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.