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 d├ętente 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

Ratopias

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.