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.

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