Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2009: Queer Year in Review

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Activists just won same-sex marriage in the megalopolis of Mexico City, giving equal rights to a couple of million lesbians and gay men. When the bill passed 39-20, supporters reportedly yelled, "Yes, we could! Yes, we could!"

It seems almost like a taunt considering U.S. queers that voted for Obama and the audacity of hope are stuck with mendacity and, "Oh no. Not at all the right time. Couldn't possibly. Nope." We get stonewalled even when issues don't require congressional votes or signatures.

Just in the last couple of months, Obama remained silent when LGBT activists fought to preserve same-sex marriage in New Hampshire. He ignored a proposed bill in Uganda giving the death penalty to queers until the Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had already spoken out, and even the homophobe Rick Warren had condemned the measure.

We should have known what was coming. He campaigned with the same anti-gay preachers as Bush during Democratic primaries, and then installed Warren at his inauguration, despite the reverend's years of destroying AIDS programs in Africa by preaching abstinence and hatred of lesbians and gay men.

Almost first thing, Obama set up his Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Office instead of rescinding Bush's executive order allowing discrimination in faith-based programs which meant LGBT people could be summarily fired, and clearly not hired.

In February, when two different rulings extended the federal benefits of marriage to two gay couples, and hinted at huge weaknesses in the Defense of Marriage Act, Obama missed the chance to repeal the act as an unjust denial of rights to gay citizens. Instead, his people aggressively defended DOMA in June, using Bush administration arguments claiming gay marriage was bad for the federal budget, and encouraged incest and the marriage of underage children.

In a general attack on civil liberties, Obama's Justice Department also used Bush arguments in cases of torture, rendition, and spying. The first case was as early as last February, and in October, pressed to release a report on the "suicides" in Guantanamo, the administration went almost beyond Bush, according to The Washington Independent's Daphne Eviatar, "insisting that there is no constitutional right to humane treatment by U.S. authorities outside the United States, and that victims of torture and abuse and their survivors have no right to compensation or even an acknowledgment of what occurred."

That's a year under Obama. Disenchanted American queers looking for leadership should forget the federal level and look to the states, or even abroad, for models of activism and signs of hope. Because we have had bright spots this year.

The phenomenal Welsh rugby player, Gareth Thomas, struck a blow against homophobia in sports last week by coming out at the age of thirty-five. In rugby, he's as much a legend as Derek Jeter in baseball, but with more influence since rugby is far more popular worldwide.

Likewise, this week's victory for same-sex marriage in Mexico City has a huge impact. Since the population of Greater Mexico City includes almost 21 million people, a stroke of a pen gives civil rights to a couple million queers.

Lesbian and gay couples in Colombia saw progress earlier in the year when a series of High Court rulings extended the rights of civil unions, giving same-sex partners almost the same benefits as heterosexuals, notably excluding those related to adoption.

Just two weeks ago, Houston, Texas became the largest city in the U.S. to elect an openly gay candidate. Annise Parker, running on a pro-neighborhood, tough on crime platform, found herself attacked as a dyke by her African American opponent Gene Locke who tried to create an unholy alliance of homophobic black pastors and white evangelical Christians. He failed, in part, because turnout was light, and strong support from the African American community didn't materialize. I'd like to think it was because his hateful message wasn't persuasive, though it may also have been because voters don't like the rain.

In November, it was nice to see Klaus Wowereit, a gay mayor of a much larger city, Berlin, get almost as much attention as German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the celebrations for the fall of the Berlin Wall. Mayor since 2001, he's rumored to have his eye on higher things.

He wouldn't be the first gay head of state. In January, that trail was blazed when open lesbian Johanna Sigurdardottir, Social Affairs Minister, was asked to serve as interim Prime Minister of Iceland after the coalition of the conservative government collapsed. A few months later she was officially made Prime Minister when her party won the election.

And in Iran, where there are neither entirely free elections nor open lesbians, and gay men are executed even in the midst of civil turmoil, we disillusioned Americans have the example of LGBT activists at work in university campuses, daring to demand their human rights alongside everyone else as Iranians push for change. That is audacity. That is hope.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Queers Aren't the Only Targets in Cuba

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

After years of largely uncritical support for the Castro regime, the African American intelligentsia has finally been nudged into looking at the racial legacy of the revolution. The result is the "Declaration of African American Support for the Civil Rights Struggle in Cuba."

Signed last week by sixty African Americans including Cornel West, Ruby Dee Davis, Melvin Van Peebles, and Jeremiah Wright, the Declaration asked the government for the release of Dr. Darsi Ferrer, an anti-racism advocate ostensibly jailed for the illegal possession of -- two sacks of cement. "[W]e cannot sit idly by and allow for decent, peaceful and dedicated civil rights activists in Cuba, and the black population as a whole, to be treated with callous disregard for their rights as citizens and as the most marginalized people on the island."

About time. Black and mixed-race Cubans make up as much as 62 percent of the total population (11 million), but most of the country's civil leadership is white. At the top, the twenty-one member Political Bureau of Cuba's Communist Party has only four black faces, and the all important thirty-nine member Council of Ministers a mere two, the composition of which can be blamed neither on the U.S. embargo nor the CIA.

Additionally, seventy-three percent of scientists and technicians, and eighty percent of the professors at the University of Havana are white. In 2005, 65.8 percent of able-bodied black Cubans were unemployed, twice the rate of white unemployment (nearly 30 percent). Conversely, the prison population is now estimated to be 85 percent black, with prisoners averaging in age between 18 – 28 years.

Because eighty-five percent of Cuban immigrants are white, remittances sent back home to their families worsen financial disparities. It's worth noting, however, that while white Cubans may be relatively better off, they aren't doing particularly well either. The country is bankrupt, and food and housing shortages are acute.

Probably the only real racial parity on the island is in the area of dissent. Many of the Cuba's best known political prisoners have been people of color, like librarian Omar Pernet Hernández, mason Orlando Zapata Tamayo and physicians Darsi Ferrer, the inspiration for the Declaration, and Oscar Elias Biscet who was sentenced to 27 years for, among other things, organizing a seminar on Martin Luther King and forms of non-violent protest.

The only problem with the Declaration is that it implies that this "unprovoked violence, State intimidation and imprisonment" is somehow new for black activists.

You have to pick through the accompanying press release to find the acknowledgment that the roots of the problem were actually early in the revolution. While you, my queer reader, may have heard the regime sent a whole generation of fags and dykes into UMAP concentration camps, mental hospitals, and exile, the government was also busy hunting down advocates of "Black Power," and banning related organizations.

One of the most notable victims was Walterio Carbonell, a black intellectual and admirer of the French Negritude movement. Author of "Cómo surgió la cultura nacional" (How the National Culture Emerged) (1961), he exhumed the role of Afro-Cubans in the development of the Cuban nation, going far beyond a nod at musical contributions. He was silenced by his time in jail.

From the beginning, Afro-Cubans, like poor whites and peasants, were supposed to shut up and be grateful for what they'd gotten. The troublesome part of Black Power wasn't just the "Black," but the "Power," and a government determined not to share it.

For most of the dissidents I've cited earlier, race probably wasn't the determining factor in their arrest. Omar Pernet Hernández, released in 2008, wasn't even focused on anti-racism work. He was picked up with dozens of others in the March 2003 crackdown for opposing the regime and running an independent library from his house.

Anybody at all that opens their mouths, or steps outside the lines is liable for arrest in Cuba. White, working class blogger Yoani Sanchez (and her husband) have both been harassed, and beaten up. Jail is probably on the horizon. In August, cops stormed a meeting of the LGBT group Fundación Cuba that was trying to organize, not the overthrow of the government, but Mr. Gay Cuba. The event was planned for a public place to give some visibility to the LGBT community. For their trouble, the eleven were beaten, two were arrested and their computers seized.

Now, the regime seems to be preparing for another crackdown, warning the population that Obama plans to bomb or invade the island. A few weeks ago they ran a military exercise called "Bastion 2009" part of the "War of the Whole People" which included a practice run for rounding up dissidents and putting down riots.

It's increasingly obvious that you can't fight racism -- or homophobia, misogyny or poverty -- in Cuba, without fighting for basic civil rights, and that dirty word, democracy.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Beth Ditto, Rocks for Dykes in Paris

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

It being very nearly Thanksgiving, let me lift a glass in gratitude to Beth Ditto, probably the most famous lesbian in Paris. She turns up nekkid on the cover of magazines, plays fashion shows, and gets interviewed for hip culture rags.

A couple nights ago when I was channel surfing I saw her on the show Taratata. The crowd gave her a standing ovation when she walked on stage, and yells and screams after her group Gossip rocked the house with a couple of songs.

A video montage about Gossip's history and influences used the "L" word first, when the host and narrator, Nagui Fam, announced that their breakthrough song, "Standing in the Way of Control" was "a manifesto that turned Gossip and Beth Ditto into a spokeswoman for the lesbian community, fat women and feminists, all at the same time."

After that, Nagui and Beth pronounced the word "lesbian" more times in fifteen minutes than I've heard in four years in France, and never with as much joy.

Here, broadcasters seem to deaden their faces when they announce LGBT pride, or the latest round in the court battle to let a nameless same-sex couple adopt a child. A few dyke politicians are out in the provinces, but by and large in France the curtain comes down on private lives which are defined as sacrosanct until it comes to hetero politicians getting snapped with women on their yachts, hetero kids swapping spit on the subway, hetero women popping kids on the hospital, taking kids for flu shots, as characters in movies, in art.

For weeks, the story headlining French papers has been the escape and eventual recapture of Jean Pierre Treiber accused of murdering two women who are usually defined as "friends," occasionally as a couple, never lesbians. Dead and alive, all that famous French discretion is for us.

For a moment, I thought it would be the same with Beth Ditto. When Nagui asked how she'd always been different, she went on to talk about being brought up on Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath and Patsy Cline, and how her young mother taught pro-choice values and self-confidence. "In fact, I thought other people were weird. Me weird? No, it's you guys."

About being a lesbian, nothing. And I thought, oh no. Not again. Another coy dyke. More silence. More invisibility. God, she seemed so sweet, and I thought she was more out! It broke my heart.

But like I said, I had it all wrong. A moment later Taratata did a public service giving an overview of Gossip and their influences featuring the Riot Grrl movement and lesbian musicians from Bikini Kill to K.D. Lang and some hip hop lesbian group that has a video where somebody wears an enormous pink pussy suit outside a hotdog stand. "Better lick it right, better touch it, better touch it right, better kiss it..."

Then Beth Ditto and Nagui led the audience in a chorus of "Une femme avec une femme" A woman with a woman, before he announced in solidarity, "Everybody's a lesbian here."

Then Nagui got all serious, looked her in the eye and said, like they always do in France, and the States, and every fucking where else. "Tell me, you've done your coming out. You've said, "I'm big, I'm a lesbian." There's nonstop kidding about that. Don't you think you've gotten to the point now where you should, perhaps, stop it?"

Only this time, it was obviously a set-up question for Beth who gave the question both barrels. No, I can't. "...Because we're not yet to the point in our culture and society where it's not a big deal. And until people stop getting beaten up for being gay, until people stop losing friends for being gay, until people stop being made fun of for being fat. Or told they're not going to be a singer when they grow up because they're not pretty enough. (Who fucking cares?) Until that is over, I have to make it a point so other girls, boys, queers, homos, drag queens, lizards, lesbians, dogs, cats, so they can grow up to be singers and say it doesn't matter anymore. But right now it matters a lot. It's not time. It's not time to put the torch down."

And if I quote the whole thing it's because I'm tired of saying it myself. Invisible, we are alone, and lonely and vulnerable. We have no allies. Even worse is only seeing queers when they're dead. Visibility may not be some magic wand to defeat homophobic assholes, but it plays a powerful role. Beth Ditto out in the world, and unashamed, makes space for the rest of us, speaks for me when she tells a hater to kiss her ass. Helps kids come out. Yup, I'm plenty thankful for that.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Breaking Down Walls

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Every time I watch the images of the crowds streaming through Berlin's Cold War gates it's magic. God, what joy. What exhilaration when that wall you'd lived with for twenty-eight years just crumbles, and along with it the paranoia and surveillance and fear, the degradations and mutual betrayal of friends, all the lies you had to tell to others and yourself just to survive.

Afterwards, but before young Sarkozy and other tourists came for their photo ops, there were the guys with sledgehammers concentrating on each swing with a kind of unparalleled, single-minded fury. I could be them. I feel I am them, throwing my body and my life not just against the physical imprisoning restraints, but against all those barriers standing between me and freedom.

I can hear your silent sneer. "She's taken the metaphor too far once again. How the dyke exaggerates, now, when the LGBT community is making progress. You have to take the long view. Make a donation. Relax. Celebrate the federal hate crimes bill."

In fact, queers have taken one loss after another for the last twelve months from the loss of same-sex in California to the installation of anti-gay Rick Warren in Obama's inauguration to his administration's energetic defense of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Most recent is the repeal of same-sex marriage in Maine, which should remind us not only that same-sex marriage is not legal except in two or three states, but that it is explicitly banned in most.

LGBT people are condemned not just in America's laws, but in America's streets and hearts as second class citizens, children, criminals, pedophiles and child molesters. In many eyes, we are not even human finally, but worms, garbage and filth. We get beaten up in the street. Our younger selves are harassed in schools. We don't get decent health care even if we can afford it because our doctors are enemies to whom we tell nothing.

I don't understand the little shrug, the mere wince, or grimace when your face should be red with rage. Did the vast majority of queers in the United States enter into some kind of pact to be nice and polite, so as to not frighten the straights? Did you promise to knock softly on doors instead of battering them down? To speak sweetly in your phone banks instead of returning the filth they shower us with every day? To stay off the streets believing if you're good enough, kind enough, earnest enough, united, and homogenous enough change will come?

After all, the end of a generation only took one magic phrase from Ronald Reagan who ordered Gorbachev to "Tear down this wall." It had nothing to do with a disintegrating Soviet Union, a reformer in charge in Moscow who warned East Germans that Russia wouldn't arrive this time with tanks to back them up. The destruction of the wall had nothing to do with years of dissent, or vast demonstrations for reform that left border guards terrified when faced with a crowd that had been mistakenly told the border was opening up "immediately." It was a few words by an American president, and the magic of a good cause.

I'm less distressed by the legal reverses than our seeming stoicism in the face of them, and the same kind of egotistical and magical thinking many Americans used to interpret the fall of the Berlin wall. At a recent New York City march protesting the savage beating of a gay man, one councilmember actually said, "The one thing that has to happen is marriage equality so that people see that gays and lesbians are equal to everyone."

Actually, no. While same-sex marriage will make life easier for an enormous amount of gay people, marriage won't bring down the wall, homophobia, which divides us from straights in every aspect our lives: schoolrooms, churches, jobs, streets, families, and yes, courts.

In that respect, the Councilmember Tony Avella was more on target when he went on to admit that the city also needed a "deputy mayor for Human Rights to educate kids." I agree completely, and predict the fight to include lesbian, gay and transgender lives in the curriculum will be much more bitter than any same-sex marriage campaign. Which is perhaps why we have confined our efforts to asserting legal equality, and increasingly shut our eyes to the cultural and religious hate.

These days we build our own walls from the inside out, blocking the neighboring eyesores, and training ourselves not to see all the petty humiliations, the great wrongs that have nothing to do with us locked as we are behind mortar and stone. Are we in prison if we have the key?

I watch the images over and over. People streaming through the gates, destroying walls. I remember when we wanted more than equality, when we wanted to be free.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Herta Müller Is A Hero

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

It should have gone to Philip Roth. Philip Roth, or maybe Joyce Carol Oates. That was the consensus on the American side of the pond after Herta Müller was named the latest winner of the Nobel prize in literature.

In a Washington Post article, Mary Jordan asked, "Herta who?" and quoted that luminary Harold Bloom announcing he had, "Nothing to talk about because I have never heard of this writer." Jordan likewise featured a German bookstore owner characterizing Müller as popular only "with a minority of intellectuals." Finally, an unnamed but "prominent editor and writer in New York" confirmed Müllar's insignificance declaring that the 18-member Nobel jury was "in some other universe." Which is absolutely true.

In this other universe that does not have America as its heart, we're celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. From Europe, the world seems bigger than from New York, and the stakes higher. Many countries of the former Soviet bloc are struggling with their totalitarian pasts, while established democracies are struggling to balance their mandate for civil liberties with the so-called exigencies of fighting terrorism.

And in this other universe where literature is still a battleground of ideas and not some popularity contest, Herta Müller was the perfect choice. Through more than twenty books, and a string of Europe's top prizes, she's obsessively and brilliantly considered the legacy of Communism in Romania, especially the spying, betrayal, hatred, and loss.

Born into a German-speaking minority in the Romanian countryside in 1953, her peasant mother suffered several years in a Ukrainian gulag, sent there like many other ethnic Germans by the Soviets that briefly occupied Romania after World War II.

During the war, her father was in the SS. "My father hated working in the fields and when he returned from the SS in 1945, he became a lorry driver and alcoholic. The combination is possible in the countryside. My mother was and remained a peasant in the corn and sunflower fields. Corn for me is the socialist plant par excellence: it displays its colours, grows in colonies, blocks the view and cuts your hands with its leaves while you're working."

She herded cows as a child and worked on the farm. After studying literature in college, she found work as a translator in a factory. To keep her job, she had to agree to spy for Ceausescu's secret police. When she refused twice, the functionary told her, "You'll be sorry, we'll drown you in the river." Instead, he denounced her to the other workers as a spy and made her a pariah. Shortly afterwards she lost her job.

Like other uncooperative writers, her work was censored, and she was under constant surveillance. She was repeatedly interrogated and humiliated. Her house was bugged. They threatened her. Even in 1987 when she finally was able to move with her husband to Berlin, there were traces of the secret police.

In her essay, "Securitate in all but name," which appeared this July in the German weekly Die Zeit, she wrote that despite the execution of Ceausescu, the fall of the Berlin wall, and an innocuous new name, the Romanian Information Service, the secret police continues largely intact. "According to their own figures, 40% of the staff was taken on from the Securitate. The real percentage is probably much higher." The rest are retired, or "the new architects of the market economy."

In her novels, those implications are translated into human terms. After thirty years under a dictatorship she's an expert on the damage we do to ourselves with each complicit act, not just the active betrayals, but the times we turn our eyes away. When we accept. Or forget. And go silent.

We are lucky when writers like Müller refuse. There's a certain amount of courage you have to have. A certain amount of mulishness. A sense of self-preservation that extends beyond the body. We get a glimpse of that in her 1991 "Der Teufel Sitzt im Spiegel" (The devil sits in the mirror) quoted in Verena Auffermann's biographical essay about the writer:

"Writing is always the last thing, the only thing that I can (still) do, have to do, when there's nothing else I can do. When I write, it is always at the point where I can no longer deal with myself (and that also means the things that surround me). When I can no longer endure my senses. When I can no long endure thinking. When everything has become so complicated that I no longer know where the external things begin or end. Whether they are inside me or the other way round."

Word by word, our best writers pull back the curtains and show us the truth of the world. Müller does that in her novels and her life. One of her first acts as a laureate was to support embattled Chinese writers at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why We March

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

There are only a couple reasons to march, and plenty not to. Prior to the Sunday March for Equality in Washington, D.C., the compromised politicos of the Human Rights Campaign ilk expressed their preference that we queers sit in the closet with some gags on our mouths until 2017, so as not to embarrass the Promiser-In-Chief Barack Obama.

Some lefty queers were also refusing to go implying the march was morally bankrupt because it didn't emerge spontaneously from the grassroots movements, like children from the head of Zeus. Instead of piggybacking on the situation to get out their own messages by fielding raucous contingents, or marching on different routes, they encouraged people to put up their feet and settle in for self-righteous naps.

Meanwhile, journalist Gabriel Arana dismissed the march as irrelevant, explaining that visibility for equality just wasn't necessary. Most of America knew we were here and queer, and already supported civil unions or gay marriage in large numbers. What we needed was a protest against a dithering Obama refusing to set timelines for change.

There was also the host of more usual impediments: transportation, hotel rooms, time off, and ingrown toenails and stubbed toes that we really shouldn't put pressure on. I myself had the runs and a desire to stay near a toilet. Still, on Sunday morning I dragged myself out of the house. Not to D.C., but in a celebration of activism itself, to watch a small but earnest march in Paris sponsored by the "Comité de la jupe" (Skirt Committee). The group describes themselves as citizen Catholics, which I thought would be worth seeing because they could only have emerged in Republican France.

They met at the Arènes de Lutèce, a first century Gallo-Roman amphitheater where gladiators and slaves used to combat wild animals, and now kids play soccer, and old guys and dykes play boules in the dirty sand. It took me a minute to get the symbolism of ordinary Christians up against the lions of Rome, maybe because they reversed the order of things, meeting for lunch and inspiration inside the arena, before marching to the Roman lions outside in the Paris streets.

It's hard to imagine easier prey than this Skirt Committee organized on the internet by two women after a French Cardinal sneered at female participation in the Church declaring that his opposition "wasn't that they wore skirts, but a matter of having something inside their heads." This group headed by female Catholics is not only up against the outright hate multiplying in Rome but a virulent misogyny combined with the secularism of France.

Nevertheless, they're doing okay. They have about five hundred members united around the ambitious goal of making the Catholic Church more egalitarian and democratic, plus the peculiar idea that Christians should focus more on the values of Christ, including love, compassion, and courage.

While I'd like to sneer, I actually found the speech and manifesto really moving. What's not to like about equality and kindness, and commitment neither to leave your home territory nor shut up? The religious stuff aside, HRC and gay Democrats could learn a lot from these citizen Catholics who believe speaking out and criticizing from within is a serious moral imperative.

The crowd bubbled with a kind of anarchic joy when they filed down onto the sands to arrange themselves in groups. I could tell from their faces some had never marched before. Or for that matter, been to the big city of Paris. They were nervous and excited. They were inspired. Even if in practical terms you could say the march part was a flop.

What's the point of taking to the streets, when all you have are a few signs identifying far off places like Alsace and Bordeaux? Besides that, nothing. No placards, no five word message. They didn't even have a leading banner. I imagined passersby wondering who the heck were these people with the red bags and umbrellas? Tourists, probably. You had to get really close to read the fine print.

And yet, and yet. Marches always mean something. Even if the New York Times buries the story, as they did with the Equality March, or you only have a couple hundred feet on the pavement. You see each other. For an hour or two you own a chunk of public space. You exist in a way you don't at home alone. Your voice and your life are amplified in unimaginable ways.

And that's my point. We don't just march for them -- for media outlets, and passersby, and to pressure the powers that be on specific issues. We march for ourselves. It's a declaration of independence, of power, of democracy. Maybe even hope.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Redeeming Caster Semenya

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I saw the women's 800 meters in Berlin. This young thing was facing the cameras before the race started, pretending to brush a few specks of dust off her shoulders because that's what the other runners were to her, just dust she was gonna leave behind. She wasn't in the lead at first, but pretty soon she broke out and that was the end of it.

Afterwards, the French announcer said, there were two races, Caster Semenya's and the one everybody else was in. She didn't crack a smile. Just brushed off her shoulders again, that young woman from South Africa. Somebody handed her a flag and told her to take a victory lap. She did it sternly. A dyke, I figured. Stone butch and eighteen, with a lot to prove. More than I knew at the time.

It turns out she was waiting for the results of gender testing after complaints from some of the other runners and coaches about her sudden improvement, big muscles, deep voice when she came out of nowhere to win the African Junior Championship.

Plenty of writers blame the complaints on racism and misogyny. And it is always tough for black female athletes. Blogger Monica Roberts wasn't the only one to comment, "I know from my time on planet Earth, if an African descended female athlete excels in spectacular fashion, we get accused of cheating or have 'that's a man' shade hurled at us."

Like many others, she went on to talk about the Williams sisters whose complete dominance of the women's tennis circuit has brought on a lot of the same complaints. "They're too big, too strong. They're not real women." She also reminded us that Olympic champion Maria Mutola of Mozambique faced the same kind of accusations despite passing test after test.

Masculine women, and dykes, of course, get that nonsense all the time, no matter what their race. Martina Navratilova was in the hot seat for her muscley arms and total control of women's tennis a generation before the Williams sisters. For the rest of us, our girlness started getting called into question when we were little and beat boys in games.

All that makes a black, butch woman with wings on her feet fair game. And the medical juries are in. At least the information was leaked. Caster Semenya wasn't doping. But she is a "hermaphrodite" as they wrote in some headlines. Intersexed from those that wanted to be polite. No external male organs but reportedly testes hidden up in there.

I can't imagine what she thought, finding out in the morning paper, and looking down at a body that's suddenly foreign. Worrying everybody thinks she's a freak. Wondering if they'll let her compete again. If she can stand to.

The only good that's come out of the mess is that it gave birth to a couple of interesting articles about biological complexity explaining there are far more gender variations than we acknowledge both on the hormonal, biological and genetic levels. Hell, X's and Y's are scattered around like party favors.

Unfortunately, few of the articles went so far as to demand Semenya be accepted as an athlete, no question, by clarifying what matters most to her, that in terms of performance, most intersexed females with testes don't get enough of a handy hormonal spike to get any kind of advantage.

In fact, women with "normal" sex organs can produce unusually high levels of testosterone. What are we going to do about them? The only fair thing would be to test all the "female" athletes and establish one set of rules for everyone. Maybe even enforce them by administering hormones until they're all at exactly the same levels. Perhaps the tall ones should be shortened and the short ones stretched.

According to Peggy Orenstine, the Olympic Games quit gender-verifying female athletes in 1999 because it was proven the few women with atypical sex development didn't actually get a competitive edge. Worse, "it served only to humiliate them." Given that, it's hard to understand why the International Association of Athletics Federations continues to go after Caster Semenya.

The only challenge to Caster should be the field of runners. Unfortunately, besides the IAAF, there's now the emotional obstacle of stepping back into a stadium, and competing in front of a crowd when plenty of them are thinking she's a freak of nature, and not just because she blew away the world champion by almost two and a half seconds.

After the news broke, she withdrew from her next race and apparently began trauma counseling. I only hope it's coming from somebody kind and open-minded who won't stuff her into dresses, or try to extract her difference with a knife. I can't wait to see her run again. That beautiful burst of speed and defiance. Leaving all the other girls in the dust.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

American Politics: Two Left Feet

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Some people have two left feet. America doesn't even have one, not a toenail. My latest theory is that the impotence of our left can be judged in inverse proportion to the amount of Che tee shirts worn by its proponents. And the decibel level of their response to political outrages.

When the Democrats recently forced out Van Jones as Obama's green jobs Tzar to quell Republican fury, the most I heard were squeaks from the left. Only whispers were offered in protest when Republican administrations tolerated, actually applauded conservatives who denied global warming as frequently as the Holocaust, posited a secret global government, and supported "Middle Eastern policies meant to hasten the second coming" as Michelle Goldberg notes in the American Prospect.

Why the relative silence? Especially when those revolutionary Che tee-shirts are in ample supply in the U.S.?

Because they don't indicate anything except failure, of good sense, and the imagination. What Republican would wear an image of Bush on the destroyer declaring victory in Iraq shortly before the place exploded, taking the entire region, and the American economy, more or less along for the ride? We won, we won. Kaboom. No. You wash your hands of the triumphalist image and move on.

The left, however, continues to embrace Che, who along with his bosom buddy Fidel, gave birth to an equal, if more localized, disaster. Cubans in that enormously fertile island are going hungry, and it's not all the fault of the embargo. Police profiling of black folks, even women, is as bad as in New Jersey. The lauded Cuban health care system is largely reserved for the party faithful. School kids don't have school uniforms, books. Or toilet paper. "Revolutionary" forces protect the working class by forbidding union organizing. Queers are arrested if they try to do anything outside the sphere of their protectrice Mariela Castro who defends us in a creepy, medicalized way as homossssssssexuals and transssssexuals that have to be tolerated because they were born that way.

Altogether, Cuba has become what Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez calls "a society marked by the criminalization of opinions, where even the nuts and children don't say what they think, just the drunks." Which are then arrested. After a clip was posted on YouTube of a hammered Juan Carlos Gonzalez Marcos, "Panfilo" interrupting a video interview to announce that "what Cubans really needed was grub. We're horribly hungry," the middle-aged Afro-Cuban man got two years in jail.

And despite his early, and heroic departure, Che can't be absolved for how Cuba evolved. If I remember correctly, he was the architect of the "re-education" camps for prostitutes that went on to imprison queers, other social degenerates and enemies of the revolution that now include bloggers in addition to voluble drunks.

If that's the truth, why oh why oh why do so many in the American left cling to the myth of Che as hero, using Cuba as a handy hook on which to hang all our hopes and dreams of beauty, revolution, life under a perpetually shining sun?

Ignorant? Or just lazy? For a revolution all you need is a beret, a boat called Granma, a bunch of guys with guns, pure hearts, and a couple of weeks of ripe historical conditions. Change in a democracy, especially a mediocre one, takes years of wallowing in political filth, compromise, back room deals, insults, persistence, and of course buckets of dough.

It's more entertaining, cleaner to just go out on the streets to protest for women's and queer rights. Against war and against racism. To collect money for Green Peace and animal sanctuaries. With their insistence on keeping their hands spotless, I sometimes think the left have far more invested in our Puritan heritage than the religious right.

As a result we're not even in the game. Unlike most other democracies, we have no viable Green Party or other group of the left that could manage to get more than one or two representatives in the House. We have only the centrist and center-right Democrats up against the right-wing and extreme right Republicans.

Without the counterbalance of a political left, the extreme right easily paralyzes the Republicans, and pulls the center farther and farther towards their particular brand of schizophrenic American politics which manages to be both authoritarian and isolationist, paranoid, theocratic, and popular in an elitist (racist, misogynist, homophobic) kind of way.

The only solution is to artificially create a left. Where it could come from though, is anybody's guess. A cabbage patch? Storks? Churches have been the breeding ground of the rising extremists on the right. The left has nothing similar. Social justice movements in 2009 are too fragmented and demobilized to hatch a movement, or even the left wing of a baby chick.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Two Cents on Health Care

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

When I drop in on the American health care debate my only response is "Freaks!" Seriously. Universal health care = death panels? Communism? Armageddon? On the other hand, who on earth believes access and regulation will fix it all?

I'm an unexpected skeptic. I'm living in France where the value of universal coverage is self-evident. Despite their complaints about the high cost of care, middle-class French people pay very little, poor people pay nothing, and even outsiders like me benefit from government regulation, subsidies, and a system among the best in the world.

To give you an idea of what it means in financial terms, last year I had an ovarian cyst that involved a lot of doctor visits and eventually surgery. I paid full price for everything before my insurance returned the bulk of it. Sixty euros ($86) covered one visit to a private gynecologist, 28 euros for a visit to a public clinic. A sonogram was eighty euros. An MRI ran 454 euros. Surgery with three whole nights in the hospital was 4450 euros ($6367) including hospital bed, surgeons' fees, anesthesiologist, medication, bed pan, coffee and croissants. And I waited less than a month for this non-emergency surgery to be scheduled.

The most important thing, though, is that at every stage the care was competent and professional. Hell, it was the best I've ever had. Unsurprisingly, the World Health Organization as well as the Commonwealth Fund rank France, along with Switzerland, Britain, Canada, and Japan, as having the best health care system in the world, not just in access, but in having the best outcomes in all age categories for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and rates of other chronic diseases.

For me the question is, even if the flying pig of universal health coverage manages to get past the increasingly powerful lobbyists and their congressional lackeys to give every American insurance, can the United States actually transform its medical culture enough to make universal health care work? Access aside, America's existing health care system stinks. You can pay a lot, or pay a little, you're still in a country rated a pathetic 37th on results.

My theory is that the key to the success of French medical care is not just access, but access to one standard of care for everyone, not just in terms of how medical recommendations are made, but in terms of class.

I'd heard about it from one of my old neighbors, a medical social worker, who told me how he might spend a morning in a total slum with a recent hospital discharge, and the afternoon visiting a patient whose possible inheritors were squabbling in an adjoining room.

I got a chance to watch it myself last year. In the waiting room at the public hospital, there'd be a student, a middle-class matron, an au pair. The secretaries terrified rich and poor alike with the same French bureaucratic chill. The doctors greeted everyone with the same face of professional interest, the same polite handshake.

Compare that mix of patients and the imposition of the same social conventions to New York, where there's clearly a two-tier system of health. The poor are treated by specialists in the poor, who rarely leave their medical ghettoes to treat the rich. In public clinics, nurses snicker at patients to their faces, make fun of accents even if they have one themselves. Doctors, usually paid less than their peers in private practice, assume that the financial poverty includes moral and intellectual lack, too, and treat you accordingly.

Which is not to say they don't prescribe the expensive procedures and tests. The problem is the staff just don't take the same care with some poor schmuck as they would with the rich.

There was the time I was on Medicaid and having intestinal problems. They recommended a colonoscopy and I was right in the middle when the anesthesia wore off. They couldn't give me more because my blood pressure dropped, which they hadn't prepared for though apparently it's a common side-effect, and despite the fact I was begging them to stop, these medical professionals just went straight on like I wasn't there begging them to please, oh my god, please stop.

No, access isn't everything. I could tell you a dozen stories like that. Only a few of them mine. Should I be happy more people get access to that?

I think this two-tier system is also bad for the middle-class or rich. Aware of the differences in pocket books, the potential for patient lawsuits as much as the payoffs in lucrative tests and prescriptions, I doubt doctors give them the objective, thoughtful care they should. They don't refuse to offer useless treatments, don't take chances when they ought to.

Reform? Hell. Better burn down the house.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Muslim Women in France

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

You see tons of Muslim women in Paris near the Institut du Monde Arabe on the fancy Left Bank. They're mostly young and scholarly, and charge down the sidewalks with colored headscarves, or black hijabs and abayas floating behind them like capes.

They remind me of young queers taking to the street in their uniforms of leather bracelets and Doc Martens with pink and black triangles on everything, part fashion choice, part remembrance, hopefully even, a symbol of resistance. Because sometimes, if you're lucky, you can take the sign and means of oppression, and transform it into a declaration of war.

Not always though. It's enough to imagine what those pink and black triangles would mean on New York queers if dykes and fags across the river in New Jersey were actually obligated to wear them, embodying discrimination. Then, would the Nazi's pink or black triangle on your Manhattan leather jacket be an act of solidarity, or stupid ignorance? Are we even allowed ignorance any more in our tweet and blog world?

The double-edged nature of symbols arises every time some American jumps into the debate about "the right" of Muslim women to wear a headscarf or body-covering abaya, usually reducing the complicated social debate, especially in France, to a matter of religious freedom. Women should do what they want. Anybody considering restrictions must be a euro-centric Islamophobe.

Besides the problem that such critics erase Muslims that are opponents of "covering," the truth is religion is the least of the matter. In Paris, anyway. On the one hand, you do have those mostly young Muslim women of the scholarly Left Bank wearing headscarves, abayas, and sometimes even the burkha, partly in religious devotion, but often it seems like a flag of cultural difference that they wave at the charging French bull in a big fuck you.

And if they were the only Muslim women in France, maybe I'd say fashion, religion, who cares? It's not worth wasting our breath.

Unfortunately, cross the real and metaphorical river Seine and those little fabric squares covering hair, or bodies, even faces, have little to do with god, or even culture, but misogyny in its purest form. A whole range of women are actively coerced by brothers, boyfriends, fathers, even sons into "covering" in public, and they enforce their will with threats, beatings, rape, and the occasional old favorite of acid sprayed in any naked female face.

Pressure to comply seems worst in the banlieus, in the suburbs, where segregation and poverty are at their most intense, and angry young men are looking for ways to assert themselves. But you see it often enough in the poorer neighborhoods inside the city--the women creeping down the sidewalks behind the men that effectively own them. Tiny girls already in scarves, veiled seething teenagers, and their future selves -- not stylish liberated women at the fancy Left Bank Institut du Monde Arabe, but sacks of exhausted flesh broken with childbearing and hard work. There's nothing sanctifying or empowering at all about the ugly black dirty drapes that hide older Muslim women as they stagger down the street.

When I see them I want to ban all the abaya, hijabs, and headscarves I see. And give a good hard kick in the balls to the young men and boys with their degenerate fathers sauntering several yards in front of the women they despise as trash. I also want to yank aside those Left Bank Muslim girls and remind them that the symbols they're obviously playing with haven't been fully transformed. Black covering robes and scarves may work as a nose-thumbing gesture to the predominantly Christian West. But as a tool against the mostly masculine forces that have imposed them, they're not doing anything subversive at all.

The logical conclusion of "covering" women is a mere 3485.1 miles east in Afghanistan where that piece of compromised shit Hamid Karzai is throwing females to the Taliban wolves in hopes of improving his election chances there. The Shiite Personal Status Law he allowed to pass into effectiveness in July allows husbands to starve their wives if they fail to obey sexual demands, requires women to get male permission to leave the house, tolerates rape if the rapist coughs up dough for the girl or marries her. It strips women of rights to their own children, granting sole guardianship to their fathers and grandfathers.

While this law theoretically only enslaves Afghanistan's three million Shiite women, a huge amount of Afghan women of all origins have protested because it is expected to have an impact on all future legislation regarding family and women's rights.

Given that reality, one thing at least is clear. That it's not more freedom of religion most Muslim women need, but freedom from the monsters that use it to keep them safely hidden and in chains.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Rethinking Outrage

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Terrible, the queer kids shot in Tel Aviv, terrible the lesbians raped and slaughtered in South Africa. Then there are the bashings and murders in the States. Terrible. We need more laws, more resolutions, more vigils and marches, more politicians on our side, more media, more verbage to step over on the way to work in the morning before the super sweeps it off the curb.

More and more I wonder where it gets us, that horror at sudden, deadly explosions of hate. The deaths we respond to are particularly dramatic, but unfortunately not rare. We remember the death of Mathew Shepard crucified to a fence post in Wyoming, not all the other queers dropped in back alleys with a blow to the head.

If we really paid attention, we'd be horrified every day. We'd be on the street ranting in sackcloth and ashes at the suffering so many of us are exposed to. Maybe we'd even go beyond the anger to action.

These days, I watch our queer community's brief moments of outrage with increasing fatigue and grief. Activists haven't found a way to harness that energy, and it usually doesn't achieve much. Folks get out on the street for one march, send an email to support a draft of one law that certainly won't put an end to deadly outbursts of antigay hate. For that, we need sustained and radical work to address two separate problems-- violence and homophobia -- which have taproots sunk so deep in our cultures it will take more than a bulldozer of a movement to rip them out.

And there's no signs we want to. How many queers argue open-mindedly for the right of women to wear burkhas, rally around the little crosses, and stars, support religion under the guise of religious and cultural freedom? We are complicit in giving preachers the keys to the state houses and schools, as if the arguments against queers weren't almost always moral ones, casting us as too unclean to be equal as humans or citizens. As if these moral arguments didn't sentence our bullied queer children to years of hell. As if they weren't in part responsible for the deaths of two young queers in Tel Aviv.

Only a revolution will save us. A real one. Things turned on their heads and kept there. We haven't seen many real revolutions. Usually there's some roulette motion where you end up like Cuba back at square one, or zero, because the human capacity for transcendence lasts, if you're lucky, about as long as a post-six-pack piss.

We can only hope for floods and earthquakes. Great event changers. Conversions. I suppose you could wish for a sudden explosion of Buddhists and Quakers who are at least nonviolent, though Jesus himself warned new wine bursts old wine skins. Better to try something altogether different. Maybe introduce valium into the tap water of our cities, half of which ends up packaged in bottles. Or instead of urging our citizens to eat more fruits and vegetables, ply them with more sugar and starches, reducing them into semi-permanent insulin shock, too weak to lift a violent hand.

Failing a revolution, we can only go at things piecemeal as usual. A law here, a community center there. Education is useful in moderation to spur activism. Learn too much about the world you can be crushed under the weight of all its bigots and idiots. What are the odds we can reach them all?

Ten to one you say, offering the magic percentage of queers in the world.

It's a point worth thinking about. Maybe we've been going at this social change stuff all wrong, trying to change things in a global way, when we should be thinking local. Like insurgents, perhaps we should act in small cells. Have an expansive vision, but stick to our limited territory of families, neighbors, friends. Like Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons we could go door to door. "Have you ever met a queer? No? Then today's your lucky day. Look. No tail, or just a small one. No horns. Any questions? Have a copy of our sacred texts. A few poems by Audre Lorde. James Baldwin."

We should do what is possible. Think of it. Our agents are already in place in every family and town. The problem is, they are sleeping and the haters are awake. They are awake and looking for a target. We tell them with nods and winks and sermons who they can safely pick. We put the guns or machetes in their hands.

Our periodic and verbose catharses of outrage, do little more than reveal us to be a Queer Nation of Rip Van Winkles that wake long enough to express dismay at the world, then fall back asleep. By our silence, we recruit for the wrong side.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Racism, Commies, and the Moonwalk

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

French TV's been full of nostalgic documentaries celebrating the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's trip to the moon. It was hailed not only as a superpower's scientific advance, but a human achievement belonging to us all, a first step towards a glorious future in which we would all hold hands and sing Kumbaya while circling the campfire on our jetpacks.

All things considered, we didn't get very far. There's no man on Mars. No real space program. And as for our crappy life here on earth, every day brings a new flashback to the messy irrational hatreds of the Cold War era.

Like in segregated cities in the 50's, sixty black and Latino kids were booted from Philadelphia's The Valley Swim Club in late June even though their day camp had paid more than $1900 to join the "open membership" pool. The reason? "[C]oncern that a lot of kids would change the complexion ... and the atmosphere of the club."

Some kids reported that the pool attendants had been rather less euphemistic saying "they did not allow minorities in the club and needed the children to leave immediately." At least one white parent loudly freaked, "Uh, what are all these black kids doing here? ... I'm scared they might do something to my child."

The Young Republican conference in July was an equally retro celebration of misogyny and racism. The group chose self-described "true conservative" Audra Shay as Chairman, over Rachel "must be a dyke" Hoff who was slammed as much for wearing pants as for supporting civil unions.

The skirt-clad winner Shay was elected despite, or because of, blatantly racist Facebook comments, LOL'ing in response to the statement we "need to take this country back from all of these mad coons" and responding to an effigy of Sarah Palin with "What no 'Obama in a noose? ... I am wondering if the guys with the Palin noose would care if we had a bunch of homosexuals in a noose."

One sign of progress, though, is that fifty years after we put a man on the moon, there are now enough Republicans of color in power to add their own garbage to America's racist cesspool. One of the biggest supporters of the violently bigoted Audra Shay was apparently Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, an Asian American periodically touted as the Republican answer to Obama.

Michael Steele, the African American head of the GOP, was on hand to tell the Young Republicans crowd he planned to attract more people of color to the party by offering up fried chicken and potato salad. Not support for small businesses in poor minority neighborhoods, or efforts to repeal drug laws responsible for dumping young black men in jail. Fried chicken and potato salad.

Republican attacks on justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor were almost as sophisticated, largely boiling down to "temperament" and "personality," code for "I don't trust you because you're a woman, a spic, a woman, a spic."

Democrats aren't immune from idiocy. In New York, State Senator Ruben Diaz, usually celebrated for his outrageous homophobia, brought his own racism to the table when he sneered at state Republicans as los republicanos blanquitos, "little Republican whitey's" in a Spanish-language interview.

Meanwhile, in Akron, Ohio, a group of black teenagers celebrated Independence Day by attacking a white family after a fireworks show yelling: "This is our world!" and "This is a black world!" The uninsured construction worker father ended up in critical care for five days, stacks of hospital bills, and questions about buying a gun.

Which would be easy enough in Missouri where a car-dealer is giving away free AK47's with his trucks. In an interview with an astounded journalist from the BBC, he explained that pretty much all Americans like guns, except for Commies, of course. When asked just what semiautomatic weapons were good for, he said you could have a lot of fun shooting stuff up, but that AK47's were especially useful in case of "home defense".

They could have used a few last week in Cambridge where a white neighbor called the police because a black man was struggling with the front door of a house in an apparent break-in attempt. Eventually, the nefarious black man, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was arrested for getting pissed off that the cops came and questioned his right to enter his own home.

Instead of complaining, calling the policeman a racist for only doing his job, and irresponsibly provoking the situation by asking for his badge number, I suppose the distinguished professor Gates should have saved the cops the trouble and shot himself for intruding on the peace of mind of his lily-white neighbors.

That's post-race America in a nutshell. Forty years after the moonwalk, skin's still a disease too many of us are mad with.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Against Equality

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

So how do we build an LGBT movement? Despite the enormous turnout at pride parades we don't really have one.

For a while people rallied for the same-sex marriage fight, but if Facebook posts are any indication, a big minority was relieved when the "reactionary" fight for gay marriage in California went bust. "Now we can get back to more important issues."

How do we reconcile a fractured community? Can we? In the absence of a charismatic leader like Martin Luther King, we need to reach beyond disputed goals towards shared ideals.

Liberty, or rather, liberation, used to be our battle cry. Today, mainstream organizers focus almost all their attention on equality. There's Equality Arizona, Immigration Equality, and even the Dallas Principles advocating not just Equality but Dignity.

Sometimes equality is supposed to mean full civil rights for LGBT people, from marriage to military service. Sometimes it's a moral assertion, aiming to establish that we're as good and valuable as anybody else. Then there's the social component to declarations of equality -- we really are the same as you despite who we sleep with. We're homeowners, parents, tax-payers eager to get married.

All of those definitions of equality fall short both as practical goals, and overarching ideals.

Just in terms of social change, it's shortsighted to see legal equality as an end in itself. African American history teaches us that it's only a stepping stone and tool. Slavery was outlawed, separate but equal accommodations were removed from the books. Finally, heterosexual black folks could marry who they wanted, even whites. But even after all those laws changed, the fight's not over. There's an African American in the White House, but no real racial justice. Is the average black child free to cast a thought in any direction? Even walk down any street?

Which is why Patrick Henry did not cry, "Give me equal representation under colonial tax laws and a seat at the master's table, or give me death." He demanded liberty, which supercedes all the rest as a political end.

Metaphysical demands for equality, aiming to establish our basic worth as humans, create a whole new set of problems. The main one is that asking for "equality," even demanding it, is entirely counterproductive. It implies we weren't born with it and diminishes us. It turns us into beggars in front of the rich, whether we ask for equality hat in hand, or brick in fist.

If you don't know it, the gatekeepers of power certainly do. They revel in the pleasure of bestowing crumbs of rights, then patting our heads as if we were not disinherited equals, but a strange breed of dogs. (See almost every pandering, self-congratulatory word of Obama's June 29th speech for proof).

Which raises the question, in our quest for equality, just what and who are we trying to be equal to? The word itself is burdened by the idea of sameness, a mathematical equivalence incompatible with our roots of liberation. Working towards it -- as a primary goal -- seems to actually encourage conformity, enforce it, even. I feel increasingly I should wear pearls when I protest. Pop a baby and join a church to prove that I'm just the same as everybody else, except for the small matter of who I screw.

This push for social equivalence ignores those of us who fled our natal world, not just for queer self-preservation, but at a kind of horror at the whole stifling heterosexual world, the petrified functions of mothers and fathers, the extension of their roles in the neighborhood, church, community, and school where they strangle each other into a likeminded homogeneity that targets artists as much as dykes.

Which is why I argue, once again, that we need to go further if we want a real movement. Beyond laws to justice. Beyond equality to liberty in every facet of our lives, rejecting the limitations of equality that bind and restrain everyone of us.

When queers can finally retire from the battlefield, hets can, too. People can marry. Or not. Go to church. Or not. Differences should not be either "tolerated," or celebrated, but expected and enjoyed as a part of the human condition. You don't walk like a man or a woman but yourself. You can sleep on the right side or the left. Pursue your life. Aspire. Dream. What a world if kids could even move freely through space.

For that, only a hunger for liberation is enough. Something no one can legislate or award.

As French dyke musician Nadia Boulanger (1887 – 1979) said, "Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of resistance."

Queers all know something about that.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Celebrating Stonewall When the State of the Gay Union Stinks

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

It's that time of year when queers hold barbecues and parades, and lift their Cosmopolitans to the dykes and drag queens that helped start the modern LGBT movement. Our institutions honor an activist or two, usually a jovial sort that won't offend any of their funders, and point to Barney Frank, Ellen, Rachel Maddow, queers marrying in Massachusetts then declare, Yes, we've come a long way.

Right, I say. Take a whiff. The state of the gay union stinks.

Young queers are still swamped by hate, targeted by schoolmates, Sunday Schools, censorious families, and when they aren't the direct objects of violence, often do violence to themselves. Transgendered women are slaughtered in the streets. Dykes are beaten by cops and no one comes to our aid.

All last year, our "friends" in the Democratic Party ran a presidential campaign erasing queers whenever possible. Obama courted the evangelical vote campaigning with the likes of ex-gay gospel singer Donnie McClurkin preaching hell for queers, and bigot Kirbyjon Caldwell, who had also supported Bush.

The homophobia and hate sewn by these creatures is reaped in violence and ignorance and HIV. Queers of color are getting infected in huge numbers at home, along with plenty of their straight pals. Abroad, where our global HIV/AIDS programs haven't recovered from Bush, we endorse homophobes like Rick Warren, Obama's inaugural prayer giver, that have established entire empires of anti-gay hate encouraging people to pray away their disease, and keep "clean" by promoting abstinence, burning condoms, and viciously targeting gay men.

We've won same-sex marriage in a few states, though in most similar rights are increasingly banned and, in the anti-gay process, throw queers back into a repeat of Reagan's culture war. The biggest difference in today's anti-gay campaigns is how they increasingly target minority communities, putting LGBT people of color at greater risk, and expose the failure of LGBT programs that have written off immigrant and minority communities as irrelevant, irredeemable, or perhaps, unprofitable.

Most recently, the administration of our "fierce defender" Barack Obama submitted a brief to a federal court arguing that gay marriage would certainly lead to child abuse and incest. They even wrote, "[T]he public policy doctrine, which has long recognized the sovereign authority of the States to decline to give effect to the laws of a sister State at variance with their own legitimate public policy."

What? Could they possibly be saying it was a good thing that states once had the right not to acknowledge interracial marriages?

Talk about depravity. What are queers waiting for? Some celestial stick to reach down and stir us to life? A colossal mouth to appear outside our windows yelling, "WAKE THE FUCK UP! WHERE'S YOUR PRIDE? OR YOUR SENSE OF SELF-PRESERVATION?"

We should riot again. We should send packages of cow patties to the White House saying, "Return to sender." We should think of Lawrence King or Duanna Johnson and block traffic at court houses until we see justice done. And we should imagine what it is we really want.

Freedom is more powerful than health insurance, marriage, or even a vote. A rigged election may have gotten protesters out on the street in Iran, but it was the attempt to squash even their freedom to protest that kept them there.

When did our dreams of liberation give way to sterile demands for equality? How did equality deteriorate into piecemeal campaigns for legal rights like same-sex marriage which we largely support by wishful thinking, and donations to the "Human" Rights Campaign fund?

What stops us queers from leaving our houses and protesting? Is it an American thing? An election was stolen in 2000 and all we did was send a few angry emails. This president campaigned with a mouth full of narcotic promises. He was elected with lies and is trying to set legal precedents that will keep us in the gutter where his deeds have consistently declared we belong.

How long will we excuse his scorn as political tactics or mere mistakes? How long will we vote for Democrats that time after time declare the best policy is to wait? How long will we finance ineffective, racist lobbyists completely out of touch with the communities they are supposed to represent?

Long-time activist Cleve Jones is calling for a March on Washington in October. Why not? We need a new beginning. Even now, we should focus on the spirit of Stonewall, not all the nebulous accomplishments since. It's time to celebrate change itself. That terrifying and miraculous thing that arrives sometimes after years of labor, sometimes like a tsunami.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A Plea For Queer History

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I've always liked Larry Kramer. He's one of the few people as perpetually pissed off as I am, and equally obsessed with gay history. While his thing lately is extracting queers from their historical closets, I'm desperate to preserve our activist history.

Without history, without memory, each generation seems to reinvent itself from scratch with a piecemeal vision for our movement, few role models, no understanding of organizing techniques or even how activism fits into the bigger picture of social change.

In our ignorance, we've allied ourselves with one party, diminishing our political bargaining power, and embraced a leadership seemingly determined to separate us from our history of survival and resistance. If not for some vague image of Martin Luther King, and an even vaguer image of Stonewall, we wouldn't even have had the idea to take to the street, carry signs, make speeches, and perhaps organize a sit-in or two after the Marriage Equality efforts in California fumbled their way to defeat.

Worse, we barely reacted when Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign told us to sit down and shut up after secret meetings with the Obama administration. "They've got a vision. They've got a plan."

Maybe it's time to pull a woolly mammoth from the tar pit of queer history. I recommend the Lesbian Avengers.

If you've heard of them at all it's probably for their ongoing legacy of Dyke Marches held all over the country, or their bold direct actions like taking over a radio station to put pressure on Spanish-language media to mend their homophobic, racist ways.

In fact, the most radical act of the Lesbian Avengers was to take queer activism where it had never been before, into the heart of heartland politics. And if this history had been remembered, queer Californians could probably still get hitched.

Turn the dial on the time machine to 1993-4. The place is rural, conservative Idaho, largely lacking in progressive networks. When the Idaho Citizens' Alliance put an anti-gay measure on the ballot banning everything from antidiscrimination ordinances to queer books in the library, it seemed a slam duck for the Christian Right. And almost was.

Local queers responded in two ways. The No on 1 Coalition, a loose association of LGBT groups centered in the capital city of Boise, hired a full-time staff and called on the Human Rights Campaign Fund, Gay and Lesbian Americans and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

These guys bankrolled and centralized the campaign, instituting "message control" whereby the executive committee carefully controlled who could speak to the press, or send letters and articles. Arms were twisted to get local groups to comply. And like the recent "No on 8" campaign, queers were shoved in the closet and the door locked after them. Television ads twisted themselves in knots to avoid the words, "gay" and "lesbian," and focused instead on messages denouncing government interference in private lives.

Luckily, No on 1 stuck mostly to the southern part of the state. In the more rural, northern part, a tiny local chapter of Lesbian Avengers in Palouse decided Idaho needed rather different tactics. They called the Lesbian Avenger Civil Rights Organizing Project (LACROP) in New York to come help, and eight full-time and eight part-time workers arrived headed up by native Idahoan, Sara Pursley.

The Avengers did almost everything in reverse. Local lesbians and gay men were put front and center, encouraged to set their own priorities, come out in their communities and share power as widely as possible. Together, they organized speak-outs and kiss-ins. Some even went door-to-door to talk about their lives. Nobody was censored. And getting your voice heard and your life validated made it worth the risks of violence, vandalism, and fear. Queers made connections with each other, forged a place in their communities, oh, and won a bunch of votes.

The northern, rural region where the out and proud LACROP was active defeated Proposition One by a significant margin. The centralized, closeted efforts in the more urban and progressive area around Boise only narrowly defeated the measure, with the rest of the nearby counties voting overwhelmingly "yes" to adopt Proposition One. The extra votes in the LACROP region made the difference, along with Mormons who actually voted "no" because of bashing from the Christian Right.

It's time for this history to be more widely known. Imagine if those asshats in California had understood that lesbian and gay visibility should have been a fundamental part of their campaign, and not a liability.

Imagine if they'd understood the power of working together with a broader shared vision-- liberation -- and that impatient activists bringing visibility to important issues are not just blowhard loonies but an essential force creating space for organizers and lobbyists to find common ground for change.

Imagine, imagine, imagine if they had less money, and had to focus more on human capital, on creativity, on energy, on pure heart. Imagine, if we'd only remembered what those lesbians did once upon a time in Idaho.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day, 2009

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Another Memorial Day, another moment of national pageantry broadcast on PBS. There were tear-jerking songs by fully fleshed Hollywood and Broadway types and a flag-waving crowd intercut with lengthy displays of abbreviated limbs that apparently caused less pain than a haircut. In the hospital videos, the damaged soldiers all wore brave smiles. Their girlfriends and wives absolutely beamed. What joy, what honor holding some gimp's hand as he learns to make do with plastic legs!

Then there was the guy on the front row of the Lincoln Memorial show. He was flanked by a mother and wife. They got him where they wanted him, propped up in his chair, his mouth hanging open. Every now and then they took a hanky and dabbed proudly at the gaping maw -- which we saw because the camera zoomed in at the apex of each patriotic song hoping there would be one proud tear to go with the drool like the Native American in the pollution commercial. Thank god they got nothing. If the guy has any grey matter left, I imagine him dreaming only of getting back to bed. Even nightmares are better.

There weren't any girls with shiny stumps, at least while I watched. I suspect it wasn't so much because it's unseemly to suggest the vulnerability of women to anything except rape, but the fact if the editors followed the same script you'd have to show their menfolk in some kind of supporting, tender role. And who wants to see the travesty of guys holding the hands of their wounded wives, when they should be getting blown up themselves?

I won't talk at all about missing queers and how heterosexual the whole thing was.

Let me move on to the other ghosts at Macbeth's feast, the missing shots of the roadside bombs and flying shrapnel that make an obscenely direct connection between the fatherland and flesh. While Memorial Day is supposed to honor Americans that have served in war, in the visual language of national pageantry, there seemed to be some less menacing reason a leg suddenly ended at a knee, an arm at an elbow.

Eschewing violence and hate and the idiocy of human war, the combination of patriotic symbols and new pink scars began to implicate flag-waving itself as the sudden cause of missing limbs. Perhaps we should all stay away from car dealerships. Forget bankruptcies at Chrysler. It's the faded banners and spontaneous amputations that should worry us.

No, Memorial Day isn't really the moment to remember soldiers enduring the ugliness of war, but to purge sacrifice of pain and grief, and separate patriotism from dissent. Let's rally around the flag, celebrate unity, even in the grave, or be censored for disrespect.

Obama, at least, plays that game less brazenly than Bush. He implies, rather than shouts, that in a time of war, in a time of economic crisis we should just sit down, shut up, and support the commander in chief as he is forced to break campaign promises. Only reluctantly does he preserve military trials for those poor schmucks stuck in Guantanamo. Only with great regret does he bolster spying programs targeting civilians, and delay civil rights for queers.

Perhaps it's only ironic to me that he sends out soldiers to die in the name of a democracy he willingly erodes. Or that most of us would rather honor our kids that are maimed and killed than lift a finger at home to save the soul of our country.

If we refuse to be up in arms, shouldn't we at least demand our media lift the curtain on this freak show and pass around the whiskey instead of the schmalz? Shouldn't we expose the real consequences of war, the bitter losers recalcitrant in their anti-heroic stances, who turn to drink and drugs, and refuse their physical therapy, who replace missing body parts with rage? Shouldn't we recognize those physically complete soldiers who can only display their interior damage with guns placed in their mouths or to their girlfriends' heads?

Yeah, I'd like to see them. And maybe the messy dead before they're lined up under white stones at Arlington. My only request is that we do it without getting out the bleach. It's time we honor loss and sacrifice in its raw and native state.

When I first came to New York I'd hand over my voluntary quarter or two and wander the Met. I'd skip the famous paintings for the medieval art wing featuring wooden and ivory Christs. They weren't gilded like lilies, just wracked with stylized pain. After all those centuries, they'd be missing a limb sometimes, too, on top of everything. Poignant, I thought. I felt like it added something true.

First, you get the brutal pain of sacrifice, then the careless wounding of time.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Putting the Riot Back in Stonewall

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

In a couple of weeks New Yorkers will be marking the anniversary of the Stonewall, but probably nobody's gonna throw a bottle or a punch.

State-by-state we're winning the rights to same-sex marriage. In the academic world, queer and gender studies programs are practically mainstream. And during the post-election protests against the passage of Prop H8te, there was a brief resurgence of LGBT street activism with young queers getting in on the act. With all that going on, why riot?

Maybe just to stay in practice. When activists in Spain won the right to same-sex marriage, they popped a cork and went home without sticking around to change the larger society. Years later, LGBT folks are hated just as much as ever, and without a community structure, without activists, enforcement of the right to marry, or anything else, seems to be almost impossible for any but the most well-connected.

Likewise, the development of "queer" studies programs in Spain, and in France as well, seem to actually be eroding gay activism. It's partly a matter of language. Embracing the foreign word "queer" with no association with homosexuality, deludes French and Spanish kids into believing they've come out even though culturally they have both feet in the closet, carefully sheltered from homophobia.

I could dismiss the "queer" thing in Europe as a peculiarly middle-class college phenomenon, except that in practice, "queer" theory -- deconstructing sexual orientation into an artificial veil of performed gender and constructed identities -- is actively used to stigmatize the words lesbian and gay as reactionary labels rooted in the past.

Nobody's taking to the streets for (or with) dinosaurs. Lesbians, especially, with the double whammy of homophobia and misogyny, are finding it impossible to recruit new activists, even if the little thugs populating the schoolyards of Europe don't care if you're only a collection of socially assigned values when they're taunting you as a dyke.

The state of activism is only marginally better in the U.S., where Stonewall 2.0 seems to have fizzled. And even without the specter of Spain, history warns us how fragile progress is without a strong activist base. In Prussia, for instance, statutes forbidding Jewish participation in liberal professions like the law was overturned just to be reinstated more brutally a few decades later in what was by then Germany.

In the United States, where laws are harder to pass and more rarely reversed, I don't expect a queer Holocaust, but things could get bad again even if they're just selectively enforced. Something with which Americans do have a long tradition. The white boy gets a warning for his gram of coke, while the black guy goes straight to jail. The fag killer getting off with a panic defense, the murderer of businessmen earns the chair.

As a perpetual minority, LGBT folks would be stupid to assume their progress is written in stone. But too many activists have been snoozing since ARV's demobilized AIDS activists and other groups like the Lesbian Avengers went kaput. We're not only silent, but assimilating, unraveling, passé. We've forgotten our strengths as a community, and how we are bound by more than same-sex sex.

Sometimes in the spring when I go to the French Agricultural Fair where children can see everything from sheep and cows to wine-making displays as they digest what it means to be French, I wish we could have the same sort of thing for LGBT folks. Something that lasts longer, and is more pedagogically ambitious than a festival or parade, aiming to convey decades, if not centuries, of history, culture, and identity.

Why not the same blend of lofty and camp, mixing stands of Birkenstocks and cosmos shaken not stirred, Judy Garland paraphernalia and Audre Lorde books? We need drag queens and kings to instruct their novices in the elaborate flamboyant display of a drag show, drape us in wigs and pearls and facial hair, and refuse to deconstruct the temporary transgressive joy.

We could have displays on activism, and how to write a press release and assign the most effective Twitter tags. We could commemorate the riots with a contest on beer bottle throwing judging participants on accuracy, ferocity and style in shattering plate glass windows.

I'm only half joking. And though my ideas are probably lame, the point I'm getting at is this: that if we want to survive as a community we have to do more than win the right to get married. We have to pick our myths and guard them jealously like everybody else. Both to survive, and nurture another generation, but also because our community traditions are worth something to the world at large.

Every minority community has their survival stories, but like fine wines each is rooted in a cultural terroir, with a unique balance of resistance, courage, joy. Queers, in particular, celebrate, or used to, an irreverence more liberating than the concessions of any hard fought law.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hating Faggots, Erasing Gays

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

This week, I'm sick of straight people and their carefully guarded innocence. First a friend's mom asked, "Homophobia, is it really a problem?" Then, after Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an eleven-year old boy, was literally bullied to death, killing himself after months of getting called "faggot" and "gay," we had the article, "Dude, You've Got Problems," in the New York Times.

The nice, straight, disgustingly innocent Judith Warner asserted Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover didn't really die of homophobia, but as a result of the hyper-masculinized American society where church-goers and intellectuals are automatically consigned to the faggot bin. She wrote, "Being called a "fag," you see, actually has almost nothing to do with being gay."

With that little phrase she erased all of us queers that grew up getting called "homo," "fag," "lezzy" and "dyke." Sure, idiot homophobes use "faggot" as an epithet for any male they want to taunt because, well, people hate faggots. But the word is used with the most hatred, the most virulence, and does the most damage, when they think the target actually is gay.

Unfortunately, our enemies often know our eventual sexual identity before we do. Those girls at school that called me "lezzy" were dead right, way before I had a clue. Ditto for those guys that threw bottles out the car window at me and screamed "dyke!" when I was just barely considering "bi."

Young Carl could well have turned out to be gay. Is that any better than being hated by mistake? Does Judith Warner need to believe he was one hundred percent straight to denounce his torture and death?

You get exceptions to every rule. There are female pedophiles and women that beat their husbands. Some tormented kids maybe are straight and just pegged as effeminate. Some may be transgender. But the majority of the ones getting tormented as gay usually are, or will be. It's time we admit it. It's time we admit how early our differences begin to show. And how soon we are hated.

And just redefining American masculinity to include intelligent, "good" or religious-inclined boys won't help gay children much at all. In France, despite the adoration of skinny intellectuals, and a preponderance of boys with androgynous haircuts, bigots still beat up queers, and queer-supportive politicians get packages of human feces in the mail. In Senegal, where religion is a masculine province, society still conducts witch hunts, condemns faggots to years in jail, while imams in dresses encourage the government to execute men having sex with men.

No, the main reason kids get harassed as faggots, or lezzies is because they very well might be. And the only thing the world hates more than homosexuals are the little kids who might grow into them. That hazing, that bullying is a brutal attempt to enforce heterosexuality among possible citizens of queer nation that haven't yet applied for their permanent resident cards.

Which is why we need programs like the Rainbow Curriculum (remember that?) which was meant to teach elementary school kids to respect each other no matter what. I would only change the emphasis from Heather's Two Mommies, to Heather has a Mom and Dad, but herself is a lesbian child. Sexual identity, sexual orientation doesn't just emerge with body hair. It's there in the background, shaping who we are, what we care about from our very first years.

And I am infuriated by everyone, gay or innocently straight, who are intent on denying that a little black boy interested in the church, good in school, might really turn out to be gay like a certain James Baldwin. How simple it is. No gay boy, no homophobia to fight both among students and school staff.

Denying the reality of homophobia, denying the existence of gay children only means more destruction, more deaths.

"...this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. One can be, indeed one must strive to become, tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death, for this is what most of mankind has been best at since we have heard of man. (But remember: most of mankind is not all of mankind.) But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime." Props to James Baldwin. He was talking about racism. But dude got it right for queers, too.

It's time to acknowledge gay kids and teach even presumed hetero ones that the only answer to charges of "faggot!" "dyke!" is a, "So what if I am? Big deal."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An Ode to The L Word

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

There was a lesbian conference this weekend in Toulouse, France. The theme: lesbians and the weapon of laughter. Somebody thought it would be a good idea to have the Lesbian Avengers, and I appeared with Ana Simo on a panel of activists including the Paris feminist group, La Barbe, and Madrid's Toxic Lesbians.

We showed video snippets of Avengers taking over Fifth Avenue to protest the murders of Hattie Mae Cohen and Brian Mock, the vast Dyke March in DC in '93, and fire-eaters in front of the White House. We even showed Avengers giving schoolchildren balloons that said, "Ask about lesbian lives."

Everyone was generally happy with the documentary images, but you could tell a minority were irritated at our activist message: the Avengers were a response to the invisibility and irrelevance that were still a big problem today.

A few actually seemed pissed off at the idea I missed the Avengers. One lesbian described a demo in her city, implying lesbians weren't that invisible. Another woman seemed to come out against activism, "Shouldn't we stop and think about our goals first...? Do we really want to spend our time changing the existing structure of society? Maybe we should focus our efforts on developing an entirely new one..."

I wondered what it would take to wake them up, and create a longing for more than the useful, but hermetically sealed, conference that had welcomed me. Laughter certainly wasn't enough. Maybe a small explosion...

Another New Yorker was the answer. In her presentation about "The L Word" and her film "Go Fish," dyke writer and director Rose Troche managed to incite finger-pointing, threats, and a near fist-fight, at least in the back of the room where I was.

Is "The L Word" a sell-out or not? Is something better than nothing? Would you really sleep with Shane? Is "Go Fish" truly an embarrassment? These questions cut to the quick, roused tempers as only television can. It comes right into your home, establishes an intimacy as you watch those characters you identify with, or just as intimately hate.

The surprise for me was such an avowed adoration for "Go Fish." It was filmed in the first years of the Avengers, and came out in '94 at our height. And like the Avengers it stemmed from a desire for lesbian visibility. After working with Queer Nation and ACT-UP on issues all about men, Rose and Guinevere Turner were feeling the need to do a project by, for, and about dykes.

When Rose went online recently to get a sense of the film, she said the overwhelming response was pure embarrassment. She said she herself was embarrassed by some of the filmmaking -- it was her first attempt, after all. But the embarrassment in lesbian viewers was about how they looked on film. "The characters are too real, too ugly, too butch."

Lesbians nowadays, Rose said, much prefer to be represented by "The L Word," even if it gets criticized, too, this time for being too slick, the girls too femme, too pretty. Still, she got letters from young girls saying it saved their lives. She went to a season opening once and saw a line of Shane wanabees curving around the block. The show, she said, made them feel pretty and desirable.

Which is where the muttering started. "Not me. I much prefer "Go Fish." That's what represents me. Don't they ever go to work?" They would rather be invisible than have an image they didn't like.

It's a TV show for chrissake, I wanted to scream. I suppose they also thought Hattie McDaniel should have passed up the Mammy role in 1940 leaving Halle Berry to be born fully formed from the head of Zeus. Martin Luther King should have skipped the lunch counter demonstrations in 1960 and demanded the White House. In 2000, Vermont queers should've turned down civil unions and held out for marriage.

I'm glad Rose wasn't apologetic about it. The lesbian writers and producers knew going in they'd have to make compromises if they wanted to get the first lesbian TV show on the air. To make money they had to be provocative. "Sex was a mandate." They fought certain battles with the producers, but "When a lesbian project goes through a male filter you get The L Word," Rose said matter-of-factly.

I should confess I've barely watched the show. What I do know is that we have to be out there. In the street, in politics, and in the shared imaginations of our cultures. We need movies, books, TV shows, soap operas, melodramas, tennis games. We need to be everywhere. Not as special cases, or in disproportionate numbers, but as ourselves.

Right now, we could disappear, slaughtered all at once, and the joke is nobody would notice we'd gone.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Today, I Hate Men

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I used that title in my blog last month, and could have used it several times since. Why not? It gets your attention. Responds to the most common message out there, unspoken, and hidden between the lines, declaring, "I Hate Women. Always."

In South Africa, it's written large in sexual violence. Lesbians, especially, are raped to "cure" us of our sexual orientation, and keep us in a female's place which is somewhat lower than the sole of the masculine foot. On par with the worm. So often relegated below ground to the grave the violent deaths of women look like a slo-motion genocide. It's actually picked up speed since lesbian activist and former soccer star, Eudy Simelane, was gang-raped and stabbed to death last year.

The rapes and murders of all black females have accelerated in South Africa, though you wouldn't know it, what with the government and police responding with an inverse passivity doing almost nothing for dykes. Nothing even for straight females. Leaving rapists and murderers free to do their thing.

Carrie Shelver, an activist with women's rights group Powa, told Britain's The Guardian, to blame "the increasingly macho culture, which seeks to oppress women and sees them as merely sexual beings. So when there is a lesbian woman she is an absolute affront to this kind of masculinity." Call it what you want, the perpetrators are men. And I do hate them.

Like in Brazil, where there's an epidemic of stupid, vicious, criminal rapists otherwise known as fathers, stepfathers, brothers, grandfathers. Last month's big fuss over a 9-year-old girl who aborted twins after her stepfather raped her, wouldn't have existed at all if not for the fact that some idiot local priest summarily excommunicated everyone involved, including the doctors who performed the surgery, and the woman that tried to care for her abused daughter.

So the priester made the headline, along with the Vatican's jockeying afterwards. Only as an afterthought did The New York Times offer a report revealing that a sizable number of Brazil's legal abortions were for under-aged girls who had been raped by men in their family. Even younger ones are raped, used as blow-up dolls at six or seven, but don't turn up in the statistics because they're too young to get pregnant. No fodder for the anti-abortion activists and priests. No media hook.

Yep, today again, I'm hating men. Enough to be trembling. To fall silent. Thinking of all those little girls out there facing this man's world. Once, twice or a hundred times a day they'll be reminded of what they aren't. What they don't have. Or should be. Men will rape it into them, or beat it, or just sneer it in. Even me in my protected cocoon of enlightened societies and the verge of middle age, have a bull's eye on my face. There was that guy I chased down the street after he almost ran over me on his motorcycle. I called him an asshole. He came right back with words he meant to wound, "woman" "lesbian." Oh, and "foreigner."

After a couple minutes of that, the passersby laughing, with amusement at first, then discomfort, I wanted to smash his face in like they do ours, while shouting, "fucking man, fucking man." I wanted to rip his cock off. I didn't, though, just screamed and sounded ridiculous. Angry females always do. Ridiculous and shrill, not because of a naturally more high-pitched voice, but because that's the sound humans make when you thrust pins in their heart, stick bamboo under their delicate nails and grin.

There was that trial on the TV news a couple weeks ago. North African guy got a couple years in prison for spraying acid on a girl's face out in one of Paris's suburban housing projects, if I remember correctly. And on her upper body. He didn't like her uppity ways at the time, but is sorry now, and told her so in court when it came to sentencing.

He's not as sorry as the girl who had half her face melted off and needs the neighbor's help to put a pot on the stove and take it off.

All those men doing what they can get away with. You, too. Indifferent to the violence. Indifferent to our invisibility and silence. How many females write for anybody's press? How many sit in the Senate? How many run the investigations that solve rapes and murders? How many make the laws that bind us? Should we have to beg for equality?

Yes, apparently. You've done enough. Your conscience is clear. Which is why I write, and despite all signs, why I'm often at a loss for words to tell the truth. To rouse you. I so clearly need more. Hardware maybe. Steel-toed shoes at least for that well-placed kick to the groin.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Spreading the Love in Health Care Reform

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

You want health care reform, you better just pack your bags and move to France, or maybe Sweden. You'll have time to learn the language, turn old and grey, and maybe kick the bucket before any real reform takes roots in the States, despite the love-fest at Obama's recent forum on healthcare.

Did you see that saccharine nonsense? Democrat Charles Rangel announcing how well he works with counterpart Republican Dave Camp on the Ways and Means Committee, while Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa seconded Obama, "If you aren't ambitious on a major problem like this ... it will never get done." Another Republican, Representative Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri, added, "All of us have to be willing to give a little."

Great. Put a reform bill on the agenda. Let's call for a vote. Get those 87 million uninsured Americans plans they can afford, new doctors trained, hospitals repaired, drug companies reined in, so we'll no longer be ashamed to show our faces to our Canadian neighbors that used to spend their days smirking as we snuck over the border to buy our prescription meds and bargain basement cigs.

Let's research not just cancer and stem cells, but AIDS, remember that? And cardiac disease in women since that's mostly what's killing us. Let's reinvigorate nursing, raise pay, and teach both doctors and nurses to respect all their patients, including poor people, and women, and queers.

Unfortunately, that jovial, harmonious tone at the forum was less due to a bipartisan commitment to improving healthcare than a joint determination to take credit for reform while actually watering it down as much as hospital coffee.

The first problem is the political sleazeballs that have accepted $1 billion in lobbying love from the insurance industry and big Pharma just in the last two years. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky who told Obama he was "among those interested in seeing us address entitlement reform" pulled in $425,000 since '05. That straight-shooting reformer McCain swallowed $546,000. The head of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, a Democrat of Montana, ate up $413,000.

Barack Obama himself raised more than $2 million from the insurance and pharmaceutical sectors during his record-breaking presidential campaign. The donations were all from individuals, and not PACs, so I guess they won't have much influence. Obama's certainly acted "independent" of LGBT people who dropped a boatload of dough on his campaign and got absolutely nothing in return. But queers are known for being suckers. Big Pharma, not so much.

Besides corruption there's the related problem of process. Obama declared that, "If we want to translate these goals into policies, we need a process that is as transparent and inclusive as possible." Couldn't agree more.

Too bad Obama's committee for "Healthcare Reform Dialogue" is pretty much restricted to heavy-hitters in the healthcare and Pharma industry. Worse, the meetings are held in secret, so we don't know exactly why two labor unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union apparently walked out of the last one. Perhaps they want their money back, too, after spending so much to get Obama in the White House.

There's window-dressing, of course. Characters like 24-year old firefighter, Travis Ulerick, are allowed to hand Obama a summary of all those thousands of community meetings held to discuss the health care crisis so he can use the moment to claim to be responsive to "the concerned citizens, like the folks on this stage."

Snarking aside, the biggest problem is that even if our glorious leaders had clean hands, and were acting in good faith, nobody knows how to untangle the mess.

American health and care is in as bad a shape as the economy, and like with the economy, experts have equally few ideas on how to set right something intertwined with finance, with culture, with infrastructure, education, hell, even the air we breathe and food we eat. And if they suddenly saw a burning bush showing them essential changes to make, they wouldn't dare implement the half.

The healthcare industry can't be attacked right now, not just because they lobby like mad, but because they're the only industry hiring as unemployment goes through the American roof. And who's going to take on Pharma when they have almost the only stocks holding most of their value in the diving market?

All Obama's tepid ideas that the Republican fringe nonetheless calls "radical" or "socialist" don't amount to much more than tinker and patch while insurance premiums rise and quality of care falls. There's little enough to fight over, little to dispute, though we no doubt will, mobilizing millions before both sides claim victory offering a few more people access to healthcare that won't be either cheap or good.