Monday, April 22, 2013

The Boston Attacks: Learning to Regret

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

He looked just like a young Bob Dylan, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, handsome as sin, and a little lost, with the same dark angelic ringlets, same soulful eyes. All the networks kept showing the photo Friday, right next to one of a boat parked in a suburban yard. Then, they'd show the scene around it, at night now, the darkness broken up with flashing lights, a gazillion trucks, and men with body armor and machine guns. And beyond them, an angry nation also prepared, maybe eager, to kill.

They'd tracked him down because the owner of the house and boat had noticed blood somewhere, on the side of the shed, or on the boat which had a ripped tarp. So we also knew he was wounded. And while the thing played out, and the whole sleepless night afterward, I kept wondering what that 19 year old baby was thinking as he lay inside, bleeding and cornered, his brother already dead. Probably just, "What the fuck. What the fuck." Whatever he'd imagined, toting his backpack to the race, it couldn't have been that. "What the fuck. What the fuck."

Maybe none of it had even seemed real until then. Just a game he was playing with his older brother. There are so many reality shows after all, which are all halfway rigged. And how many of us --let's be honest-- when we're older, look back at what we've done in our teens and twenties and wonder ourselves, What the fuck was I thinking? How did I dare? Sometimes what we did was monstrous. Sometimes insanely, dangerously good. And in either case we're lucky we survived because it wasn't our final trajectory.

To understand, and try to imagine justice, we have to remember that almost all of us are capable of evil, without it being particularly pure. We have a strong desire to wound and maim. We exonerate ourselves. When I read the David Remnick piece in the New Yorker identifying, "the toxic combination of high-minded zealotry and the curdled disappointments of young men" I thought you could substitute plenty of other things for "young men."

All those straights in France furiously queer-bashing because they're losing their exclusive right to marriage. Those men in the U.S. and India justifying rape as masculine power erodes. For a while in Cuba, women who had been curdling for ages got their kicks denouncing their nieces and nephews and kids to the cops who were rooting out queers. It's how Reinaldo Arenas ended up in jail on one occasion. Like others I know. But one mother, at least, lived to regret her own role in the jailing and abuse of her daughter.

Even a couple of stalwarts of the Westboro Baptist Church have seen the light. Just a couple of months ago, the smiling Megan Phelps-Roper, 27, and her sister, Grace, very publicly parted ways with their grandfather's church in Topeka, Kansas after spending their whole lives declaring "God hates fags." And even though their efforts probably killed more people than Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, maimed thousands more, though less visibly, encouraging self-loathing and suicides, rampant vitriol, gay-bashings, and the ignorance and stigma that spread HIV, there they are in polite society, getting kudos instead of blows.

And in case you think you're immune yourself, we Americans after September 11th became complicit in a national program of torture, turning our backs on Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and all the black op sites. People died, or were destroyed and maimed and we didn't do a thing. Maybe because we thought we had good reason. Everybody always does.

So far, nobody seems to regret it much. The Obama administration is as pleased as anybody to sweep torture under the rug. Maybe in the future they'll repent. Just recently, years after he added more fuel to the anti-gay fire, Bill Clinton declared signing the Defense of Marriage Act was a big fucking mistake, not going so far as to admit he has blood on his hands, too, like the Phelps spawn.

This is why I was glad we didn't kill that nineteen year old cowering in a boat after his own monstrous act, even if I was glad it was over. At least his scene. He'll have the future to think it over as the drama goes on without him as it surely will. By the time he was caught, that eruption of violence engineered by two brothers had already been transformed by the likes of Fox News and CNN into dreadful fantasies of another Al Qaeda attack, or failing that, a kind of uprising by shadowy dark figures against the white American majority. And after accumulating more arms, and bb's, black powder, and pressure cookers, Tsarnaev's role will be filled by more deluded young men with names as likely to be Timothy or James as Dzhokhar.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Queering Democracy In France

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Seems like whenever you demand LGBT rights in a democracy, some asshole always declares, "It's a free country. You can do whatever you want inside your home. Why do you have to impose it on me?" Then they call you a fascist, and sometimes cap things off with the advice, "Go back where you came from." Which seems nuts at first, but has a certain twisted logic, since all hate's drawn from the same poisoned well, and our sense of freedom is related to physical space.

Democracy's most important battleground is always public, because freedom's not freedom in private, no matter how many stories you read about visionaries and mystics who find liberation behind the iron doors of a cell. For most of us, the outside world doesn't go away when we close our eyes. It's piped directly past our apartment walls and into our brains where we have to resist a constant broadcast of sneers and threats that aren't empty at all.

Even after decades of fighting back, I take up less space than I should because I know too well that whenever we attempt to escape from our personal jails, even with assumed names, and false identities, we still have to face the thought police, the unofficial cops of the existing order. We've all seen their victims. From the dyke who couldn't find a job, to the transwoman grabbed to play a little stop and frisk.

The forces of law and disorder are on high alert now in France where the status quo is threatened by a bill to make marriage legal for same-sex couples. At first they carefully projected the image of the happy traditional family, filling the streets with smiling moms and grinning, freshly scrubbed kids (many carted to the big cities by transportation paid for by Catholic monies, and marching under banners of fake associations), but the mask has started slipping.

Faced with defeat, the hundreds and thousands of people marching against same-sex marriage are doing it increasingly under truly fascist banners. Their demand? That France return to the country of yore when the Church ruled over everything, and everybody knew their place. Though in case you think it's just those damn Catholics, the Grand Rabbi of France, Giles Bernheim, known for plagiarizing some of his right-wing rants, has once again borrowed liberally for his latest antigay work.

More than the rhetoric is getting violent. During a recent march, members of the opposition party decided to engineer their own Arab Spring, a Printemps fran├žais, which wouldn't have meant more freedom for people, but less, and instead of signaling a willingness to sacrifice their own lives on the altar of politics, pretty much showed they only wanted to shed ours.

Then, a couple of weeks ago at Saint Etienne, a mob of Young Nationalists prevented the Socialist Deputy Erwann Binet from speaking at a meeting to explain the law about marriage equality to students. They took over the space, climbed on tables and reportedly shouted "France for the French!" threatening to pull the place to pieces. Afterwards, a similar conference scheduled for April 8 at the prestigious School of Political Science at Grenoble was cancelled after more promises of violence, including death threats against the organizer, Benjamin Rosmini.

They move in packs, pick us off like sheep. Last week alone, SOS Homophobia in France received sixty reports of assaults on LGBT people. And in good old Gai Paree just this past weekend, there was a particularly brutal attack in which several men attacked two guys for walking arm in arm. Wilfred de Bruijn doesn't even remember the assault, just leaving a party and waking up in an ambulance, throwing up blood. His boyfriend had to explain how his face turned into a pulpy broken mess. De Bruijn posted it on Facebook. "This is the face of homophobia."

That was in the 19th arrondissement, a tough neighborhood where there's lots of free-floating testosterone and kids of North African descent form gangs divided into Muslims and Jews, more out of convenience than religious conviction. Weekends often see their blood spilt. But apparently now, we're the prey.

Another couple was attacked the same night, this time in the 10th. Sylvain, the guy that got beaten, didn't look as bad as De Bruijn. But still. And Sunday night, in yet another neighborhood, a dozen masked thugs vandalized a cultural center hosting an important LGBT conference. Their banner was ripped down, and the front plastered over with posters for the antigay, "Manif pour tous," Demo for Everyone, being sponsored by the Printemps fran├žais. Which lately makes me think of Mel Brooks and his little ditty, Springtime for Hitler, (and Germany). Which seems to be catching on.

Maybe it will die down when the vote is over and done. I hope so. Let's lend our support to French queers who are trying to fight back with demos like the Rally Against Homophobia planned for Wednesday in Paris.