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.

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