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.