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.

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