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.