Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I Still Like Hillary

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

There's nothing more ridiculous in America than an aging woman. Unless you are one. This election season's underlined that. Instead of serious discussions about policy, you've got Obama making kitchen sink jokes, and New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd dismissing the battling Hillary as "a cornered raccoon."

I consider that a compliment on Hillary's behalf, and have "cornered raccoon" on my list as a quality I aspire to. I'm bold in a group. Alone I'm more of a mouse than a clawing Procyon. It's worse as I get older. I'm not as quick to respond when I'm insulted or when people stare. I sweat when I pitch articles. I worry about my weight, and my hair. If somebody would pay me, I'd give up journalism altogether and do a hair blog.

I'd start with stories about when I was four and my mother hacked my tangled pigtails off and gave me a bowl cut. After that, people kept calling me "son." What an embarrassment. Who wanted to be a boy? Apparently plenty, but not me. I had two sisters and a largely absent father, and didn't want to be banned from the girl club. As an adult, I walk that gender line like a national border, trying to straddle instead of crossing it, a dyke and perpetual alien in the country of women.

Approaching middle age, straight women seem increasingly foreign to dykes and vice versa, almost like different species, especially in the upper lower, lower middle class I'm from. Hets age exponentially after marriage and kids. Women begin wearing age appropriate clothing in pastel shades, or fighting against sags with high heels, stretch pants and layers of make up I wouldn't be caught dead in.

Dykes persist in their youth. We're good at it. What characterized my generation was a certain ferocity, and humor, too. Lesbian Avengers sometimes wore real capes. We left the Archdiocese and St. Pat's smelling of sulfur, plastering the place with labels, "Homophobia stinks." We ate fire in front of the White House.

How do we age after that? How do I inhabit this body that isn't prime for fleeing security guards? Of course, I can still kick whippersnapper ass. But it's not enough. And I recognize something in women like Hillary, whether or not they see something similar in me.

It comes down to living in female bodies, accumulating years. In all of us, tits emerged. Hips. The eyes of men focused on them and not our faces or brains. For some of us that was desirable, some not. Even some straight women cower all their lives in the shadow of their bodies. Others bloom early then fade. Some lucky few manage the trick like Hillary and sail boldly forth as matrons.

I have begun to admire confidence in women of middle age. No matter if they're in Chanel suits on podiums like Hillary, sporting plastic surgeries like Catherine Deneuve and still eclipsing all the others in the room, or like my aunts who displayed themselves in homemade denim pantsuits with flower sequin appliques.

Young men are not generous towards any of us. Straight girls are worse, despising spreading flesh and conventional taste. Perpetual sneers have left them tuned only to a man's reassuring voice.

Nobody should be surprised when plenty of these poor, broad-hipped women vote for Hillary. The press said in Pennsylvania they were casting a vote against Obama. The truth is, he barely exists for them. Like they barely exist for Obama except as the butt of jokes. How could they, shopping at WalMart and not Whole Foods? Eating iceberg lettuce when he's an arugula man? Having tits and spreading thighs and two crappy jobs and exploding debt no million dollar book deal is gonna wipe out?

He seems arrogant, young, and sheltered, no matter how many relatives he has in the developing world. Hillary, likewise, may not be the answer to the problems of older women, but at least she's learned not to sneer, not to dismiss cookie bakers any more.

Almost inadvertently, she's became my role model, and I wonder what will happen to that tiny bit of momentum Hillary's generated for women when -- if -- she loses? The feminist movement in the U.S. has been on life support for years. Will her little gains evaporate like our jobs and savings? Having lost, will we run and hide? Will we remember what it is to cling to the stage when the hook comes out? As it has again and again for Hillary?

Despite what the press says, a couple more months of a campaign won't destroy the Democratic Party, not when a decade or two of compromise, timidity, and self-satisfaction in the Boys Club already has. And the gains for women are huge. Here's to cornered raccoons!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Queer Collectibles: A Future in Bobbleheaded Popes?

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

If I had a dashboard, it'd certainly have a Bobbleheaded Pope on it by now. Lisa Farbstein, the media relations director of the D.C. Metro barely touched the tip of the pope iceberg when she bought one on eBay for seventeen bucks and caused a brief hoo-hah using it for an advertising special recommending the commemorative $9 Metro "mass pass," good all day April 17th, the day the Pope celebrated mass in Washington.

The spot got canceled almost immediately, but it's still all over the net, gleefully posted in news sites reporting how it got yanked from YouTube because the Archdiocese wasn't happy. They complained that the Pope was in red, more suitable for a lowly cardinal, and there was something said, too, about dignity, as if you can have any spending your United States tour talking about reclaiming the Church from choirboy fixated fathers, and purging faggots from Catholic seminaries to protect the faith. He defended families, too, just not queer ones. Oh no, not him. Not yet anyway.

This is the plan. To pick up a Bobblehead. In fact, pick up a couple, with or without the car. And install them on a little stick. When I feel like it I'll point my finger, lecture, and do some consciousness-raising. "Man on man action never hurt anybody. Women deserve a shot at the priesthood. Queer immigrants have families they'd like to preserve. Dogs have souls, too."

The Bobbleheaded Pope, being an agreeable sort, will nod and nod with only a little encouragement from his stick. Which I suspect is the real reason the Archdiocese pressured to have the ad yanked. Practiced on a large enough scale (I'm counting on you), this sympathetic magic might force the flesh-and-blood man to nod his snarling, bigoted head the next time we ask him to celebrate a gay marriage. Give love a chance.

It's not that far-fetched. Everybody knows that after a while dolls begin to take on lives of their own, like politicians that do okay when they've got scripts to go by, but when they begin to ad lib in the dark, oh boy, just see what trouble they get into. Especially when righteousness is supposed to be on their side, like Obama, and Eliot Spitzer.

A Bobbleheaded Pope, unleashed from his handlers, could go almost any direction from Chucky to Teddy, though after the brief taste of fame he had with Lisa Farbstein, there's every indication he'll go the way of Barbie after she got her first big break in Todd Haynes' "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story." No indy film for years was worth its salt without a long-haired plastic beauty, and for that matter: a colon. And after his stint with the D.C. M.T.A. I've heard whispers the plastic pontiff is reading scripts.

Inspired by his convincing performance in the Metro ad, Mr. Haynes himself has reportedly rushed a script into development -- a biopic of the salacious adventures of the Bobblefather's predecessor Pope Benedict IX, whom the Catholic encyclopedia denigrates as an insult to the "chair of Saint Peter."

That epic tale, taking Benedict IX from his ascension as a twelve year old pope and whore-mongering adulthood, to his miserable death as a penitent at Grottaferrata, is facing stiff competition from a possible film by David Mamet who's embraced the figure's astounding facility to mouth his sharp-headed, staccato dialogue and has already storyboarded a translation of Ben Hur to the wilds of Chicago. After his screen test, Mamet had nothing but praise for Bobbleheaded Benedict's portrayal of the title role. "A reincarnation of Chuck. I picked a winner. Fockin' A."

It will be something to see. Imagine, Benedict's little bobblehead bobbing to the top of freezing Lake Michigan with his rescued boss, rocking back and forth in excitement in the famous chariot scene recast on sharpened rollerblades, and dare I suggest it, Barbie, making a comeback as his unconsummated love interest, Esther? Her contract with Haynes has expired and she's hardly aged a day. The American Girls have been jamming their CV's into Mamet's face every chance they get vying to play the dame, but what suffering do their faces hold? What depth really, when Barbara was unforgettable as the anorexic dying diva?

In an ironic twist, the producers wanted to offer the inexperienced Bobblehead the role of Christ, but Mamet nixed the idea outright, "No bit parts for Benedict. Not with a range like his. After Ben Hur, why not Katie Hepburn in On Golden Pond? We've talked. He agrees. God, I love Benedict. He's open to everything. Full frontal nudity. Even kissing a dude. Plus, he works cheap."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Does the Internet Let Lying Liars Lie?

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I'm a big fan of "Lies (And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them)" just for the title alone. And if Al Franken were running for president instead of senator of Minnesota, I'd be right there handing out buttons and twisting every arm in reach. Mostly to bother national-level Democrats.

I can't believe that in an election year that should have gone down in history as "Truth (And the Truth-telling Democrats Who Let It Sweep Them Into the White House)" we're watching the two Democratic candidates sideline the catastrophic Republican presidency whose unilateral military action, the deregulation of the banking industry, and obsession with Saddam Hussein led directly to a tanking global economy, and disastrous war.

Their preferred discussion: a preacher's missteps on race. Or this week, one more thing about Clinton's husband Bill. And don't forget questions of bitterness, religion, and gun control in the heartland. That's thanks to Obama's comments that small-town voters, bitter over their economic circumstances, "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them" as a way to explain their frustrations.

As far as I remember, he said much the same thing in his famous race speech, only with more compassion. The only real note of interest in this is the proportion the comment took on, and that it was Mayhill Fowler, a pro-Obama "citizen journalist" blogger who reported it because she "was taken aback" at his elitist sneer, and didn't think it was ethical to let it slide by in silence.

Me, I'm glad she opened her mouth. Not because Obama's remarks should tip any election scale, but because Fowler redeemed my faith in the internet. As a writer and activist, I had high hopes for it as a conduit of truth. With something as accessible and "democratic" as the internet, it seemed like tons of people would uncover the smoking guns of politics, blow the whistle on hypocrites and evil-doers, speak out, dissent, Act-up.

But what seemed an amazing tool for providing alternative views has given precedence to the same handful of voices we were faced with before. The difference is that they are now amplified (and distorted) by hundreds of thousands of mouths all shouting the same thing. The comments on online articles, all seem written by the same two or three people taking the same hard lines on politics. They adamantly agree or disagree, but rarely shake their heads in skepticism, and wonder if any of it is true, even their own impulses. If there are more perspectives out there, they're buried in silence.

By contrast, there's the constant stream of information, the rattle of the blogosphere, disasters instantly brought home on our miniscule screens that confront us with every starving peasant, every corpse there to see. In essence, the internet brings details and news instead of knowledge, and where's the revolution in that?

Activists haven't figured out the medium either. I remember how the internet was supposed to help us connect, let us learn from each other. And in the brief twenty minutes of protest in New York prior to the Iraq War, it was an important organizing tool. Now what? The bickering that used to take place in community centers and church basements happens in chatrooms. Those with the quickest fingers, and a facility with language still impose their will. Beyond that, the internet is a glorified phone tree that we use to set dates for meetings.

I don't see better ideas, or analysis that carefully makes its way towards the complicated truth. I feel more and more like a dinosaur. Drop me in a tar pit and leave me be. I could use the quiet. Imagine it, silence. Sometimes I consider the drastic step of turning off my computer, but my girlfriend is clicking away across the room. It's too late. We have laptops growing from our thighs. A wave of information pounds into the room. And like greedy consumers, we drink every drop there is, and swell up like toads on the verge of bursting.

I think of sending her a message. "How about a date?" I get it typed out, but then I'm worried that if she accepts I might miss an email, a development. Something could blow-up. Or fall down. She might not recognize me. I might not know myself.

We get caught up in the Net Stream, forget what we were looking for, or get intoxicated by the sound of our own voices when they join the agreeing mob. Which is why I congratulate Mayhill Fowler. She began blogging to get the truth out about a candidate she believed in, but when he showed a private face different from his public one, she stuck to her guns and reported that truth, too. It's a small step, but in the right direction.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Burning Down the House

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

When I left the house on Sunday to join a demo, it was with my notebook and camera, and not a bottle stuffed with gasoline and a rag, though it's tempting sometimes.

Do activism long enough, and sooner or later you'll wonder what good it does, the wheat-pasting and flyering, all that marching peacefully in rainy or blistering streets when the powerful seem to take no notice of you, and your progress is measured in inches if there's any at all.

On those days, I dream of a more persuasive language to push things forward. In fact, I dream of blowing things up. Admit it. The bang of a collapsing building is a far more compelling expression of rage than a strongly worded column, or even a peaceful demo with a couple of thousand people.

These days, when democracy is imposed in war, and the Olympic games are hosted in dictatorships, why not use violence in places like Colombia where queers are slaughtered like dogs? Why not fight fire with fire?

In early February, Fredys Darío Pineda, a young LGBT and human rights activist was stabbed to death and the murder dismissed as a crime of passion. February 17th, 48 year-old Alirio de Jesús García was shot three times in the face. On February 20th a dismembered body was found in a garbage bag and later identified as Víctor Julio Castro, a 39-year old gay man. And those are just the murders we know about.

March 19th, Arley Alfonso Velásquez Delgado and Marco Tulio Tagorga Gómez, two gay men who scraped out a living by scavenging were both shot -- they'd been a couple for more than 15 years. March 23rd, the 19 year-old transgendered woman, Darlyn Acevedo, was killed by a group of men. Just a week or so ago, on the night of the 28 and 29th of March, two transgendered friends, Willis Argemiro Alarcón Padilla and Erick Jesús Mendoza Cruz were both shot to death in separate incidences by a cop who went out hunting trannies.

In the face of that, it seems ridiculous to write one more petition, or even pass an anti-violence law. I am tired of mourning dead queers. Tired of trying to remember the names of dead youths like Sakia Gunn, and older ones like Alirio de Jesús García who had managed to survive almost to fifty before he was cut-down.

Besides, I'm afraid of apathy. That little voice asking why we should care at all when these murders happen in far off Colombia, or the wilds of Newark where they have so many problems anyway. If it's not your sexual identity, then drugs, poverty, or sheer bad luck will kill you. In Colombia, who can even distinguish hate crimes when murder's practically the national pastime? Better to blow something up, than sink into paralysis at the scope of the problem, right?

If only swords weren't double-edged. Cut off somebody else's nose for spite, you'll find your own missing. In Colombia, for instance, the rightist paramilitaries picking off union leaders are matched eye for eye by the brutal corrupting tactics of the left-wing FARC. In the name of revolutionary ideals they deal drugs to finance their operations. They recruits kids and kidnap and kill politicians. Their politics haven't mattered for years.

The end has been gobbled up by their means, and they mostly serve to remind us that the benefits of destruction are short-lived. You make a big, bright, satisfying noise, and then you become the mirror of your enemy.

I thought of the failure of FARC as I stood in the cold with a couple thousand other Parisians demanding that they liberate Ingrid Betancourt, a Colombian politician who has been held hostage in the jungle since 2002 as a human bargaining chip that's too important to cash in.

The irony is that she's pretty far left herself, or used to be. But instead of releasing her to do her work, fighting corruption and reforming the country they're both supposed to love, FARC clings to power and violence.

If there's an antidote, it was in the crowd of thousands that turned out to demand her release. It was a peculiar experience for me, marching for one woman who wasn't even dead yet. But it was a useful reminder that FARC, like Plato, got it wrong.

Things aren't divided neatly into halves that combine into lovers, or even the stasis of enemies and friends that make civil war. Instead, we are much smaller fragments of that one thing, humanity, which is sprinkled among us, and whole in none of us. And why we only destroy ourselves, trying to eradicate the enemy in a single blast.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

National Amnesia & the Bum's Rush For Hillary

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

It's not just an ignorance of history, but serial amnesia that's destroying the U.S. One Viet Nam isn't enough? Let's give Iraq a try. Nostalgic for McCarthy? We can unleash that delicious invention of Homeland Security. Too young to remember the cool breadlines of the Depression? No worries. We can arrange some, along with bank runs, lost homes, and suicides.

It's deja vu all over again with Obama and Hillary. Every paper this week has some pundit exhorting Hillary to back out immediately, concede, disappear, get lost, evaporate. The pressure is worse inside the Democratic Party itself where the good ole boys are sneering, "C'mon sweetheart, baby, doll, be a good sport."

Even if I didn't think Obama was a pig-in-waiting, I'd be up in arms, having flashbacks to Election 2000 when Al Gore literally handed Bush the election with a tap of his gavel.

Blame the Supreme Court if you want, but in the final analysis it was Gore himself presiding over the Senate who quashed the objections of the Congressional Black Caucus to Florida's electoral vote, offering a grin and shrug to Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., who had just denounced fraud and black voter disenfranchisement, saying, "The chair thanks the gentleman from Illinois, but, hey..."

"Don't you know, that's not the way the game is played?" Al seemed to mean. He wanted to get home, lick his wounds, and maybe Tipper. Other members of Congress had schedules to keep, an inauguration to hold, committees to jockey for. So what if they had to pretend that the Republicans hadn't already changed the rules to the game getting the Supreme Court to intervene on their behalf? Just concede, already. Get off the stage like a good loser.

Nobody could have predicted what would follow, especially after 9/11, but that concession smelled bad to most of us. As I wrote in The Gully at the time, "This is the little tableau that should haunt our new American century -- a smiling, smug Al Gore tapping his gavel to silence the protests of twenty Democratic, mostly black Representatives, while in the background white Republicans shout 'out of order.'"

And it has haunted us, whether we remember the source of the specter or not. Al's retreat not only enabled a Bush presidency, but reinforced the tone leading to eight years of a jovial partisanship that enabled the headlong rush to the Iraq War, greedy deregulation and disastrous economic collapse, the burgeoning national deficit, and by instituting a policy of unilateral action on an international stage, the deterioration of democracy in all corners of the globe. All was done under the watch of spineless career politicians who wanted to make things easy on themselves, who cut deals, and squashed dissent.

Now, knocked head over heels by the Obama candidacy, the formerly irate Democratic faithful have forgotten that demanding premature concessions can have ugly consequences. Oh, quit sneering at the comparison. Sure, Hillary's uncertain bid for November is not exactly the same as Bush taking the White House. And yes, Hillary may not make it to the finish line, but trying to silence her now raises that same little matter of democracy, of representation, of diversity, which is not just a matter of skin, but of voices.

Shutting her up buries the 94 percent of El Paso County, Texas that supports her. It buries me. The only thing worse is when we do it to ourselves, like Democrats under Bush.

Meanwhile, her perseverance makes her something we haven't seen in a long time and need to reconsider: either an idealist, or bad loser. Shouldn't we have more of both? People that hold their positions to the bitter end? Fighters who refuse to retreat smiling from the ring, who are impolite enough to bleed on the carpet of their enemies?

No matter who wins in November, we desperately need that capacity to dig in our heels and resist. Civil liberties have gone to hell. The Constitution has unraveled. There's a ton of rebuilding to do, and activists demobilized during two "friendly" Clinton administrations and stream-rolled under Bush's bipartisanship must prepare to constantly hector the next President, even a Democratic one. Because without us, I guarantee they'll find it easier to leave things as they are in the midst of putting out new political and economic fires.

Like biological diversity, the key is dissent. The more voices and ideas, the better our odds of survival. As for dissent, Hillary's persistence is the only model we've had for ages.

As I did after Gore gave his "Aw, shucks" concession in the Senate, I call once again for a return to a garden variety, even fundamentalist, democracy in which we value every voice, and don't give candidates the bum's rush until we've counted every single vote.