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.