm Springs artist who hacked up the bible with a black marker and scissors, and a couple of weeks ago burnt up an old and expensive Koran his late wife left him.

I kind of liked that, taking on God, pissing off the extremists to make a point about homophobia and religion. Say what you like about modern interpretations and love being the true essence of Islam and Christianity, it's there in black and white for fundamentalists. God wants us dead.

The only problem is one gesture won't win that fight. You have to bolster the seawall between Church and State, and there's nothing sexy enough about that to attract a flamboyant artist, much less street activists.

I shouldn't judge. Lately I've been cowering in corners. Call it a side effect of being a foreigner in a country where the latest pastime is immigrant tossing, preferably African or Asian, but not exclusively. I've hung back at demonstrations, and not stuck around to bear witness when I've seen cops setting up checkpoints.

Last month, I thought about buzzing off all my hair, but only got a short little cut that makes me look positively cute and harmless, ears sticking out and everything.

Caution never pays. When I wanted to make a quick trip into England this week, I still got delayed at the ferry by a lengthy interrogation at passport control while the line behind me piled up with some suspicious looking backpackers that stank, if you ask me, of terrorism and drug smuggling.

I don't know exactly what marked me, my dykeness, the short spiky hair, or what. A haircut can be style in one place, a declaration of war in another. Once in the East Village, I did a Sinead O'Connor, shaved my head, and felt a brief moment of liberation.

A couple days later on the train to Bensonhurst, I found myself surrounded by a bunch of young black men arguing about whether I was a racist skinhead or if it was "Just a 'do, man. Just a 'do." It was September of '89. I was fresh off the bus from Kentucky and had never heard the name Yusuf Hawkins.

At the ferry, probably my simple existence was enough for suspicion, an act of challenge and revolt. We queers have to remind ourselves of that.

We've won hate crime laws, the occasional marriage and civil union victories, but it would be a big mistake to imagine we've changed what seems to be an almost biological revulsion towards difference.

By its nature, our homo orientation will always put us on the cultural shit list. We're turned in the wrong direction, headed away from the pack, sticking out, the sore thumbs, a threat to society.

I got a first class ticket by mistake and got to sit for a while in the lounge in a fancy leather club chair surrounded by thin, chinoed and button-downed English chaps who ordered scrambled eggs and smoked salmon with toast in polite plummy drawls.

A couple hundred yards away in the self-service café people loaded their plates with beans and toast and fried bread and eggs and these enormous sausages. All the men were blokes, and mates and the children were skinny and pasty white and the women scrawny or enormous bloated things.

I got stared at in both places, and in the first class lounge asked for my ticket and called "sir" all morning long by the waiter who was forced to serve me a free latte despite himself.

I'm an amnesiac to forget it, how humans shudder at difference, and how sometimes, difference shudders back, like Charles Merrill cutting the bible, burning the Koran like a flag.

Rarely, though, do real outsiders throw bombs. That takes something else, the fury of men who expected to belong, a will to power that mirrors the boys on top. In other words, it's an inside job.