Monday, July 20, 2015

Comparing Women, Queers and #BlackLivesMatter

By Kelly Cogswell

I remember a couple years ago when the marriage equality movement was taking off, and every day The New York Times had reports of victories in one state, the pushback in another. And people fell all over themselves to support the It Gets Better Campaign encouraging queer youth not to top themselves. We were a bandwagon even the last few moderate Republicans were jumping on, or at least shrugging at. We were the it civil rights movement.

A couple of idiots even described LGBT folks as the new blacks. As if black issues and black people themselves were passé, not just that the movement had faltered.

The foolishness of declaring both obsolete was made all too obvious on July 13, 2013 when George Zimmerman was acquitted for murdering Trayvon Martin, and Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi started up #BlackLivesMatter. A couple months later, when a cop killed yet another unarmed black man, the young Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the hashtag exploded into a movement that has itself invited comparisons, usually to the black civil rights movement of MLK. Nevertheless, the three founders are queer, are female, and it's hard to imagine that there aren't links with the LGBT and women's movements as well.

In fact, lately, I've been wondering why nobody ever compares the LGBT movement to the women's movement. Like queers, women are dispersed across races and ethnicities, creating conflicting loyalties, erasing histories, and making it difficult to create a radical sense of what a woman might be. Girls born into heterosexual families are likely to experience the gender wars of society writ small in the same way young queers are forced to confront the straight world almost from birth.

So why ignore the women's movement? Because it chased dykes away, and has never been particularly diverse or queer-friendly? Though most other movements of the left have been equally anti-gay. Or is it because the cool quotient for Susan B. Anthony with her lacy collars and puffy skirts will never come close to Nat Turner, not to mention Martin Luther King or Malcom X? When Angela Davis raised her fist with Gloria Steinem I suspect we saw her blackness, not her breasts.

Or is it just because the women's movement is full of -- women? And anybody in that category is perceived as a loser. Since winning the vote, it's all seemed downhill. Abortion rights won, but then eroded. Title IX, and a big parade for our victorious female soccer stars who are still pressured to slap on lipstick, get a nice 'doo. Kaitlyn Jenner's celebrated coming out was the usual leap from the frying pan of transphobia into the fire of glossy magazine covers and female stereotypes that many women have been fighting for generations.

Many other dramatic changes, including the entry of women into every area of the workforce, have passed from memory, like the contributions of Simone de Beauvoir. And even though three women, three black queer women started the #BlackLivesMatter movement, they've been hard pressed to prove #AllBlackLivesMatter. The slaughter of black trans women are mere footnotes. The assaults and deaths of other black women at the hands of cops are almost seen as incidental compared to those of black men, even though the deaths of Kindra Chapman and Sandra Bland have given rise to the tag #ifidieinpolicecustody.

Ta-Nehisi Coates' recent book, Between the World and Me, earned a blurb from Toni Morrison as "This is required reading" though the full comment not printed on the front cover qualifies it as an "examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life..." Josie Duffy wrote that "...In the 152 pages Coates writes about the Black body, he barely acknowledges the unique ways that Black women's bodies are destroyed."

Shani Hilton, a friend of Coates, was more forthright. "Black womanhood in real life isn’t — as it largely is in Between the World and Me — about beating and loving and mourning black men and protecting oneself from physical plunder. It's about trying to live free in a black body, just like a man." Hilton reminded us that Coates' omission must be a acknowledged because "the black male experience is still used as a stand in for the black experience."

If that's true, a comparison is appropriate, even urgent for the LGBT movement. In fact, as we celebrate the Supreme Court decision giving the L, the B, and the G the right to homo marry, it's a good idea to ask what would have happened if it had only been lesbians, dykes, women of any race demanding the legal protections of marriage, especially for our children. Would we have been treated any better than straight women, or dismissed as single moms times two? Did we only win this right because there were men involved? Particularly white ones willing to write big checks.

How can we build a future from that?

Monday, July 06, 2015

Gay Marriage and Burning Black Churches

By Kelly Cogswell

After the Supreme Court announced that lesbian and gay people had the right to marry everywhere in the U.S., some Southern states announced their intent to ignore the ruling, and perhaps as proof of the limits of legal equality in the face of hate, a number of black congregations down south were left sifting through the ashes of their churches, several from acts of arson, for others lightning is being blamed.

I always did wonder about church burnings, if the culprits thought that it was black voices lifted in prayer that ended slavery, or got them out from under that heavy white thumb of the Jim Crow laws. I wonder, also, how come they aren't afraid of the God they usually profess to believe in, burning down His modest little Houses.

Or perhaps they believe black people themselves are an abomination unto the Lord, like gay folks, and that the Almighty God is too weak to act on His own behalf, apparently needing the gasoline and matches only a human can provide. Which is perhaps why they also engage in the bombing of abortion clinics and gay bars, the corrective rapes of lesbians, the slaughter of godless immigrants at our southern border.

I'm not sure we need to explain it to stop it. Hate and logic are not always friends. It's found more often in the company of fear. Fear and violence. And even if we manage to unravel a bit of white supremacy, straight supremacy, the rule of men, win rights like marriage, those of us who are hated and feared should keep in mind the limits of legal protections in a country where we adore violence so much we let our toddlers play with guns, and if they shoot each other, or us, well... That's the price of freedom.

Because what is this American love of guns, but a fascination with violence, the willingness of the owner to imagine killing at their own discretion, on their own behalf as judge, jury, executioner? No gun owner ever just says, "I like guns, so what? They're fun." They invoke Liberty, Self-Defense, the Constitution, claiming threats to their Person, their Property, to their Way of Life, to this Great Nation. And it's us they're afraid of. Naming the Communists, the Cities, the Blacks. The Illegals. The Gays. The Fascists who will force them to vaccinate their children when some minor celebrity has condemned them.

Shaking in their boots, they whip out their guns and actually do kill-- kids in hoodies, or their spouses up at night to get a glass of water. Their children coming home from college. Or they transform their fear into acts of terrorism against communities or individuals that seem to represent actual or symbolic threats. Churches and synagogues are burned. The black man dragged to death behind a pickup truck, the fag left splayed on a fence, the dykes in dumpsters, the butchered trans woman in the gutter.

Not that these victims don't have their own hates, their own fears. You don't have to listen at keyholes to hear black preachers denouncing queers, or women going after dykes (that's not a woman), or immigrants after each other because in many ways we humans are all wolves, marking our territory, baring our fangs.

Nothing terrifies us more than watching others progress. A black president drives those crackers crazy. Immigrants are accused of taking black jobs. Now gay marriage. Dang. Nobody will stay in their place, they say. Everybody claiming everybody else wants what they have. And so often, in fact, we do. We want the same jobs at the same pay, the same homes, the same safety. The same rights and responsibilities, and wedding cakes. Or at least a chance at them. So of course we're all afraid.

Because, while it may be theoretically true that freedom is not a pie that has a limited number of pieces, equality always does threatens someone. Remove racism from housing policy in Chicago, and there would be a lot less money in white pockets, and a white family might have to live next to blacks. Or worse, noisy Mexicans. Allow women to be educated, you may be expanding the work force, tapping an unclaimed resource, but some inadequate man somewhere will lose his job. And allow same-sex marriage, allow... change, and anything at all could happen.

People feel that possibility in their bones. And some, it terrifies. The powerful do not like to lose their power. Even the poor fight over scraps. And what's left for the straight couples that in their loveless marriages no longer have the pleasure of seeing our queer faces pressed against the windows of their miserable homes?