Monday, December 09, 2013

New Times, New Tactics to Fight AIDS

I've got no new solutions to fighting HIV/AIDS, but I know we have to look for them. Some of the things we'd assumed are just plain wrong. Like successful treatment programs would lead to a lessening of stigma. Well, I've heard from a friend in Burundi that the reverse is true. Before, HIV+ people had to become activists to save their own lives and often found courage they never knew they had. They spoke out and changed people's attitudes. Now, with the new drugs, the newly diagnosed cower and run, and the drugs help them to. There are fewer activists, not more. And more silence.

In the U.S., too, activists are flailing even as infection rates are increasing, along with blasé attitudes. Many queers actually seem hostile to the idea that young LGBT people should be warned about HIV/AIDS. That last possibility hadn't crossed my mind until last week when I checked out the responses to Michael Specter's grief-stricken article in the New Yorker, about "What Young Gay Men Don't Know About AIDS."

In the threads, a significant amount of commenters, many of them gay, condemned Specter for his "scare tactics," his "labeling" and "stigmatizing." According to them, HIV/AIDS is a manageable disease just like diabetes, and old fogies like Specter should get over themselves. Things have changed. It was homophobic to keep pointing out that queers were getting the disease when straights were, too. A virus knows no gender, no sexual identity. It was racist to mention young black men were hardest hit.

While there are still plenty of people getting HIV because they don't know how to prevent it, and I know there is a trend of young queers of color who don't protect themselves because they figure "what the hell, I'm doomed, I'll get it anyway," these commenters seem to belong to a different category.

With and without HIV, gay and straight, they seem somehow... smug. They are part of the growing, and not just rightwing, trend of people who hate activists on principal. They are profoundly lazy, both physically and morally, invested in declaring HIV/AIDS "manageable" because that means they won't have to worry about condoms. Or responsibility. If they get HIV and pass it on, it's no big deal, they haven't ruined anybody's life or caused anybody's death. These commenters even blame gay AIDS activists for the disease's stigma, not homophobic bigots.

I can't imagine where to start with them. I suppose we could try to dispel the notion that any disease can be benign. I go especially nuts when they compare HIV/AIDS to diabetes, a real disaster of a "manageable" disease that runs in my family. You have to watch what you eat all the time, exercise, take your meds, test your blood sugar. Struggle to forgo sweet tea, potato chips. All the good stuff. Get it wrong, you're screwed.

It messes up your circulation and any little cut or bruise can be dangerous. A friend of mine lost half his foot. My aunt lost both her legs before she lost her life. You should have seen her in the hospital-- half the bed empty where her legs used to be, all the tubes snaking in and out. People go blind. Stroke out. It's the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, this manageable disease.

HIV is no better. Drugs don't work for everybody. Sometimes they have side effects. You have to remember to take them, and have insurance to pay for them. Even if your viral load drops, you have to get tested all the time because it might go up again. You worry with every cold, every flu. It's not like in the ads where one handsome guy takes a single pill and gets happily on with his life. It is so much better and easier to just wear a fucking condom. If you forget once or twice and get stuck with HIV. Well, cross that bridge when you come to it. But avoid that bridge. Burn it. Run away as fast as you can go. Flee for your life.

Also, you should know, HIV may cause more than just AIDS with its pneumonias and sarcomas. Up until last year I had a brother-in-law, Carlos. Decent guy. HIV+. He hadn't needed meds for years. One day he went to his doctor for a bad back and the doctor found these lumps. It turned out to be a kind of lymphoma that wasn't exactly AIDS-related but tends to appear in people with HIV, though very rarely in the general population. There was a bunch of chemo. It went away. Came back.

But you don't want to hear about that. HIV is manageable. No big deal. No weird cancers popping up. Nothing percolating, delaying. You have no role in its spread.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Donna Minkowitz, Growing Up Golem

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I saw her in the flesh for the first time at the gay museum downtown, this short, blonde, confident woman reading parts of her memoir aloud, and sucking down impressive amounts of water as if she still had muddy roots, and an urgent need to stay hydrated or crumble to dust.

A golem, of course, is one of those fabulous creatures that-- when rabbis still had the knowledge--could be constructed with wet clay and a magic word or two. They are usually meant to defend Jewish communities, but in general are compelled to do whatever their maker tells them to. And in the case of the golem Donna Minkowitz, shaped by her artist-philosopher mother, her commands were mostly to adore and entertain her mom.

Though Minkowitz claims she's human now, having been transformed by humanizing pain, there remain traces of her mother's orders not to make her audience sad. So she keeps the tone light despite the controlling, incestuously creepy mother. The dad who uses her as a punching bag. The messed up shrink. The malignant girlfriends. And the excruciating disease (injury? syndrome ?) that damaged her arms so much she can't use them to write, barely pick up the water. The book could have been a real tearjerker. Along the lines of, well, practically every memoir being published today.

If not for Growing Up Golem, I'd never have suspected her clay doll origins. Minkowitz always seemed human enough to me, powerful even, as a journalist who used to write for the Village Voice (when that rag was still good). She had a column called the Body Politics, and did some reporting, too. When I was a Lesbian Avenger, we'd plan an action, and somebody would say, "I'll call Donna and maybe she'll write something." And she often did, if I remember correctly.

A few years ago when I was starting my own memoir about my Avenger days, I dug up some articles and read what she had to say in the early Nineties about the extreme right-wing and the Christian Right. She seemed oddly thoughtful about them, interviewed the anti-environmentalist, anti-feminists, anti-queers with a real desire to understand. Later, she'd go undercover with the Promise Keepers as a teenage boy, putting her soft round face, and butchness to good use. She wrote with an authority I wished I had, but was apparently as much of a façade as her smiling goy boy face.

That's one of the threads of the book that she only deals with sideways. Her powerlessness, or sense of it, in the face of evidence to the contrary. As a golem, she downplays her possible role as defender against the hateful, violent hordes, and focuses instead on her maker's power to turn her own and off at will and to control her. It didn't matter that she could use her role at the Voice to get queers out on the street after a dyke-bashing: she still felt like an imposter. Real was her capitulation to the bizarre tyranny of her mother, and all the relationships she didn't really choose but falls into. We see how long it takes for her to admit desire. To stand up for herself.

You'd feel sorry for her, but she keeps you, Dear Reader, at broken arm's lengths, with her jokes and metaphors. Maybe she takes it even a little too far, so you can see what a burden it is, wanting to get the story out, but not bog down in the usual clichés of rotten childhoods, and physical hell that appear on the bestseller lists where memoirists are forced to craft every story into a tale of survival against the odds, a transformative experience juxtaposing hell with redemption, so you can end with the glorious choirs of heaven, not the off-key bewildering, mediocre soundtrack of most of our lives.

Reading, I wondered if that tactic was a dyke thing. Either we want to wallow in our suffering, or mask it, pretend like it doesn't matter. We often display it indirectly, so our survival can be admired, but you don't have to admit the shame of desiring sympathy and love, a tactic I employ myself. Is it a female thing, or a class thing? To fear our own power so much we don't even recognize it, and when we do, experience it as so incredibly fleeting we must have imagined the whole thing. I couldn't help wondering what would have happened if instead of embracing humanity, Minkowitz had stuck to her golem roots, found a way to break free of human commands, like golems occasionally do, then run completely and utterly amuck.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Our Veterans--Daring to Serve

It's the crack of dawn on Veteran's Day, and Denny Meyer is probably pinning on his medals and getting ready to come to Manhattan for the parade. He's a short dumpling of a guy with a mustache and a bad back. Words burst out of his mouth when he talks. It seems a stretch to imagine he's gay. Though he is, serving as a queer activist longer than a military guy. And no discharge in sight.

When I interviewed him last week, I got the idea he was lonely, despite all the work he does for groups like American Veterans for Equal Rights. It's not surprising though, an aging gay vet in a community that's uncomfortable with anybody who'd join a military that for decades shot us in the back, tossed us overboard, or beat us to death with baseball bats. Which was really just an extension of a mission to kill the enemy. Which was how we were defined until two years ago when Don't Ask, Don't Tell was dumped.

Even straight folks aren't particularly comfortable with vets. In these years of a volunteer military, we're all less likely to know even hets in uniform, and assume it's either for gun nuts or the poor and working class desperate for college money. Education is why my cousins joined up years ago. Then their kids did it because it became the family business.

When I asked, Denny said he enlisted for patriotism, in a moment of youthful idealism. His family were refugees from World War Two and the Holocaust. Raised in New York, he was taught that there was "nothing more precious than American freedom. Because the family was saved. By this country. Otherwise they would have been killed by the Nazis."

This experience translated into his mother's own version of silence equals death, a mandate to get involved, right wrongs, fight injustice, or face the consequences. Already in 1960, when he was thirteen, he participated in his first civil rights march, and got a bloody head for his trouble. And when he saw people burning flags in 1968, he left college to join up. "It's time to pay my country back for my family's freedom."

I don't think we understand that feeling anymore. A gratitude for freedom and democracy. A desire to protect or serve it. What remains of it anyway. The Left especially cringes in the face of those words, freedom and democracy, claiming they've been dirtied up by the likes of George W. Bush, and the saintly Reagan with his dirty little wars. When the Left speaks disparagingly of American privilege they usually mean our great wealth, the power of money and might at our fingertips, and ignore the things that are slipping away under the waving flags of Homeland Security or the Patriot Act.

For a while, the journalist and gay lawyer Glenn Greenwald seemed like an outlier, a freak, going on and on about civil liberties well after Obama got elected and most Democrats fell into silence about that prison camp Guantanamo, black ops, disappearances, the muzzling of free speech, profiling, domestic spying, endless wiretaps. If Snowden hadn't started feeding him info, Greenwald would still be just one more crazy activist screaming in the wilderness. Undone by his anger and refusal to mince words. What's wrong is wrong.

The Left, especially the queer one, doesn't connect the dots. That civil liberties and democratic rights are the foundation of our progress. If you want to change laws or attitudes, you need a brave few to come out and exercise their rights to speak and assemble. Shout their heads off. Spend a good chunk of their lives demonstrating. Like Maxine Wolfe. Margarita Lopez. All those queers in ACT UP, Queer Nation, the Lesbian Avengers, and plenty that came before.

We have fewer activists, fewer activist groups, a case of mass amnesia. The huge groups of the LGBT movement have gobbled up the small like any multinational. Gay rights is a profession, not a calling. Few people serve anymore. For a while I followed a bunch of blogs of young lesbians on Tumblr, and they seemed as isolated as any gay vet who at least has a purpose. I say it's time to institute a queer boot camp. Give them meaning, a community. Tell them there's plenty worth fighting for. And it's all at risk. History doesn't move in some inevitably upwards arc. Gains are fragile. And come at great cost.

They'd have to be crazy to join up, though. The LGBT community outside the big conglomerates isn't for the faint of heart. We prefer our heroes dead, so we can edit their speeches, put words in their mouths. The living we despise. We harangue our politicians for their compromise and carefulness, and reject our veteran, big-mouthed activists for their shrill, uncomfortable cries.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Audio: Gay and Puerto Rican

A little queer, Latino history for you

Founder of early feminist and gay groups in Puerto Rico, former New York City councilmember Margarita Lopez describes the violence and unemployment that forced her to leave the island. Luis Santiago, a pivotal member of ACT-UP's Latino caucus, talks about navigating between the group's white majority and the Latino community in their fight against AIDS. In a moving anecdote, Rosie Mendez, current NYC councilmember, recounts how one elderly religious couple was able to put aside their prejudice and embrace a gay grandchild.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Indigestible Marriage

By Kelly Cogswell

I don't know the exact figure, but approximately a gazillion queers are getting gay married every week in New York. I was at the marriage bureau a couple months ago to watch two friends get hitched, and the usually echoing hall was packed, not with wealthy gay white men cementing their fortunes, but with queers of all colors and ages and genders claiming their new rights.

It sometimes took a minute to spot the happy couples. Like others getting married, they were often surrounded by their biological families, so hets generally outnumbered attending queers. Part of me thought it was cool to see parents and siblings evolved enough to come, but it was also a little creepy to see how easy it was to diminish the presence of queers, even at our own weddings. Which is when I realized that this gay marrying thing wasn't very gay after all.

I'm not sure what I expected. Not rainbow flags, certainly, but not this deep wrenching, either, from the signing of the official documents to the chubby Latino guy named Angel whispering the magic words.

Maybe it was because I'd never seen my dyke friends that way before. Surrounded by family, they were daughters and sisters and cousins, all the female roles defined by a still traditional society in which the family tree is everything, and most relationships are some vertical simulacrum. Until I came to New York from Kentucky, I felt governed by my older sisters. My parents above them. Then preachers and teachers and bosses. And all the rest.

I'd only been here a couple years when I joined the Lesbian Avengers, and discovered a more horizontal world. Age and inexperience were on equal footing as long as you dared to wear a tee-shirt, "I was a lesbian child" or if you ate fire, or spoke out. Almost all of the dykes I know now, I met during those years of meetings and marches and demos. And in my most vivid memories, they are surrounded by their own girl gang, rejoicing and fierce as creatures sprung from the head of Zeus, and equal to anybody from a President to a prostitute.

Now there they are, in the midst of their families. And the State is not the enemy but a party to the event. I imagine that's partly why our straight relatives find it so comforting, and are often the ones pushing for big weddings. Parents are excited to see their daughters anchored and safe. Kids want to see their two parents take their place, just like anybody else. The marriage contract is less as a link between two people than between that pair and society at large, binding them and dividing them at the same time.

You might get immigration rights, and tax write-offs, but when the State joins you for better or worse, richer or poorer, it also means you've had all the benefits you're going to get, and are mostly on your own. If one gets sick, the other foots the bill while society stands by until your last thin dime has been spent. Without a pre-nup, debts are inherited more often than lotto winnings. Vultures circle when your partner's at death's door.

In this respect, I like the services that at least invoke a larger sense of the world. Back in the day, I remember a pastor at a commitment ceremony talking about how we were gathered there as community to help and support the couple. She laid a charge on us, as witnesses, which I guess we failed: the couple broke up a couple years later. The only blessing was that there was no need of lawyers to divide up the spoils.

I'm not arguing that same-sex marriage is bad. I'm glad we have it, now. It has a symbolic meaning, and it's useful. Equality always is. I'm just not sure it's progress in a more essential way. It ropes us back into a world we escaped at great cost. And for what? Most of the straight people I know aren't happy in the land of matrimony. With rare exceptions, marriage seems like a musty room with all the windows glued shut by responsibilities and routine. And often acrimony. More than once I've gotten the impression that they are envious of my exile. No rights. No obligations except moral ones.

It seems straight people, too, long for some better way to organize their lives than this genealogy chart mentality, and careful division into two's.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Against Revolutionary Tourists

By Kelly Cogswell

I won't go so far as to declare, "Anybody but de Blasio." New York lived through Giuliani. We'll probably survive de Blasio, too. But for the record, he shows all the signs of being a moron of the kind mass-produced by the Left, usually sporting a scruffy, bereted Che silk-screened on their chests. They embrace lefty revolutions that do some proxy nose-thumbing at the U.S., watch at a distance as ideologies and their consequences are writ large in somebody else's life.

When confronted with human rights abuses of their pet leftist regimes, they typically make half-hearted excuses, blaming a meddling U.S., (ignoring their own fingers in the pie), or tout access to health care or literacy or whatever. No matter that their revolutions' accomplishments were ages ago and relatively brief, and now the books are censored, the schools crumbling, health care reserved for the regime's faithful elite, and government critics end up in the brig or worse. They don't even notice that the gloriously downtrodden poor are still poor, and voiceless, unless you count the labor unions, run not by the workers but by their employers, the state.

No, when it comes to all that, I can't condemn Mr. de Blasio as being particularly unique -- one of those flowers that blossoms once a millennium. He's just the zucchini of leftwing cretins. Absolutely garden variety, celebrating every leftist revolution he's ever heard of. Usually a couple decades late.

In 1987, when he got involved supporting the Sandinistas, they'd already been in power since 1979, and it was no secret that they celebrated their victory over Somoza's brutal rightwing dictatorship with mass graves. Two or three years later they suspended civil liberties. And while they did teach peasants to read, the effort was often wasted when the newly literate were tortured or disappeared after protesting official policies.

While Reagan's contras helped destabilize the new Nicaraguan government, excuses for torture and mass murder and dictatorships make me think of Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. When she was told a serial killer was only evil because he was abused as a boy, she responded, "Bullshit... He killed and he raped because he liked doing it...Gottfried isn't the only kid who was ever mistreated."

A grave is much like another, whether Somoza put you there, or a Sandinista. By making excuses for these regimes, we lend them support that extends their lives, and makes us as complicit in their abuses as Reagan was with the contras, as all Americans are when we support Middle East dictatorships to keep a nice cheap flow of oil.

Still, faux revolutionaries will probably continue to idolize Cuba, even if the honeymoon of the 1959 revolution also lasted only a few months. Already, in 1960, our hero Che was setting up the first labor camps designed for "people who have committed crimes against revolutionary morals." In the following years, they'd be filled with plenty of queers and dissidents. Most recently, people with AIDS were interned with only slightly better treatment.

It's hard to believe Mr. de Blasio didn't know that when he went there in the early Nineties to celebrate his honeymoon and supposedly protest the U.S. embargo. It was the beginning of the "Special Period" after the Soviet Union's collapse, when most people experienced the island as a place of hunger and repression, an enormous jail. The beaches and hotels open to him were closed to ordinary Cubans in a cultural apartheid (you can't blame on the U.S.) that only allowed them access if they were waiters or cooks or prostitutes. Here's to protesting U.S. policies over a mojito in a country where real protests are brutally suppressed!

It was even more vile, in 2002, when as a councilperson, he grinned next to Robert Mugabe in front of City Hall. Once a hero in Zimbabwe's fight for independence, the African dictator only continued to win elections by slaughtering his opposition, rigging votes, and distracting the population with anti-gay pogroms -- a favorite pastime of left-wing revolutions, especially those with communist roots like Cuba.

Since I can't rub de Blasio's nose in the messes his revolutionary tourism has supported, I'll just quote James Baldwin at him, "it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime."

Ever since Stalin, if not before, it's been clear there's no redeeming qualities in the dictatorships of the Left. And beyond that, history (and common sense) tell us, over and over, that social change can not be engineered from above. You can't march into Iraq and declare democracy. You can't torture and mass grave your way to freedom and economic justice. If interference by American government is wrong, so is interference and unquestioning support from any large groups of outsiders whose only real interest is in protecting a mythology, a cage that other people are forced to live and die in.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Inequality Addicts

By Kelly Cogswell

Last week, The New York Times broke the unsurprising news that Christine Quinn's electoral disaster may have been more than rejection of her politics, but of Quinn herself -- her female screech and high pitched voice, the childlessness supposedly antagonistic to families, her unfeminine pushiness and goshdang dykey masculinity no man wants to stare at, and of which no woman wants to be accused.
Her advisors saw it coming and told her she had to do something, but apparently Quinn refused to talk about it, either out of hubris and short-sightedness or despair. Realistically, there's little she could have done. If Quinn had tried to appear softer, she'd have seemed weak, or worse, duplicitous. There are some circles you just can't square.
All we can do is admit the problem like inequality addicts, try to take the first step again. "Hi, I'm Christine Quinn. I'm a dyke, and I'm screwed." We're not post-misogyny, post-homophobia, post-anything just because women have been able to vote for a while now, and even own property, and lesbians can mess around safely in their own beds, or tie the knot at City Hall and reduce their parents to happy blubbering idiots.
The problem is, there's no real change in sight. In movies and on TV gender roles are almost as rigid as ever. If we're lucky enough to get a female superhero with a muscle-bound gym bod, you can bet she'll have long girly hair. The toughest female politicians stuff themselves into pink Chanel skirts, while the religious councilors of their constituents advise their flock that their daughters shouldn't be sent to college. Keep 'em barefoot, pregnant, and ignernt as sin.
While a video of that preacher went viral on the internet, propelled by outraged feminists, nothing really happened. The women's movement is all but dead. LGBT groups are mostly mobilized for legal equality, and have minimal impact on daily life. In fact, there's little going on anywhere that might start giving people ideas. It's not like we've got a big movement against the Vietnam War or for Women's Rights. All is calm on the activist front. Ditto for the culture wars. There's no Woodstock or Haight-Ashbury on the horizon. No Harlem Renaissance, Audre Lorde or David Wojnarowicz.
In New York, activism has been particularly scarce since the demise of ACT-UP and the Lesbian Avengers. There were two or three big demos protested the Iraq War. A handful of folks denounced torture. Domestic spying is submitted to with barely a peep. Wall Street was occupied briefly then abandoned. After the Trayvon Martin verdict there were a few protests, but no budding movement. As humans, as Americans, it seems we've lost our hearts. We're dead in the water. Play taps or some old spiritual. Let's get it over with. Though maybe I'm missing something. Maybe there's some underground thing getting ready to bloom, though I doubt it.
The old tricks don't seem to work any more. In the U.S., we relied too long on identity politics to fuel progressive movements, rallying people around race, sexual orientation, gender. As if the categories had some independent existence tapping into hidden wells of Power. Raise your fist in the Black Power salute. Burn something like a bra. Or don't. Post-modern and queer theories seem to put the existence of any identity, especially the lesbian one, on the same plane as unicorns. Our lives are performed, not lived. They are as flexible and fluid as any Coney Island contortionist. No matter that the street tells us different, and the consequences of identity aren't flexible at all. Violence, rape, poverty of whole classes of people. Disenfranchisement.
And yet, and yet, what do we have in common? Females are just creatures with two mounds on their chests and reproductive organs conveniently tucked away. Even so, I get chased out of women's restrooms. Get called sir half the time in the street when my hair is short. Not that dykes embrace each other. We're too this or too that. Not enough of the other thing.
Likewise, nothing unites African Americans and other racial minorities but skin. Scratch beneath it and what do you have? More skin. And then flesh and icky stuff. Blood. And bones. It is only abstractions that are shared. The invisible web of history, and culture, or experience. Things that must be continually taught, continually explored. Whether the lesson comes from a bigot and is one of shame. Or something to celebrate, taught by somebody inside the community reminding us survival itself is reason enough for pride. We did it. You can, too.
Identity is largely an act of the imagination, filtered through imponderable flesh. It's a dream we deny the need for, but can't live without.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Lesbophobia and the NYC Mayoral Election

I hate to watch sitcoms with gay male characters, like the defunct New Normal, or the popular Modern Family. Almost inevitably they make stereotypical digs at how ugly and badly dressed dykes are. How humorless, because we don't laugh at jokes making us the butt.

Nobody hates dykes as much as fags. And of course, other dykes. Transfolks aren't always major boosters either. I declare this based on my Facebook page and the few queer articles I've read on New York's mayoral primaries where lefties who once blabbed how important it was to elect Obama, "He'll be our first black president," are all bashing Christine Quinn.

"I don't care if she is a lesbian. She's in bed with the real estate developers. I'd never vote for her," they shriek. Or they cite the times she's screwed queers, but never the times she's supported us. Apparently, historical groundbreaking is less important when it's the first woman, first dyke with the chance to run one of the biggest, most important, cities in the world.

To my dyke, female ears, their refrain sounds fishy, lesbophobic. Replay it substituting black. "I don't care if he is black, I'd never vote for him." Yeah, there's that little extra bigotry Obama gets now. A version of the hate Hillary Clinton got in the presidential primaries. That same feeling of ickiness at her child-bearing thighs and strident voice, the same rabid disgust I don't see opponents direct at our current crop of male mayoral candidate.

I'm not encouraging you to vote for Christine Quinn. I'm not entirely decided myself. But if you are going to vote for one of the boys, I'd like you to ask yourself if dyke-hating is playing a role. Especially in an election like this when nobody is exactly pristine. It's New York. To survive in politics here everybody cuts corners, cuts deals, shares flea-ridden beds.

Mr. DeBlasio and Mr. Liu alone have consorted with far worse than Quinn's bastard developers out to screw the poor: they kissed the ass of an actual murderer. In 2002 they were among the sixteen repulsive New York City Council members, all Democrats, mostly black, who either attended or sponsored a reception for Robert Mugabe at City Hall, touting him as Zimbabwe's liberation hero.

That may have been briefly true, but for the last several decades, Mugabe had been running one of the ugliest dictatorships in the world. Not only strong-arming his own people, rigging elections, and manipulating the economy, but burning down the houses of the opposition--with them still inside. Starving the districts of his enemies, regularly jailing and torturing them. And, to top it all, he's screamed, and continues to scream, about how queers are worse than dogs and sends mobs after us.

He was swimming in blood. And by backslapping him at City Hall, a rare honor given only to the likes of Mandela, idiot New York Dems like DeBlasio gave him a stronger grip on power, extended the violence and misery. But so what? Nobody cared then, and despite our occasional email sent about queers abroad, probably nobody cares now.

I can already hear the excuses, "That was a decade ago. It doesn't count." Or, "It was in Africa. They probably didn't know." Which is almost worse. Because who wants a mayor who's got his head so far up his moronic ass that he doesn't even read front page news counting Mugabe's victims? In 2008 DeBlasio, hinted at ignorance. With the info available, he should have known. "It was a mistake." Liu, however, still reportedly said, he didn’t see what "the big deal" was.

Nevertheless, Quinn's still the devil. And there are dykes still sneering, "I don't care if she is a lesbian... I'd never vote for her." They imply a dyke dumping on another dyke makes her opinion more objective, somehow praiseworthy, not infected with lesbophobia at all. Worse, they give the impression Quinn is running for mayor of Poughkeepsie, not New York City, where for the first time, a woman, a dyke, would have a global platform second only to the U.S. President, or maybe Secretary of State.

Maybe the same thing would happen with a fag mayoral candidate. Queers are such a weird minority. We're the first to say we're just like everybody else, no different at all. The first to stab each other in the back. I'm pretty sure when he was running for mayor, David Dinkins got the black vote. Fernando Ferrer, though he lost in the 2001 primary, got a lot of support from Latinos.

Sadly, it looks like Christine Quinn will only get crumbs from New York queers, because we're so fucking determined to be honest and open-minded. So determined to reject blind support (that does lead to disasters, see Mugabe, R.) that we despise solidarity. And because we hate dykes.

Maybe I'll support Quinn, after all. Cast a big dyke vote for the chance at a global voice.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Russian Queers Under Attack

By Kelly Cogswell

Unless we get involved, U.S. athletes will participate in the 2014 Olympics in Russia, where naked authoritarian rule has returned after a trial in democracy that only lasted long enough for the Eastern Orthodox Church to regain and consolidate its power, and for a vicious free market capitalism to create a few obscenely wealthy oligarchs.

The rest of the population has produced a handful of pro-democracy resisters, like the feminist punk rockers Pussy Riot, a lumpish and alienated majority, and a sizeable minority increasingly nostalgic for the bad old days when sacrificial victims might have disappeared (we won't speak of them), but at least there was order.

Part of that returning, Soviet-era order is the oppression of queers. The Church had done it before, but the secular State got in the business when it turned out that faggots didn't disappear along with the filthy upper classes. Like in Cuba, this state-sponsored homophobia became particularly virulent after a few years in the authoritarian swamp when it crossbred puritanical Christian morality with the macho, authoritarian cult of the Commie's New Man.

Queers, of course, are its natural enemy, dykes subverting the idea that things must be the way they are, with women submitting to their sharply bearded men, citizens bowing to the power of the State, and journalists regularly eating their words or having convenient and fatal accidents. Two men are just as bad because either you have a male abdicating his God-given supremacy, or a pair asserting the chaotic power of erotic democracy.

The worst Russian laws came in 1960 when queers were punished not just for having sex, but banned from working any job that had to do with kids, or playing any role in public. Plenty of gay men ended up in prison or worse. Dykes were more routinely sent to the nuthouse to have their queerness electroshocked out of them.

That famous anti-gay article 121.1 of the 1960 Soviet Criminal Code was only repealed two decades ago in 1993, less as a sign of a newfound commitment to civil equality, than a little early pink-washing to help get Russia in the EU. Up until late in '92, hundreds of gay men were still being convicted and imprisoned every year, while dyke activists like Alla Pitcherskaia not only risked repeated arrest, but threats of permanent imprisonment and electrodes.

When I was co-editing The Gully online magazine from 2000-2006, the Russian queers we worked with were reluctant to use their names. As it turned out, they had good reason.

Like Putin's authoritarian government, unapologetic homophobes have re-emerged mouthing both nationalistic, and religious arguments in their attempts to recriminalize homosexuality. They've been increasingly effective, shutting down some Pride Parades, and in June, as lesbians and gay men in the U.S. won federal recognition of their marriages, the Russian legislature voted almost unanimously to ban "pro-gay" propaganda. This incredibly broad law not only prohibits any positive portrayals of LGBT people, but criminalizes anybody that even acknowledges our existence in public. For all intents and purposes, it officially outlaws queer activism.

They're not stopping there. A new law bans gay couples from adopting, and another makes it legal to toss tourists into jail for a couple weeks if they're gay. Four Dutch tourists were recently arrested for "promoting homosexuality to children." More laws are in the works to remove children from lesbian and gay parents. Forget marriage.

Ultranationalists are the enforcers, acting with the state's approval, if not their funds. As new stadiums are built, and Olympic platitudes mouthed, the most popular sport in Russia is forming lynch mobs to attack queers in the street. Other far-right psychos are using social media to lure young gay teens into private spaces where they humiliate and torture them, then proudly post videos of their horrifying acts of patriotism on the internet. According to an internet poll, since this antigay crackdown intensified, fifteen percent of LGBT folks in Russia have been physically attacked for being gay.

It's hard to see much hope for Russian queers without outside intervention or a civil war. Because homophobia's only half the problem. Cultures can be changed, at least gradually. But you can't do it without the tools of civil society and democracy: persuasion and protest and speech. As outsiders, we can only vote with our money and prestige. Unlike the U.S., where we can also vote and agitate, at least for now.

Although we're heading a better direction on LGBT rights, we're moving in the tandem with Russia when it comes to destroying the tools of social change like free speech, and a vibrant media. And in the long run, it may be less significant to have a gay-friendly President, than one more determined than George W. Bush to attack the press, and make examples of whistle-blowers like Snowden and Manning rightly disgusted by the government's abuse of power to erode our precious democracy.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Trayvon Martin, and "We Are Caligula"

By Kelly Cogswell

A couple of days ago, I checked out a rehearsal of Susana Cook's new play, "We Are Caligula". It felt so retro, sitting on a folding chair and watching actual humans on the stage moving around in the flesh. It was kind of about that -- flesh -- and the disposable body. Who gets eaten and who doesn't. What makes somebody god enough to make the choice, and some body else so far below human they end up on the plate.

In short, with an entertaining blend of show tunes, massacres and orgies, "We Are Caligula" explores just how our species justifies war, and racism, and homophobia, and all the other stuff that ends in us devouring each other (and animals) without a second thought.

Sitting there, with sweat running down the back of my knees, I started thinking about Trayvon Martin. He's one of the black bodies that doesn't count for much, either in life or death. You could say he was killed twice. Once, quickly, by George Zimmerman, another time slowly, during the Florida trial, as bigots assassinated a whole race.

I've been wanting to say something, but didn't know what. I was surprised at how many people were shocked that Zimmerman got off. As if half the white liberals on Facebook only then discovered that Dame Justice wasn't as blind as they'd thought. I guess they hadn't noticed all the straight guys getting acquitted for shooting queers. "He came onto me, I was afraid." Or how women are always getting raped and killed while their attackers go free. And when it comes to race I seem to remember marching fifteen years ago when Amadou Diallo got shot 41 times by NYPD cops who were apparently terrified of a black man raising a wallet. Fear acquitted them, too.

The only question is whether the current outrage can grow legs and take off. After all, people went out in the streets after Diallo's death, but nothing much changed. Probably because it was mostly African Americans out marching in horror. After Zimmerman's recent acquittal, they've finally been joined by plenty of my white peeps who may have had a great awakening to racism, but are probably just shocked by this specific case with the shooter clearly out of control. The victim, Trayvon Martin so young, and puppyishly cute he looks as good on a poster as Matthew Shephard.

It's not enough. Even innocent, handsome, white Matthew Shephard might have disappeared from the radar if there hadn't been national LGBT groups ready to leap on his corpse for all they were worth, sending out flyers, demanding money, using his mother with incredible effect to bring attention to hate crimes legislation. "Matthew just happened to be my son, but he could have been yours, your son, your brother, your..." Which is literally true. Queers are usually born to straights, like cuckoos dropped in the nest.

Black kids, on the other hand, don't turn up so randomly in white families. So another script will have to encourage whites, whether entirely racist, or merely privileged, to make the leap and see kids like Trayvon as their kin.

I don't see any other way to put a stake through racism's heart. Surely not by making the opposite argument, as one blog does, smarmily calling attention to white privilege by declaring, We Are Not Trayvon Martin.

Even if it does have a certain consciousness-raising value, in the long term also has the unintended consequence of reinforcing the idea that human experiences are so different between races that they can't be bridged. And that racism itself is a singular set of problems. If that's the case, well, what can we really do beyond maybe getting that Florida law repealed, which allows fearful folks like Zimmerman to Stand Their Ground with a loaded gun.

I actually think we'd get further with a site declaring "We Are Trayvon Martin AND Also George Zimmerman." Because even though the system weights things heavily in favor of whites from life to liberty, individually, we are not as separate as we'd like, either in our goodness or evil. And any evolution of our society's culture will require an immense joint effort of the imagination that we can rarely be bothered to make.

In "We Are Caligula," it rang true when a couple of worried senators (and possible victims) got together to figure out how to depose the dangerous, bloodthirsty Caligula, but ended up deciding he wasn't so bad after all, he had his reasons, and Rome's finances were doing quite well. All things considered, change was scarier than Caligula, and frankly, required too much work.

"We Are Caligula" will be performed Saturday, August 3, 8:30 pm at Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street, New York City.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Excepting the Anti-Family Jesus

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Despite our victories (probably because of them), Pride seems more and more like a kind of queer Thanksgiving with too much talk about family as we celebrate new gains protecting lesbian and gay ones via marriage, immigration equality, and adoption. While glad for the legal progress, it's worth saying that this kind of family is not the one so many of us tried to reclaim when the movement was more about liberation than equality, and we danced on sweaty dance floors to the sounds of Sister Sledge, grateful to have found a community, even a fractured one.

No, Family 2013 is the thing I fled when I came to New York -- the sanctimonious and claustrophobic unit whose purpose is not to draw together, but set apart, and privilege the small circle over the greater, the well-being of the few over the community. Even when queers are involved, family seems just a tiny extension of the first person, the jealous and avaricious "I" that slips a noose around your neck as soon as you're born. Which is why even though I'll probably benefit from some of these homofamily gains, I rarely use the word to talk about my relationship, it just seems so inadequate and debased.

What are families for, anyway? To consolidate wealth and power? Offer support? Reproduce? If not your genetics, ideology? We don't need big ones anymore for family farms or businesses. Ideally, the small unit of family could teach kids to cooperate with other individuals before shoving them out into the larger world, but the modern family seems more likely to teach conformity and competition. It's where gender roles are first enforced. Where we're taught to hate our neighbors. Keep up with the Joneses if you can't out-do them. Usually at the expense of that woman lying in the sidewalk. Not my problem. Family first.

There's nothing magic in families, though the fewer utilitarian reasons they have to exist, the more we spread greeting card myths like, They're the people that have to love you, no matter what. Families always have your back, just because. We ignore just how bad this latest incarnation of family is for kids who are lowest in the pecking order, in some ways less valuable than when they were at least weeding corn or working in sweatshops.

In every extended family there's the troubled mother who is allowed to torture her children in silence because it's too much effort to get involved. Or maybe it's the nephew who goes off in corners with little girls or little boys while the others turn a blind eye to avoid the scandal and damage to the sacred family name. Queer kids are bullied by their own parents, and siblings, isolated with no recourse.

And yet, even we queers still adore The Family. Long for one. Sometimes spend years in therapy to recast the narrative, instead of shrugging and abandoning it entirely, and aiming for something more radical than the pathetic Focus on the Family. I've never understood why Christian fundamentalists are so obsessed with preserving this particular institution when Jesus was one of the biggest anti-family figures in history.

I was reminded of this by Ta-Nehisi Coates who's been up to no good lately, reading the bible, and posting New Testament passages in his blog:

"For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me..."

My favorite, though, would be the passage when a recruiting Jesus told one guy to skip his father's funeral and follow him. "Let the dead bury the dead." I remember as a kid being shocked and excited when I read that text. How it gave permission to crawl out of the trap and walk away. No backward glances.

It saved me even when I gave up the idea of leaving my family behind to become a missionary, and instead hopped on the Greyhound with the idea I could embrace the larger world, be a poet, and later become a dyke activist. For me, now, these passages are still a radical call to community and citizenship, demanding we open our eyes to the world beyond the one we were first born into or even chose.

To redeem that word, family, we have to do more than add the words gay or lesbian, but knock down walls to expand it, until it includes us all.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Celebrating Activists

By Kelly Cogswell

It was almost funny. One minute Obama enthusing in his Pride Month proclamation about "those who organized, agitated, and advocated for change." The next, Ellen Sturtz getting slammed for disrupting a fundraiser featuring First Lady Michelle Obama who didn't exactly embrace the activist.

Plenty in the LGBT community were suitably horrified. The moment was badly chosen, we were told. It wasn't nice, it wasn't polite. Etc. As if poor Miz Obama was some kind of shrinking violet, not a very public face of the administration, herself an important cog in the Democratic fundraising machine, while queers (including queers of color) wait and wait and wait for change.

I bring it up now, because it's typical of our community. We celebrate Stonewall, but resent activists, maybe because we don't understand their role in moving things forward. Our lobbyists take too much credit. So, we're wary of activists who may want us to do more than write checks. Like leave our homes and mobilize around stalled issues such as the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, and other federal protections (which the White House could advocate for right now, issue a directive) -- the whole reason Ellen Sturtz and GetEqual made a scene.

Even positive results in courts and legislatures require ongoing involvement by activists. How many laws are there against bullying? How many actually get enforced? That’s down to us watching silently from the sidelines. Even DOMA won’t be truly overturned unless bigmouthed watchdog troublemakers are there making sure all the controversial provisions, like those affecting immigration benefits, don’t get buried beneath red tape and paperwork.

We can’t count on Obama. Like most politicians, he'll do the bare minimum unless we're out there making a stink at every possible opportunity. The guy only “evolved” on the homo question, because we were there kicking and screaming. I remember how after he had the queer votes in the bag in the 2008 primary, he campaigned with the same gay-hating preachers as George W. Bush. And after he won the election, he tried to curry favor among right-wing legislators and voters by blabbing about a big tent and bringing the anti-gay zealot Rick Warren on board.

He probably would have continued in that vein if we hadn’t mobilized every trick in the book, financial influence, quiet whispers, and plenty of embarrassing public howls. And we can't stop now. Both because there are lots of pressing issues, and because despite what MLK asserted, history does not move towards progress in an inevitable arc. In this country alone, we've seen abortion rights eroded at an astronomical pace. Plenty of cities and states have rolled back ordinances protecting LGBT rights, and have actually passed antigay legislation legalizing discrimination against us.

Probably I've written this before, but it's worth saying again during pride month. Party as much as you want. Eat Bar-B-Q. Hook up with that cutie across the room. But take a couple minutes to think about what Stonewall launched, and how precarious our gains are if we get complaisant. You don't necessarily have to take to the streets, but everyone should be involved in some way. Come out -- to everyone. Speak up when you hear a homophobic joke. Anything.

Antigay violence and bullying are still awful. Most queer images are stereotypes of gay white men, the rest of us invisible. Our own community ignores our most urgent issues, including employment bias and poverty, affecting far more of us than marriage. Every month there's a new study showing families led by LGBT Americans are worse off financially than those headed by straights (even if other studies show we take better care of our kids). The latest, published by the Williams Institute of the UCLA Law School, shows even two white gay men are poorer than their counterparts.

It's simply harder for LGBT people to find good jobs, and even tougher for us to keep them. We don't start on equal footing, facing an uphill battle for a decent education thanks to bullying in schools, and additional problems at home and in our communities.

The most vulnerable among us are households headed by two African American dykes. They have the triple whammy of misogyny squared by racism by lesbophobia. What about them? They are barely visible in our community, much less in the world at large. Like their problems. For them, jobs are a queer issue, like poverty and hunger. And their effects accumulate in ways as horrible and lingering as violence.

For all our sakes, we need to acknowledge that change is not a done deal, and that it never comes as a reward to those who sit smiling nicely with their hands politely in their laps. Let's think beyond Stonewall, and try to support activists working today.

Monday, June 03, 2013

On Being an Aunt

By Kelly Cogswell

I spent a couple of days last week hanging out in a hospital room and watching the dreck that passes for children's programming --like that Disney movie, Mars Needs Moms. It's pretty much naked propaganda for the Mom, Dad, kid nuclear family.

This is the plot in a nutshell. The Martians come to earth and snatch likely maternal candidates, fatally extract their efficiency and discipline, which is then implanted in a Nannybot who is solely responsible for rearing the tiny aliens. No hugs. No love. Just orders.

One boy whose mom is grabbed, stows away on the space ship and tries to save her before she's irreparably harmed. He stumbles onto a small resistance movement that literally uncovers pre-historic paintings of a Mommy, Daddy and baby Martian on a canyon wall. After a series of mildly suspenseful hijinks, and lessons in love, the evil nanny-type Supervisor is overthrown, along with the commie-style, mass child-raising system. The original "natural" order is restored with the nuclear family (and men) back at the top.

I would have heaved, but it wouldn't have been sanitary.

No spoof of 1950's values, this horrifying thing just appeared in 2011, and is still getting played over and over, (and over) on a children's network. After watching it, I just sat there and seethed, even more uncomfortable than I already was. There's nothing like illness and the medical establishment to force you back into that whole heterosexual cesspool where your identity is entirely determined by who had heterosex with whom, and when.

Walk in the door to this particular Children's Hospital and immediately there are signs saying only parents and grandparents can stay overnight, though it wasn't too hard to get one of the wristbands that designated me as an additional guardian which meant I could stay, too. To the staff, my credentials were embodied in that word "aunt" which was only true in the strictest definition of the word. Because when the nurses and doctors asked me about the kid, was something normal for him, or not? I didn't really know. I only saw him once shortly after birth, then again as a young teen. Then there he was in the hospital bed recovering from brain surgery at sixteen.

It would have been more accurate to characterize me as an acquaintance with shared DNA, and shared stories from the pre-history of his mom's childhood that would have discouraged even Disney's Martians from trying to resurrect the mom, dad, baby scenario.

I don't understand what the big deal is about "families." I fled mine as soon as I could, and have only seen a few examples since that contradicted my experience. Though it seems like I turned up at the hospital as a result of family feeling, you should know I've done as much and more for friends. It's a question of ethics, not genetics. If you see need, you should try to meet it if you can. That is almost impossible if you stick to the nuclear family model which has dad holding mom holding the baby. While tripods are one of the most stable shapes around, they only work if all three legs are of equal length and strength. Otherwise, you get the usual disasters of gravity.

Still, forming tripods, no matter how dysfunctional, seems to be a common goal for most Americans, even queers. Long before the marriage equality train left the station, we were pairing off and acquiring kids. We turned our backs on any communal values that redefined family as anybody that had your back, maybe because it was increasingly passé to agitate, and make loud rude noises in the street, even for the sake of social change.

Or maybe we never were a community and the whole thing is a myth except for one Sunday in June. A lot of people participated in the huge historic marches in DC and elsewhere, but weren't we still just a small percentage? And how many of us just reconquered the couch after we got back home? These stories we tell ourselves about Stonewall, and queer family values, are they even true?

We're Americans, too, after all. We're part of a society that's incredibly fractured, partly because of our insistence on the family value tripod, partly because we still pretend to believe in that bootstrap model of success. We're on our own, and like it that way, at least until a hurricane or tornado hits. We don't interfere. Except when we do.

Queers are also as divided by difference as society at large. We let ourselves be separated by race, and misogyny, and questions of gender in which we have less and less room for ambiguity. Getting hitched could make these things worse. Marriage, from what I've seen of the hetero brand, separates as much as unites, hides chasms with cake.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Time Traveling With Richard Bowes

Richard Bowes reading at Strange Loop Gallery, NYC

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Lately, I've been talking to students about the Lesbian Avengers. I stand up there like a figure of authority, and show a video and answer questions about this dyke activist group I was a part of, and it's all so weird because what's my life is their history.

Like a strange kind of time traveler, I'm not just their past, but their future, too. The Avengers may have been most active in the 1990's, but direct action and political organizing are never obsolete. And eventually, some of those kids I'm talking to will realize that the uncomfortable burning sensation in the pit of their stomachs is rage, and they'll also take to the streets.

One of our queer writers aware at just how life loops and intersects is Richard Bowes. The present is mixed up with the past and future. Good blends with evil, and also mediocrity. An Irish American writer who grew up in 1950's Boston, Bowes mostly does sci-fi and fantasy. As a young writer, he wrote literally about time travel. Lately, much of his work is "realistic" with just a slightly paranormal twist though it is still concerned with time.

Minions of the Moon, one of his most autobiographical books, is also one of his best. Originally published in 1999, and just re-issued, the Lambda Award-winning novel plays hard and fast with the details, though its author did grapple with his sexual identity, and ended up a New York rent boy with a bad drug habit. The twist is that Bowes turns his addiction into a doppelganger who also represents that part of himself that emerges whenever he's stressed out, or needs to get out of a jam. The narrator, Kevin Grierson, calls that double his Shadow, and it sticks with him, appearing periodically even when he thinks it's long gone.

Bowes reminds us that Shadow is something we all have, not just as individuals, but as a society. I was reminded again this weekend of how time doesn't move on an endless, upward trajectory with lessons learned, misery redeemed, and progress written in stone. Even as we celebrate small gains, like the right to marry, youngish queers like Mark Carson, who was murdered by a homophobe in the West Village a few days ago, still cannot walk safely even in our gayest neighborhoods. Everything that's good in the past could happen again. But what was horrible is waiting for us, too.

Beyond that, there's also the merely surprising and absurd. Last week, I had a brief conversation with Bowes about his work and life which he writes about more factually in his upcoming book of interconnected stories, Dust Devil On a Quiet Street. He called his survival "pure luck." He should have died during all his years on the street. There were the sexual predators, the drug violence, the drugs themselves, but he somehow escaped. He never even did time because in those days the police were Irish, and he'd get a break because he looked like every cop's youngest brother. In a miserable joke, he even avoided HIV because he got cancer and was out of sexual commission during the worst of the epidemic.

His surprise at lasting when so many around him didn't, keeps his books honest. They never turn into "How I got clean" stories, or "Redemption through art" fables, or some queer mythology of survival. If he rebelled at Stonewall, it was partly because he was hanging out with some druggie friends, and being East Village riot aficionados, they never passed up a chance to screw with the cops. And if the old Italian ladies started screaming at the police from the windows, it was less solidarity with queers, than a neighborhood hatred of the law. The big revelation: even when we have to fight hard to survive, we owe a fair amount to luck and sometimes the intervention of strangers.

In his books, gender also doesn't stay on its assigned track. As a gay man, when he takes on his life, the main figures are naturally men. Still, when he writes about the enforced masculinity of the military system, even the draft board, he has a strangely "female" sensibility when he reveals how he hated the way they owned your body, taking your clothes and shaving your head like convicts. Stripping you down to your underwear and staring and judging. They enforced their will with beatings and sometimes rape. It was worse than selling yourself on the street where you could at least pretend to have some control.

In another recent book, The Queen, the Cambion, and Seven Others, Bowes takes on fairy tales, plunging further into the ambiguities of time and gender. Here, he narrates most of the stories from a female point of view, and seemed a little puzzled telling me about a writer who asked him why, and how, he pulled it off. "There's no trick to it", he told them. "All the characters are still me."

Follow Kelly Cogswell on Twitter @kellyatlarge

Monday, May 06, 2013

Mothers' Day and the Queer Kitchen

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

One of the few times I've been back to Kentucky in the last zillion years, my mother offered to make lunch if I came over. The menu turned out to be frozen pizza and brownies made from a mix, and for which I was truly grateful. The woman's a rotten cook. Mostly because she hates to. And why not? It's a helluva lotta work, and absolutely poisonous in social terms.

You have to wonder why the kitchen was ever women's place at all. It's dangerous and a little brutal. You could even say it's butch. You hack at things with sharpened knives, heave around enormous pots of boiling liquids. I worked as a prep cook one summer during college, and scalded the crap out of myself when the forty pound pot I was lifting spilled over just a little and the hot water landed on my belly. When I tried to pull my pants away, half the skin came, too. That same summer a girl I knew lost her eyebrows lighting a stove and was lucky to keep her eyes.

Still, I got pleasure out of learning the craft. Not to mention getting the paycheck. But I'm puzzled by people that idealize any part of cooking, especially the "traditional" kind. Whenever I read about yuppie chicks starting to make their own jam and pickles, I imagine my grandmother or great-grandmother trapped in a kitchen in the middle of August with mounds of fruits and vegetables all around her, and no air conditioning in sight. It must've been like a stint in hell. But if she didn't do it, her whole family would starve. And if she screwed up, didn't boil those jars long enough, she'd poison them all by spring. If you want to get back to your roots, what you really need is a little heat stroke or botulism.

Women didn't need feminism's encouragement to flee the kitchen. On the contrary, idealized femininity demanded it of them. White women who could afford it already had black and brown women getting their surrogate hands dirty. That's tradition, too. And part of why my mother embraced middle-class magazine food when she finally left her secretarial job and got married.

It was not only quick, but arranged things so she wouldn't have to break a nail, or even a sweat. It was a sign she'd succeeded, lifted herself out of her working class origins, turned her back on parents who had been factory workers once they left failing farms. They spoke with seriously embarrassing twangs. Said warter, instead of water. Warshed their clothes. Yeah, a lot of cans were opened in my house. A lot of tuna and hamburger were helped. Though once a week, when my dad was home from his job on the road, she would roast something. A chicken. A hunk of beef.

On Thanksgiving, too, while she conceded to tradition and made the turkey, the stuffing still came out of a cellophane bag and the piece de resistance was the casserole of green beans slathered in canned cream of mushroom soup, topped with canned French's onions. It was chic and convenient, with French right there in the title. There were also "salads" consisting largely of JELL-O, canned fruit, and frozen whipped "cream." Half the meal needed quotes.

I think about her sometimes when I'm making dinner. What an irony it's her dyke daughter who ended up back in the kitchen, cooking from scratch. Though I'm not the only one. In my East Village neighborhood overpopulated with restaurants, when you see gaggles of people in checked pants and white aprons sneaking a quick smoke, there is usually a tattooed dyke among them. I've never seen any girls as prissy as the ones featured on cooking shows. No buxom motherly types. No sex pots. Just wiry white girls who like the pace and the competition.

I was startled to discover my Cuban girlfriend's mom cooks no better than mine. Before blood pressure issues put her on a low-sodium diet, her favorite meal was pretty much anything from the Chinese take-out down the block. She was a grade school teacher. Her husband an accountant. A teenaged girl fresh from the countryside would do most of the cooking.

When Faustina finally approached the kitchen, it had been transformed, not by revolution or scarcity, but by Nitza Villapol whose cookbook, Cocina Criolla (Creole Kitchen), was aimed at the modern cook in the modern kitchen. It had a few recipes for the traditional dishes like picadillo, arroz con pollo, and beans speeded up in a pressure cooker. But it also had Waldorf Salad, the same disgusting concoction of apples and walnuts and mayonnaise that my mother used to make when she bowed to tradition, and entered the room she hated.