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.