Monday, December 22, 2008

Outraged? Better Late Than Never

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

The only surprising thing about Obama's choice of a homophobic bigot to bless his inauguration, or for that matter, the Albany debacle with the Gang of Three, is the outrage that greeted them.

Where were the official queer protests when Obama campaigned with ex-gay Donnie McClurkin? Or when BO exalted the advice of Reverend Kirbyjon Caldwell who runs programs to free lesbians and gay men from their homosexuality? Or when Obama promised all those billions to expand Bush's faith-based programs?

Where was gay fury when the Obama campaign kicked off that "Faith, Family, Values Tour" which included former Indiana Congressman and pro-life Democrat Tim Roemer, along with Catholic legal scholar Doug Kmiec who fought Proposition 8 on the grounds that gay marriage is not only morally repugnant, but will probably bring down the species?

Where was our disgust in August, the first time Obama tried to court Rick Warren who supplemented homophobic rantings at home with declarations to African audiences that homosexuality was not a natural way of life and thus not a human right? Why didn't we blast Warren's AIDS programs that support Uganda evangelists who fight AIDS by advocating jail or death for queers?

And where were the boycotts when Obama refused to speak to the LGBT press, or gay advocates? Where were the denunciations when Obama asserted, on religious grounds, that marriage was between a man and a woman and the ban of same-sex marriage had nothing to do with the earlier miscegenation ban on interracial ones?

With all that silence, even from gay groups like HRC, why should we be surprised at getting screwed? Who's going to respect us if even gay groups don't advocate for LGBT rights, ostensibly putting Democratic interests above their own?

Of course Albany Democrats thought they could sacrifice gay rights in a power-sharing deal and not hear a peep. Sit quietly with your hands in your lap, the bigots will not only shove you to the back of the bus, but knock you right off the moving vehicle.

The only surprising thing about that episode was how ham-handed they were. Me, I'm gonna stab somebody in the back, I'd chose a nice thin blade of Spanish steel, so the victim doesn't wake up before it slices out their heart. New York Dems, though, tried to take off our head with a blunt and rusted saw while they were snickering loudly. I suspect their retreat is less a sign of respect, than a quick effort to silently regroup while they wait for their mail-order stiletto.

After eight years of Bush and two of Obamamania, queer activists have not only lost our momentum, but our self-respect. Why else stay silent while Obama's campaign gave an enormous platform to bigots that would like to exterminate us? Why else give millions of dollars without exacting something concrete in return?

And if we don't pressure Obama now, if we don't pressure all the Democrats for every minute of the next four years, we'll get what we deserve. A whole lot of nothing. Or worse. A regression to depths of hatred and bigotry we'd almost forgotten.

As a community, we need to banish compromise to the realm of politicians. Supporting hardline activists and advocates is the only one way to advance queer rights. Somebody has to be intransigent. Somebody has to refuse to see the big picture that always reduces queer rights to a piece of shit everybody else scrapes off their shoes.

We also have to hold everybody to the same standards. Bill Clinton, after all, was roundly criticized for courting evangelicals with prayer meetings with Billy Graham (who was frankly moderate compared to Warren), for signing into law the Defense of Marriage Act, and triangulating us into the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy of the armed forces.

Why did we criticize Clinton for that when, like Obama, he was just trying to fit us all under that great big tent of America? And of course get re-elected. Wasn't he better than the first Bush, better than Reagan after all? Like Obama, he had queer friends, and except for the whole gay marriage thing, really did have the best intentions towards us.

Repulsed? I hope so. Then as now, the only way to win progress is to make a god-awful noise, to make nuisances and asses of ourselves, to hold our ground.

Money in exchange for promises is never enough, especially when the lynchpin of the Democratic strategy is to become more Republican than the Republicans and to court conservatives almost purely on the basis of religious fundamentalism, instead of other issues, like that elusive goal of fiscal responsibility, not to mention clean government.

Our consolation prize: a gay marching band. Let them take their cue from the black athletes at the Mexico City Olympics, and impose on the crowd what they did. A raised fist. Silence. Shame.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

War and Terror

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

It's not just the wire-tapping and kidnappings and torture that are undermining Bush's War on Terror, but the fact that his target's all wrong. How effective is it really, chasing down the elusive figures of Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, or the Lashkar-e-Taiba, presumably responsible for the recent attacks in India? Are they our worst enemy?

Their membership, compared to the global population, is absolutely miniscule. Their tactics are banal, and the body count not as high as what their pursuit has cost. Two hundred dead in Mumbai. 2,752 in New York. There are other groups out there killings millions and frankly, these terrorists can't compare. The residents of Mumbai are already showing their disdain by drinking beer at the Leopold Café next to bullet holes and the crater from a grenade.

New Yorkers likewise were stunned for a while after September 11, fighting off nightmares and holding their breath crossing bridges. Dust and ashes in the air, we avoided subways and buses and talked about where we'd meet after a dirty bomb. But pretty soon the city itself eclipsed our fear. The attacks like the attackers have faded away. They're nothing but a rotten dream like the sicarii zealots, Assassins, or Weathermen who had their day in the sun, but are fading fast.

You want terror, you have to go whole hog, and either knock out city after city, or like snipers and movie serial killers, pick off your victims one by one by one by one with such regularity and persistence you create a terrified sense of inevitability. Numbers, in particular, are essential, so potential victims can't shrug off the odds in a fit of optimism. I'd go for 1:1 or at least 1:10.

Maybe you've guessed what I'm talking about, even if this war hasn't been declared, and acknowledged by the United Nations or anybody's State Department, but gets the job done. One half of the population against the other. Men against women. The Gender War.

I hadn't quite thought of violence against women as terrorism until I read Nicholas D. Kristof's New York Times piece about how Pakistani men target women and girls by tossing acid in their faces. Sometimes the girls have just dared to attend school. Sometimes a woman has just registered for a divorce. The damage is immediate, skin and flesh dropping off revealing bone, noses and ears eaten away. If they aren't killed, these women are left gravely deformed, monstrous object lessons of what happens in the case of even minor revolt.

Since 1994, there are 7,800 documented cases of women "deliberately burned, scalded, or subjected to acid attacks, just in the Islamabad area."

This violence -- methodical, perpetual, and backed by a shared creed glorifying masculine dominance to the end of female submission, compliance, fear -- is the classic stuff of terrorism without the annoyances of secret meetings and cells groups, surreptitious fundraising, special channels of communication, or international task forces against them.

I only wondered why Mr. Kristof confined his analysis to the east. We have our own terrorists in the U.S. murdering 1,400 women a year, battering between two to four million, raping hundreds of thousands of all races and classes in an endless struggle for power. The only difference between them and traditional terrorists like the Baader-Mienhof Gang killing victims for ideology and spreading fear, is that there's no need for press release. The message is carved in flesh. Submit or disappear.

Writing this, I realized we don't talk much about "violence against women" anymore. Maybe because feminists are so lame, or because it most often happens in the cesspit of women's own homes. Though even violence against LGBT people and people of color has become less visible since young gay Matthew Shepard was left crucified on a Wyoming fence. And James Byrd dragged behind a pickup truck until his head was ripped from his body for being black.

Maybe it's that September 11 and the horror of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have rendered other slaughters irrelevant, though women are still regularly attacked and killed, and violence is actually climbing again against queers despite our progress in areas like gay marriage.

We need a new War on Terror, eradicating the men that kill women, or make it their mission to climb in their SUV and cruise looking for fags or immigrants to kill like the Sucuzhañay brothers beaten with baseball bats and bottles a couple weeks ago in Brooklyn, leaving José Sucuzhañay dead on Sunday.

The only question is how do you fight back against that violence so deeply embedded in gender? (Most hate-crime perps are male). Do we gender-profile, drag young men like off the street like the CIA in random checkpoints? Send them off to Egypt? Or Syria? Indulge in a little waterboarding? After all, this is war.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Price of Health

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Thursday, I bought a bathrobe and pajamas, packed a bag, and took the metro to the hospital where I handed over both my credit card and a check so they would accept my 59.2 kilos of flesh to be depilated, disinfected, knocked unconscious, pierced with holes, de-cysted, and released.

Even paying full price, it was a bargain by American standards. In Paris, doctors will make a house call for about $85. A visit to a gynecological clinic costs $40. A sonogram is about $100. And a prescription of Xanax runs three bucks. Laparoscopic surgery with three nights in the hospital is a mere $5,800, surgeons' fees and morphine included. In New York, that'd barely cover a bed pan.

For most French folks, the government covers two-thirds of health care costs, and they often have a supplementary insurance that gets the rest. For the poor and unemployed, the state picks up the whole tab. The best thing is, French doctors are competent. Even in the public sphere. The hospital I was going to was more highly rated than the private clinic a friend of mine used that cost an extra 600 bucks a day.

I checked it out, did price comparisons. That's the American way. To focus on dollars and cysts. When the radiologist said I had a big clump in an ovary and needed an MRI, I freaked out more about the cost and whether my insurance would reimburse me than that my body was growing strange fruit. After all, it's medical bills that metastasize into crippling debt. And money that shapes our experience of medicine, even health.

Health for the rich means well-being, every part of the body on track, clear skin, good feet, all systems go. The poor are often grateful just for mobility and generally being intact. You can have rotten teeth, and a bad back, and still proclaim when you lose your job, "At least I have my health."

We don't have the time or money for more. In the New York public health system, you wait months for appointments, then wait for hours and days in waiting rooms with all the other marginal folks, new immigrants, working poor, the crazies who apparently don't deserve better. And rarely get it.

The doctors seem to hate us, and secretaries sneer behind our backs. Bring a list of questions to an appointment, you'll be dismissed as a hypochondriac. Admit a pelvic exam was painful, maybe the nurse practitioner will suggest early childhood abuse and abuse you verbally if you dissent. Wake in the middle of a colonoscopy, they'll continue without anesthesia because they're too incompetent to deal with dropping blood pressure, can't give you more drugs, and pleas to stop, stop, stop from a Medicaid patient are like whispers in deaf ears.

Good luck with that universal health care thing. Access isn't enough for anything resembling care. For that, the enormous gap between the salaries of Madison Avenue doctors and the ones at public clinics has to end, along with segregation of patients. In fact, class and race themselves would probably have to go, along with the culture of scorn as deeply rooted in American medicine as shame and fury are buried in people like me.

Inequality's in the very nature of the medical beast. On the one side, there's the patient as supplicant, asking for help. On the other, some white-coated god free to give or withhold. And charge you for it either way. When money or race or sex or sexual identity is added to the picture, the balance is increasingly skewed.

I'm wary, even in Paris, where the care is good and cost is less a factor. Handing over my body still feels like a kind of fourth dimension prostitution in which I lose both my money and my flesh. All I own is a computer, the clothes on my back, and everything under them until you arrive at my beating heart. Now, even that's yours.

And laying there, a day later, with my dragon breath and scars and IV drip, I was tempted to tell her so. Explain to the young surgeon smiling shyly at the American patient all the effort I've put into protecting this shell. All the male hands on my female ass in high school that I had to shove away. The bottles dodged from cars because I was a dyke and on the street. These sudden waves of hate in the media that sweep you off your feet. The walls I've built against what homophobes do to you in their brains. What doctors have done in the flesh.

How I defend what I want to relinquish. How I want to be saved. And though she had done this thing, cut a miraculous door into a world I kept for myself, and pulled out death, I needed more.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Democrats to New York Queers: Drop Dead!

Like every election year, most LGBT people spent this one working for Democrats, and writing checks in exchange for promises of little things like anti-discrimination laws, gay marriage, and equality.

There's never much of a payoff. If Democrats were an investment fund, we would have pulled out years ago. They're the Lehman Brothers of queer rights, offering worthless paper to willing marks. How many times have they said, "Our hands may be tied, what with a Republican governor, and Republicans in charge of the legislature, but just you wait."

We did. We waited for years. And now that Democrats are in power, stacking Albany from top to bottom, the only return on our investment is still the big middle finger, and a double dose of screw you. In a recent New York Times article they said there's the economy and the state's emptying coffers to consider first. And re-election. We don't want to get the Mormons and Catholics riled up about gay marriage and pouring money into state electoral politics like they did in California.

State Senator Tom Duane frankly hinted that gay marriage should bury itself as an issue for the near future. "We definitely want David Paterson to run for re-election and to win," he said. "There'll be a discussion. And we'll have a point of view about time frame; he'll have a point of view on time frame."

That's the Democrat's refrain, one more election cycle. A better time frame. The Democratic faithful horrified at Bush heard their party caution patience until they had control of the House and Senate. Once voters gave Democrats the Congressional majority, Democrats claimed they needed the White House, too, and continued to rubberstamp Bush's policies hoping to establish conservative credentials for election 2008. Now, with a Democratic president-elect, they're murmuring something about needing a filibuster-proof majority to undo Bush's legacy.

If torture and spying weren't enough to get them moving in D.C., it's not surprising that human rights -- yes, they include queers rights -- are taking an eternal backseat in New York to whatever Democrats can come up with, including the bigoted likes of evangelical State Senator Ruben Díaz who threatens to destroy the slim majority of the Democrats for hatred of queers. Already, he's organized anti-gay marriage rallies, and regularly preaches against us as criminals, perverts, and pedophiles.

Instead of standing up to his bigotry and hate, Democrats once again tell us queers to wait one more election cycle when they'll pick up a few more seats, so maybe his one vote won't count.

Do we really believe the Democratic ascendancy is guaranteed? That incumbent governors never lose? The economic crisis will expire just in time to boost Democrats and queers? And homophobes will be sitting inactive while legislators line up their votes and minimize political risk?

There should be one, unified, queer response, and it should be this. "Screw you, Dems." If we don't seize the moment, we may not get another. And the moment, the momentum, is now.

As always, the politicians have it wrong. The disaster in California isn't an impediment, but a rallying cry, and a blueprint -- for what to avoid. If a same-sex marriage fight may attract fundamentalist dollars, it will also attract queer money, and activists willing to pound the pavement on our behalf. Two weekends ago, a million people were out on the street protesting Prop 8. They'd come out for New York, too.

Better yet, they'd be willing to do what the Prop 8 "leadership" weren't. Organize on a massive scale across lines of class and race, even parties. Republicans voted overwhelmingly for Prop 8, even though they have queer cousins, uncles, sisters; I hear they even breed queer children who probably came out last weekend over the turkey. They're all ripe for approach. And queers and their allies are ready to do it.

Properly done, same-sex marriage activism could even bolster the image of Democrats across the state because it goes far beyond a discussion of gay rights. Civil rights and legal equality for everyone, are obvious talking points, but to convince, you also have to hit on things that concern everyone, financial security as the economy shrinks, health insurance as people lose their jobs, protecting the family, protecting kids. All issues related to marriage. Far-sighted Democrats could be their defenders.

As for queers, nothing good will come of backing off. It will tell homophobes they're on the right track. That we will go away if they pour enough money into the issue. If, like Mr. Diaz, they hold enough rallies against us. Backing away tells them we're weak, afraid, and alone. And that Democrats consider queers expendable. Well? Are we? Maybe it's time to find out.

edited dec. 3