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.