Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bad Language

By Kelly Cogswell

802 words

There should be limits on the limits we put on speech. So Isaiah Washington called Grey's Anatomy co-star T.R. Knight a faggot. Big deal. We've all heard the word before.

It's easy enough to distinguish from the tone whether "faggot" is a brain fart from an asshole, or an alarm bell, the last word you're gonna hear.

And Washington wasn't about to pull out a baseball bat and whale away at T.R. He just had an attack of the stupids, flapping his bigoted mouth in front of reporters and video cameras. He's like a turkey that goes outside in the rain, looks up at the gleam of the sky and drowns to death.

There are plenty of more dangerous homophobes around, they just speak softly, avoiding the necessity for Washington's endless flood of apologies for "inappropriate" and "offensive" language.

I'm not saying he should get a free pass, but what about proportion?

In a world where queers can still be ruled outlaws and sent to jail (Nigeria), banned from marriage and civic life (U.S.), not to mention hanged by the neck until dead (Iran), doesn't it seem wrong that a simple "faggot" said by a grinning idiot gets so much air time by comparison?

And what about free speech? Controlling it is a delicate matter. Sure, public gaffes are an opportunity to educate about the likes of homophobia and racism, but in the long term, focusing on language may impose not change, but silence.

Even worse, our war on bad language implies we have the right, the obligation even, to censor speech, sheathing the primary weapon we American queers have in our fight for civil rights and social change.

Better that we stick to the old ACT UP motto. Silence = Death. It's like the little black dress of democracy. Sometimes you wear it with pearls, sometimes with combat boots. And it can't apply just to us.

I've thought about it a lot in regards to Cuba. Since the revolution and its extremely long demise, Cuba's been a place where dissent mostly takes the form of shrugs or whispers. I was there four years ago for almost a month and nobody ever finished a sentence.

I was surprised a couple of weeks ago when I heard some intellectuals had actually criticized the government media. They had to.

It's the beginning of post-Castro jockeying for power and the Stalinist ghost of bad times past, Luis Pavón Tamayo, had been pulled out of obscurity for a TV special.

Suffice it to say that in the Seventies the gentleman headed up the National Council of Culture whose rumored motto was the punning: "If you don't listen to Council, old age won't be a problem."

At his direction, hundreds of artists and writers were sent to concentration camps, exile, or professional Siberia and "inxile," joining Jehovah's Witnesses, garden variety homos, and black power types like scholar Walterio Carbonell.

It's worth noting that words like "inappropriate" and "offensive" were then on the other linguistic foot, directed at us unrepentant queers for muddying up the purity of the revolution by our very existence.

If you're reading the Cuban tea leaves, Pavon's recent resurrection was clearly a sign that the far left (far right) wing of the Communist Party is winning at least some battles for control, which is not good for us.

Which is why the Cuban intelligentsia spoke up for once. Many suffered first-hand in the purges. In emails and letters they condemned not only the resurrection of Pavón, but the silence of intellectuals in Cuba during the Seventies.

Desiderio Navarro, literary critic and editor of journal Criterios, reminded them what the bad old days were like.

"... the heterosexuals (including the non-homophobes) ignored the fate of gays; the whites (including non-racists) ignored the fate of militant blacks; the traditionalists ignored the fate of the vanguard; the atheists (including the tolerant) of Catholics and other believers; the pro-Soviets of the anti-Social Realists and Marxists whose beliefs weren't in accord with the most recent line from Moscow; and so on.

We have to ask if this lack of individual moral responsibility can be repeated today among Cuba's intelligentsia."

Sure it can. Silence is easy, if not safer, than speech. And as Cuban revolutionaries found in their first years in power, censorship is a great temptation after being embattled for ages.

We activists have to consider that flipside in our war on "inappropriate" and "offensive" language.

Maybe a couple of decades of taking offense at offense has played a role in swamping American politics with propriety, civility, "non-partisanship" and silence that helped get us Bush as a President in 2000, and Iraq as our war a few years later.

As Audre Lorde wrote, "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house."

ACT UP, Fight Back.

Visit Kelly Sans Culotte at http://kellyatlarge.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What's Really Killing Dykes

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

801 words

If health providers want to be useful to the dyke community, they'll dump their tits and twat health care model, and focus on what really kills us. Like coronaries. And smoking.

It's not news that heart attacks put females in the grave way more often than breast cancer, but I hadn't thought much about cervical cancer until last week when the New York Times reported that the end of the pap test was near, or almost.

A vaccine has been out for a while against the strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) which are the main causes of cervical cancer. Now, there's a genetic test for HPV which may supercede the pap test as the main screening tool.

No more, "Undress and put this little napkin on." No more climbing on a table, sliding down in the stirrups and spreading our knees in a vulnerable position until the inquisitor jams a speculum up in there and scrapes a bunch of cells from our living flesh.

I almost hired out a brass band and set up fireworks to celebrate.

I know it's 2007, and we're supposed to pretend we're all liberated and bendy, and okay with strangers having their hands up our twats, but I'd rather let Torquemada loose on my toenails.

So do I dare hope? Is it really and truly the end of pap tests for me?

I'm too old for the vaccines. I'd seen the ads on TV urging young women to get vaccinated against HPV. "Be one less," victim of cervical cancer which also informs us that the vaccine only works on teens and twenty-somethings.

But, with the Times article, it finally sank in that the main cause of cervical cancer, HPV, is a sexually transmitted disease. Which means that even with an enormous incubation period, HPV and cervical cancer has nothing to do with me.

I'm a monogamous dyke and neither me nor my girlfriend has messed around with anybody else in a million years. Unless you can get it from toilet seats or sneezing, I'm pretty much in the clear.

So why am I still lining up for pap tests every year or two? False advertising, that's why.

By drilling into my brain the importance of yearly breast exams and pap tests, the implication is they are equal risks. And they're not. And not just for me.

Check out the women's mortality charts listed on the Mayo Clinic website, and you'll find cervical cancer isn't even mentioned.

Heart attacks kill 489,000 women in the U.S. each year. Cancers are all lumped together at the deadly number two spot with lung cancer alone knocking off 73,000 women.

Breast cancer gets a mere 40,000. It's colorectal third at 28,000, and cervical isn't even on the list. You'll die of kidney cancer first, and who ever checks for that?

Strokes are the number three killer of women.

All of which makes me want to ask why most of my health check-ups still focus on breast exams and pap smears, when I'm twelve times more likely to drop dead clutching my chest or hacking my lungs up?

Besides, dykes smoke like chimneys compared to hets, so probably the general numbers of heart attacks, lung cancer, and strokes are even higher for us.

This backassward prioritizing comes from all sides. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services actually makes a pretty big effort with their site on lesbian health, acknowledging homophobia and stress, but their first "See also" link is "Pap Test," the second "Breast Self-Exam," the third "Mammogram."

They do list heart disease as one of the most important health issues for lesbians to discuss with their doctors, but under, "What can lesbian women do to protect their health?" getting a pap test is second only to finding a dyke-friendly doctor. Smoking is only eighth on the list.

It was worse at the website of the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York. Their Lesbian Health Services page was almost all breasts and cervix. There were programs to stop smoking buried in the site, but there was nothing about it in their outreach literature listed.

To be fair, the several times I've gone the health care provider usually asked questions about "general" health, like smoking and exercise before she handed over the paper gown and we got down to the real business of my tits and crotch.

All these years I've been missing the point. That somehow, women's health has been boiled down to the female aspects of our bodies. No lungs, or guts for dykes. No hearts. No little vessels waiting to explode in the head after a decade or two of cigarettes or homophobic stress.

You want to improve lesbian health? It's simple. Look for a way out. Quit reducing us to the time bombs of our sex.

Visit Kelly Sans Culotte at http://kellyatlarge.blogspot.com.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Love in the Age of Guantánamo

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

804 words

Don't tell Marina, but my first love's New York. I figured out I was a dyke here, found my feet in a city where so many people are foreign that everybody's at home.

There's a sense of joint ownership. Maybe because we're all pedestrians. "Whose streets? Our streets!" That's a chant of every march I've been in from queer St. Patrick's Day protests to demos against police brutality.

It's not always a combative thing. During one bad breakup, I paced up and down the East River promenade staring across at the Domino factory in Brooklyn consoling myself with the smell of mud and water and burnt sugar.

For celebrations, we walk to a Thai restaurant on Bayard Street, weave our way down the Bowery crowded with restaurant supply shops and light fixture stores and Chinese restaurants. Afterwards, we come back up Elizabeth where you can watch Chinatown melt into little Italy into yuppie central.

Saturday, I was out in Queens. Returning, I got on the el train at Bliss Street, squeezing in next to this cute Latina in a orange and yellow MTA vest. There were a couple of cheerful drunks in the seat across, a Chinese lady screaming into her cell, and a Hispanic couple with their kids scrunched up against the windows.

It was dusk. Practically a stone's throw away, Manhattan rose out of the fading light like an oasis. In the middle was the angular Empire State Building, and the flashing scales of the Chrysler like an exotic swordfish even Hemingway wouldn't try to put up on his wall.

Lights came on in a boogie woogie of yellow squares in a grey sea, prefiguring the bling, bling of brilliant light in a purple backdrop that you get later, all that striving and concrete and glass transformed into a kind of radiant beauty that even we exhausted New Yorkers could see.

If I could, I'd stretch out my arms, and write an ode to the city and people and nations seething here, from the busboys and stockbrokers and waitresses to the conductor driving the train, and the one with the mellifluous voice opening and shutting the cranky, grinding doors people battle to keep open.

New York is America amplified, flooded with opportunity and optimism, hunger becoming greed or activism, pride arrogance. Motion is pure speed, and democracy the comfortable egalitarian hustle of the subway and street. Here, the joyous American soup concentrates into its essential jus with just enough terror for spice.

I had a roommate once who was hit by a yellow cab and sailed fifteen feet through the air, getting only a few bruises. She dated a dyke bank robber, too, but that's another story.

My girlfriend Marina faced weapons a couple times, a crazy guy attacking her dyke theatre with a sawed-off shot gun (or was it a machete?), a mugger with a pistol in the street. Once, undercover cops tried to beat down her apartment door in a misguided drug raid. She thought it was junkies and called the police. They came.

And I could talk about poverty and hunger and AIDS and homelessness, too, or working three jobs, but when New York's too much, we can mostly take a bus or plane or boat and go somewhere easier. The city won't notice. That's part of the appeal.

And maybe what makes it so foreign to other Americans, the indifference that makes us alternately arrogant and humble, anonymous and intimate. We trade complicit curses when the train stops for a half an hour between stations, or flip each other off in traffic like old enemies.

Strangers come in, though, and we seem to pass in a blur of faces. They forget a crowd is one plus one plus one until it turns into a mob and all bets are off.

That's how most Americans see the world, as a great big blur, and if that was charming in better times, it's toxic now. It's not enough to oppose a troop surge in Iraq, on the fifth anniversary of Guantánamo.

They will remember, the men we stick in cages, and treat worse than the rabbits animal rights activists like to liberate. Their children, and siblings and parents will remember, too. The inmates of Abu Ghraib. The survivors in Iraq, and the people we left to starve in Afghanistan. Even the stones will rise up against us.

That's only the beginning. Last week, Bush tossed another match in the Middle East petrol heap by ordering a raid on Iranian offices in Kurd territory. All in our names.

I look out over New York and wait for lightning to strike twice. What good can come of this? My gorgeous, brutal city. When the U.S. screws up, we take it in the kisser. In the heartland, it's a slow death from rot.

Visit Kelly Sans Culotte at http://kellyatlarge.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

It's Ladies First with Dyke Campeador

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

802 words

Do you know what fear is, that thing that has your breath coming in shallow little pants and your heart pounding and sweat beading up on your forehead?

It hits me in dark alleys, or when I think of where my country's going. Sometimes, though, it's just mice.

Like the one I found a couple of days ago in the basement. It was a soft grey thing no bigger than a key lime and stuck to a glue trap. Still, I got a pole to nudge it into the garbage in case it made a break for it, ran up my arm and bit me.

I could've called for back-up, but I've got my dyke cred to consider. It's more, after all, than just a hairdo and camo pants, and 'tude. It's pride, the swagger in your step after somebody tosses a beer bottles out the car window and yells "fucking dyke." It's the need to conquer your fear and take on mice single-handedly.

I've done it before.

Just after 9/ll when I was still getting incinerated every night in my dreams, and Bush was color coding alerts, and bombing wedding parties in Afghanistan, Marina and I went for a vacation upstate.

We slept in a loft bed where there was the sound of mice running up and down outside in the eaves, and the scratching of claws a couple of inches from our heads as they tried to burrow their way in.

I stayed up half the night panting hard, waiting for a heart attack, or for them to break through and run across my face. Sometimes I thought I saw them. Maybe I did.

If nothing else, I quit dreaming of fire. When it comes to terror, a mouse in the hand trumps Osama in the bush.

And in the morning, I'd give myself a big pep talk, climb up on the ladder, and reach out my hand for the peanut butter-baited traps stuck to the beams and total up the dead.

Call me Dyke Campeador, after el Cid who engaged Moors on the field of battle instead of mice, only I didn't gloat afterwards in long epic verse, just emptied the traps and tried to block the whole thing out.

You face your fear. Big deal. A lot of times your fear just stares back and what have you got then? A heart attack for no good reason. Wet pants. It doesn't help much knowing the mouse is afraid of you. If the furry thing were bigger, you'd be in real trouble.

Fear and loathing rule the world. And half of it is irrational.

Like with the presidential campaign of Segolene Royal in France. Early on, the Internet chat rooms were so full of vitriol if you dipped a toe in the water you'd draw back a bone. They said it was her politics they hated, but from the sound it, what they hated was her. Like a mouse popping out of a dresser drawer.

You get the same with Hillary Clinton. She's no worse than other Democrats, but the hate with which her name is spoken can knock your socks off. The worst comes from women on the left. I guess they expect her to be something more than a politician, and when she cuts deals, and maneuvers, backpedals and politicks it turns their delicate stomachs.

You ask me, post-feminism came too early, like post-gay. Sure, we've made a lot of progress, but not everybody. The few who have build cocoons, declare the war over when we're nowhere near winning equality.

Frankly, I'd be thrilled to have Hillary as our first woman president. Or Sego in France. Chile's got one. And Germany, too. It still makes a difference, the simple fact of their sex.

Not that I'm entirely comfortable in the woman camp. If I was on a sinking ship, and the captain called for women and children first, I'd pause. I'd get into the life rafts, definitely, but I'd pause first, just a second.

Maybe you would too, comparing me in my pink Timberlands and spiky hair, with Nancy Pelosi surging in the House with Manolo Blahniks on her feet and an armful of grandkids. Or size two Condi Rice who sleeps twenty-five minutes a night, plays concerts for fun, and directs peace and wars.

What's an East Village dyke got to do with them?

To find out, you have to do the Freudian thing. Go back a few years to childhood. Not all the way back to the womb, but when we began to walk and talk, maybe start to grow boobs. Listen then to the soundtrack of our lives, the recurring phrases, "You can't..." and "Girls don't..."

That's what we have in common. They didn't listen. Me either. And we all have something to prove.

Visit Kelly Sans Culotte at http://kellyatlarge.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Day of the Dead -- in D.C.

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

802 words

I've had the flu this week, and things seem even more horrifying than usual what with the fever and the snot and the cold medicine, and a Saturday night full of death's heads.

Before the Giants and Redskins game and the Ugly Betty Marathon, I got an eyeful of Saddam with a noose around his neck, then him as a dead guy peeking from a sack.

Afterwards there was the motorcade of dead President Gerald Ford winding through D.C. before his flag-draped box was carried inside the Capitol Rotunda where the carrion crows pasted on their mournful faces, and jostled for camera angles.

Meanwhile there was footage of James Brown's gold coffin passing through the streets of New York, then his sequin-filled, musical send-off by mostly second rate musicians so nobody would upstage the king, the godfather, the hardest working man in showbiz.

What fodder for nightmares. Saddam's bruised strangled face followed by James' waxen, artificial one, all with Ford's star-spangled coffin in the background. All you needed was a raven crying, "Nevermore," or maybe, "Jump Back!"

That's horror, from beginning to end. Starting with the American idea that Saddam's execution might hold some elements of redemption. The Butcher of Baghdad is tried, convicted, sentenced, killed. Long live democracy.

Never mind that only pervs keep humans locked in a cage, and pull them out at their leisure and kill them. Or that a bad puppet government may prefer a little vindictive irony by hanging Saddam on the first day of the Muslim festival remembering Abraham's readiness to slaughter his own son for God. Let's do the bastard.

Ford's death alone wouldn't have moved me. I like his wife better. She spoke her mind, told the truth about her cancer, then addictions, when it must have hurt.

But after Saddam's hanging it was hideous to watch the former Prez's corpse slide across our TV sets in his flag-draped coffin, newscasters replaying tapes of him privately condemning the Iraq war as if there were something particularly presidential about sitting on your hands while you watch a crime.

Bush must be sorry to see him go, the president best known for Nixon's pardon. Bush is gonna need a boatload of his own, and not for spying on Democrats, but the trifles of starting illegal wars, signing off on torture, kidnapping, and just a little wiretapping.

He shouldn't worry. Somebody will give him a break. Politicians take care of their own. That's what I thought about, after seeing Ford. Keep your head down, pardon your friends, for that you get a parade and a flag-draped box. Can't have too many of those.

And we don't. They are a dime a dozen these days -- only without the parade. Without the cameras and motorcades and photographers.

There's a ban on them "shooting" dead American soldiers being shipped back from Iraq in their own flag-draped coffins. Neither do we see much footage of Iraqi corpses on the ground if they weren't old ones created by Saddam.

Of the three, only James Brown's gold coffin stayed out of my dreams. I didn't even mind his waxen face underneath, in death as in life. Maybe because there was less separation for him.

He understood the artifice of art, the man who never just came back for an encore, but pretended to let his assistants drape him with one more extravagant cloak and lead him away, then shook it off for one last number or two that had the crowd screaming with joy. See what I sacrifice? he seemed to say. See my love? And when he sang... Lord. Every note told the truth.

Not like in Washington, where this week, Nancy Pelosi and company will do that inaugural voodoo that politicians do so well, pretending, but with no self-consciousness at all, to exorcise the House and Senate of Republicans, while leaving an empty shell anything at all could colonize.

Expect the ghosts of 9/11, the Patriot Act, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and all the lesser evils of anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-environment, anti-poor, anti-elderly, anti-everything but money legislation.

The Democrats will say the right things for a while, make the right gestures, because you don't lose anything with a gesture, unless your handlers are so ham-handed they have you land on a destroyer in a jumpsuit with a big sign declaring victory as you set off a civil war.

I hear Bush even slept through Saddam's hanging, the thick rope being put around his neck, the taunts, the door dropping open. Nobody woke him to say it was done.

That's how we begin a new year, a new Congress, with a coffin in the Capitol Rotunda. And coffins in Iraq. And Afghanistan and Darfur, and elsewhere. It'll take a lot of flags to cover them all.

Visit Kelly Sans Culotte at http://kellyatlarge.blogspot.com.