Monday, December 17, 2012

Harking the Mayan Apocalypse

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

If Santa actually comes this year, and not the Mayan Apocalypse, all I want is a little peace. No angels harking and heralding. No kids getting shot. Not in Connecticut. Not anywhere. Isn't that why so many films are rated R, we don't want our babes exposed to the violence? Or is it just sex we're opposed to? Heterosex when they take too many clothes off? Homosex in all its forms?

I went to a gun show once. It was just like a carnival. There were families with kids, stalls with French fries and corndogs. I like me a good corndog with that glowing yellow mustard that they probably use as radioactive contrast for MRIs. After a deep-fried Snickers, you can buy pellet guns for the babies. Or a thirty-eight for her in lavender or pink, that isn't too big for a purse. I was surprised that my girlfriend knew what the serious stuff was. "Is that a Soviet blahbetty blab?" But then half the Cuban kids of her age were trained for an American invasion. Which actually came, by the way.

Americans prepare for something largely imaginary. Like maybe a photo shoot. When I was a kid, me and my sisters would pose as Charlie's Angels with their guns in the air. I've been known to use my own fingers to form a revolver. "Make my day." It's not just ego. We are so often afraid, even if our enemies aren't a solid ninety miles away. There are those damn undercover Canadians that talk just like us. Those Mexicans who have the nerve to speak differently, but still steal our jobs. Or maybe it'll be an invasion by aliens we're sure are just a cattle prod away.

Then there are real muggers and rapists. It seems every high school and college football team has one or two. Just look at Notre Dame, and Steubenville High. But instead of protection, people with guns usually have them taken away and find themselves not just violated, but dead. Or on the flip side, fearful people end up shooting innocent kids like Trayvon Martin. Real perps hardly ever get killed.

Still, after the latest shooting, somebody actually said the kindergarten teachers should have been packing. When Gabrielle Giffords was laid up in the hospital after getting plugged, more than one asshole declared, "If it had been me I'd've known right away with my extrasensory American sense that Jarod Lee Loughner was a danger and taken him out with a shot right between the eyes. Ditto for that joker James Eagan Holmes who went nuts in the Colorado movie theater."

Only guns can solve the gun problem. We'll fight fire with fire. Burn the whole place down. Why wait for the Mayan gods to extinguish the sun? Or send meteor showers, or whatever it is that will bring the 5125-year cycle of life on earth to an end?

Sometimes I wish the Apocalypse would come before the next atrocity. Human acts of generosity are often so comparatively small. We save dogs and sheep when they fall in rivers. Hand out a pair of shoes. While our acts of hatred are on the Olympian scale. Twenty dead kids. I can't even imagine it. When shootings happen in high schools I can sometimes understand. A troubled kid accustomed to guns goes back for revenge against bullies. It's an old, old story. But attacking seven year olds? No.

NRA types will defend the guns, and say Adam Lanza was sick, and probably he was. They'll point the finger at the failures of the mental health establishment. Which should have done more. And that will be right, too. Or maybe they'll blame the mother he killed. (Who taught him to shoot.) But it's more fundamental, a flaw in our culture, our species, maybe. We are so good at imagining the end of things. We embrace films where monsters attack our cities, or meteors are aimed at earth like an alien invasion.

We rarely imagine some dramatic way Will Smith could transform our existing lives into something better. The closest he came was playing Mohammed Ali, sports star and activist. If you don't aim for Buddha or Jesus, maybe that's all there is. One person taking a stand.

Bloomberg was right to call on Obama to do it, push back against our culture of guns. I'd like to see him go further and dump our new toys, the drones. And maybe the Israelis could sit on their hands for a while. And the Palestinians, too, even if theirs are more often filled with rocks. Congo is a disaster. Let's wish impotence for each rapists' dick. And that their knives and guns bend like rubber. That they go to bed early, dream of peace.

Which is all I want. That, and a pony.

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Elephant in the Room

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I was at this party the other day, when the people I'd sat down with decided I'd become inconvenient. They wanted to invite this other girl to go out with them, but not me, so what to do? Being awkward or just assholes, their solution was to suddenly ignore me. Pretend like I'd ceased to exist while they talked about dressing up as vampires or something, and the reaction they got in bars.

I was tempted to wave my hand in front of their faces, and say, "Yoo hoo, still here." But it was more interesting to stay motionless in my chair, watch their contortions, and see how long they could keep it up. Indefinitely, it turned out, even if their eyes were forced to glide past my own like I was a kind of repellant particle scientists weren't able to detect yet except by the movement of others around it.

They reminded me of three-year olds that can make other people come and go just by covering their own eyes. Or like politicians who have the amazing capacity to erase the elephant or dyke or whatever in the room.

We just had a whole election cycle where, unless I'm mistaken, poor people weren't mentioned once, just the suffering middle class, though more and more people are dropping out of it, and fewer climbing in. And in four years of having our first black president, racism has also fallen off the national agenda even as it grew. Don't make eye contact, it will get bored.

In 2008, it was the leaders of the LGBT community who managed to shut their eyes to Obama's inconvenient relationships with bigots. He campaigned, for instance, with the same black, antigay preachers as Bush, and when he won, invited that Anglo pig Rick Warren to pronounce over his inauguration. Rick Warren equated gay marriage with polygamy and incest. Said abortion was genocide as much as the holocaust was. Took his campaign, and gazillions of his white fundamentalist American dollars, to the African continent where he egged on antigay efforts in places like Uganda, telling the press there queers had no human rights. Preach on, brother man. The Ugandans embraced your message, considering every couple of months the death penalty for queers.

Nobody seemed to remember that giving hate the podium always means more violence, more shame. And like an opportunistic infection, more AIDS. You have to be an idiot not to know why young black queers in the U.S. get HIV more than anybody else. For World AIDS day Reuters reported that in 2010, "72 percent of the estimated 12,000 new HIV infections in young people occurred in young men who have sex with men, and nearly half of new infections were among young, black males." The article did a pretty good job identifying the culprit. Not just lack of information, but homophobia.

Lately, even relatively conservative international organizations have started to consider it in their programs, talking about the "gay" stigma of AIDS. Men who have sex with men think they can only get it if they identify as "gay". Straight men don't think they can get the "gay" disease. Women in that constellation are apparently immune. UNAIDS aspires to get to zero. Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.

The only effective way to get rid of the (gay) stigma of AIDS, is to get rid of the stigma of gay. Because the other side of cultures of intense homophobia is shame. Which in the case of young black men is amplified by racism. Unprotected sex can be just another slow suicide like the bottle. Or hanging around street corners. Or joining gangs.

Part of that may begin to turn around now that Obama's seen the light, and his positions have "evolved." In 2012 Hillary Clinton used her international platform as U.S. Secretary of State to declare that gay rights were human rights. A few weeks later, Barack Obama announced his support for marriage equality.

Despite worried/gloating pundits, it didn't cost him the election. He won queer votes. And people of color mostly stayed on board. In fact, he gave renewed hope to lots of queer activists and allies of color. The usual verbal gay-bashing has been muted. Several black celebrities like Jay-Z have actually come out against homophobia. "It's no different than discriminating against black. It's discrimination. Plain and simple." This sea change can only help struggling young queers of color.

It's a good start, but there's still the little intractable matter of racism and race. It's easier for a straight president to speak up for the queers than a black president to speak up unapologetically for himself and all the kids that look like him. They are invisible particles we swerve around trying to keep the lid on. Sacrificing them to keep somebody else's peace.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Notes From My Big Gay Hurricane

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I kept reminding myself to be grateful. We had gas to cook with, and a dry building, running water. I was freaked out anyway. No light, no phone, no internet, no heat, no pharmacies. The hospitals were evacuated one by one, and my girlfriend was just getting better after being really sick. In an emergency, I'd have to walk three or four blocks to a pay phone, or the little hotspot in front of Russ & Daughters, one of the few places open. During the day, anyway.

At night, we had to cope with the dark. In the city, the absence of light is somehow obscene. It's a sign of abandonment or poverty that reminded us of the bad old days when the neighborhood was all burnt-out buildings and drugs and illegal clubs.

Even in daytime, you had to use a flashlight to get upstairs and get the key in the lock. At night, you'd light a couple of candles. For a moment, the flame would be so beautiful. But then the dark would win out, limiting the sphere of each candle to a small, ineffective round. Shapes and colors dissolved. I felt like I'd been slipped a tab of acid. There were no hard surfaces except the ones you cracked your knees on.

We sat on the couch and listened to the news on the spare radio our upstairs neighbor lent us. I'd rage whenever the broadcaster said, "Check our website for more information." If I could access the internet, you fucker, I'd have power and connectivity, and wouldn't need the goddam info. Or the radio for that matter.

When we got tired of living in a black and white movie, we'd go to sleep, shedding clothes that were invisible until morning. There was a lamp by the bed. After a couple of days, it started to seemed quaint. We should have stuffed it in the closet, along with our computers and cell phones, the refrigerator which we used as a cupboard in case the mice invaded from downstairs.

We'd entered a different century, maybe earlier, maybe later depending on your dystopian point of view. Or we'd shifted sideways to a part of the world where electricity is a whim if it exists at all. You certainly don't have jobs dependent on it. Or mass transit. You also don't build homes so near the shore. Especially not with the same old vulnerable designs you'd have inland. Or even uptown.

If we looked out the windows in back, there was a strange rosy dawn on the northern horizon. It was the illuminated city we weren't a part of any more. People that went up above 39th Street would come back saying how weird it was there. Life continuing like we didn't exist at all. We looked for metaphors of border crossing, inequality. Passing from East to West Berlin. From Mexico to the United States. North Korea to the South.

Halloween, I had to get my girlfriend to the lab uptown and to our heroic doctor who actually kept office hours. The buses were too packed to get on. No taxis stopped. We had to go back home. I was prepared to walk all the way up to 40th to call around for help, but a neighbor told me about that Russ & Daughters hotspot and I used the last of my charge to call my friend Adriana who drove in all the way from Queens, waiting two hours on the 59th Street bridge to ferry us uptown where the little kids were all dressed up going door to door. As dusk set in, the lights came up just like always. Bizarre.

I was back uptown Thursday, waiting 45 minutes for a bus that had space. And after checking email and recharging the phone at the public library in midtown (thank you NYPL), I grabbed a slice and overheard a guy proclaiming his refugee status and showing off his growing beard. When I asked where he lived, he looked around shiftily and said, "39th Street," and when I made a loud raspberry noise, slurping spittle everywhere, he declared, "But on the south side. And we don't have water."

He turned his back on me and kept regaling his listener about all his difficulties being a whole block away from power, and that guy went on to talk about how he'd gotten on a bike and zipped downtown to have a look at the darkness, "It was really incredible." Probably by now he's been to Red Hook or Coney Island, savoring the misery. I didn't kill them.

On the way back home the buses were too full to get on, and I had to walk the 40 blocks back downtown with the light fading. After dark, I lit the flashlight at every black intersection, signaling my existence to indifferent cars and more biking tourists who kept shouting, "I can't see a thing. I can't see a thing."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Orlando Cruz and Seimone Augustus, Gay Heroes

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I can't remember who I looked up to when I was a kid. Probably the usual: parents, teachers, the pastor at church, or choir director, otherwise known as minister of music. Their power, though, diminished as I got older and started to see their flaws. Celebrities didn't figure into it at all, since my Southern Baptist mother didn't let us watch more than half an hour of the idiot box per day, and our exposure to music was pretty limited, though somehow my older sister Kim ended up a Kiss fan.

So I guess I'd have to say God was my role model, along with his mild-mannered son with the empty blue eyes that I got to know as my personal savior. If I have a strange and messianic take on things you can blame them, or the protestants for letting me read the bible on my own from the time I could sound out the words.

Probably I'm an exception. Even twenty years ago, most kids discovered the world filtered through their TV sets. MTV, which started in 1981, was why all the guys in high school went around with the sleeves of their blazers rolled up. And why girls started wearing their clothes inside out. By the time Madonna did her live performance at the MTV video music awards in '84, she and Cyndi Lauper had already made us understand that clothes were only costumes after all. A form of play and power. You could be femme in the morning, all butch in the afternoon, something else entirely at night.

And then there was Michael Jordan hawking his Air Jordan shoes so every kid in the world could dream of flying as high. And of being as stinking rich.

We aspire to what we see. Every public figure is a potential role model. We all are, I guess, just on different scales. Step into the limelight, you're defining what's possible. You're shaping lives. Chris Kluwe, the straight Vikings kicker, deserves props for using his juice for his witty takedowns of homophobic bigots, though I'd like to give most of my kudos to WNBA Minnesota Lynx star Seimone Augustus. In the last couple of months she's raised her dyke profile to fight an impending gay marriage ban in her adopted state.

Hero of the month, though, is Puerto Rican boxer, Orlando Cruz, who announced he was gay two weeks ago, then won his next bout just a couple days ago. Now, the 31-year-old former Olympian is the one and only openly gay pro boxer active in one of the most macho sports of all.

He was graceful, and grateful as he bounded out of the closet. He admitted it took some time to make his peace with it, including a few years in therapy. And when he was asked about romantic prospects, candidly explained he planned on staying single for a while so he could focus on the world championship. "The title belt is my new boyfriend," he joked.

His prospects are good. At least in the stats. He's got a 19-2-1 record with nine KO's. And a thick enough skin to ignore the guys at the gym in San Juan where he works out that have started to whisper they won't take a shower if he's in the locker room. He apparently scares them stiff. I mean limp. What's the risk of death or a concussion compared to getting scoped out by a fag?

The coming out of Orlando Cruz was good news at a moment when the sports page was shocked and awed at Lance Armstrong's years of doping, and there were loud lamentations from the likes of The New York Times' William C. Rhoden who declared "In light of the dramatic falls of Michael Vick, Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Tiger Woods and now Lance Armstrong, we need to either recalibrate our definition of the sports hero or scrap it altogether."

His conclusion: sports heroes in particular deserve an exemption. It's apparently too much to bear the burden of sports excellence along with the illusions of fans, and the requirements of civilized behavior. In fact the reverse might be true. "Will all the good that Paterno accomplished be buried with him, overshadowed by the scandal?"

With apologists like Rhoden dismissing all those raped and molested boys as nothing more than a "scandal", no wonder so many athletes behave like pigs. They aren't held to a higher standard. On the contrary, they have to sink pretty low to be held accountable at all.

Now I think it's more than homophobia keeping gay athletes in the closet, but our complicity in telling them they don't owe nobody nuthin. Which means that every gay athlete who decides to honor the truth and come out deserves a thousand parades from the public at large, and a lifetime supply of tickertape.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Reasonable Men

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

A couple of days before the presidential debate, I was running an errand uptown when I crossed 57th Street, and saw a small horde of media with TV cameras and digital recorders. At their center was an older red-faced white guy who was holding something up, and talking about it in a voice that was mild-mannered and reasonable. When I got closer, I saw that his prize was a jar with a bobble-headed Obama planted in what looked like shit.

Part of his spiel was that it wasn't really fecal matter, just brown Play-Doh. He opened up the lid and took a sniff, and offered it to the reporters. "See, Play-Doh." Then went on to say it should sell for a couple hundred thousand dollars like the Piss Christ, the Andres Serrano photo of the crucifix immersed in actual urine. He, of course, hadn't used anything so offensive. Nope, he'd used Play-Doh. Big difference. No reason to get upset.

He made quite a contrast with the guy behind him, a Latino man with a handmade sign scribbled on cheap poster board. I thought he was protesting the speaker, he seemed so different in demeanor, not to mention race. He was definitely what cops and shrinks like to call agitated. "Get your hands off me. I have a right to be here," he shouted at a security guard. He looked nuts. Partly because he was alone. I kind of identified with him until he also started to rave against the Jew gallery owners.

Later I found out the two were both part of a Catholic group denouncing the Edward Tyler Nahem Gallery that has Serrano's 1987 "Immersion (Piss Christ)" on display. It created quite a stir when it was first shown in '89. Protests have resurrected recently, most notably in France where last year four Catholic extremists went at it with a hammer at an exhibition in Avignon called "I Believe in Miracles."

I thought about the two men as I walked away. The smug mellifluous one with the florid face of the drinker. The taut brown one twisted with rage. They both scare me. The furious one because it seemed like it would be easy to push him towards violence. As Heinrich Heine wrote, "Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings." But worse are the honeyed, "reasonable" types that usually do the pushing. Or kill with the stroke of a pen. They neutralize their opponents by making them look like radical fools. At the same time, they themselves often front for howling mobs, embracing their anger, nudging them in one direction or another. Chasing Jews. Chasing queers. Stringing up black men. Any convenient enemy.

As a dyke, I am always at a disadvantage with these rational men. Because everybody knows females are not strong enough to hold emotion and reason in one brain without becoming unbalanced. Speak too passionately and some deep, smooth voice will instantly dismiss you as being incapable of lucid thought. As being confused. Unhinged even, because it's that time of the month. Haw haw. It's worse for dykes, always suspected of harboring irrational man-hating rage.

Females are not the only victims of the double standard of passion. When Obama finally opened his mouth about the death of one more unarmed black kid, calmly declaring, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," his unwhite face made it an expression of black rage. At least in the eyes of white right-wingers which are quickly moving from wignut status into the Republican mainstream.

How do you fight that? If you're Obama, you become even more reasonable, even more repressed, professorial. Given to long lectures. Clinging to facts. Which is, I think, what happened in the presidential debate last Tuesday night. What's a black guy supposed to do when the smooth talking, and very white, Mitt Romney energetically piles on lie after shitty lie?

If you leap in, make a spirited defense, they'll say you went all Panther on their asses. Because even the mildest attack will be amplified by his black face. So Obama more or less just stood there. Wilted even. The way he's probably trained himself. No way he's gonna be the face of black rage. When he hears about an asshole waving around a bobbleheaded Obama in crap, the POTUS probably leans back and smiles, "I'm not going to dignify that with a comment." Which is okay for a turd-hawker like the Catholic League's smooth-talking William Donahue. Not against the Romney's of the world.

Who knows what will work? Definitely not just standing there and piling on the facts. So if he doesn't want to respond in anger to Romney, it'll have to be something else. Why not humor? Passion? A few one-liners? Love even, for America. A performance from the heart.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The War on Voters

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I got my ass to the polls last week, even though there was only one race to be decided, and had my usual bad luck. For a couple of years, I'd get this one nearly deaf woman that couldn't understand my name. It wouldn't have been a big deal, but she was also nuts, and every year refused to look at the ID I tried to show her to make things easier. She'd carry on shouting about how I didn't live in her district until some other worker would notice the brouhaha and intervene.

She wasn't there this time, and my name was easily found, but then both of the new voting machines had broken down just before I got there, and I was stuck at PS Something for half an hour clutching my ballot, while five or six poll workers all shouted at each other, and brandished pamphlets for the gizmos while the one other voter, an elderly guy with a walker, collapsed in a metal chair.

I figured they should have served cocktails, or something. Handed around those little wienies in sauce. Or at least handfuls of Xanax. To the workers.

Finally they figured out that they had to break the seal on the box, which meant they had to spend another ten minutes hunting for the scissors, "They were right here. Have you seen them?" Before they got the one thing snipped, and the other thing opened. By which time I cursed the name of the judge my neighbor had persuaded me to vote for. Whoever it was. I can't even remember now.

All of which I suppose is a privilege. In Cuba, anybody at all can vote, but there's only one guy to vote for. And in the U.S., until ninety two years ago, my titted, twatted self wouldn't have been allowed to vote at all. No business of mine what my masculine betters got up to.

Women's suffrage (as opposed to suffering) didn't come into effect until the late date of 1920. Black men theoretically got the vote in 1870, but in practice both black men and black women and tons of others weren't really free to go to the polls until 1965, just before I was born, when the U.S. passed the Voting Rights Act which finally dumped literacy tests, state poll taxes, and other restrictions set up as barriers not just to people of color, but poor people from a bunch of backgrounds.

For instance, it's worth noting that long after white male voters were no longer required to own property, Connecticut adopted the nation's first literacy test in 1855 to keep those pesky Irish-Catholic immigrants from getting their vote on.

Now they're at it again, the white male property owners, dipping deep into their bag of dirty tricks requiring photo id's that lots of young and urban people don't have, what with not driving cars. They're also demanding proof of citizenship, and cutting back on opportunities for voter registration. It's mind-blowing, a reminder of the cycles of history. And how important it is to remember no right is ever truly won. Better to think of them as temporary gains, stay engaged, and vigilant.

While 41 states have passed bills restricting voting, only seventeen of these will have relevant laws in effect this year with the potential to affect the election. That doesn't sound too bad until you do the math and find these states combine for something like 80 percent of the total of electoral votes needed to win the White House.

If Florida taught us anything in the 2000 election, it's that every vote counts. And if you don't want Mitt Romney to be president, you have to do more than snicker at the flip-flopper changing his positions yet again, strapping his dog to the car roof, and spray tanning to appeal to Latino voters. We got a lot of laughs out of Bush Jr.'s malapropisms, and see where that got us.

Better to do voter registration, and follow that up with carpools to places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and Colorado, wherever Republicans are disenfranchising as many people as possible, and try to support people providing remedies.

Beyond that, it's also worth thinking about just what you're willing to do if things go sour. In 2000, most lefties stayed home when the Supreme Court stopped the recount in Florida. Neither did they act when it was time to certify the vote in Congress, when not one Senator out of the 100 stood up to protest the widespread fraud and the disenfranchisement of black voters.

Al Gore, presiding as Clinton's Vice President, was his own worst enemy, just grinning and shrugging at the protesting Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. "The Chair thanks the gentleman from Illinois, but, hey..." Let’s just get this thing over with.

If that happens again, what will we do?

Monday, September 10, 2012

The New Democrats?

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I wasn't the only one gasping in astonishment last week at how visible queers were at the Democratic Convention. They broke ground by including a pro-gay plank in their platform openly supporting same-sex marriage. Straights like Rahm Emanuel, Obama's first chief of staff, brought us up, acknowledging Obama's work to allow queers to serve openly in the military. Tammy Baldwin, the out dyke U.S. Representative, spoke to the crowd. So did Jared Polis, the out gay congressman from Colorado who didn't just present gayness in the flesh, but used the words, declaring, "My great-grandparents were immigrants. I am Jewish. I am gay."

In contract, the Republican National Convention officially invited the gay Log Cabin Republicans to attend for the first time, but the GOP had no openly gay speakers, and most importantly, its platform was "more aggressive in its opposition to women's reproductive rights and to gay rights than any in memory" according to a New York Times editorial.

Only four years ago, the Obama strategy was only minimally better than the Republican one. We were kept offstage at all costs, seen as a political, though not financial, liability. Throughout his run, Obama avoided gay photo ops, and any promises he made were to our trusty leaders behind closed doors. At the same time, he campaigned openly with some of the same gay-hating preachers as Bush. Adding insult to injury, he asked Rick Warren, architect of some of the most vicious and deadly gay-hating campaigns in Africa, to bless his administration.

I guess it didn't take, that invocation. Or maybe god has switched sides. Eventually, we got more than a thank you for our checks. The last few years have seen the end of DADT, Hillary's hugely important speech on the international stage declaring gay rights are human rights, and Obama's own declaration that LGBT people might just deserve equality in America, too, in particular when it comes to same-sex marriage.

We're told that this was the plan the whole time. Deal with the economic crisis, pass health care reform, and then when the most dire things were out of the way, move on to The Gays.

Yeah, maybe that was the plan. Or maybe Obama only kept his promises because for once we held the Democrats accountable. Starting with Warren's appearance at the inauguration when we squealed like hell. We also ranted about betrayal when Obama's justice department defended some of the US's anti-gay policies in court. We demonstrated, filed our own lawsuits, threatened to keep our money in our pockets, sometimes sidelined our own Democrat-ass kissing national organizations, to declare that if they didn't do better, they'd have to win 2012 without our big gay dollars and our big gay votes. And it paid off.

Now, in the post-Convention excitement at growing acceptance and visibility, it's essential to keep in mind that legal rights and cultural change do not emerge only from the audacity of hope, or as gifts from our benign leaders. If we just sit around thinking nice thoughts and cheerleading an ostensibly supportive party, not only will we not make more progress, but the little we've gained will be rolled back, quicker than you can exclaim, "Goddamn."

Change is the result of work. A ton of it. Using as many strategies as possible. Street activism and demos. Fat donations. Letters, emails, sit-ins, measured editorials, furious diatribes. Also important are movies, art, and books that in radical acts of imagination help us see more clearly the world around us, and imagine a whole new one. Artists can be like scientists, exploring the universe of identity in a controlled environment, sharing their results.

LGBT activists can't let up now. Just look at the erosion of pro-choice gains. Most states have implemented so many restrictions on abortion, it's all but illegal. And in terms of race, the Jim Crow laws may have been pulled from the books years ago, but New Racists are back at it, most notably passing laws designed to keep minorities and poor people from voting. Their language and rhetoric is full of hate. And individuals that five or ten years ago may have been indifferent to the subject when Collin Powell was secretary of state and Condi Rice advising U.S. President George W. Bush, now hold strong and repellent views that amount to Black is bad. And so are independent women.

It doesn't take much to shift the tenor of a party. A whole nation can suddenly swing to the right. Former allies can jump ship. Complacency will kill us. So can refusing to see ourselves as part of the larger American project of liberty and justice for all. Queers of color, immigrant queers, those of us with tits, and poor queers are already more embattled than ever. Hate's contagious. Everybody will pay if we don't push forward together.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Republicans and the Commissars

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

In case you haven't been paying attention, the platform that the GOP is presenting this week at the Republican National Convention is more "conservative" than any in the modern history of the party.

Don't be misled by that word, "conservative." The Republicans are not conserving anything. Not liberty, not freedom, not equality. They're committed to radical retreat, and not even to the glory days of Ronald Reagan, but some time around the Salem witch trials, when upstanding male citizens could burn up anybody they didn't like the looks of.

In this case, they want to keep people of color perpetually on guard, replicating Arizona policy where Hispanic citizens risk being deported to places they've never been if they forget to carry driver's licenses and birth certificates.

Women aren't full citizens either. Republicans want to remove the choice of abortion altogether, even in cases of rape or incest. And if abortion is allowed, force women to get ultrasounds and submit to invasive procedures. Forget the morning after pill, or anything that gives females control of their own wombs, or acknowledges status superior to cows.

In the military, women would also be banned again from combat roles, while the GOP opposition to "anything which might divide or weaken team cohesion, including intramilitary special interest demonstrations" seems like a coded promise to reinstate, "Don't Ask Don't Tell." Which would only be the beginning of their attacks on LGBT people.

The GOP platform commits them to ending same-sex marriage everywhere, and banning civil marriages between same-sex couples. Why? Because these "counterfeit marriages" might start giving us the idea that we are "normal".

When I see delegates applauding this kind of crap I try to breathe deep and think of the long term. There are cycles in history. Things repeat themselves like Phillip Glass with slight variations. They attack. We push back. We make a gain. They try to unravel it.

But patience isn't part of my make-up as an activist. Everybody that steps into the streets is going for the win. Sometimes I dream of how great it would be if each queer in the universe could put in two or three years of work and at the end of it, we have the same civil rights as anybody else, and the culture has shifted enough for us not only to breathe, but thrive. And that whatever we won could be locked in somehow.

Instead, you can put in a whole lifetime, and twenty years later you have the new Pat Buchanan declaring the same old Culture War where the targets are still women and queers, immigrants (all illegal), and racial and ethnic minorities (which all feel sorry for themselves and want handouts).

Russia is apparently on the same wave length where they're rolling things back, not only past inconvenient democracy, but past the commies and the commissars, right back to the Tsars, when breaking religious laws could land you in jail.

On August 17, three members of the all-girl Russian punk band Pussy Riot got sentenced to two years in a prison camp (prison camp!) for doing a quick "punk prayer" in February in Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral asking the virgin to "chase Putin" from power. They had been in jail since then awaiting their trial. Two others are in hiding.

They scoffed when their lawyers wanted them to ask for a presidential pardon. In fact, Nadejda Tolokonnikova said Putin should ask her pardon. She, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich intend to appeal on purely legal grounds.

After all, Russia's supposed to be a secular state, and a democracy, with free speech and everything. Though the judge that sentenced them had a clear religious bias, characterizing their prayer as "sacrilegious, blasphemous, and against church rules." And allowing witnesses against them declaring the grrrls were "evil forces," engaging in "diabolical leg movements."

Pussy Riot marked their conviction on "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" by releasing their first single called "Putin Lights Up the Fires," welcoming even more jail time, and envisioning a protest movement taking to the streets, and led by feminists. Go Grrrrrls!

The same day, in a decision that passed almost unnoticed in the midst of the international frenzy over Pussy Riot, another Russian court upheld a one hundred year ban on Moscow gay pride parades "to prevent public disorder, and because most Moscovites don't want them." Of course, plenty of Moscovites don't want Putin either, but that's a minor detail. Last year, St. Petersburg banned "homosexual propaganda" which includes any neutral or positive statement about lesbians and gay men.

I can only imagine the Republicans looking with envy and awe at the Great Bear, and wishing they had as sweet a deal as Putin, prison camps for big-mouthed female protestors, courts banning displays of queer pride for a hundred years. Poor Republicans. All they have is the jail that the Tampa police chief emptied out for protesters. Here's hoping we follow the example of Pussy Riot, push back against the bigots and demagogues, and fill the thing to the top.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Chavela Vargas, Lesbian Icon, Lives

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

She was 81 when she decided to kick open the closet door. It was the autumn of 2000, and she'd just gotten a big prize in Madrid after fifteen years in an alcoholic wilderness, then a decade of an incredible comeback partly engineered by gay filmmaker Pedro Almodovar who apparently tracked her down in a Mexico City bar, got her sober and back to work. At the time, there were hardly any out Latin American queers. And it meant something huge that she said it out loud, several times, even if everybody already knew that the hard-drinking, cigar-smoking, womanizer was a dyke.

Afterwards, she did an interview in the Spanish paper El País and was so absolutely fierce, thumbing her nose at the Catholic Church, not worried about what anybody thought. "I've had to fight to be myself and to be respected. I'm proud to carry this stigma and call myself a lesbian . . . I've had to confront society and the Church, which says that homosexuals are damned. That's absurd. How can someone who's born like this be judged? I didn't attend lesbian classes. No one taught me to be this way. I was born this way, from the moment I opened my eyes in this world. I've never been to bed with a man. Never. That's how pure I am; I have nothing to be ashamed of. My gods made me the way I am."

She was born in Costa Rica in 1919, and fled to Mexico when she was 14, mostly to get away from a suffocating, conventional society and a family that tried to force her into its straitjacket. According to the BBC, she once said: "I never got to know my grandparents. My parents I got to know better than I would have liked. They never loved me and when they divorced, I stayed with my uncles, may they burn in hell!"

In Mexico, she somehow survived by singing on the streets, gradually moving into the bars. Only in her thirties did she really get popular by styling Mexican ranchero songs about love and loss, usually sung by men. Despite Mexico's own conservative culture, she stepped into their shoes, and found a way to fill the halls with her lush, raw voice, and masculine persona, tossing back tequila, lighting up cigars, and refusing to wear women's clothes, or change the pronouns in the songs. It was still women that done her wrong.

She became a favorite of artists like Frida Kahlo, apparently one of her many lovers. Chavela adored women almost as much as she loved singing, which was still topped by her passion for tequila. Rumor has it that she once kidnapped a woman at gunpoint. She always denied that one, but not that her slight limp was earned when she jumped out a window after being disappointed in love.

Her open desire for women fueled her music, but also made her a target for dickheads who even now dismiss her as a minor quirk, an outsider, though she transformed the ranchero landscape, outmanning the men, even if she repeatedly said she didn't want to be one. She was her own thing. Later on, she identified what it was. A dyke. And if men got an inferiority complex listening to her rough and tender voice that made even straight women swoon, that was their problem.

Chavela Vargas upended Mexican music. She cut more than 80 records, and composers used to say that she "robbed" the songs, not just squeezing every last bit of life from them, but like Billie Holiday, making every song so fully her own, it was nearly impossible for other singers to approach them afterwards.

Her fans continue to adore her. In April, she did a big recital at the Palacio de Bellas Artes de Mexico, around the time of the elections there. It was jam-packed with admirers of all ages. At the end they screamed, "Chavela for president!"

Usually, fatalistic about social change, one of her last political gestures was to tweet in support of lesbian visibility day on April 26. "Proud to be the way I am." "Let's raise our voices so we are not invisible." And the photo that she distributed with it, my god. She had these dark shades on, and her head a little thrown back, revealing the strong cut of her jaw, just supremely cool. Even at 93, the dyke was so incredibly sexy she smoldered. She'd burst into the world, and burned things up. Herself along with everybody else. Chavela Vargas left this earth on August 5 to conquer the rest of the universe.

Don't know Chavela? Give a listen to the classic "Chavela Vargas Le Canta a México," on the Orfeón label. It's also worth checking out her two tracks on the CD, "The Songs of Almodóvar" (Emd/Blue Note), which also includes Cuban greats La Lupe and Bola de Nieve, and 50's Chilean crooner Lucho Gatica.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Lesbians Lust for Everything

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Sometimes I get tired of being the dyke whining out in the godforsaken wilderness, complaining to the cactuses about how lesbians barely make a blip in mainstream culture. Straight men are satisfied with our cameos in porn as two housewives making out with each other until a carpenter or plumber turns up with his big tools. "Women" still shy away from the lavender menace, as if we have nothing to do with them because we only dance around Maypoles in May. (Yes, that was a dick joke).

The LGBT community's often no better. Lately, trans- and gender issues are way more compelling than our own, while G men still use the L word as a punch line, pretty much like they always have. A couple months ago, when blogger Alan Jacobs suggested that gay relationships should "start with the kind of intimacy that is more like friendship than anything else, and to trust that sexual satisfaction will arise from that" noted gay writer Andrew Sullivan's hilarious response was, "On what planet does Jacobs live? Planet lesbian?" BWAH HA HA. What a card. What a douche bag.

It was tempting to blast Sullivan for the sneer in that word, "lesbian." How he embraced the Victorian assumption that two wimmins together never actually screw, or go mad from desire: we just hold hands and simper at each other, making our experience so absolutely foreign to his gay, manly one, we deserve a whole separate planet. But I didn't write anything at the time. I couldn't muster the energy, not when lesbians so often seem to agree.

Last column I dumped on the new Lesbian Political Action Committee, because with all their focus on reproductive rights and women's issues, the most lesbian thing about them was their name. But in fact, lots of young female homos refuse even the name, declaring that they prefer the noncommittal "queer" which is ever so radical and chic. Or even "gay woman," because it sounds more ladylike, and with the "woman" on board, doesn't quite bar the door to men, which we're told is rude and prehistoric, unlikely to advance our careers.

You can hear them worrying about what the neighbors think, as they declare labels conveniently passé, and defend their position so vigorously they give off the sulfuric stench of lesbophobia, afraid the word lesbian will make them small and ridiculous. As if generic humans were so great, so dignified.

I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered the indy girl-on-girl site, that doesn't shy away from the word lesbian, and is as comfortable with culture as politics, nestling articles on the endless possibilities of peanut butter up against the realities of dyke life in African countries. Because sometimes lesbians bond over politics, sometimes it's a shared passion for the gooey brown stuff.

Last week, I remembered a different kind of food. Dyke books, dyke art. The kind you get when you remember that labels aren't nooses, but fuses, which can go off with a bang.

First, I read Eileen Myles' novel, "Inferno." What a wonderful, ambitious work. She claimed a mainstay of the literary canon in the name of dykes and poets everywhere, and stuffed it full of her own life, which could have been mine, or yours. I'm an amnesiac, and her story reminded me how growing up in a hetero world I just kind of assumed I was straight even though I mooned after beautiful women, was struck dumb by them. One of her most important themes was that coming out as a dyke, as a lesbian, was as much a leap of imagination as it was a pussy on pussy act.

And Friday I went to Dixon Place to see the show, "Gomez and Tropicana Do Jan Brewer." They turned their two dyke Latina bodies, a smear of lipstick, some cowboy hats and a doll, into the raunchiest, funniest, most irreverent, most obscene performance I've watched in I can't remember how long. They were so fucking daring, so fucking free, being homo and hetero, men and women, white and Hispanic, hell, even goddesses and demon Chupacabra politicians like you'll only see at the Republican National Convention. It boggled the mind.

I sometimes forget that dyke artists exist, leading the way to creating a multiverse inside the boundaries of that terrifying word "lesbian" that we haven't finished with yet. And never will, because that's the thing with identity and language. Words shift. Or the world does. I like it best when we rock it ourselves instead of cowering.

So what if we're shoved to the margins? There are all sorts of interesting things in the folds of couches, jettisoned at the side of the road, in the wilderness. Every one of our lesbian lives redefines the syllables assigned to us. Breaks the mold. Or could. If we weren't so afraid. If we dared to grab it and run.

Monday, July 16, 2012

LPAC, It's Not Just for Lesbians

by Kelly Jean Cogswell

I first heard about LPAC when it was launched last week. And my cynical heart beat just a little faster. Yippee, the first ever lesbian political action committee, supported by big names like the actor Jane Lynch and Chicago Cubs co-owner, Laura Ricketts. Finally! Money for lesbian, and pro-lesbian, candidates. But then I went to their website and got my dyke heart semi-broken.

On the FAQ page, I learned that the bipartisan LPAC was actually created because "Women’s equality and well-being is under attack in a way this country has not seen in decades; As a result, a dramatic window of opportunity exists to counter this onslaught by electing strong pro-women candidates running for office; We believe that a strong lesbian PAC will influence the political and social landscape generating results."

Their expanded answer, on the "why" page, was also largely about women, straight women. The word lesbian was only used once, twice if you count the L of LGBT. More than half was taken up by the attack on women's rights, and women's reproductive rights, especially access to abortion, and funding for Planned Parenthood. The mention of marriage equality, and the House vote on the Violence Against Women Act that excluded lesbians, along with Native Americans and undocumented immigrants, seemed almost like an afterthought.

So when I spoke to spokesperson and chair, Sarah Schmidt, I bluntly asked what the difference was between LPAC and any vaguely gay-friendly feminist thing created to elect progressive, or female, candidates. The obvious answer was that "Lesbian's right there in the title. It's the only lesbian PAC. And we're the only ones trying to engage lesbians in the political process."

I told her that wasn't exactly what I was getting at. "I noticed that on the website the word woman is used a lot. Lesbian, not so much. It's mostly about women's rights, and women's reproductive rights. Is it a tactic, to make people more comfortable with a lesbian project?"

She was equally frank in her response, "No, it's not a tactic. We're not trying to hide anything." She explained that part of what LPAC wants to do is make a difference in the horror show of the new war against women. The committee spent a year brainstorming before they launched the project, prodded into existence by lesbian activist Urvashi Vaid.

"As lesbians, there are a lot of things we care deeply about. We wanted broader connections to the American political process than just marriage equality and hate crimes. I'm a woman first. Who happens to be a lesbian. I think that gives me a unique perspective. We've had conversations with many, many lesbians telling us that LGBT rights are important, but so is abortion. 'Hey, I want to have the same salary as a man,' they told us. Lesbians also have links to other social justice issues."

To be honest, the war on women appalls me, too, how so many states are attacking not just abortion rights but contraception, how women were excluded from federal hearings on reproductive rights. And how even the word vagina is practically banned. And while I know that LPAC has to serve their market, I'm also worried lesbian issues will get lost in that word, woman. And I'm not just talking about marriage equality and dyke-bashings.

In many cases, lesbians don't even experience traditional "women's" issues in the same way as straight women. Domestic violence, for instance, means much more than only worrying about attacks from our partners. Lesbians are often at risk inside their own homes from the moment their orientation becomes apparent. We face corrective rape, beatings from our own family members and friends. We are sometimes locked in our rooms. Or tossed out on the streets. We run away. Drop out of school. Our relationships bear the additional burden of homophobia. All that in addition to misogyny.

Lesbians also don't face exactly the same challenges when it comes to equal pay for men and women in the same job. First you have to get hired. And plenty of dykes have trouble getting even the crappiest jobs. Because even if we manage to stay in school and get ourselves educated or trained, being hired often requires us to put on that still obligatory skirt, those pantyhose, some little tasteful earrings, and a benign smile. And many of us can't, or won't, pull it off.

And in general, while arguments about a woman's right to control her own body sometimes include discussions of homosex and our right to have it, and while abortion foes tend to be queer-hating bigots, and racists, and xenophobes, issues of "reproductive rights" still affect straight women way more often, and more directly than dykes. By definition, our eggs just don't have that much willing contact with sperm unless we actually want to have kids. The only time I ever went to Planned Parenthood was when I thought my first girlfriend gave me herpes.

No, lesbians are not women like other women. And while "women's" issues are important, and related to lesbian issues, they are not the same. And we must not let our common equipment obscure our very real differences.

At this point, seeing that bold-faced L in front of the PAC is the most radical part of the project. For the first time, contributors who have long supported Planned Parenthood, and campaigns for income equality, and other women's issues, can finally donate under their own name, Lesbian. And politicians will be forced to acknowledge just who it is that they owe. It would also be great if lesbians really were mobilized and politically engaged. Especially on our own behalf. Not once again as foot soldiers in a related, but separate, fight.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Dead Queers, Culture and The Law

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

New York State's anti-bullying law has finally gone into effect, and all the gay news sites are announcing, "Our kids are finally protected." "It's the end of bullying." As if a couple of paragraphs inserted here and there, magically keep kids from getting tormented, beaten up, or forced into suicide.

Did laws against murder keep some guy from firing a couple of rounds into teenage lesbian couple, Molly Olgin and Mary Kristene Chapa last week in Portland, Texas? Those don't apply when you're talking about dykes or women, or somebody that doesn't look quite white. Nope, the law didn't put a force field around them, or save Molly Olgin's life. It rarely can.

The law alone is like a message in a bottle. Maybe somebody'll get it. Maybe not. The same holds true when the law is breached, maybe you'll get justice. Maybe not. The real trick is to get the law off that scrap of paper, and into our heads installing itself as a personal value, an organizing principle that creates its own refrains reminding us, Those are other people, members of my human tribe, put down the gun.

Unfortunately, changing culture, changing society isn't something you can just lobby for or throw money at. Which is why LGBT people have mostly abandoned the project in favor of changing themselves. Becoming normal. In public, now, we mostly show up freshly scrubbed, paired off like sedated animals in the ark who can't even be bothered to growl, squawk or fuck.

The artists we applaud for coming out are already adored by the mainstream. I love Ricky Martin, but what does him coming out prove besides the fact that at least a few of us are presentable? Not scary at all? He's so good-looking, and good humored. Ditto for Ellen. You could take her home to your Nana. Wanda Sykes has a lot more edge, but she's not actually gonna cut anybody with it.

In some ways, this decade and a half of efforts to join the military, get married, adopt, be accepted like anybody else only reinforces the idea that heterosexual, gender-conforming, marriage aspiring people are the standard of normal. And the rest of us that can't, or won't pass, are still screwed. And as likely to be targeted because our sexual orientation is like a persistent, terrifying reminder of difference, that things don't have to be the way they are.

We say we want change, but we hardly ever do. Except for other people. Though there was a brief moment in the late 80's and 90's when LGBT people still embraced change and experiment. It wasn't just AIDS that provoked the queer art and activism of the 80's and 90's, shaping its bastard children ACT-UP, Queer Nation, the Lesbian Avengers.

There was Holly Hughes with her epochal The Well of Horniness, and all the WOW iconoclasts including the Five Lesbian Brothers. They created a lesbian theater that went beyond your mother's lesbian separatism that stood in opposition to a world dominated by men, rejecting their hostility and violence, and wrapping us tight in cotton wool against the general ferocity of the world.

What the WOW girls did was dismantle the world itself. If men existed at all, it was in faint echoes of old films and TV shows. And you could recast everybody's roles. There was sex, and humor, and more words for vagina than you can shake a stick at. They were raunchy, and irreverent and transformative. Pursuing their own peculiar world, they were incredibly free.

After them, I discovered a book by David Wojnarowicz, this poet/artist crying out to America as an unrepentant faggot, holding her accountable for all those AIDS deaths, all the suffering of queers sent into cultural exile. He demanded that the great narcissists of our country quit staring at their belly buttons and gaze into the distance. Into the future, that did not look at all like them.

And dyke poet Eileen Myles actually ran for President, with her dog Rosie, stumping her way into American life, ready or not. While in "After Dolores," novelist Sarah Schulman inserted dykes into a New York City that wasn't asked to embrace anybody. She just planted her own dyke flag. At PS 122 performance artist Carmelita Tropicana turned Cuban--and American-- culture upside down and inside and out, while her choreographer pal Jennifer Monson explored gracelessness and gravity, having her dancers collide mid-air.

That was a different time, when queers had the ambition to broaden America, the whole world, really, not just squeeze themselves into a tiny corner of it. We were sick of being midgets and pygmies. And knew, what I still know now, that if there is going to be safety for any of us, we can't just break down one wall, we have to destroy them all.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Lesbian Pride

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

A couple days from now, several thousand hollering dykes will take over Fifth Avenue for New York's 20th annual NYC Dyke March. The event still compels, even though it was begun in seemingly distant 1993 by the Lesbian Avengers. At a recent panel at the Center, a mix of veteran and younger organizers agreed that a passionate desire for lesbian visibility is what attracts the multitudes. The Dyke March is one of the rare times society at large has to remember we exist.

More importantly, we get to see each other in vast anarchic numbers. And surrounded by the full spectrum of ages, ethnicities, styles, we remember there's more than one way to skin a cat, be a dyke. Stereotypes go out the window. The word lesbian sits more comfortably. You can almost feel yourself relax in the crowd, be expanded by it. Together, our lives have more meaning, more weight.

You only get a sense of identity in miniature when you walk into a dyke bar, or pull up a lesbian novel or poem or magazine on your tiny electronic device of choice. With several thousand lesbians, the Dyke March is bigger than some small towns, shows a political edge. We want to party, and pick up girls, and see friends, but we're also there because we Lust for Power, the '93 Dyke March theme.

I try to imagine what it's like on the other side, to always be at the center of power. To see myself reflected everywhere, a little bit larger than life, the rough edges smoothed, a filter applied to the lens like they used to do in old movies so the leading lady would always look her best. In short, I imagine what it is like to be a man, a straight man, like my father.

It starts immediately, when you're dressed in blue and pushed around in your stroller, and women murmur a certain kind of coo. And you learn pretty quickly that the most important person at the dinner table is your own father. You were named after him. And one day like him, you'll sign all the checks. You'll have the last word.

The perks of being a boy child spiral out beyond the family into casual social encounters. In real life, I remember being a little kid, and trudging into a mechanic's or some other masculine domain and the approving sound of the guy's voice when he saw my short hair and asked my father, "That your son?" Then the brief pause before my Dad said, "My daughter." And the other man lost interest entirely.

In my Dad's Catholic Church, the priests were Fathers that even had the right to tell uppity nuns what to do. Of course, God himself was a Father, too. My father played sports in high school, and a hundred years later, I imagine him sitting in front of the TV and watching The Game, any game, really. Let's pick football. He sees those guys in their pads, on the gridiron, and thinks that it could be him. Those solid bodies reaching for the ball, dragging it across the goal line.

When July 4th rolls around, or Presidents Day, or most of the other holidays, and when there are local elections, or national elections, somebody's sure to talk about Founding Fathers. He has a connection to that, too. Even if it's just there floating in the back of his mind. Impregnating a country with your ideas isn't so very different than begetting children.

He, or some other man, writes all the books. Directs all the movies. Edits the newspapers and magazines. Runs the companies. There's something very cozy about being a white heterosexual man, something cocooned. I remember the confused, angry look he got on his face the few times his expectations were thwarted, like when his wife asked for a divorce.

I imagine all that, and feel that my father is from a different planet. They all are, all the father's. All the men. Even the men of color. Or the gay ones. Who so rarely rebel. Because they still have so much to lose. And we dykes, who have so very little at stake, also keep to our place.

Because acknowledging our insignificance is terrifying, too. To see how alien we are. Admit the accommodations we make to survive, trying to find reflections of our selves in hostile faces. Moving in an atmosphere too light for us. It often makes us seem too grave, too serious, at least around outsiders. But what do you want from extraterrestrials living in your artificial world? Only gathering occasionally in sufficient numbers to let loose, expose our true ecstatic faces along with a lot of bare breasts.

The NYC Dyke March sets out from Bryant Park at 42nd St at 5 pm on June 23. Men are requested to support from the sidelines, so that lesbians are alone in the spotlight.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Obama Is Killing Us

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Violence is part of human nature. Anybody who says different has never left a three-year-old and a six-year-old together in the same room with one ladybug change purse. The hair-pulling, biting and scratching was brutal. And my god it was worth it. I'd never seen anything as beautiful as that pleathery black and red thing, and I was gonna keep it no matter what the cost.

I'm not an uninhibited, feral three-year old anymore, and haven't bitten anybody in years. Though when I go upstate, I wage a relentless war against mice. I plug holes when I can, set traps when I have to. I'm incredibly relieved every time I hear that particular dull snap that means something's been caught, and hopefully killed, and there's one less mouse that's gonna scratch a hole in the wall, burst out, and crawl around on my face.

If I avoid poison, though, it's not because it causes the mouse more suffering, but because I'm afraid an owl or eagle might eat the rodent and die. Or a road-kill eating chipmunk which my girlfriend adores. Or it might fall into the creek and end up in the New York City water supply. You never can tell how little acts of violence ripple outwards. Even I feel myself getting a little more jaded with every tiny corpse I dump at the end of the path. It doesn't matter that they disappear and I know some other animal is at least getting a meal.

I try to avoid violence and believe most is unnecessary though I accept the idea that individuals and nations have the right to defend themselves, and understand how the desire to meet violence with violence after September 11, along with strategic reasons, led to the war in Afghanistan. Though there was no reason at all to attack Iraq. And plenty not to.

You'd think after all these days we'd have learned that violence propagates itself, dives underground. But we play with it like fire, encourage little kids to sing songs about killing queers. Are surprised when thousands of them are attacked, dozens killed. Last year, thirty LGBT people were murdered in the United States of America because of who they were. These figures don't include the suicides of young queer kids, but should, because it's still our society giving them the weapon, and encouraging them to use it. Because homos are an assault on our American values, tear the fabric of society, even bring down large towers. We've got to protect ourselves!

There's always a reason for violence. So often it's preserving America. Last week, The New York Times published the chilling article, "Secret "Kill List" Proves a Test of Obama's Principles and Will," lionizing Obama for making the hard decisions himself, taking on the moral weight of ordering hits on presumed terrorists and their entourages who may or may not have done anything yet. They've only committed what Orwell called thought crimes. Nevertheless, Obama's gonna send his unmanned, imprecise drones to save us.

For them, no warrants, extradition orders and the like. Because those require proof of actual crimes. Which we're not that interested in, or Rumsfeld and Bush and Alberto Gonzales would be behind bars for organizing actual murders, coordinating real live torture.

Obama's progress on LGBT issues isn't enough to excuse murder, even if I celebrated Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's historic speech declaring LGBT rights are human rights. Ditto for when Obama admitted his own newfound support for marriage equality.

In the long term, every gain of the LGBT movement is dependent on democracy and civil liberties. Shred the constitution, encourage assholes to go rogue, and we're lost. And in that regard Obama has gone beyond Bush, beyond rendition, and military tribunals, and indefinite detention straight to murder. "While scores of suspects have been killed under Mr. Obama, only one has been taken into American custody, and the president has balked at adding new prisoners to Guantánamo."

Sitting in front of a PowerPoint presentation, he is the judge and jury, God's own jurist taking on the sins of the world. I can't imagine the hubris, sitting in his Oval Office, signing off on drone strikes, imagining that if he acts with the best of intentions, guided by a brilliant mind, there will be no unmanageable consequences. No major bleed over from the battlegrounds of the War on Terror where no one's a civilian, into our daily lives.

This is what I am afraid of. That his example reinforces the idea that the wheels of justice turn too slow. That prison is too good for some people. That a faulty democracy is not enough when murder's so easy. The rule of law isn't for everybody. A crime is defined by the victim. And Justice with her scales should not be blind.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dharun Ravi, Homophobia, and Race

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Christine Quinn, the head honchessa of New York's City Council tied the knot with another girl on Saturday, May 19, the same day the NAACP came out in support of marriage for all. I was happy to hear the announcement, but not particularly surprised. Just like I wasn't surprised either by the idiot black preachers in North Carolina raising their hands to God and inciting their congregations to hate.

Some people evolve. Like Obama. Like the NAACP. Others don't. Mitt Romney. The most Reverend Ruben Diaz. The Holy See. The only big ugly secret about black homophobia is that it's just like white homophobia, only with a different color scheme. The epidemic is particularly virulent in fundamentalist churches, and in communities (and nations) of all races where people are poor and angry, and their spiritual immune systems are already compromised, no matter how loud they pray.

It's tempting to focus our attention there. That's real homophobia, queers getting denounced from pulpits, hatred formalized in antigay laws that almost always lead to attacks and gay-bashing. If not executions. But hatred is almost as insidious when it's that casual kind of bigotry people indulge in because jokes need their butts. It's nice to have somebody around that you can kick for a laugh. Reduce in size to pump up your own ego, which so often feeds on the shame and humiliation of others.

It's why Dharun Ravi doesn't feel guilty for the death of Tyler Clementi, his roommate at Rutgers. He's not a homophobe. Not him. It was just a prank, setting up that webcam. It's not like he chased Ty into traffic wielding a baseball bat. Or pushed him from the bridge.

I remember myself at eighteen, and the panic and horror I felt when the door to my dorm room popped open and my roommate walked in and saw me messing around with a girl. She retreated as fast as she could, and was actually pretty cool about it, saying to put a note or something on the door next time. But there wasn't a next time, not in that room anyway. I was too ashamed.

I can't imagine what I would have done if I'd found out other people had actually watched. Seen me fumbling with a girl almost for the first time. Me touching her, her touching me. If my roommate had spread the word to 150 of her Twitter followers making fun of me, I would have been desperate, too. Especially if she continued to issue invitations promising more fun to come.

Ravi posted "People are having a viewing party with a bottle of Bacardi and beer in this kid's room for my roommate" and "Be careful it could get nasty" and "Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes, it's happening again."

The word "rape" springs to mind. Where the point isn't the physical attack, the sex, but the dominance and humiliation. Because let's be honest. Ravi knew what he was doing. Had a clear intent to diminish Tyler, make him less than human. Multiply his shame with the number of witnesses. He didn't need a pulpit to assemble a jeering mob.

It worked. Tyler apparently viewed Ravi's Twitter posts 38 times. Tried to tell the school administration and take appropriate action. He asked for a different roommate. Tried to tell himself it wasn't that big a deal. But it didn't work. He couldn't live with the humiliation. Killed himself. Was pushed.

If Ravi lied about what he did, and tried to cover it up, erasing tweets, getting rid of posts, it wasn't from shame. It was just because it would be an awful lot of trouble.

It's worth saying his homophobia had nothing to do with his ethnicity, though India doesn't exactly embrace queers. In fact this kind of jolly American bullying shows his perfect assimilation into a country that talks a lot about equality, but doesn't really aspire to it.

Queer activists are no better. Half our failures are because our campaigns have been blinded by race or class. The exit polls on the Prop 8 debacle in California showed African Americans had been important movers in dumping same-sex marriage. But was the problem that black people were somehow intrinsically more homophobic than white ones, or that our wise gay leaders saw those differences, believed they were more than skin deep, and abandoned the fight? They rarely shape campaigns for poor neighborhood, especially ones that are full of minorities. As if they never vote.

It's time to for us all to admit that equality shouldn't just be a goal for the LGBT community, it should be our whole strategy. We should see everyone as a potential partner, as capable of change. In fact, we should demand it. The NAACP has opened a door. We should dash through it. Celebrate.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Viva Hollande!

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Sunday, I squeezed into a Mexican Irish bar in the Village with a bunch of French Socialists to watch their presidential election results. It was a little weird, since the day before was the Cinco de Mayo, when the Mexican army topped their French colonizers in the 1862 battle of Puebla. But whatever. Things change. We're all friends now.

Waiting around, they drank lime margaritas and coffee and beer, and when the official reports came on that Socialist candidate Francois Hollande squeaked past incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, they erupted in cheers. Even I joined in when Hollande said in his acceptance speech, that he would judge every issue in terms of justice and "jeunesse" youth. It was time to end all the ruptures and wounds, award everyone the same rights and responsibilities, refuse to abandon or discriminate against anybody.

Including queers. Hardly anybody got a specific mention in his speech, but during his campaign Hollande promised marriage equality, so we have that to look forward to unless the Socialists blow the upcoming parliamentary elections. Which is a real possibility because a fair amount of people only voted for Hollande because they suffer from such an extreme form of Sarkophobia, their only treatment was to vote for his ouster. Even if they'd habitually vote to the right.

Still, Hollande joyously claimed his victory, and I was clapping with everybody until he started making a big deal of the fact that it was the first time in a generation that the presidency would go to the Left, and only the second time since World War Two. And I remembered a little bitterly that he and his minions were part of the reason the Socialists have had such a long drought.

In 2007, their candidate was Segolene Royale, who was then Hollande's partner. Unlike Hollande, she was incredibly charismatic, and had a similar platform. Pro-Europe, pro-Green, anti-discrimination. She wanted reasonable immigration policies, and expressed support for same-sex marriage. The rank and file loved her. She packed stadiums with devoted young voters, people of color, and immigrants, even dykes that had been skeptical of her stiletto shoes, four kids, and Catholic upbringing.

Then as now, Nicolas Sarkozy courted the extreme right, blabbing about traditional French values, and fanning fears about illegal immigrants and new EU members that would snatch French jobs. He also used his powerful position as Interior Minister in the Chirac government to send out goons to grab presumed undocumented immigrants, no matter if they were eight years old or eighty. Or had left the proper papers at home in their drawers.

The only real difference between 2012 and 2007 is that the Socialist candidate then was a woman, and her party, run by Hollande, was so full of macho assholes, that they gave her very little support, even though the presidency was on the line. Socialist bigwig, homophobe, and former prime minister, Lionel Jospin, actually went on the record saying he'd vote for anybody but "La candidate," the female candidate.

I guess I should let it go. Grudges don't accomplish much in politics, or anywhere else. Look at how well the French and Mexicans get along these days. And no matter what happened before, Hollande's saying the right things now. We can always hold him accountable, pretend his promises aren't just cynical manipulation to get queer, lefty votes.

Let's face it. Politicians are not good people. Every time they open their mouths a lie falls out. But their psychosis is not that simple. They often seem to believe their own speeches, at least while they're giving them. What we have to do is encourage their delusions. In that flush of victory, Hollande no doubt did believe he was going to champion all of France, unite everybody with the valued ideas that the French are all supposed to share: liberty, equality and fraternity.

For a moment, in that cheering crowd, I believed, too, and felt like I belonged, at least as a former citizen of Paris, where I lived for years, participating in civic life. In 2007, I even handed out flyers for Segolene despite my fear somebody would hear my accent and attack, "Who do you think you are? Go back where you came from." The phrase seems to be a standard for bigoted idiots across the globe. And for immigrant pranksters.

Saturday, Cinco de Mayo, I got stuck at a crosswalk behind two drunk, white, sombreroed girls on 20th Street. And this guy in a compact car saw the hats, and shouted out the window, "Go back where you came from, you Mexicans." Which puzzled them, but I thought was pretty hilarious because he had a round brown face and Mexican accent. He howled with laughter as he peeled away. Claiming his own space, his own city as we all should, no matter what the voters or politicians say.

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Monday, April 09, 2012

Vargas Llosa: Against Hunting Gays In Latin America

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

In March, 24-year old store clerk and gay activist Daniel Zamudio was attacked in a public park in Santiago, Chile, beaten intermittently for hours, carved with swastikas, and left for dead. He finally got to a hospital, but only survived three weeks.

Observers are calling him the Chilean Matthew Shepard, because the brutal murder has launched a national discussion about LGBT rights. An antidiscrimination law that has been languishing for seven years is even speeding through the legislature despite conservative lawmakers declaring it will lead to same-sex marriage, among other horrors.

Sunday, the Nobel prize-winning writer, Mario Vargas Llosa, spoke out in an op-ed called, “Hunting Gays.” He did more than the usual handwringing denunciation of violence; he published an indictment of all Latin America, whose countries, “without a single exception,” repressed, persecuted and marginalized queers, “with the open and massively enthusiastic support of the general public.”

He went so far as to say the murder of Daniel Zamudio was not just a random attack by four neo-Nazi wannabees, but the expression of “a culture that had the time-honored tradition of presenting lesbians and gay men as sick or depraved creatures that should be kept at a preventatively safe distance from normal people because they corrupt the healthy social body, inciting it towards sin, and to moral and physical degradation...”

“This idea of homosexuality is taught in schools, is transmitted in the heart of families, is preached from pulpits, disseminated in every means of communication, appears in public discourses, in radio and television programs, and in plays where “faggots” and “dykes” are always grotesque characters, out of place, ridiculous, and dangerous, altogether worthy of the disgust and repulsion of decent, ordinary, normal people. The Gay is always “the Other,” the one that negates and frightens us, but also fascinates, like the gaze of the cobra that freezes the innocent bird.”

He went on to talk about how anti-LGBT violence was common in the entire region, including his own homeland of Peru where on average, one LGBT person was killed per week. And because the Left keeps harping on the swastika angle, he emphasized that homophobia wasn’t just a problem of the conservative right or religious institutions. In the eighties, the two armed movements that wanted to establish communism in Peru systematically executed homosexuals in every town they captured just like the Spanish Inquisition.

He also, importantly, called homophobia and machismo, “two sides of the same coin.” And said they had to be attacked simultaneously.

Vargas Llosa is a respected public intellectual, and this op-ed published in Spain’s el País is almost as important for queers worldwide, especially in Latin America, as Clinton’s recent speech in Geneva declaring that LGBT rights were human rights. He didn’t mince words or come up with excuses. He put the blame where it belonged -- on culture. Which he said should be changed even if it was like moving mountains.

Vargas Llosa’s op-ed comes a couple of weeks after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that Chile’s 2004 Supreme Court decision to separate a lesbian mother from her three daughters was in violation of the American Convention on Human Rights which assured her right to equality and non-discrimination.

It was the first time that the Court has ruled on a case of discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Chilean government has agreed to abide by the decision.

The court also affirmed that “sexual orientation and gender identity are protected categories in the American Convention under the phrase ‘other social condition’ established in article 1.1 of the Convention,” and that legal decisions can “diminish or restrict, in no way, a person’s rights because of their sexual orientation.”

The Court also found the Chilean State, through its Supreme Court ruling, “internationally responsible” of violating other principles found in the Convention, including the right to privacy, the protection of family, and the right of children to be heard.

The ruling stemmed from a 2002 custody battle between judge Karen Atala and her then husband, Jaime López Allende, that got increasingly bitter after she began living with her girlfriend. After two rulings in her favor, the Supreme Court of Chile intervened and gave custody of their three children to her ex-husband, arguing that because Atala was a lesbian, the children were in a “situation of risk” blah blah blah.

Although the ruling will not automatically return custody to Karen Atala, it is definitely a forward step for the whole continent. The Vargas Llosa piece is a reminder, though, that legal equality won’t solve all our problems as long as our cultures nurture hate and disgust towards LGBT people. As long as we comprise only a handful in every hundred, LGBT people, as “The Other,” are easily subjected to the mainstream’s perverse fascination and fear.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Down With Revolutionaries

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I’m wary of revolutionaries. Scratch the surface, and you often get budding tyrants ready to whip out their cattle prods or guillotines. And even if they start out on the right side, all it takes is for the wind to change direction, and the Arab Spring becomes a long hot brutal summer.

We’ve already seen it in North Africa, how the women that took to the streets last year to protest dictatorships are finding themselves excluded from power, with their masculine co-demonstrators just as happy to indulge in “virginity” tests as their former oppressors. Ditto for the queers clamoring for democracy. They’d faced prison and torture under the old regimes (anybody remember the Cairo 52?), and now face a wave of Islamists that trumpet any electoral victory as a sign of mass conversion.

In Iraq, following Bush’s engineered revolution, “emos” are getting their skulls crushed in. They’re mostly queer guys, or at least men perceived as gay with long hair and tight pants and musical proclivities that are not sufficiently masculine. Unfortunately, you can’t really blame Bush for this. That goes squarely on Iraqi shoulders. Or maybe Castro’s.

Because they’re using a script that got perfected in Cuba more than half a century ago. Need a convenient enemy? Why not target those long-haired hippy, rock-listening faggots? The men get to feel more het, more macho. The puritans get to feel more righteous. And anybody that has a creative or individual thought in their head gets the violent message. Keep your mouth shut.

Because the attack on emos is not only an attack on queers, but on youth, and diversity, and creativity--any sign at all that the world doesn’t have to be run by bitter old men and their rancid ideological gods. Artists might emerge. And new ideas. Which eventually means political oppositions. When gender lines are blurred, women will start getting uppity, too, and start seeing the world afresh. Where we will be then? Nope, better bash in the heads of gays. Control women. Control the utopia of orgasm and sex. Get your enforcers in gear.

It’s a popular tactic. Tying queer sex to the interests of the nation. Political candidates in the U.S. are doing it now, as if two men screwing could bring down the government. In Namibia, a few years ago, violent antigay rhetoric from the state led queers to flee in vast numbers. I should make it clear: enforcers aren’t just men. Females are just as keen, torturing their daughters to be submissive women, browbeating their young sons to behave like brutal, thoughtless men.

In Liberia, only last week, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf threw a curve to visiting Brit Tony Blair when she told a journalist that she supported laws that criminalize homosexuality. “We’ve got certain traditional values in our society that we would like to preserve.” Like what? War-mongering? Slaughter? Rogue militias? Corruption? All those things are endemic there. Nope, she got a Nobel for standing up to all that.

The traditional values she supports keep women and men in their usual roles of sex and gender, that are apparently threatened by homosex. And probably females such as me. Like most official bigots, it’s hard to know if the Harvard-trained economist actually hates queers, or if she cynically jumped on the antigay bandwagon to distract her citizens from the poverty which has gone on so long it’s traditional, too.

Who knows? She could really hate queers. And not just fags. Plenty of dykes have fallen under the “feminist” bus. After all, we are not defined by men like they are. There are no husbands to beat us. We rarely wear the short skirt a rape can be blamed on. Birth control is not an issue unless we have bad cramps and need the extra hormones to regulate our periods. Without violence and children uniting us, what is the intersection except our biological equipment?

None really. To many women, the fact that dykes are free of men, somehow turns us into them, a masculinized enemy. And they hate us as much as those gangs of men performing “corrective” rapes on lesbians. It’s often women that furiously lock their lesbian daughters in their rooms. Send them to mental hospitals. Force them to marry. Harass them just for amusement. When I was eighteen or nineteen and working in a national park, it was a group of girls that would stand outside the room I shared with my girlfriend and yell, “lezzies, lezzies, lezzies.” It was humiliating. I was afraid to run through that gauntlet to get to my job.

Now, when people start making noise about change, my first ungrammatical questions is, “Who for?”

Monday, March 12, 2012

Queers: Against Liberation?

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Americans spend a lot of national energy blabbing about the rights of individuals, and how to protect them, and then beat the crap out of everyone that shows the slightest signs of difference. The queer community’s just the same. We celebrate the Stonewall Riots every June, but focus all our energy on getting the right to serve in the army or marry. We rarely examine just why we take such a physical and emotional battering in school, or acknowledge the multitude of hardships afterwards that can’t be solved by the law or a bout of positive thinking.

Last week, long-time lesbian activist Maxine Wolfe reminded me how hard it still is for many dykes to make a living or get health care. And it’s true. Even now it’s practically impossible for us to find conventional jobs if we refuse to put on the straight female drag of pumps and pantyhose, and big smiles for the big bosses which are still almost all male. Female bosses are not reassuring. They too often besiege us with curious and intrusive questions, demanding to know just what makes lesbians tick.

“It Gets Better” is often a lie, unless you think having a freer social life is a consolation for having to work shitty, low-paying jobs, while still struggling to make ends meet. Or living with your parents. Or taking somebody else’s old meds when you get sick because you can’t afford to go to the doctor. No, if you can’t get a job, laws protecting queer employment don’t improve life a bit. Ditto for efforts forcing employers to cover our partners. Because you have to get that foot in the door first.

The LGBT movement is failing us as they focus almost exclusively on their legal laundry list, unaware, or indifferent to the fact that the benefits of law are usually restricted to those that conform to broader social norms. And many queers can’t, or won’t. And shouldn’t have to. Social change isn’t any change at all if it still depends on a majority of our community having baby showers and babies, and tying themselves in matrimonial knots.

LGBT folks often look towards the civil rights movement for inspiration. We might also want to look at the history of race in America as a cautionary tale for what will greet us if we continue blindly forward. The military was theoretically desegregated in 1948. The last laws forbidding interracial marriage were dumped in 1967 by the Supreme Court around the same time a lot of antidiscrimination laws were passed regarding employment.

But in 2012, even under our first black president, all you have to do is turn on the radio or read the congressional record to hear racist filth with concrete consequences. Incarceration rates of people of color are still hugely disproportionate to those of whites. Statistics on economic inequality are a nightmare. Racism is still alive and well in these United States of America. Which should be a lesson that legal change—while essential-- is not nearly enough.

For queers, the solution might be in reconsidering our roots. Maybe it’s time to downplay a little the legacy of the Mattachine Society demanding equal rights and asserting our sameness under the law, and recover our modern origins in the Stonewall Riots and liberation movements. Their goal were not to squish us into square holes, but open up society enough to make room for us all, maybe even rejoice in our difference. If biological diversity is important to the health of our planet, surely cultural and individual difference should be considered an incredible resource when it comes to fostering new ideas and renewing a moribund nation.

The change has to begin with us, inside the LGBT community. The last time we were anywhere near equilibrium in tactics was at the ‘93 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. In DC, and in our daily lives, the presence of national organizations focused largely on equality was offset by groups like Queer Nation and the Lesbian Avengers who threw the first Dyke March anywhere and mobilized 20,000 dykes. We’d also just experienced a flowering of queer art and theater that allowed us to unapologetically explore our own difference.

Unfortunately, mainstream organizations tend to treat activists focusing on social gains and liberation either as loudmouthed buffoons or dangerous threats to their largely assimilationist message: “We’re just like you.”

Activist queers, and queers of the left aren’t much better, refusing to acknowledge the role of the law in locking in progress. We have far less power and money, but equally oppressive orthodoxies, and our own ideological enforcers attacking any sheep that might stray towards an original thought and god forbid, propagate it. As if too much freedom was a horrifying and constant threat. Me, I’m ready to risk it.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Women, the Election, and the F-Word

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

They say this year’s election is all about women. Which really means it’s all about men. Men sitting on panels deciding what females should do with their girly bits. Men informing females of the virtues of keeping their knees closed so tight you could hold an aspirin between them. Men trying to require ultrasounds with plenty of penetration before abortion if you should be unchaste enough to let that Bayer tablet slip.

Surprisingly, none remarked that the safest way for women to avoid pregnancy is to have sex with each other. Or those plastic implements at the Toy Box. Or assorted fruits and vegetables. Probably just as well. In this ridiculous year there might be some kind of transformative event like a spider bite or electric strike at the moment of coitus that would allow a cross between the animal and plant kingdom. And we’d get something like a sentient turnip. A creature bitter and pungent, not too smart, with an affinity for dirt.

It usually doesn’t bother me, this “women” stuff. It never means me despite my female equipment. A couple months ago, I checked out that PBS documentary, “The Independent Woman: America in Primetime,” they didn’t say lesbian once, even if it’s what straight independent women get called all the time. “What are you? A fucking dyke?”

Mainstream stuff about women actively avoids us. Especially high profile programs like UN Women, even though many problems “women” face are worse for us. Men double-down on their violence against dykes. Ending corrective rapes alone are worthy of billion-dollar efforts. And most public TV is way too pathetic to even show lesbians holding hands unless it’s Gay Pride Month. Which was too bad, because the documentary had plenty of opportunities. Like when they talked about how Roseanne did groundbreaking portrayals of working class women with normal squabbling families. Why not slip in a reference, just one, to that lesbo subplot with Nancy that had a big impact at the time?

Or why not include Ellen’s coming out episode, which was as important as the time Murphy Brown popped a baby out of wedlock. Granted, the show Ellen wasn’t as good, or as long running as Murphy Brown, but there was just as much backlash to Ellen’s “Puppy” episode. And god knows having a dyke come out was far more radical in expanding our ideas of women taking charge of their lives than showing addict nurses or drug-dealing moms, which they made a point of including.

It was near miraculous that Ellen DeGeneres resurrected herself into a talk show powerhouse who’s getting all kind of promotional work, including Cover Girl make-up. When her recent contract with JC Penney prompted such a hoo-haw from the double digit, right-wing “Million Moms” it actually gave her a boost. Thanks, Moms, for shining just a bit more spotlight on a non-breeder.

I like to surprise Neanderthals by agreeing when they tell me that as a dyke, I’m not “a real woman.” That’s been clear to me for decades. To meet that criteria you first have to reproduce. Or make big efforts to avoid doing it. Or at least wish you had time to.

In fact, feminists are the first to remind you. The battle for “women’s” rights in the U.S. is almost solely characterized by questions of reproductive rights. The leadership of the almost defunct NOW must have gone done on their knees to thank the goddess for the ruckus when the Komen Foundation tried to defund Planned Parenthood.

Don’t mind me if I snicker when I see one more self-pitying article wondering why there are so few feminists, especially young ones. This week, Salon had a post by Shannon Kelley in which she quoted a young woman as speculating that she didn’t want to use the f-word because, “It’s hard to get passionate about a cause when you haven’t faced the consequences of what you’re fighting for.” Another didn’t want to be perceived as “so hard-core – men-haters, almost masculine.” In other words, she didn’t want to be mistaken as a lesbo.

That would have been the perfect moment for Kelley to address global feminism’s little problem of dyke-avoidance, if not actual dyke-baiting, if she really was serious about “equality. Equal rights. Equal pay. Equal opportunity. Blowing up gender stereotypes.” But she didn’t. I can only imagine it was because she may have had to use the l-word, and confront the movement’s homophobic past which they seem to cling to as ardently as any confederate fanatic clings to that Southern flag. Me, I’m not afraid of the f-word. Fuck you.

Dykes don’t even get their props when The Candidates start talking about homos, because they’re still focused on men. Men doing it with other men. And why not, when even LGBT media and organizations seem like they are by and for the G of our species? Give me a carrot any day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Viva Pink-Washing!

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I can’t help it. I cheer when I see headlines like “Hillary Clinton declares 'gay rights are human rights’” or “Ecuador: Lesbian who led fight against 'gay conversion' clinics appointed to Presidential Cabinet.”

I know the U.S. has its own, unsavory civil rights failures from domestic spying and indefinite detentions, to murder abroad by drones. And that the appointment in Ecuador is probably just a gay-positive bone tossed out there to quell international protests over the clinics before people start noticing how they’re just the tip of a human rights iceberg. President Rafael Correa’s pastime is pretty much tinkering with his constitution to stifle the press and squash his opposition.

Still, LGBT rights ARE human rights, no matter what you think about other aspects of American policy. And in the case of Ecuador, Carina Vance Mafla, an out dyke, is still going to lead the national Health Ministry, even if most of the gay conversion clinics that got closed, apparently re-opened about half an hour later. Tyrants, especially, are always trumpeting that new bridge, that literacy program as they throw another dissident in jail, leave another journalist bleeding in the gutter.

At least you end up with a bridge. The question for queer activists is, do you burn the thing down in a fit of pique, or go after the tyrant for his tyranny? Lately we’ve favored burning the bridge even if it leaves vulnerable queers isolated on the other side.

LGBT puritans of the left are even going so far as to condemn "white, middle-class, Western" queers like me for supporting LGBT fights in the global south. Either I’m complicit with the tyrant’s pink-washing, or a racist colonial monster trying to enslave the masses and fiddle with unalterable foreign cultures for my own homonationalist gain.

Who needs the likes of Rick Warren when we’ve got good old Judith Butler et al doing the work of conservative bigots by telling gay activists to stay at home? Especially now, when American Christian fundamentalist money is pouring into Africa and Latin America to support anti-gay campaigns by their protégés there who advocate torture and violence, not just on the street, but as law in the courts. Shouldn’t queer dollars (and U.S. aid) support LGBT activists fighting back? Shouldn’t we care what happens to people like us in the rest of the world?

Yes, America has problems with human rights. But does that disqualify us from also doing some good? We’ve never exactly shone around racial issues. But should we have abstained from participating in the boycott that brought an end to apartheid in South Africa just because our hands weren’t quite clean?

Likewise, the United States has always had problems with sexism, and rights for women, (what on earth were they thinking at the Komen Foundation???), but should we have used that as an excuse to back away from supporting women’s rights globally?

The real problem with "middle-class, meddling, Western” queers is that we don’t get involved nearly enough considering all the money and power at our disposal. And when we do, we have the attention span of a flea, and no understanding at all that we have to look at how LGBT rights fit into the broader picture of human rights if we want any of our gains to endure.

We have to do more than click on online petitions, declare victory, then move on. The trick is to congratulate people like President Rafael Correa for appointing a dyke and closing twenty clinics. Then tell him we’ll keep a close eye on things, looking forward to the moment we can celebrate closing them all. And when it comes to Ecuadorian activists, we need to ask if they need more than just a click online. Do they need money? Technical assistance for websites and networking? Are they hampered by problems in civil society? The crackdown on the press? Freedom of speech is the cornerstone for any civil rights movement to succeed. What else can we do?

LGBT people that are still struggling for their rights have to seize, and celebrate, every single opening, pressure every ostensible ally including Hillary Clinton. I remember that when Bush appointed Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, I sneered at them as mere tokens. But it’s hard to imagine America voting a black man into the White House if we hadn’t spent several years seeing people of color in some of America’s top jobs.

The world is complicated. Politics are messy. Our progress can be manipulated. But so what? If we can split atoms, we can surely congratulate Ecuadorian queers for what gains they’ve made, AND denounce their country’s treatment of dissidents. Ditto for Uganda or Israel, pink-washer extraordinaire.

The good thing about getting tossed bones is that you can gnaw them clean, then carve them into unexpectedly sharp points. Yes we can.