Monday, January 16, 2012


By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Sunday morning, my girlfriend and I piled on the layers and shivered our way to the West Village to see a movie. The F train wasn’t running uptown, so we sprang for a cab and got there early. We thought about going for coffee to kill time, but a crowd accumulated quickly, and I got nervous until I realized most were there for the handsome Harry Belafonte, not the Wim Wender’s documentary about Pina Bausch.

Even in New York, the majority of people don’t care about dance, or art for that matter. I only discovered Bausch because I took a class on performance art in college where they showed part of “Carnations.” The segment was pretty simple, a guy in a suit doing a sign language version of “The Man I love” as Sophie Tucker sings it in the background.

I’d like to say it was the moment I realized the beauty of homolove and came out as queer, but no, I remember thinking, “Hmm, a guy, interesting choice,” and wondering if he was the only person around that could do sign language. The obvious went right over my head. Still, that performance stuck in my mind all these years as one of the purest expressions of romantic yearning I’d ever seen.

What can I say? It took me ages to see myself as queer, much less you. There were all those girls on the field hockey team that I defended as just affectionate, playing around, not lezzies at all. Football players roughhouse, too, after all, indulging in all that high spirited slapping and grappling, and walk around afterwards, their arms hanging loosely over each other’s shoulders.

Even after I’d had a girlfriend, I still didn’t see myself that way. Neither did the girl who started it, raising my hand to her mouth and kissing a finger somewhere between New Orleans and Kentucky, setting off a perfect storm in the twilight of a Greyhound bus.

We homo not so sapiens are talented in nothing, if not denial. Sometimes that’s essential for our survival. If I had come out as a teenager, I would have been even more miserable than I was. Maybe ended up homeless. When I broke the news to my mother as an adult, she said she didn’t want to hear from me again until I was the girl God meant for me to be. Imagine if I had heard that at fourteen? Why not bury it deep?

Knowledge isn’t that easy to come by—not for any of us. Partly because we don’t quit talking long enough to think. Pina Bausch said dance was for the moments when life leaves us speechless. But hardly anybody admits to speechlessness anymore. We tweet, tumblr, FB absolutely everything. We pronounce, rather than explore.

Political candidates feed the camera a diet of sound bites and certainty, all delivered from the lofty perch of moral high ground where there’s no room for doubt or absolute misery. No questions, like, “Are we going about this all wrong?” “Is there some third, fourth, fifth option?” In politics, there are no agnostics, no Noah’s ripe for conversion when they’re faced with an untamable ocean.

And when they—and the rest of us--have nothing else to say we quote other people. It’s Martin Luther King Day. So today people all across the land are ripping chunks out of his speeches and posting them. The bits are all interesting and inspiring. The observations are often still true, but it’s 2012. And I’m wondering that if MLK hadn’t died, and had been engaged in the struggle all this time, would he still be saying the same things so many years later? If he was, would we be listening?

Just for kicks I’ll take a second and imagine him as this grey-haired guy in a natty suit standing up there in front of the mall. What would he say? “Dream your own fucking dream, you idiots. These things have a sell-by date before they start to turn sour.” Maybe he’d rant and rave. Maybe he’d have fallen silent in disgust or despair, speechless as Pina Bausch. Maybe he would refuse to appear, like a recalcitrant groundhog.

Most of us probably should go mum. I can’t remember the last time I said something new. 2005, or even the last century? But maybe I’ve got it all wrong and all the blab is not an attempt to communicate, push knowledge forward, or share ideas. Maybe all our repetitive chatter is a kind of ritual, a hopeful yearning prayer in which sound itself is supposed to save us.

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