Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving Stinks and the Kitchen Sink

By Kelly Cogswell

Yeah, we all know it. Despite the sea of Beaujolais nouveau, and twelve kinds of pie, Thanksgiving stinks for a lot of people. Though props to you queers that have everything lining up nicely on the health and wealth side of things, and somehow escaped the usual family trauma served up hot with a ladle or two of hate.

Still, I'll count my small and large blessings, just for kicks. And at the top of the list is how my local Rite Aid has gone right from crepe paper skeletons to chocolate Santas, so I can ignore Thanksgiving entirely, and stay in a sugar coma the whole holiday season. There's not much seven or eight handfuls of candy corn can't cure.

And I realized yesterday that I really appreciate the people who post cute photos of animals on Facebook. I mean, I like kittens as much as anybody, and little baby French bulldogs, but I'm never gonna go in search of them. And I'm way too cool to admit how hard I laughed at those two kittens in the coffee cups that looked exactly like frothy cappuccinos until I noticed the eyes.

And senility. Yeah, not mine. My mother's. She's not really a fan, but I can't deny the upside, that she's forgotten how repulsive she finds me and my dykeness, and is insanely grateful when I call, no matter what she tells folks afterwards. We can talk twenty minutes with no insults. No threats to pray away the gay, and for God to make me disgustingly normal. Of course it's heartbreaking, too. It would've been nice if she'd come around while she was still in full possession of her faculties, but beggars can't be choosers. You'll eat that free cheese and like it!

Which reminds me, cheese. Tangy fresh goat chèvre. Those rancid blues. And melty mozzarellas or gruyeres. I'm especially grateful for anything that bubbles up, browns, and gives a third degree burn to the roof of my mouth.

Of course I'm insanely thankful for artists and writers of all kind who are not afraid to fly the flag for freakdom, imagining things that aren't there, and seeing what is. And thanks to the people that have introduced me to the likes of Octavia Butler, and of course, Ursula K. Le Guin. I've loved her since I read The Dispossessed, and renewed my fangirl status after her speech at the National Book Awards about the power of books, and how "Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words."

That being said, all hail the people that go beyond words, and the laboratory of their art, and risk resisting bigotry and stupidity in the streets. And the courts. In Botswana this week, Legabibo, a gay and lesbian group won a landmark legal case in the country's High Court, allowing it to be officially registered. And in Uganda, where we're under attack, there are fierce, incredibly brave, activists fighting back.

Drag queens and kings are also on my short list. Those queers unafraid to take their garish wigs and stereotypical mannerisms into the street where they're most at risk. Who with their enormous fingernails, or dicks of extraordinary length unravel the artifice of femininity and masculinity that plague us all. Thank you. Mil gracias. You've taught and (sometimes) terrified me since that bar in Lexington, Kentucky where you used to carry switch blades. You know the one.

And for that matter, a shout out to my babe who is just as happy to see me in a furry brown skirt and stripey tights as the usual boring, please don't fuck with me, jeans. I admit to cowardice, and a nearly PTS desire to pass unnoticed in the streets. No catcalls. No challenges. No demands that I smile. All things being equal, my secret fashion perversions are neither butch nor femme, pink nor blue, but a desire to mix stripes with plaid. Smooth with rough or fleecy.

That's a pretty good start I think. Let me also acknowledge my friends, including activist colleagues that still have my back after a couple decades out of touch. And the joys of modern technology including flat screen TV's and cell phones. Email, that essential curse. Cooking shows. Salted cashews. Proper beds. Running water. And, of course, you, dear reader.

Kelly Cogswell is the author of Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger (U Minn Press, 2014).

Monday, November 10, 2014

Democratic Armageddon and Post-Everything America

By Kelly Cogswell

The Democrats really got clobbered this mid-term. And all the progressives are wailing and gnashing their teeth. Still, we at least have a Democratic president for another two years, so it could be worse. And maybe it will be next election. The Republicans will probably keep the House and Senate, and maybe even install Ted Cruz in the White House. Or why not my boy, Rand Paul?

It was mostly their own fault. Democrats ran as fast and as far as they could from the Obama administration, and his disturbingly good record on the economy, employment, health care, same-sex marriage evolution, keeping promises to withdraw from war zones. I have a big problem with his record on civil liberties, domestic spying, Guantanamo, his refusal to arrest U.S. war criminals, but I won't quibble since even most lefties aren't as obsessed with that stuff.

What Democrats were trying to avoid was contamination by proxy. Attacked for every reason under the sun, Obama's failed, (or hasn't bothered?) to create a narrative of success. He's effectively decried as illegitimate, no matter that his white Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, actually stole his own election. No, let's impeach Obama for everything from the sheer nerve of his candidacy, the occasional executive order (that Bush used recklessly without qualm), his use of force (when Bush invaded several countries and started several wars). No, Obama is entitled to do nothing except say, yessuh to his betters instead of believing himself president. How dare he wear a black face in the very White House?

That is really the crux of the matter. And it calls to mind that phrase we heard all the time in 2008-- post-racial. It was a nice idea, real wishful thinking, having a post-racial country. That was also post-feminist, and nearly post-gay. Elect the African American guy and all our racial woes are suddenly over. Finally, a chance to hold hands and sing Kumbaya after all the episodes of police brutality, racist murders from Bensonhurst to Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo.

Except we're never post-anything. Sure, Obama's election was a sign of progress, but by itself it wasn't going to unravel the legacy of slavery. If anything, the backlash against Obama has clarified how racism and the institution of white supremacy snake their way through our society. We see it in housing policy, elections, employment and the police departments out there in Missouri rounding up their rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse people protesting the grand jury verdict in Ferguson where, in case you didn't notice, another white cop shot another young black male. We don't even mention the dead black women. Or raped women. Because that happens so often it's not worth a few words.

We have the same struggle with race in the LGBT community. Composed of all segments of the general public, we have the same racism, classism, misogyny, even homo- and trans-phobia. Our national (and local) institutions are usually pretty pale, pretty male in the leadership area. We ignore the poorer, browner parts of our communities, privileging the East and West Coasts.

I welcomed the news a couple months ago that HRC was going to invest a cool 8 million in a program down South. So far they're saying the right things about reaching out to local activists already in the field, and grappling with related questions of racial and economic justice. But will preliminary "conversations" really turn into real partnerships? I'd like to hope so.

At any rate, us queers in New York should pay attention, and avoid believing we've got it made now that most of us can finally marry and we've got a Democratic mayor somewhat amenable to the LGBT community. Republicans on the state level now have a strangle-hold on the legislature, and passing Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), or ending conversion therapy seem unlikely. And beyond legal change, there is still the eternal matter of violence. Being safe on the street. In our homes with homophobic parents. Bullying. Getting jobs if we're a little queer in the gender. The cultural invisibility that still makes each LGB or T or Q character on Netflix absolutely remarkable.

This will only get worse if we're subjected to a repeat of the Nineties antigay Culture Wars. What troubles me is that we'll be facing it with a community that is increasingly virtual. We let Gay Inc. deal with political pressure from the local level up. We're losing queer bars, bookstores (which admittedly are disappearing everywhere. The queer art scene is fragile at best. And if there are queer street activists, their existence passes largely unnoticed in the mainstream press.

In short, we have few of the networks we mobilized during the AIDS crisis, during the Culture Wars. We pull-off demos occasionally, but don't actually organize. I guess you could say we're post-activist.

Kelly Cogswell is the author of Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger (U Minn Press, 2014).