Friday, December 23, 2011

Our Spinster Aunts and Uncles

By Kelly Cogswell, HuffPost

Bing might still be dreaming of a white Christmas, but I'm longing for a nice, bright Bastille Day in July. The weather is better, and you get to celebrate the rise of the people and the end of kings, not their birth. And families have no role at all.

Let's face it. During the "holiday" season, the family schmaltz that's so often disagreeable for straight people is downright torture for many queers. Not enough has changed, especially for older or disabled LGBT people, who are often alone in the world, with no close family, no kids. And if you do have relatives, they may hate your queer guts and resent the shame you've brought down on their heads. When health issues strike, they've been known to ignore us entirely or, worse, joyfully lock us away in nursing homes, far from other LGBT people.

And after a lifetime in a bigoted world, we're more prey to physical and mental problems than the general population. A study published in November of last year, "The Aging and Health Report: Disparities and Resilience among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Older Adults," found that the older members of our community had significantly more "disability, physical and mental distress, victimization, discrimination, and lack of access to supportive aging and health services." Aging queers of color and the transgender have particularly hard times.

I hadn't thought much about aging until four or five years ago, when I visited my friend Al in an assisted living place on New York's Lower East Side. A black, gay photographer, Al couldn't take care of himself anymore after complications from diabetes and a bout with cancer. I found out later that he had family, but they didn't turn up until he was in the hospital on his deathbed, wheezing away on a respirator, and they got curious about his estate.

Al was pretty brave about the cancer. What bothered him most were the nurses. They were West Indian homophobes who spent their coffee breaks talking loudly about what they'd do to batty boys if they got the chance. Cut them into pieces, maybe, or set them on fire. It was the first time in his life Al stayed in the closet. And for the first time I started to panic about being poor and queer, and at the mercy of strangers. One more good reason to fight homophobia all over the world, I thought. The bigot nurses might end up in your neighborhood. And you're lying there, literally, in their vicious hands.

Last week, I visited another friend, this time in upstate New York. She'd been placed far from her old friends, but at least the nurses seemed nice enough. I didn't really get the creeps until I noticed something I hadn't counted on before: the other inmates. You can string Christmas lights, plant poinsettias right and left, and crank up the carols, but the simple fact is you don't get to choose your companions in institutions like that. It can be worse than high school. You don't get to go home in the afternoon.

The meanest was this carefully dressed and coiffed lady with a thin, pinched face, like my mother. She suddenly got up in her walker and came over to warn me, "He doesn't belong here. Get him out of here. He's not supposed to be in here!" I looked around but didn't see any male and thought she was having an episode of dementia, until I noticed the tall woman sitting behind me. She had short hair and an angular face and was maybe a dyke like me.

Gender police are everywhere. And they insist on getting their way. Later on, when the butch woman got up and was moving around with her walker, the angry, lipsticked woman scurried over and tried to smash her own walker into the butch one's, attempting to chase her away. The demolition derby could have been funny, I guess, if you weren't stuck there for the rest of your life. And unlike young queers, nobody can tell you, "It gets better."

As much as young queers, our aging and disabled people need our help and attention right now, including our physical presence. This is a simple enough matter. You don't have to change the world first, just put your coat on and go. My friend didn't recognize me at all, but she lit up anyway at the sight of somebody who was clearly a dyke. We held hands for a while, and she flirted a little, happy with the attention. Aging changes a lot, but not that. Not our queer hearts.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Election Pitfall: Hating on Hillbillies

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

All I want for Christmas is for our presidential candidates to be struck dumb for a week or two, maybe even through the Republican primary votes in Iowa and New Hampshire. Imagine Newt and Mitt, Ron and Michelle, their mouths opening and closing like fish. Getting all red-faced and frustrated when nothing comes out. And while I’m at it, let’s silence the pundits, too. And the screeching partisans indulging in bitterness and fury, sneering and hate.

It’s not that democracies don’t need debate. We surely do. We don’t even have to be particularly civil. I mourn the loss of Christopher Hitchens, who was himself a champion sneerer. The difference was that his scorn was always just the icing on a passionately reasoned argument footnoting observations from sources ranging from Greek historians to comic strips.

Most Americans, though, have grown to believe the sneer is the argument, and that personal insults about hair styles and lifestyles, and places of worship and of origin have the same weight as logic and reason. It dooms us when we try to solve complicated problems like the economy or foreign policy, education, or healthcare, deepens ordinary divisions like region, ethnicity and class.

A couple weeks ago, New York’s condescending, arrogant, Muslim-baiting Republican Representative Peter King indulged in casual slurs describing Newt Gingrich as condescending and arrogant, with "a Southern, anti-union attitude that appeals to the mentality of hillbillies at revival meetings."

A few days later, when news broke about that church in a small Kentucky town that banned an interracial couple from attending, many of the comments could be summed up as saying, “That’s terrible, but what can you expect in a barbaric place like that?” Because the American South, including Kentucky, and Newt’s Georgia, of course, has a lock on bigotry.

It gave me flashbacks to Election 2000. That was the year Al Gore went around trying not to use four syllable words, while George W. Bush grinned and drawled and tipped his cowboy hat, and good old Ralph Nader talked about globalization and the working class, while Naderites sneered at comparatively unimportant issues like racism and homophobia.

When the votes were tallied (or not), all the bulletin boards and letters to the editor, and platforms for rants were almost exclusively full of politically correct blue state types ignoring how Nader split the vote, and spilling out their vitriolic hate for “poor white trash” in the red states. “How stupid could they be pulling the lever for a rich Republican sure to cut their benefits?” “How could they be such idiots?” “Those Bubbas... those hillbillies... voting against their own interests.” Sometimes they even mentioned Kentucky by name. People that knew me. And knew where I was from. Though perhaps they thought it had worn off, me being up in New York so long. An East Village dyke.

Pundits explained it was a kind of delusion, poor Americans voting for Bush because they wanted to believe they could one day be like him, and pulling the Republican lever might give them a share in his good fortune. That may have been partly true. But it was strange no one said the obvious. That maybe we just didn’t want to vote for stuck up Gore or sneering Greens that talked about class and poverty but clearly despised us, knowing nothing about our lives or culture beyond the TV stereotypes that exist in shows like The Beverly Hillbillies, which have been reincarnated in Hillbilly Handfishin', Redneck Riviera, and American Hoggers.

These shows laugh at us, not with us. Pretend places like Atlanta or Louisville don’t exist, and haven’t moved into this century. Ignore social complexities. How a man like my uncle might still use the word “colored” but was more comfortable with his black co-workers at the factory than his university educated children. Maybe his black co-workers weren’t equally comfortable with him, but they weren’t at war.

In the imagination of this country, the South isn't just more conservative and religious, it's the sole repository of inbred idiots and genuine all consuming bigotry, as if racism or homophobia in Cincinnati or LA doesn’t really count. As if there’s no interstate trafficking in stupidity and hate. And poor people are even more stupid and degenerate if they speak with a twang.

What is this but an attempt to feel superior, for certain regions to feel absolved of our difficult history? It doesn’t matter that for every James Byrd Jr. there’s an Abner Louima. In ’92, New York City tried to get schools to accept the Rainbow Curriculum teaching school kids that everybody in the city was worthy of respect. But whites hated it because it validated people of color. Blacks, and Latinos, and whites hated it because it included queers. Ah, the United Hates of America. Can't we put a lid on it? Just for the holidays?

Monday, December 05, 2011

Getting in the Christmas Spirit

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I’ll probably die of cancer of some girly part, like tits or crotch, with Loki, the trickster god looking on and snickering at the irony, because I preach so often that it’s usually the ticker or lungs that gets women just like for men.

Loki’s the only god I’m ever tempted to believe in. Who else could be responsible for the Christmas season with all that earnest sanctimonious crap on the one hand, and Black Friday feeding frenzies and family shootouts on the other? I should probably build a little holiday shrine to the guy, and write a liturgy that starts with, “Pull my finger.”

Don’t worry, on my Christmas list I’ll ask for a sense of humor. I seem to have lost mine like an old glove. People have gone as far as to call me bitter, something no dyke has heard before. But what do you want, trying to pursue logic in a world that doesn’t have much? Maybe practice would help. In the New Year, I could resolve to wear my clothes inside out and backwards at least once a week. I already tried to laugh insouciantly when Culture War vet Newt Gingrich turned up as a presidential contender, blabbing about Christian values though he discarded one wife after another. IBut it sounded more like choking, so and the waiter tried the Heimlich maneuver.

Queers in West Africa should be laughing their heads off. Cynical, homophobic politicians there have decided that the best way to unify their countries split between Christian and Muslim bigots is to hate on queers, attacking us as a residual colonial threat not only towards the African family, and each country’s sovereignty, but civilization itself. Funny, right, that somebody could think we have such power? And that same-sex anything is attached to one country or another? Hah, hah. What idiots! If we had superpowers like that, those creeps would have been vaporized years ago.

I suppose you can laugh when you read about Alabama, where at least sixty-six people, have already been arrested for not carrying proper documentation as required by the new law targeting undocumented immigrants. The punch line? Half of them have been African Americans. Hah, hah. Fooled you. And this is Though I did think it was worth a chuckle or two: when I read how cops there also picked up a German Mercedes Benz executive that left his hotel without his passport. Ditto for a Japanese exec with Honda. This, after the state spent millions trying to attract foreign investment. How long do you think they’re going to stay, with a big welcome like that? And clever competing states like Missouri inviting car makers to relocate in there. “We are the Show Me State, not the Show Me Your Papers State.”

Even World Day Against AIDS has its little ironic kick. How many more people wear ribbons then, than on the International Day Against Homophobia? As if there were no connection. As if the biggest obstacle to dealing with HIV was largely research money, and not the gay stigma that lets straight guys go around spreading the virus because they can’t get a “gay” disease, and allows other men busy having sex with men to believe they can’t get HIV as long as they deny that word, gay, and stick to downlow. Or avoid one for shame. HIV isn’t really a virus at all, some microscopic creature passed from one human to another, but a linguistic contamination.

I was heartened for about a minute last week when I read the headline “Gambia: On World Aids Day SCB Calls for Fight Against Stigma.” But when I continued reading the article, which was probably more of a press release, by SCB, Standard Chartered Bank, they repeated the world stigma several times, but neglected to say what the stigma was or why AIDS should have it. Didn’t use the word “gay” once. Or anything else that reminded the world queers exist. Which kind of reinforces the stigma if you ask me having people so afraid of using the word you can’t print the unmentionable, embarrassing thing. Funny, huh? Hilarious. As UNAIDS reports that for every two people put on antiretroviral drugs, another five become newly infected. Often in these same West African countries where politicians are busy hating on queers. Irony. See, I recognize it.

Even if for me, it’ll probably be the heart attack after all. Because whenever I open my eyes, I find myself in a state of rage, with no passport out. Not until Loki answers my prayer, teaches me to embrace the ridiculous and deadly absurd.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Americans and Torture, No Problemo!

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Not that anybody cares, but the U.S. just celebrated the tenth anniversary of a monstrous milestone. On November 13, 2001, Bush legalized kidnappings, indefinite detention, secret military tribunals and hidden prisons for any suspected terrorist. Or suspected supporter of terrorism.

He ordered them all classified as military combatants. Except when it came time to applying the Geneva Convention. In which case they weren’t. Because the Geneva Convention gave soldiers certain rights. And he didn’t want to give terrorism suspects any. He wanted to make them something other than human. Something less than worms. Like queers.

Who are locked up for decades in prison-like schools and homes, tortured to within an inch of their lives without recourse to outside aid, tried by their grade school peers with scanty evidence under unspecified laws. And even released, are suspicious characters still subject to beatings, harassment, indefinite detention. Exile. Death in secret prisons.

“it is not practicable to apply in military commissions under this order the principles of law and the rules of evidence generally recognized in the trial of criminal cases in the United States district courts.”

What do Americans have if not the law? Our moral purity? The Pledge of Allegiance declares our nation is under god. Not the constitution, or rule of law. Relying on god is a particular disaster in a protestant nation where individuals are encouraged to find their personal relationship to the deity, interpret the bible for themselves.

To Protestants like Bush, laws themselves are just phrases made up of words, and words like “torture” can be redefined to mean whatever suits our purposes. And in the casually minted dictionary popularized by Bush and Company, torture is a synonym for death. Anything less is only an interrogation “technique.”

Nobody protested much when Bush signed the order. Even in 2004, when disgusting images of Abu Ghraib flooded the internet, and the world was outraged, few Americans cared. Plenty even said those Muslims deserved it. Whether or not it produced information.

Americans, frankly, are indifferent to torture. I guess we don’t think it can happen to us. Or we’re more degenerate than I thought. It’s the only explanation for why Guantanamo’s still up and running, despite periodic statements from Obama that he’ll close the place down. One of these days. When Congress lets him. And why military tribunals are alive and well for terror suspects like Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, that was arrested before this directive and should have faced trial in a civilian court, instead of being held for ten years, sometimes in a CIA black site where he was tortured.

We are still engaging in extraordinary rendition (kidnapping). And while Obama did issue a directive ending torture, at least where we can see it, and “black sites” were theoretically closed in 2009, the CIA's perfectly happy to operate in support modes in foreign countries like Somalia when somebody else’s hands get dirty. They do their own questioning in temporary, deniable sites, like, for instance, a Navy vessel, where Somali terror suspect, Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, was held and "interrogated” for weeks before being transferred to FBI custody and brought to the United States.

Even that fig leaf might disappear soon. GOP candidates are calling for the return of torture as if it were just a couple of licks with the paddle in high school. Bachman and Cain have come right out and said they’d support waterboarding. Rick Perry has declared he’d approve any technique at all that might “save young lives.” Mitt Romney’s said, “Enhanced interrogation techniques have to be used. Not torture, but enhanced interrogation techniques. Yes.”

To which Marc Theissen, Washington Post columnist, and former speechwriter for Rumsfeld, responded with joy and enthusiasm. “The willingness of so many Republican presidential candidates to speak out in defense of waterboarding is encouraging.” If he was horrified that the Obama administration was now killing terrorists with drones, it was because without “live captures,” they’d lose the opportunity for more waterboarding.

I understand greed better than this. Bankers amassing more and more money. Repossessing houses from people that will just have to find something to rent instead. Sucking up bailouts and awarding themselves huge bonuses because to some extent they can keep the idea of damage abstract. Who is my great wealth really hurting? Can you prove it was me?

With torture there’s no question. You know exactly who it that is feeling pain and exactly who is imposing it. Real flesh is being tortured, real minds. So why do Good Americans do it? All the science says it doesn’t work as a way to get information. U.S. and international law says it's wrong. Most religion says it’s an abomination. Is it because we believe Americans are exceptional? Despite our beastly behavior, we’re human, and our victims less than the bloody roosters we weep over, or eat?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

After Sandusky, Back to Being Pedophiles

By Kelly Cogswell, HuffPost

Jerry Sandusky, an assistant football coach at Penn State, had such a passion for underprivileged boys that he started his own foundation, The Second Mile, to help them whether they wanted it or not. "Sometimes they don't want it. Sometimes they don't understand what you're trying to do, but they want to be disciplined." That was a statement from his creepy '87 interview with NBC.

Now he's facing 40 counts of rape and assault, including two occasions at the school. Once, a janitor saw him "hugging" a young boy in the shower. Another time, an assistant coach actually saw him raping a kid. They both reported the occasions to their bosses, and when the bosses did nothing, they didn't pursue.

And if Sandusky's a criminal and perv, what do you call the circle of more than 15 men who knew he was abusing kids and let it go on? Even a bishop would have been troubled enough, at least for the sake of the institution, to move the guy to a different parish. But in the cloistered world of football, old Jerry stayed right where he was.

As for the students who rioted on behalf of the legendary head coach Joe Paterno, who got canned for turning a blind eye, well, I guess they don't think the lives of "underprivileged" boys count for much, not next to that of the winningest coach ever. With a wife and five kids, all Penn State grads, doing their bit to stack the stadium with 17(!) grandkids, Paterno had nothing to do with that homo Sandusky.

Yeah, that's right. Already in sports forums online, commenters are once again busy conflating homosexuality with pedophilia. Probably somewhere down the line, we'll even hear that poor Jerry was abused himself as a child. And the circle of guilt and blame will be offloaded -- again -- onto us queers, homos, fags (words not invoked in our slightly ironic, bittersweet way, but hatefully, with a slightly curled lip).

My only new thought is that the persistence of this stereotype is partly our own fault. The closer we get to legal equality, the more closeted we get about gay sex. Maybe it started with AIDS, when we wanted to separate gayness from sex because of the stigma of the disease.

But this sexlessness has gotten even more intense as our institutions have begun to focus on same-sex marriage. We mostly stick to talking points about the equal rights we want to win, like social security benefits, or the ability to file joint taxes. But more than anything, we wax lyrical about consecrating the love between two people who just happen to be of the same gender. Love, love, love, love, love. We want them to forget that those happily married couples will no doubt have sex, because that's what the bigots hate.

Two men getting it on. Two women. They have dirty minds. They imagine us as animals. With children. They work themselves up into pure disgust. That's probably what kept the Penn State guys in denial about Sandusky (who actually was doing all that), as much as the fear of what it would do to their football program.

And our fear of that fear, that disgust, is what drives lesbians and gay men into the sex closet, even as more and more of us are open about our "identities." It's why we've abandoned gay kids to bullies in schools. Get too close, somebody might think something ugly about us. And on the few occasions that lesbians or gay men have tried to do something about schools, our worst critics have been other queers.

I was a Lesbian Avenger. In 1992, for our first action, we demonstrated in favor of New York City's ill-fated Rainbow Curriculum, which was supposed to teach kids to respect each other. Most of it was about ethnicity, but out of the 440-something pages, six actually mentioned lesbians and gay men. So there was a huge backlash.

Our action: going to an elementary school with a marching band, handing out pamphlets with info about famous LGBT people, and balloons that said, "Ask about lesbian lives." Our t-shirts read, "I was a lesbian child." A few parents were upset, but most weren't. Our intent was clear: telling people to get informed and chill out about the whole thing.

And while Christian extremists responded the way they always did, the surprise was the queers. They were horrified that we'd gone to a school, like they were sacred places. Full of children. My god.

It's the same today. We'd rather let kids get bullied and abused and kill themselves than help them and risk getting called pedophiles ourselves. What does that say about us? And nothing will change until we get those bigots out of our heads and scream to the world, "We fuck. So what?"

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Reality Check About Breast Cancer

By Kelly Cogswell, HuffPost

It's that time of year again when gangs of women in pink stride purposely down the sidewalk, and the NFL adds luminous fuchsia stripes to football uniforms. And, sure, many women's lives are saved by the big push calling attention to breast cancer. But other women are killed by the tits-crotch model of health care, giving them a false sense of security when their mammograms or pap smears come back negative.

The truth is that women are more likely to die from heart disease than all kinds of cancer combined. And when it comes to cancers, lung cancer is tops, then breast, then colorectal. Kidney cancer will get you before cervical cancer, and who checks for that? After cancer comes strokes and after that, chronic lung disease.

So why do most of our health check-ups still focus mainly on breast exams and pap smears, when we're a dozen times more likely to drop dead clutching our chests or hacking up a lung?

Prevention is part of it, and early treatment. Catch breast cancer early and your chances are good. That means fewer of us are dying from it. So numbers don't tell the whole story, and you still have to take care of your tits.

But there's also the misogyny factor. For centuries, the medical establishment has boiled down women's health to the female aspects of our bodies. No lungs or guts for us. No hearts. No little vessels waiting to explode in the head after a decade or two of cigarettes. And for dykes, don't forget the extra stress from lesbophobia.

No, the establishment is way more comfortable focusing on breast cancer, where the girly factor is reinforced by pink ribbons and fundraising walks held by cosmetic companies. Heart disease is so... butch. It makes you think of a fat guy dropping dead with a hotdog in one hand, a beer in another. Or a high-powered male exec who keels over between power meetings.

Another problem is the comparative difficulty of marketing heart disease prevention. For breast cancer, all you need to do is sell a quick visit to the gynecologist. But people fighting heart disease, strokes and lung cancer have to persuade folks to quit eating Big Macs and Snickers, get up off the couch and throw away the Marlboros. Not just for one afternoon. But weeks and months and years. The entire rest of their lives.

Lesbians (and bi women) probably suffer the most from the tits-crotch health care model. The community talks a lot about finding dyke-friendly health care providers because nobody's going to go to a clinic when they're afraid of a homophobe poking around in there. But because dykes smoke like chimneys compared to hets, are more likely to be heavy and have a ton more stress, it's absolutely urgent for us to have more general health care programs encouraging us to quit smoking and get fit. And for that matter, encouragement to come out. Hiding your sexual identity or living in the closet increases your stress level, which raises your risk for heart diseases, high blood pressure and strokes, not to mention depression and substance abuse.

Which brings me to the point, again. You want to save women's lives? Gotta look past that loverly pink.

Monday, October 24, 2011

We Are the 100 %

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I’ve spent half my life as a lesbian activist. First taking to the streets with the Lesbian Avengers, then as a journalist trying to mobilize Americans for the sake of their own withering democracy. Like when the Supreme Court awarded Bush the presidency, making Florida votes toilet paper. Or when the U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales advised the nation that torture isn’t torture when Americans do it.

So why, when the Occupy Wall Street movement finally emerges from grassroots America, do I find myself screaming, “Morons! Idiots!” What am I? A hypocrite? A newly minted neocon? An alien?

I’ve spent the last month tracking my flight pattern. If all my buttons got pushed, it’s not about the method. I still believe direct action is one of the only ways to deliver demands if you don’t have your own lobbyists. And that even without unifying goals, mass demonstrations themselves can be a useful message of popular discontent. They give a voice and body to people that until that moment had probably been reduced to abstractions in the minds of the reps we sent to Washington. Or for that matter, City Hall.

At the same time, street activism isn’t just for the audience. It can have a powerful effect on participants. For once, your voice is amplified. You exist. It can even empower us as citizens if we make that leap from airing grievances en masse to deciding to claim the whole country as a common project acknowledging shared goals and shared faults.

That’s the question, really. Will this moment of roused rabbles turn more people into citizens, or will it just be catharsis, leave them ideological consumers gobbling up the newest slogan, the quickest fix?

I have my doubts. Partly because I always do: humans as we know share far too much DNA with earthworms. But also because in the last twenty years only money worries have gotten Americans into the streets.

This historical moment of civic involvement is all about the bottom line. Even if we cloak it in the language of democracy and the American way of life, calling it patriotism when the Tea Partiers declare they’ve had enough of paying taxes and want to end the fed and shrink the government. Calling it a concern for democracy and inequality when the Occupiers, some of them, anyway, demand an end to taxation, and the end of the Fed, and a government corrupted by corporations.

The biggest difference is that the Tea Partiers want to cling to their cash because it might otherwise go to health care for the poor (especially immigrants), even if they themselves benefit from government projects like roads, and hospitals and public schools. And the Occupiers don’t want their money to go to the rich, even if they aren’t quite willing to give up their iPhones made by a company that profits from child labor, and subsidizes those bonuses to fat cat CEO’s and stockholders.

You could sum it up like this. All sides are freaked out by the tanking economy and don’t want to be poor. To save themselves, they’ve identified targets for their anger. Muslims, or people of color or queers are convenient enemies on the one side, and the ten percent on the other. Both hate big government.

Both sides also love to be victims. Of terrorists. Or immigrants. Or corporations. Which is why the Tea Party called itself the Tea Party, so that they can pretend they are poor oppressed colonists launching a movement for independence against the duly elected Obama, though they still seem to adore the appointed president Bush. And why the OWS folks tried to colonize the democracy movements of the “Arab Spring” declaring “We’re just like Egypt, just like Tunisia.” It was marketing. These are clear ways to establish tyrants and victims, gain instant legitimacy. And catchy names.

If I’ve moved past anything it’s simplicity, and seeing politics like a high school basketball game with two sides struggling over the same ball. I wonder if there’s a way out as long as we mask our real problems, our real natures with all these self-serving narratives. As long as we refuse to admit things are complicated, and that all of our hands our dirty, even if some are dirtier than others.

I include myself there, too. My TracFone is an embarrassment. If I suddenly came into some money I’d be awfully tempted to buy every Apple product on the market no matter how many employees commit suicide from the horrible conditions. But I’d have to shut up, then. Couldn’t hector, anybody. Not the racist right, the oblivious left.

Maybe I shouldn’t anyway. I don’t have the answers to anything from the Iraq War to the War on Terror to the incredible inequality of the U.S. economy. All I have is the intuition that the solution is complicated, painful and involves all Americans. That unpopular percentage, 100.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

See Jane Lynch, Run

By Kelly Cogswell, HuffPost

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Barnes & Noble to see Jane Lynch. I expected a line full of dykes waiting to meet one of their few heroes, but it was mostly straight women and fags until Lucy and Marie got there, and we butched the place up.

We killed time taking pictures of ourselves with Dust Jacket Jane and laughing until our faces hurt. She looked almost real if you draped a hoodie over the book to hide the corners and used a crappy phone camera. The trick was to hold her just a little in front of you so that your head wasn't enormously big by comparison.

Not a problem for me, the girls decided, since I have a pinhead. Lucy's is absolutely giant, but she's a surgeon. Or so she claims. The only thing I've seen her cut open was her enormous hamburger afterwards at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. There weren't any dykes there, either, but what did I care? There was beer and fried catfish, which I earned, waiting for them to get their damn books signed.

I don't think Jane liked us. We giggled too much. Didn't fawn. We already had pictures with her, after all. And to be honest, while I admire her as an actress, that show Glee really gets on my nerves. There's something repulsive about how they show kids suffering from one bigotry or another, then solve the whole mess with a couple of songs and a group hug.

In the real world, the fat chick would be throwing up in the bathroom, and the little faggot cutting his wrists. Doctors would be stuffing the baby dyke with Abilify. And the teachers, all of them, would look the other way during bullying. Maybe hold a prayer session, in fact, to exorcise the homos.

The other kids would be absolutely ruthless, not having revelations about our shared humanity, because they hardly ever do. If the little bastards who encouraged real-life kid Jamey Rodemeyer to kill himself become upset that he actually did it, it'll only be because the cops identified them and pressed some kind of charges. Or because their parents came down on them. Until then, I suspect the monsters are thrilled. What power they have. Just a few words and the fat priss is gone.

The glee club should worship Stephen King and not Sondheim, admit the existence of evil, and that it often lives in middle and high schools, which Buffy knew when she was slaying her vampires. That is the big flaw in the homopromo project, It Gets Better, on YouTube: it tells queer kids the future will be better but utterly concedes the present where we all live.

I'm lucky mine's good. I don't have to wake up every day and walk through doors that smell of cheap detergents and sweat and hormones. I don't have to try to pee in flimsy stalls surrounded by teenaged girls who would like to destroy me.

I have friends watching my back. After the book signing, and restaurant, they dragged me to Henrietta Hudson's, where, of all things, it was karaoke night. Nobody could belt like that Glee diva Rachel, but lord, you should have heard them sing. The only problem is that the Earth didn't move. All our joy didn't change a thing.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Women Pushing Forward, Dykes—Not So Much

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Last Friday, the 2011 Nobel committee split the peace prize among Liberians Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee, and Yemeni writer Tawakkol Karman, recognizing them "…for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work." It’s one of only 12 peace prizes given to women in the 112 years of the award, and the first for an Arab woman.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s probably the most conventional of the three -- a Harvard-trained economist who became post-colonial Africa’s first woman president. Elected in 2005, she’s worked to promote development for her impoverished country, getting 4 billion dollars in foreign debts forgiven, and supporting the rights of women and girls.

The Liberian activist that made her election possible, was sister laureate, Leymah Gbowee, who worked first as a trauma counselor with ex-child soldiers, before participating in the fledgling women’s peace movement trying to end years of bloody civil war, widespread rapes, and the kidnapping of children for soldiers.

The movement began in Monrovia in 2002 with a daily peace encampment near a small market where women dressed in white, and fasted and prayed. She joined them, working to unite Muslim and Christian women, and developing additional strategies. One tactic was a sex strike persuading husbands to support the peace movement. It was extremely successful. Another time they threatened curses.

Not long after a huge march on Monrovia’s City Hall in 2003, dictator Charles Taylor agreed to meet. Three days later, there was a ceasefire. Soon after that, all sides negotiated an agreement that has held up, thanks to ongoing work. Taylor is currently awaiting a verdict at the Hague after being tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The women’s peace movement in Liberia has sparked interest all over the continent, encouraging women in Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Zimbabwe to begin putting pressure on their own governments. The third laureate, journalist and leader in Yemen’s democratic revolt, Tawakkul Karman, has been equally inspiring to women in the Arab world.

Head of Women Journalists without Chains, she’s a longtime critic of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, organizing protests since 2007 to demand rights for women and increased freedom of the press.

It was her arrest in January that sparked massive protests demanding a democratic government. Since her release, she’s been with the other protesters in “Change” Square, despite very real fears she’ll be murdered or kidnapped.

Like other women protesters from the Arab Spring, she’s faced not only threats from her government, but from conservative forces in her own Islamic opposition party, Islah, that have denounced her uncovered face and close contact with men. Her own father was opposed, and tried to get her to stop, but when she wouldn’t he finally joined her.

Like the Liberian activists, the growing visibility of Tawakkul Karman is hugely important for women in the region. She’s openly called for women to take to the streets. They’re responding in droves, though most keep to the back of demos and wear the abaya and face veils.

It’s difficult to say what these awards mean for lesbians in Central Africa or Yemen. Even in democratic countries, we’re often excluded from women’s movements, and our own work rarely sees the light of day.

On Friday, for instance, while these three extraordinary women were being informed of their award, one South African court finally offered some small measure of justice in the murder of lesbian activist Zoliswa Nkonyana who was beaten, kicked, and stoned to death six years ago by a gang of youths.

The trial was postponed more than fifty times by a reluctant justice system and the incompetence and bigotry of local cops, but in the end, at least four out of the twenty accused were found guilty.

If the trial happened at all, it was due to pressure from groups like FreeGender, a black lesbian organization in Capetown whose founder and spokesperson Funeka Soldaat said that though they were happy about the judgment, too many people had been acquitted due to police incompetence.

She helped found the group because lesbians were being raped and killed and nobody cared. Mobilizing was tough: “lesbians were too scared to attend public demonstrations.” So they decided to create FreeGender, which would let them stand as a group against homophobia, holding workshops, and trying to get cops trained.

They’ve come a long way. In June they hosted the very first national black lesbian conference in South Africa, and participated in a groundbreaking task force of the Department of Justice aiming to combat the wave of rapes targeting lesbians in South Africa.

The LGBT community could take a page from Nobel committee’s book, and do more to highlight the work of queer activists like Funeka Soldaat, both with funding and recognition. It's how more activists are inspired.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

So You Want to Be an Activist?

Kelly Cogswell, HuffPost

People keep telling me I shouldn't be so dismissive of the Occupy Wall Street folks. It's early days yet. Somebody's got to do something about poverty and corruption. And there they are, eager and willing. Hell, they got arrested. They're practically ACT UP.

So I went to City Hall, where a demo was scheduled. Nobody was there except a bunch of bored-looking cops and aggressive squirrels, so I headed to their encampment a little further down Broadway. No one was doing anything, though I heard that there had been a couple of arrests. I watched people scribble homemade signs, and others do yoga, and still others sit in a circle and talk. And then I went off to a bench to read a copy of the cleverly named The Occupied Wall Street Journal, given to me by a white girl with blonde dreads and a bongo slung over her shoulder.

It could only have been written by young Americans who know absolutely nothing about anything and are damned proud of it. I learned that the recent riots in England were exactly the same as the ones in Egypt, and that the conditions in the United States were pretty much as dire as those in Tunisia. Heck, Occupy Wall Street is a card-carrying member of the Arab Spring.

And the strategy that I've been told would eventually emerge is apparently to take a hardline stance against hardline stances. Protesters are there to express a feeling. Yes, a feeling. Of mass injustice. And this feeling of mass injustice will create change with no leaders and no actual demands, because that's what corporate forces do, make demands with their filthy dollars. And OWS won't stoop to it until they're incredibly powerful. Or maybe they won't at all. The encampment is message enough about democracy in action.

This is what I'm supposed to take seriously?

If I'm skeptical and sneering, if I sound angry, it's because I want them to be better, smarter, more focused than they clearly are. The need for economic change is huge, and people are suffering (even if not as much as Tunisia or Egypt). I also want them to succeed as street activists. Since my stint in the Lesbian Avengers and the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, I've been convinced that direct action is a hugely important tool, one of the few for social change when you don't have tons of money and congressmen in your pocket.

The problem is that organizing demos, not to mention movements, is more complicated than it looks. And Americans in particular are doomed if they model themselves after a few YouTube images of demos in the Middle East or Greece or wherever. But what the hell. This is a generation raised on Martin Luther King Day programs that largely consist of his "I Have a Dream" speech and a brief clip of marchers getting attacked by police and dogs and water hoses. All it takes to change the world is a megaphone, a heartfelt speech, a couple of conflicts with the cops, and an iPhone to tweet about it. LOL.

I'm going to pretend this is a teachable moment and remind you just why ACT UP was successful. In fact, let's use their actions disrupting Wall Street to talk about how the pros do it. They were fighting AIDS, right? Novices might have gone down to the stock exchange screaming, "You have a bunch of money and power. Stop AIDS now!" Like the OWS people screaming for the end of capitalism, and failing that, the end of the Federal Reserve. But that's not what they did.

Mentored by experienced activists, ACT UP had strategies, plans, priorities. In their Wall Street actions, their targets were mostly pharmaceutical and health care companies. One early demand was that companies invest in research for drugs to treat AIDS. When drugs finally appeared, activists demanded (and continue to demand) that the drugs be widely available for reasonable costs. "People NOT profits!" A clear target, a clear message arrived at by a hell of a lot of work, and endless cups of coffee. ACT UP researchers became so knowledgeable that drug companies later recruited them. That moment in the street was only a tiny part of their work -- which, by the way, had a huge impact on not only Big Pharma but U.S. policy.

That's what it takes. Feelings alone never changed a damn thing. Maybe the problem is that the protesters just aren't desperate enough to choose any goal lesser than the transformation of the world. They don't exactly represent the people suffering the most from poverty and corporate corruption. There were no single mothers with kids, few people of color or visible queers, almost nobody middle-aged, unemployed and desperately trying to get back into the job market or pay off a mortgage.

At least so far, most seem young, white, educated. Their prospects for getting a job are a lot tougher than they were five years ago, and they have college debt, but you can almost see the safety nets of race and class below them. They shouldn't apologize for that. They are who they are. The problem is that they believe they are universal and represent us all. They are the center of the world. And dumb as dirt if their publication is anything to go by.


Why not indulge in hope? We do have to start somewhere. They've tapped into something, showed that the left is still capable of life. Ideas could emerge from that soil. Maybe a couple of leaders. Even MLK had to learn as he went. In his autobiography, touching on the setbacks of the Albany Movement, he wrote:

The mistake I made there was to protest against segregation generally rather than against a single and distinct facet of it. Our protest was so vague that we got nothing, and the people were left very depressed and in despair. It would have been much better to have concentrated upon integrating the buses or the lunch counters. One victory of this kind would have been symbolic, would have galvanized support and boosted morale ... When we planned our strategy for Birmingham months later, we spent many hours assessing Albany and trying to learn from its errors. Our appraisals not only helped to make our subsequent tactics more effective, but revealed that Albany was far from an unqualified failure.

Anybody listening?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Occupy This!

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I would really like to support the Occupy Wall Street folks. The economy is crap. Poor people are suffering. Young people can’t get work. And god help you if you’re a female. At first men were just hogging ninety percent of newly created jobs. (Yeah, men were losing their jobs at higher rates, but nothing like 90 percent more.)

Now, women are not only getting screwed on the new job front, they’re also getting fired more because the sectors they mostly work in, service and government, are downsizing as fast as they can. And if anybody gets hired back, it’s almost always a man. Which means dykes are awfully near the bottom of the heap. They have no man in the house to pick up the slack if they get canned, no new opportunities waiting in the wings, plus dyke couples often have kids to support.

This is my question: Is Occupy Wall Street the best we can do? I appreciate the energy, even “shared” a couple of photos on FB, but that loose collection of people barely know how to organize a demo, much less a movement. When a rare TV camera was actually shoved in their faces, all they did was complain about the cops, which were horrible. But maybe it would have been more useful to take the occasion to deliver their message to Wall Street.

The problem was that there was no real message. Plenty of the demonstrators weren’t even out there for the economy, but the environment or whatever the hell their pet project is. And while a few had the boring and useful suggestion to “End corporate welfare,” or “Kill zombie banks” far too many seemed to be parroting that homophobic idiot Ron Paul and calling for the end of the Federal Reserve. Or a thousand percent tax on imports to force us to buy American crap. Or the end of capitalism altogether.

Yeah, and I want a pony for Christmas, and a villa in France. Never going to happen. Eliminate the Federal Reserve? Seriously? It’s such a good idea we’d be pretty much the only country without one. As for putting huge taxes on imports, if all of your iPhone’s component parts were made in this grand ole U.S. of A., it would cost as much as a condo in Hoboken. Where you could park a pony if you had one.

That crap just isn’t serious. And we need serious with twenty percent of New Yorkers under the poverty line. And a lot of people hungry. I passed a food bank yesterday on Second Avenue that had posted a sign declaring it was “closed until further notice due to state and local budget cuts.”

There are more people panhandling on the subway, and if last weekend was anything to go by, they’re getting more angry and aggressive. They’re no longer your “buddy can you spare a dime?” sort of characters. But “C’mon! Gimmee a buck. I know you have it.” I watched a Hispanic guy with a speech impediment wait frothing and growling in front of a black guy who flipped over the page of his newspaper and pretended the other one didn’t exist. Other passengers in the car were appalled at them both.

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that pretty soon, people that only a few months before may have dropped a couple of quarters or a buck into somebody’s sticky paper coffee cup, will get pissed at being taken for granted, harassed. “I got bills, too, you know.” And after that, it’ll pop out naturally, “Why don’t you get a job? Fuck you.” These same people that were tossing in a bit of change the year before.

And the nuts seem nuttier. Like they pick up all the misery and frustration in the air. And the preachers that climb on the subway and preach are more attracted to fire and brimstone rants, than Jesus is your friend. I even got yelled at as a honkey the other day, just like old times. And why not? The economic divide is not only gender, but race- and ethnicity-based. Though you wouldn’t have known it from the mostly white faces at the demos.

Which is too bad, we need change. But I’ll say it one more time, you don’t change anything just by feeling outraged and waving a sign. Or just by getting arrested. You have to have viable, concrete ideas. And if you’re going to protest, you really should narrow things down and chose a simple message, and a target that can actually help you get something done. Unless of course you can mobilize several hundred thousand people in Times Square. Then forget my advice and enjoy your very own New York Spring. But I wouldn’t bank on that happening, not any time soon.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Remembering September 11th on the Williamsburg Bridge

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Friday night, we walked over the bridge to Williamsburg, grabbed a beer, and offered up our blood to the mosquitoes which drank as much as they could hold, and probably woke up hung over. I hope so. So many welts. Why the ear? And three bites on one arm is excessive. That bone on my ankle couldn’t have been the most tender spot. I hope you broke your schnoz.

On the way back, the sky was just turning that dark velvety blue. And the windows of the skyscrapers were just then appearing in shining yellow blocks. The river was a glassy black obsidian under us, and you could smell it over the exhaust of the trains that roared by now and then.

There was a Hispanic mom pushing a funny plastic car with a tiny boy slumped in it, and people of all races who had gotten a drink after work, and were staggering home with their backpacks and briefcases. A skirted Anglo woman peddled a wreck of a bike with an enormous basket on the handlebars that was full of potted flowers.

She was passed by all these thin, muscled guys going fast on their mountain bikes, and fat ones, too, driving themselves up and over, gasping less than you’d expect, though one was slumped against the railing, staring at his bike, re-considering the matter. And there were tons of dykes spinning efficiently on their beaters.

We saw joggers and skateboarders and rollerbladers including one beginner who crashed dramatically then picked herself up. On other days, I’ve seen the Hassidim getting a walk in after dinner -- powerwalking women with one or two strollers. And sweating couples blabbing as they go.

That’s the New York I like. The strivers and talkers. The self-propelled. Leaving messages for each other in the stickers and graffiti. Like the biologically correct heart at the Brooklyn end that pumps out a whole rainbowy flag from its broad red valves.

We are indestructible, and don’t need ceremonies to tell us so. What a mistake it was having that September 11th hoo-hah here in New York instead of D.C. or Dubuque. In the attacks we lost three thousand people, but not our soul. That was America, a little later, in a kind of post-bombing suicide, when her citizens jumped in lockstep behind Bush as he used the opportunity of the two flaming monstrosities to make war. And when too many were quoted smugly justifying torture at Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo. “Better get them before they get us.” And didn’t offer a peep -- and still don’t -- as ordinary freedoms swirl down the drain, along with the common sense and generosity Americans used to be known for.

In an article in Spain’s El País, Moisés Naím reminded us of the moment just after the attacks when everybody was asking, “Where are the moderate Muslims? Where are the leaders of this great religion that don’t share either the twisted logic, motives, or passion for homicide and suicide of Al Qaeda?”

Now, ten years later, with Al Qaeda on the ropes, Naím's new question is, “Where are the moderate leaders of America’s Republican party?” That too, he writes, has been hijacked by an extremist minority that has the power, for reasons and methods distinct from Al Qaeda, to destabilize the world. They sneer at fundamental economic principles and basic science about global climate change. And everything else for that matter. Screw Darwin. They have enough rage for everyone, but only compassion for themselves.

It’s as if they are guiding a fading senile nation, and while imagining we are off to Disney Land, and dragging the rest of the world with us to the grave. If you have to mourn something, it should be the decline of a nation that doesn’t know it is sick.

Is it reversible? Maybe. Depends on if the Tea Party is a symptom or the cause of a greater dementia. Every dog has his day, you know, and then his final injection.

If you have to remember something, quit extolling a day or two of heroism, and turn your attention to all those subsequent years we spent shooting ourselves in the collective foot. That’s the real tragedy. What I’ll mourn until I die.

Leave New York to the New Yorkers. This accumulation of islands renews itself daily. We’re more solvent than the rest of you, and have better debt ratings. If we have to walk home to stay within our budget we’ll do it. We’re not ashamed of Green. Not on the bridge anyway. And we don’t put up checkpoints. And we don’t check visas passing from the Lower East Side to Williamsburg and back. Everybody is welcome. (Except you assholes on scooters. And the ferocious mosquitoes.)

Monday, August 29, 2011

After the Flood

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

My girlfriend and I snuck out of New York well ahead of Irene’s arrival, but didn’t miss much here in the Catskills what with the rain that came pouring down, and the creek roaring up, and the wind hurling tree branches against the cabin roof. The electricity is out again, and for the first time in years I’m writing with paper and a pen.

Between all that, and the earthquake that had our Manhattan apartment dancing around last week, I feel comfortable announcing the world is coming to an end. Or should. I’ve been longing to see an end to the world in which we Americans pretend to be invulnerable in every way, though all it takes is a nice sized hurricane to disable our aging East Coast cities that are already losing ground to warming oceans. And the collapse of any segment of our financial infrastructure, like, say, the housing market, can bring our economy to its knees. Likewise for our broken political system that comes to a halt on the federal level every time some Tea Party monkey throws a wrench.

America seems increasingly ridiculous. Like a naked wrinkled Lear raging at a storm, but with even less a chance of coming to our senses. And it’s only going to get worse. In a little over a week it will be September 11th and the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Politicians of all stripes will hover like vultures claiming the dead for themselves. Waving them like flags over struggling presidential campaigns. Eating them for breakfast. Using them as excuses to prolong wars, or conversely to retrench at home. To build bunkers. To prevent mosques. To celebrate the deaths of the likes of Osama Bin Laden who will no doubt be resurrected for the occasion, then killed again at will. To declare above all, that America is number one and a bunch of terrorist thugs can’t take that away from us.

I used to think only New Yorkers had a right to mourn all those secretaries, and delivery guys and stockbrokers and waiters, and cleaning people, and IT folks, and cops and firemen lost at the World Trade Center. Now, I believe the dead belong only to themselves. And we should raise no monuments to them. Including the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. whose new creepy fascistic memorial was featured in the same edition of The New York Times that revealed the increasing ways black and minority Americans are being disenfranchised all over the U.S. with voter drives being thwarted, and federal I.D.’s required.

There was also a story about James Craig Anderson, a black man robbed and beaten by a group of white teenagers, then mowed down by one of their pickup trucks in a hotel parking lot. There’s not much to do in Jackson, Mississippi, so let’s play scare the nigger. Extra points if he’s fag.

Yeah, that’s right. It took the Times twelve paragraphs to reveal this “family” man’s partner was a guy and together they were raising a relative’s kid. And only a couple more paragraphs for Times writer Kim Severson to announce sexual orientation wasn’t a factor at all, even though she did report the driver, Deryl Dedmon had been accused earlier of gay-baiting a preacher’s kid and taunting him for having black friends. Why the coyness? Was he out cruising, partying? Are his biological family homophobes?

I suspect the only reason we use headstones and monuments is to weigh down the dead, keep them safe and impotent in their graves, save the living from their fury. C’mon, MLK. Sound the trumpets. Roll that stone away.

We Americans aspire to govern the world, but can’t control the worst parts of ourselves. And the contests in which we can claim number one are embarrassing. Like our top ranking among developed nations when it comes to income inequality. Or the most likely to let superstition trump science. Because if there is God as described by the Creationists, and we were conveniently created in his image that very first week of the universe’s existence, then we can dominate the earth, and all its lands and creatures, including those second-rate countries like Iraq that should have pacified themselves by now. We can play god. Kill faggots and the sons of Cain. We can do what we like.

God knows accepting evolution throws our current world off kilter. You have to value patience, acknowledge that the arbitrary plays a role. We’re a part of the world. Not in control of it. What a relief. Let us decide as Americans to retreat to the second or third or fourth spot in the global order. Let the dead bury the dead. Embrace modesty and thoughtfulness. Let us call down another storm that will wash away the hubris and crap we’re saddled with. Let us begin anew.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Checking the Weather

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

We’re up in the Catskills with no car and I’m obsessed with the weather. Will the storm hold off until I can hike to town and back for groceries? Will the sun last long enough to dry the laundry? Is that rain, or just wind moving through the birches or elms or whatever has that silvery bark and dangly, whispering leaves? Will I catch pneumonia if I get soaked?

I check the thermometer probably as much as I used to check the news, and use my dial-up Internet minutes to visit Yahoo’s weather page. It’s a change from activist drama, and the spectacle of blundering politicians on the U.S. stage. They’re doing their best to destroy what remains of the economy, while trying to blab themselves into the hot seat of the White House.

Among the Republicans, there’s no heavyweight preparing to emerge as a serious, thoughtful candidate, but that doesn’t mean anything. In the 2000 bid, George W. Bush ran mostly on charisma and that gee-shucks grin of his. For that matter, a nice smile didn’t hurt a flip-flopping Obama, either, when he was on the campaign trail. We like a genial president. Not too short. With nice, thick hair.

Pretty soon, they’ll all come into town and wave the flag and shed crocodile tears over New Yorkers dead these long ten years. If I could, I’d stay in bed until November. Up here, the only thing I listen to on the radio is Yankees baseball, and even then it’s more for the human voices than the suspense. Somebody’ll get a hit. Somebody won’t. After nine innings or so the guys will go home with another win or loss. I don’t much care.

I get philosophical up here staring at the sky. I have a cold. I’m depressed. With a few minor edits, I’m prepared to announce resistance is futile; nothing will ever change. Or can. Mark Twain in his day was already announcing American politicians were all scoundrels, and I see no reason to dissent. And Thoreau, who retreated to Walden Pond, but apparently within a safe distance of his mother’s cooking, declared you could pick up last decade’s newspaper and it would read more or less like one from the next full of political or economic intrigue, and a war here or there.

How can you argue with that? There is always a war. There are always politicians and merchants and missionaries lying through their teeth and bamboozling the population at large. Even riots seem the same. The broken shop windows and burning cars in London seem like the second act of the riots in Paris a couple of years ago, also set off by the death of two minority kids at the hands of cops.

Community organizers hold a sedate march or two, then testosterone takes over and rioters damage above all the mostly poor neighborhoods where they live themselves. That’ll show ‘em. That’ll change things. Protesters, of course, say they’re doing it to show their anger with the cops, and the racist system that leaves them unemployed and unemployable, and cuts services to the broke before taxing the rich. But every now and then a kid would admit, “I like burning cars. It’s fun.”

So why lift your eyes above your navel? Try to push back? Or influence the outcome? Why pick a team when there are idiots on all sides? Why cheer? A lot depends on perspective. The usual reasons have to do with the particulars that fill in the blanks. Just where is that pesky war? Whose house burned down? Was it your sister on the latest foundering ship? Are you part of a community still getting hit with an epidemic? Is it you loading your suitcases when you can’t pay the mortgage?

Or did you just recognize something of yourself, something human in that emaciated body on the front page of the newspaper? Or that pedestrian on the way to town? It happens every now and then. That leap of kinship. Lately, I’ve benefited myself. Our neighbors recognize my backpack now and have begun to stop, offering me lifts into town or back. They slip me phone numbers. “Call. We’ll arrange something. We go into town almost every day.” They know we’re two women together and don’t really care. What they can’t get over is how we have no car. Now that’s perverse. One neighhbor, Carol, has ordered all her friends stop. What does it cost them to pull over? I almost always accept. Grin. They already know where I live.

Today, thunderstorms are likely, again, with a high of 71. There’s a chance of rain weighing in at eighty percent. Tomorrow, more rain and thunderstorms in the afternoon. Then showers. Then thunderstorms. Then showers. Still, I’m covered.

Monday, August 01, 2011

The War on the Present

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

You see it in the city all the time, the big crane and wrecking ball bringing down whole blocks of perfectly good tenements or warehouses that people were living in until the week before. Destruction seems cheaper than renovating, and besides you can usually build higher, construct more apartments, more offices. Make more money. Make your mark. I think of it as a kind of transmogrification of the flesh.

You see it in politics, too. Those impatient, uncompromising extremists from both the right and left trying to bring a government to its knees, destroy it altogether. Tea, anyone? If they only had a blank slate, an empty lot, then anything is possible. A few go so far as to mow down whole classes of people. What are they but old stones standing in the way of the glorious future, or the even more glorious past? Toss gypsies or queers in jails or concentration camps. Get out the wrecking ball for landowners, native peoples, Jews, Armenians. The teenaged supporters of the Social Democrats -- the governing party in Norway.

I'd like to say I don't understand at all, how Anders Behring Breivik could slaughter all those kids to resurrect a Muslim-free Europe. Or jihadists can kill thousands of people imagining that the fall of something like the World Trade Center would bring down World Trade itself and somehow make room for the Grand Caliphate 2.0 to reemerge. But the destructive impulse belongs to us all.

Who hasn't wanted to wipe the smiles off smug faces, or maybe erase the faces themselves? Who hasn't yearned for a moment to throw off the yoke of society, and the smothering burdens of history or family and culture? In college, an artist friend of mine spent a lot of time fantasizing about invading museums with a squirt gun full of acid and taking out every painting in sight. And with all that gone maybe he could create something new, express himself without all that weight around his neck.

Plenty of queers would have preferred to see the end of marriage altogether, rather than add same-sex couples to the already unsavory mix. You don't want to be like your parents. And you can't bring down the master's house with the master's tools and all that. Though American history says you can at least change the inhabitants. We have a black president in the White House.

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times had an enormous photo of Mayor Bloomberg, the two guys he joined in marriage, and their little girls. I think they were at Gracie Mansion. It didn't take bombs, just a hell of a lot of work. We can always hope that now we've joined the marriage club, the whole unworkable structure will collapse from the weight.

Often, the destructive impulse would remain just a brief urge without a network of religious thought behind it. Not just because the perpetrators are often true believers, but because it's usually religion that shapes how we understand what change is and the role it plays.

A couple days after the slaughter in Norway, I was walking home from the Laundromat and saw a woman with an enormous wooden cross hanging from her neck. There was a human figure nailed to it, preparing for death and resurrection. I grew up with the image of the cross, and don't usually think much about it. But as big as it was, with a tortured human figure hanging from it, I suddenly thought, What a barbaric thing to worship. Worse, there's no more dangerous model of change than transformation through violence. Or sudden miracles for that matter. There is nothing incremental about that whole water to wine thing. The best, the only change, is violent, quick, and totally transformative.

No wonder, even direct action and street protest aren't quick enough for the destructive character. They don't just hate Muslims, or queers, or Jews. Or Democrats. Or Republicans. They hate time itself. Being constrained to this moment where they are not free to rearrange history or perfectly manipulate the future. They are furious at the compromised present. The bricks and mortar. Our limiting flesh. The way things are. They don't just want to redeem the world or create change, but annihilate everything.

Lately, I've started to wish for more real atheists, more agnostics, more people who believe this world is all there is, and this moment is all we have. Forget any magic wrecking ball that will clear away the present and resurrect the past or propel us into a perfect, heavenly future. This is all we've got. Hard as it is to accept, our future like our past is rooted here. You have to claim it to move on. Like my friend who wanted to acid blast art, but conserves it now.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Women's World Cup Soccer: On Hair, Beer, Bigotry

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Wow! Little tiny Japan beat the Amazonian U.S. and took the Women's World Cup of Soccer. The final was an amazing game, at least after the first ten minutes when the Japanese players looked stunned just to be on the pitch, and would have been squashed if the American players hadn't been unlucky enough to hit the goal posts twice.

I'm not an automatic U.S. fan. I even rooted against them during their quarter final against Brazil. They looked more like they were playing rugby than soccer, fouling players right and left, knocking them over, trying to stomp on them. If they led Brazil for a long time, it was because a Brazilian player sunk the ball into her own goal.

At half time, a couple of American guys came in the bar for brunch and started to slam on the Brazilian superstar Marta, screaming, "Take that, you bitch," every time she was fouled or missed a shot. They also did fake foreign accents to make fun of the "stupid bitch" ref when she made a bad call. To support the Americans, they kept shouting, "Go ladies." That display of nationalist and racist misogyny was capped off by the rousing sound of males voices screaming "USA, USA," when the Americans finally won.

I might have tried again for neutrality in the U.S. game against France (Allez les bleues!) if not for how the Americans truncated the FIFA speech before the match. In the last few years, the global soccer organization has made an effort to grapple with bigotry in soccer, among both fans and players. But while the statement read by a French player to the crowd encouraged them to respect all forms of diversity, specifically naming race and sexual orientation, the U.S. version spoke blandly about discrimination, and dumped homophobia altogether.

Who would have imagined it? France, which for years has lagged behind developed countries in LGBT rights, has somehow come to the conclusion that we are human. LGBT issues are even a factor in the upcoming presidential campaign where the center-left Socialists are promising to legalize same-sex marriage. The public actually supports it, though still balking at adoption.

I was ashamed that the American women didn't have the same courage, even if it's been years since the U.S. has been a leader in LGBT rights. Same-sex marriage is now legal in a few states, but in most it's banned. The military policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell limps on in the courts, and the Defense of Marriage Act signed by a Democrat president, is now protected (half-heartedly) by one. LGBT people are still largely invisible in American society, especially in sports. Worse, American Christians actively promote homophobia abroad, including in Nigeria where dyke players were purged from the national soccer team before the Cup.

I'd love to know if the U.S. refusal to take a stand against homophobia came from the players and coaches, the national governing board, or corporate pressure. Marketers still steer clear of anybody perceived as LGBT with the lingering belief that seeing us as role models will somehow contaminate vulnerable children. For whatever reason, most American soccer players stick to the ubiquitous ponytail that is supposed to dismiss the suspicion of dykishness. One long-haired player I kept seeing in commercials, was even forced to trot out her own kids to prove her heterosexual creds. Maybe I'll blame American lesbophobia for their loss. If Hope Solo didn't have so much hair, she would have been able to dive faster to block the penalty shots, like the brilliant goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori.

I almost didn't see the game because I dreaded getting stuck in another horrible crowd where we might have to break a bottle over somebody's racist, misogynist, lesbophobic head. But we were lucky enough to be in Sunnyside, Queens where there were enough Japanese fans to fill a quarter of the bar. One man brought his three kids, including a pre-teen boy that pretended to be too cool to care until the Japanese won and it was high fives all around. A bunch of Japanese girls had also brought their white American boyfriends who had been instructed in no uncertain terms who to root for if they wanted to get any booty ever again.

Because of that mix, the atmosphere was totally different than earlier matches we'd watched. More amiable, appreciative. It helped that the game was better, too. Skill, not brutality on display. Fans acknowledged brilliant plays on both sides of the ball. I actually applauded American goals because they were well-struck, perfect. After their second score a fan tried to start the chant, U.S.A., U.S.A., but only one person joined in. The room fell silent. You could hear somebody snicker in embarrassment. It's harder to get all nationalistic and self-righteous when the opposing fan is visible at your elbow, and you have to squeeze past them to pee.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Holding Democrats Accountable in 2012

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

My god, there actually is one Democrat committed and competent enough to keep a promise to queers. I'd think our victory in Albany was a dream, except that straight and gay people alike continue to ask me if I'm getting married. I'm noncommittal. Some of the financial and legal benefits would be nice, but there's the fact that marriage itself remains kind of repulsive.

Especially for dykes. We're still saddled with the word "wife," with all its disgusting history of women being largely equivalent to cows bought and traded from one family to another, with an obligation to breed, be submissive, and lactate on demand. Just like queers in the Democratic party.

Still, I welcome every new right. Getting same-sex marriage passed in New York is a big step forward at a moment when we're still faced with Obama waffling at LGBT fundraisers, and garden variety hate on the street.

Two days after the 19th annual New York Dyke March, which was finally covered by network TV news in another notable victory, and one day after a gazillion queers filled the streets for LGBT Pride, I was walking around the East Village and heard one teenage boy tell another, "I don't want to seem like a faggot, but..." A couple of blocks later, there was a table of sneering heterosexuals talking about a longhaired "thing" that you just knew had a dick.

I wasn't particularly surprised, except that both conversations happened within a couple of minutes of each other. Homo- and transphobia aren't going to disappear just because we can trek to the altar. Even hets avoid the outdated institution. At least until they see how much it costs to get things squared away at the lawyer's.

Nevertheless, the relics on the national scene don't realize how much the New York victory has shifted our perception. A couple of weeks ago, I could have heard that monstrosity of a New Jersey governor Chris Christie dissing gay marriage and thought, "What an asshole." Now, I think, "What a fossil. With a tin ear like that, he'll never be president." There's no way Log Cabin Republicans will settle for vague assurances anymore. Not when GOP votes turned the tide our way in Albany.

Obama should be warned, too, sucking up LGBT dollars as he hems and haws about his evolving view of same-sex marriage. He's going to have to do better than that if he wants gay votes in 2012. Letting us into the sinking military isn't enough as long as the Defense of Marriage Act is still on the books. There are an awful lot of queer voters, and we don't just have the dream of equality, we've had an actual taste of it, and we want more than promises.

Worse, for the Democrats, Andrew Cuomo has shown us what real friends look like. And it's time for queer activists (and editors), to stay mum in the next election, rather than cast their weight behind ineffectual half-hearted "allies" that take our money and our votes and despise us. If we don't have higher standards, we'll get what we deserve, which is nothing.

As for me, there won't be any more internal struggles as I try to chose between the lesser of two evils. I won't do it. And I won't sit at home sulking, either. I will actively encourage queers to reward the few gay-friendly Republicans running for any office at all. And if there are no gay-friendly candidates actively working for us, I'll encourage people to put their vote in their pockets and keep them clean. I mean it. This is the moment. We have momentum, or should, if we dare to seize it. And if the Democrats want to rely on their usual tactics, threatening us with the evil Republicans if we don't passively vote for them, I say okay. No problem.

The truth is a Republican president will continue most of Obama's policies, because he has continued those of Bush. Guantanamo, I believe, is still open. Domestic spying continues. Horrible homeland security measures have been renewed under Obama's watch, and even more added. Sure, he was a better choice than McCain in the financial department. Obama at least acknowledged there was a crisis going on. He's better than Bush was on the international front, kind of. He passed a very mediocre health reform bill. And he's thrown a few bones to women and queers. But I hate to say it, Bush did, too.

If the Democrats want our votes, they should earn them. If Republicans earn our votes, they should get them. Simple as that. Consider this a declaration of independence, submitted for review on the Fourth of July.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Saving My Pride

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

It's LGBT Pride. I should get out there, wave the rainbow flag, celebrate. Especially since our New York State legislators are on the verge of legalizing same-sex marriage, and the UN Human Rights Council finally declared lesbians and gay men shouldn't get stoned to death, beaten up, tossed out of our jobs, or hung by the neck until dead.

This is hugely important for queers internationally. Especially for activists like Wamala Dennis who's risking his life as the director of Icebreakers, a group fighting AIDS, and defending LGBT rights in Uganda. For the last couple of years, they've been beating off attempts to make homosexuality punishable by death. That anti-gay campaign is headed by David Bahati, a fundamentalist Christian linked to The Family, a group of U.S. evangelicals with deep pockets.

The UN council vote gives all us activists another tool. And I should be thrilled at these advances, including marriage, but every time I think about a bunch of het politicians or priests or anybody else sitting around discussing whether or not queers like me should have rights equal to theirs, I want to stop by the nearest farm supply store, pick up a couple tons of chemical fertilizer, insert a fuse, and POW! BLAM! KABOOM!

It may be part of the process, but c'mon. It's totally repulsive having people sitting around trying to decide if I'm as good as them, as adult, as human as them. Because that's what this sort of equality blab amounts to. A bunch of hets trying to decide if we're worthy of marriage's privileges and responsibilities. If we're worthy to walk the earth, or should be buried under it, and forgotten.

While I wouldn't mind getting a few of those little amenities hets have enjoyed so long, like immigration and inheritance rights, that come with same-sex marriage. And while I want us all to be safe in the streets and in our homes. I've got news for our hetero friends. We don't need your vote to join the human race, or be declared worthy of anything at all. So when you're slapping yourself on the back for your nice progressive vote, don't count on my applause.

I'm saving that for the real heroes. The LGBT people doing it for themselves, like the song says. Taking to the streets, speaking out. Like Wamala Dennis. And every queer kid brave enough to join the Gay-Straight Alliance and slap on a triangle. Or put on mascara when it's supposed to be a baseball cap, or wear a tux instead of some frilly horrible dress.

In France, my newest heroes are Aline Pascale de Raykeer and Stephanie Daumas who actually did an interview about their civil union (PACS) and desires for same-sex marriage, and let their regional newspaper use not just their names, but their faces. You want to know what a lesbian looks like? Here ya go. They're beauts.

We forget that it's not just violence that keeps queers invisible. It can be the weight of culture as well. The habits of silence. And shame. Until recently, French queers kept to their place, sticking to the usual détente of the closet. There was a kind of unspoken agreement that if you were discrete your sophisticated compatriots wouldn't bother you much, and you could pretend you were morally equal even if legally you were something they scraped off the bottom of their shoes. When queers sued for civil rights, they did it anonymously, as Jane or John Does. We never saw their faces. Never heard their names.

Not any more. French queers aspire to more than tolerance. The slogan for the Pride march in Paris this year: "For equality: in 2011 we march, in 2012 we vote." That's more like it. No beseeching. No excuses. No blab. Demanding directly what they want. Even if it is equality. Aline and Stephanie talked mostly about marriage equality, and wanting kids. But in France, when you use that word, equality, it implies much more. Because the nation itself aspires to liberty, equality, fraternity. It's carved in stone on all the public buildings. You see it a hundred times a day. In France, equality implies a horizon beyond the straitjacket of legal rights. It is social, cultural, political, philosophical.

Not so much in America. Still, I shouldn't rain on anybody's parade. We're creeping forward. Sooner or later we'll win marriage rights across the board. People will get hitched, and when, as I suspect, society doesn't throw roses, we'll wake-up, reconsider our illusions, want more. And queer kids looking from het couples to gay couples may well shake their heads in disbelief and reject them both as prehistoric and gross. They should have that chance to dump it all. Imagine some new way to live their lives. Yeah, I can celebrate that.

Lesbians! Dykes! Gay women. Get your rriot on at the Dyke March, Sat. June 25, 5 p.m. Leaving from 42nd St & 5th Ave, Bryant Park. Guys support from the sidelines.

Thursday, June 02, 2011


By Kelly Jean Cogswell

The dogwood is blooming in the back garden. The clematis is full of fat purple flowers, and for a change we have a million red roses. I finally learned that this wasn't the species you prune the hell out of, trying to get rid of what they call suckers to make room for strong, promising growth. No, the thick and thin branches alike put out their gloriously fragrant buds.

The only problem, and there's always one in Eden, is that the rats are tunneling up underneath the roots. We tried the home remedy approach of shoving mothballs down the hole because, we were told, they really hate the smell. We learned that was true, but not necessarily effective, because all it did was infuriate them. For the next few days they angrily tossed the little white balls right back up at us, scattering them among the hostas.

Then we tried putting our old standby down the hole, peanut butter-flavored poison, but they returned that, too, probably because by then it also smelled of moth balls. When they finally did abandon that hole, they just dug another a couple of feet away. Which we dropped more poison into. At least one rat ate it, because it dropped dead under the roses and I had to extract its stinking, maggoty corpse from among the flat hosta leaves and a few thorny rose branches dipping down to the ground.

At least we're allowed to kill them if we can, though murder doesn't really work in the long run. It just signals to them that they need to reproduce more, replace the little scattered corpses. If you want rats to disappear for good, you have to starve them, cover your garbage well, and prevent restaurants from dumping grease and other crap in the drains. Good luck with that in the East Village. The place is disgusting. When it really gets hot the smell in the street will curl your hair.

We're really American in that way, do whatever we can get away with, whatever makes it easier right now. Which I understand. Every now and then when mold starts growing on the roses, or some horrible insect starts chewing away, I get whatever toxic substance is nearest and blast the crap out of them. Screw the water supply.

Activists, of course, are almost always reactive in the same way. We try to kill the rats, or at least silence them, instead of changing the conditions that encourage them to breed. That requires an entirely different strategy. Even establishing legal guidelines for equality, like overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, is only mid-term thinking. How can we change the whole game?

It seems impossible. It probably is. But shouldn't we let ourselves think about the impossible every now and then? Let our minds loose? I admit I've been reading Emerson, Thoreau, even Oscar Wilde who has more in common with the others than I thought. In some ways he was more farseeing, also more practical. He was an early advocate of socialism, distributing resources so that the poor would be liberated from their poverty and the rich liberated from the stifling weight of their possessions, which would allow everyone to fulfill, he thought, their individual potential. Except he also saw how easy socialism was to hijack, turn into one more version of fascism.

In fact, he all but declared real socialism impossible, before going on to say, "This is why it is worth carrying out, and that is why one proposes it. For what is a practical scheme? A practical scheme is either a scheme that is already in existence, or a scheme that could be carried out under existing conditions. But it is exactly the existing conditions that one objects to; and any scheme that could accept these conditions is wrong and foolish."

The bigger question is why Americans have given up on utopias. (And queers on liberation). Communism, of course, gave utopias a bad name. Slaughters and tyranny will do that. We had a brief, drug-fueled wave of optimistic thinking in the Sixties and Seventies. Now, our only politics is that of the possible.

Why? Maybe we really believe everything important has already been done, and now all we have to do is refine things a little. Or maybe both the Right and the Left have come to prefer dystopias, and visions of the end of the world. On one side they scream, my god, the Muslims are coming, or Muslim black commie socialists. On the other, watch out for the reign of Sarah Palin. Or Gingrich. Whatever the devil is du jour.

We've ceded our imaginations to the rats. But they are only good for comic relief. Like the ones in my neighborhood, that jump out at unsuspecting partiers on the street as they scurry from parked car to garden to garbage heap.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Let's Hear It For the Girls

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

It's almost time to commemorate those movement-launching warriors of the Stonewall Rebellion, so get out those rainbow flags and cocktail glasses and checkbooks. What a better way to celebrate legendary dykes and drag queens and street fags than by kicking back and doing nothing! Or doing something, but calling it nothing. Because nothing is more shameful these days than calling yourself an activist.

I noticed it recently on Cat Greenleaf's show, Talk Stoop, when she interviewed that musician, Pete Wentz, who spent most of his time pitching a UNICEF project bringing clean water to remote parts of the world, but recoiled in horror when good old Cat called him an "activist." No sirree, bob, he wasn't an activist, just a guy helping a good and deserving cause. You might as well have called him a bra-burner.

And just a few days ago, there was a whole article in The New York Times by Rich Benjamin in which he urged queers to boycott straight weddings, but then carefully declared he wasn't "a gay-rights activist."

"Given the choice between a round of golf and a “discrimination teach-in,” I'll take the golf," he wrote. "Back in college, when I was asked to take part in a protest, I declined because it conflicted with Uncle Duke Day, an annual keg and marijuana bash. But now I'm a conscientious objector to all heterosexual weddings. It's less activism than common sense."

What's with this new wave of hating on activists? Especially, when there are barely any to be seen. It was more understandable in the eighties and early nineties when you actually had functional street activist groups like ACT-UP and the Lesbian Avengers, and there was a discernible split in both the tactics and attitudes of the change-makers of our community.

There were the pissed off street activists who believe that shaming and inconveniencing bigots was the quickest way to see change, and that efforts against all the antigay campaigns bankrolled by the Christian Right had to be done by out and proud queers as part of a larger strategy of community-building, that yes, included speak-outs and teach-ins.

On the other side, seemingly, were the far more conservative and patient activists of our national LGBT organizations who believed we'd get further with the honey of campaign contributions and mellifluous requests rather than the vinegary, in-your-face fury of loud-mouthed, tasteless queers just out for attention. They counted on legislation, lobbyists, behind the scene meetings, and professional polling companies that recommended their media campaigns avoid the words lesbian and gay since those words clearly inspired hate.

In Idaho, in '94, the two went head to head when the Lesbian Avengers Civil Rights Organizing Project was invited into the state to help fight an anti-gay referendum. A bunch of national organizations were already there, and their field workers were actually seen ripping down posters with the words lesbian, gay or queer. They also warned local queers not to work with the Avengers because we were nuts, irresponsible, practically pedophiles.

They did everything they could to get us to leave so that they, the professionals, could get on with their own closeted multi-million dollar campaign featuring literature that talked all about civil rights and doing the right thing for all Americans, but never about lesbians, or gay men, the bi, or transgendered.

As it turned out, the regions in Idaho where the Avengers managed things with our out, honest tactics did far better than the regions where our nicely funded organizations did their work. I hated them for years. Bunch of asshats. And wasn't it ACT-UP that pressured all those drug companies to work harder fighting AIDS, wasn't it activists that started projects like Housing Works? And was all this the product of deranged minds and narcissists? Why should activist be a dirty word?

The quarrel's not just about tactics. I'm pretty sure that with a cooling down period we could have agreed that both sides were better off if the carrot, on occasion, had a working relationship with the stick. And vice versa. Street activists need a few inside men. The lobbyists-types are better off if there are bigmouths in the streets, and stock exchanges, and cathedrals, giving them more political room to maneuver.

But I don't think it's just that. For a while I decided it was a question of color and class. Bigmouths after all seem so white trash, so ghetto. No matter who they actually are. While the institutions are extremely white and upper, and upper-middle class, speaking with appropriately refined accents.

But the key could as easily be gender, since Mr. Benjamin takes such care to define himself as a fun-loving guy taking a commonsense stand, in opposition to activists who are what? Illogical? Emotional? Female? Dour lesbians who alternate teach-ins with hysterical actions governed by vagina dentatas?

Screw you. Let's hear it for the girls, the dykes, the drag queens. Let's hear it for the activists.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Snail's Revolution

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Since I wrote last, curfew was declared in Tunisia where demonstrators are protesting the interim government, and elections may not happen in July after all. In Egypt, Muslims and Christians are honoring their own recent revolution by killing each other. The Syrian government aims to prevent one by rounding up democracy protesters and shooting into crowds. Bin Laden who wanted an Islamic one got dead, along with Col. Khadafi's son.

And in just a few weeks, in delightful Paris, Texas, an African American man, Bobby Yates, is set to go on trial for rape even though he lost his lower limbs in a hunting accident over two decades ago and is also paralyzed. Yes, in 2011, the accuser, a 16 year-old white female, who came to his home with two adult white males in March of 2008, has been given the benefit of the doubt, despite Yates' demonstrated disabilities, and the 911 tape of him calling for help, and begging for the cops to come help him get rid of the three who had been beating on him.

It's also time for the usual spring antics of New York State Senator Ruben Diaz, who's organizing an anti-gay, anti-abortion march, scheduled specifically for March 15 to draw numbers from the Puerto Rican Day Parade, and rebuke the AIDS Walk held the same day. His main beef-- same-sex marriage which may be coming up for a vote in the New York legislature later this month, and may actually get approved.

Queers can already get civil unionized in Chicago which will largely give them the rights to visit their spouses in the hospital and parade around in knock-off Kate Middleton wedding dresses and buy a replica of her royal engagement ring in genuine plated metal, and purty cut glass advertised for only $19.99 on whatever channel that is that runs old movies and pitches ostomy supplies and those little dangerous carts that on Avenue A are always on the verge of running me down.

In more promising news, Andrés Duque in his blog Blabbeando reported that one of the most popular characters in "Gran Hermano 2011," Argentina's version of Big Brother, was transman Alejandro Iglesias who lasted for three months before getting voted out in March. In the process, he talked a lot about his experiences, and has become an important advocate for trans issues, including a law coming up for debate that would make it quicker and easier for Argentinean transpeople to get national ID papers that reflect their chosen gender and name.

The courts there have been relatively progressive, in 2008 allowing transwoman, Tania Luna, to change her name without requiring gender reassignment surgery, conceding the hard fought battle of transactivists to establish that gender isn't just about the body.

New York City is definitely lagging on that front, battling Joann Marie Prinzivalli, a White Plains transwoman born in Brooklyn who wants to change the gender on her birth certificate. She can't have surgery for health reasons, but in a conversation with asserts her identity is "not just genitalia". It's an urgent matter for transpeople. Most don't have surgery because it's hugely expensive, has health risks, and to a lot of people seems unnecessary because gender is located less between the legs than between the ears.

Her New York opponents pathetically claim they can't let her change her birth certificate because it sets too many precedents, and raises too many questions. Like whether a transwoman who still has a penis should be in a women's prison or a men's. And what gender they would be considered in a hospital.

Which strikes me as one thing that separates trans issues from LG and B issues -- just how far people get up in the business of transpeople. Not obsessing just about what you do in bed and whether or not you want to get it on with them, but about every little physical moment as you pass through the world from your choice of underwear to bathrooms to changing rooms.

Maybe the solution is to establish hundred of gender variations, not just two or three. Like little nations. So many that they became meaningless as brands of instant oatmeal, though they never would be. Countries are still duking it out, even if they share plenty of interests. And the citizens inside each of those are as split as anybody else into their little tribes of religion, custom, ethnicity, flavor, race,

Yeah, every time I check out the news, I'm reminded of how humans share something like 96 percent of their DNA with chimps, and 75 percent of their DNA with nematodes. Which does a lot to explain how patiently we have to root through the dirt to make any progress at all. In fact, sharing 48 modules of genes with plants, it's a miracle we can walk upright at all.