Monday, December 19, 2016

When Facts Don't Matter: Activism in the New America

By Kelly Cogswell

During the presidential debates, every time Republican candidate Donald Trump opened his mouth he lied, and Democrats had a field day presenting the screen captures of a tweet he'd claimed never to have written, videos of him saying things he'd denied, photos of him chatting with shady characters he said he didn't know.

What a delusional ignoramus, we thought, and wondered who would vote for such a buffoon who got caught in every fib like a three-year old child who denied eating chocolate even though her face was smeared with the stuff. Likewise, who would get hung-up on the false kerfluffle over Clinton's servers and emails when the story was debunked a dozen times a day?

As it turns out, the only delusional members of the American electorate were ones who believed that facts matter. Masha Gessen nailed the problem in her essay, "The Putin Paradigm," in The New York Review of Books, in which she explains why fact-checking doesn't work when dealing with tyrants like Trump, or his role model Putin, who repeatedly and enthusiastically lies in the face of hard evidence. Putin claimed, for instance, after invading Crimea and Ukraine, that no troops were on the ground despite plentiful proof. Then later announced, that of course there were. So what?

The thing to remember is that, "His subsequent shift to truthful statements were not admissions given under duress: they were proud, even boastful affirmatives made at his convenience. Together, they communicated a single message: Putin’s power lies in being able to say what he wants, when he wants, regardless of the facts. He is president of his country and king of reality."

Gessen goes on to assert, that when reality itself is under attack, the only solution for the opposition is to shift from fact-based arguments to finding "a way to tell the bigger story—the story about the lies rather than the story of the lies; and the story about power that the lies obscure." She herself admits that this is harder than it sounds, particularly for the American media which is all about reporting the facts, and doesn't even like to report those unless they have been confirmed a dozen times.

For anybody who cares about democracy, this new embrace of the blatant lie is even more disturbing than Pence's hatred of women and queers, Trump's obvious incompetence and greed, his surrealistic, nihilistic anti-appointments, his ties to white supremacists, and explosions of rage that will soon be able to express themselves with nuclear launch codes.

American social progress, after all, has been built on facts, and on reason. When Sojourner Truth cried out, "And ain't I a woman?" She wasn't just tapping the sympathy of white women, but appealing to their brains, and eyes, to consider just what disqualified her from that category. LGBT arguments for legal equality are likewise just that: arguments. With reasons and facts, and logic. Everything Trump rejects, and everything his presidency could unravel.

Post-fact, I feel twelve years old and confronted with an abusive mother who was never persuaded by them. Our arguments always sounded like dialogue from some absurdist play. I'd declare "The earth is round," and offer physics, math, proof, and she'd answer, "Cherry Jell-O."

Like with Trump, it didn't matter if she knew she was lying, or was psychotic and actually believed what she said. Either way, her stated, and changeable beliefs governed my world. Ever since, I've struggled with just how much weight to give words. Why bother calling a chair a chair when somebody could call it a dog and insist I put a leash on it? This is why I sometimes abandon writing for visual art, and why I became an activist in the first place.

When language itself is debased by lies, when "signs" are tampered with, and words don't persuade, we are left with the physical world, the act, the signified. Somebody, of course, has to concern themselves with the facts, and keep rebutting Trump's factory of lies, but resistance now, more than ever, requires images, and gestures, also our irrefutable flesh. Stories can be made about that, too, but we can at least attempt to shape our own narrative even if we have to do it with an audience of six, or twelve, or twenty passersby. And we can also try to control how our bodies appear in the media, continuing to release our own videos and press releases like the small Russian activist group, Pussy Riot, which really gets under Putin's skin.

And as far as words go, when it comes to telling the larger political stories, and finding ways to approach the truth, we can't just offer alternative narratives, we have to find ways to demolish false ones, unmask Trump's desire for total power, even go undercover to plant seeds of dissent in the echo chambers and chat rooms the fascistic and ascendant "alt-right" has constructed for itself. We must also identify the ordinary people around us who can be brought to reason one by one by one.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Finding Our Feet--Together

By Kelly Cogswell

Last Tuesday, or maybe a decade ago, I ventured out in the rain to an anti-Trump meeting at an enormous Episcopal church uptown, where water was leaking into the foyer from the small domed entry and pooling on the tile. Inside, the large sanctuary was respectably full. The crowd was about half first-time activists of all ages, the rest middle-aged veterans of groups like ACT-UP, with stunned but determined faces.

The group agreed on a tactic-- direct action, with or without arrests -- then talked about issues for a while, before breaking into the usual sub-groups to introduce themselves and begin organizing. In the media committee we agreed it played a huge role in Trump's election, and would be an essential tool to fight back, shaping the meaning of our actions, creating our own--truthful--narrative of what Trump was up to. We still left without a name or an action. The biggest problem for anti-Trump activists isn't tools, but where on earth to start.

In some ways, the Trump-Pence regime is a crisis even broader and deeper than the early years of the AIDS epidemic when activists still had intersectional issues, but only a handful of targets: drug companies and researchers, homophobic evangelicals and the Catholic Church, CDC definitions that ignored women, government programs controlling health care access and information that betrayed queers, people of color and the poor.

This hydra has too many heads to count. And they're not just out to destroy the usual suspects, but the basic rules Americans have played by. Or aspired to, even when they failed us. I still want what I pledged my life to when I was six, Liberty and justice for all.

One person suggested holding a demo about free speech and assembly that would be as bold as possible, so that six months or a year from now we will have a yardstick to measure what we've lost when attacks on the Constitution and basic civil liberties take hold, and the once unthinkable becomes commonplace.

Pretty soon we'll believe we've always had a president-elect randomly creating policy tweet by unfettered, random, hateful tweet while his minions bring their calculated determination to stripping women and queers of their rights. And the other asylum inmates now in charge are perfectly justified in picking fights with China, or Iran. Stymying trade agreements. All agreements really, like terrifying three-year olds. Sometimes in the name of profit. Sometimes in the name of God.

Lately, I wonder whatever happened to reports of a new wave of evangelicals that were gay-neutral, pro-environment, less obsessed with abortion. Are they busy at home installing solar roofs, or did their fragile white egos catch fire with the politics of resentment? Is it them bashing the nearest queer, or Jew, or Muslim? Oh, poor white man lusting after more than a house and car and food. Oh poor white woman sleeping next to a disappointed spouse who dreams of a bare-chested Putin on a galloping horse.

Equality can't compare. Or the drudgery of democracy in which every vote counts, and must be counted.

I know what resentment is. I'm familiar with hate. I've put up with their bullshit dyke-baiting and woman-bashing for fifty years. And on bad days, I want what they do. To burn the whole thing down. I don't even care if I go with it. But then I see a little light somewhere. Hear a scrap of good news.

Like very early Monday morning when U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith ordered a recount to begin immediately in Michigan. "With the perceived integrity of the presidential election as it was conducted in Michigan at stake, concerns with cost pale in comparison." Just before that, the Obama administration halted construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

And for a moment I could see the point of the phone calls and emails, donations and demos. If there's a way forward, we have to draw the line beginning with the case of Standing Rock, where some very determined people were willing to put their bodies on the line over a period of weeks, and months, until the small encampment of Native Americans grew into an enormous movement. Because that's what change takes, time, patience, and activism in the flesh. It's the only way we have to remind politicians and business people that we exist beyond their policy reports and number crunching, and we won't be ignored.

The problem remains, though, that everybody can't be everywhere, can't do everything. And choosing a direction is especially difficult for those of us at the crossroads of identities. I'm beginning to believe it doesn't matter what you choose or how. Perhaps we should just leave it to chance. Like the woman passing a Planned Parenthood who saw protesters outside, and stopped, and went inside to volunteer. That's all any of us have to do. Pick one thing. Get plugged in. Make a stand.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Resisting Trump

By Kelly Cogswell

I take good news where I can find it in Trump's woman-hating, neo-Nazi, gay-bashing, Muslim-registering, anti-Semitic America. Last week, it arrived from a climate change conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, where delegates from 197 countries united to approve a statement urging immediate action in the face of Donald Trump's promise to pull out of the Paris Agreement and defund international efforts.

In one of his last appearances as Secretary of State, John Kerry delivered an emotional speech declaring that despite Trump's election, the U.S. fight against climate change wasn't over. Market forces would ensure a transition to a low carbon world even if policy didn't, because investments in renewable energy were absolutely exploding. And the vast majority of Americans supported action even if a powerful minority didn't.

I hope so. I really do. But the real reason this news cheered me a little was that I also learned that California was exploring how to join the climate talks as a subnational party if, or when, Trump makes good on his threat. In short, California is looking for ways to resist.

There's a good chance they can. The UN Convention on climate change declares "Any body or agency, whether national or international, governmental or non-governmental, which is qualified in matters covered by the Convention, and which has informed the secretariat of its wish to be represented at a session of the Conference of the Parties as an observer, may be so admitted unless at least one third of the Parties present object."

Even if they get thwarted by the Trump admin or Russian ally, nothing stops California, or New York or Oregon, from passing more stringent regulations. Now, at least, American states can still find ways to resist on an international level every time the official representatives of our country act against our interests. They can also guarantee abortion rights and minimum wages. For once, the tradition of respecting state's rights in the U.S. may work in the favor of progressives.

In other good news, individual cities like New York and San Francisco have declared that they won't participate in mass deportations and other unconscionable, bigoted acts, like any efforts to register Muslims. On Sunday, some New York politicians from the local, state, and federal level even jointly marched against hate and condemned Trump's administrative appointments. While press conferences aren't enough for the long run, they show that our daily protests have paid off. For now. Because no politician ever opens their mouths unless they think it will win them votes.

In the long run, we'll have to do both. Lay down in front of bulldozers and, like California, look for back doors not just to resist, but progress. Which means we activists have to commit ourselves to unraveling how our various levels of government actually work, understanding for instance the relationship between the beat cop and the Justice Department. The State Department and a queer film festival in Ankara.

Too many of us have seen our LGBT rights as a simple Christmas list of important issues, not as intertwined civil rights dependent on the health of our democracy and things like free speech and assembly. Clean votes. From now on, queer issues must include not just marriage equality or gender recognition, but the gerrymandering of voter districts, the suppression of voter rights, an independent judiciary actually committed to administering justice equally regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or race.

Not to say we should ignore specifically queer issues, but that we should see them in context. If you thought trans women of color had it tough before, imagine trying to work for their safety under a Justice Department led by a neo-Nazi. Every anti-bullying law everywhere will be under attack as well, along with hate crime ordinances. Those queers who couldn't access marriage in anti-gay regions, will face even worse obstacles. AIDS, in this new anti-gay, anti-Obamacare era, will probably hit us hard along with an epidemic of despair and self-loathing.

The worse things get, the more important it will be to demonstrate and put our queer, our brown, our black flesh out there, reminding politicians that we are not abstractions. And reminding ourselves of the power we have acting with, and for, each other.

It's not easy to take to the streets right now. Even experienced activists are still shell-shocked, and frightened. And we should be. It's easier to throw protesters in jail. And many of us are older, and already concerned about the vulnerabilities of our bodies. Getting hit by a cop or a bystander may not just put us out of commission for a few months, it may kill us.

And yet. And yet... "When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." Audre Lorde.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

When Trump Is King

By Kelly Cogswell

We could have done it. Had the first female President of the U.S. And one of the smartest, most prepared executives ever, but never underestimate misogyny. Never underestimate the vast selling power of hate and fear, and a sensationalist, ratings grabbing media that insisted on covering Trump as if he was a candidate like any other. Not a crook, a predator, a thug, a sleazebag racist openly endorsed by the KKK, and helped into office by a Russian dictator, a cowed FBI director, and the likes of Julian Assange who's not a radical truth-teller, just a resentful, but powerful, little fuck in some embassy basement.

What I really want to know is, what are we going to do about it? What are the Democrats? When Florida Republicans stole the vote in 2000 (later verified by the New York Times), none of the white Senate Dems protested during the roll call, and Gore was like, Gee shucks, what's a guy gonna do? Then the whole party rolled over as George W. conned the country about weapons of mass destruction, and followed him into a war that most of them now, including Clinton, acknowledge was a huge mistake.

So there you go. Afghanistan was succeeded by Iraq. And environmental treaties gutted or put aside, and almost every international agreement suspended for oil profiteering with Bush aided and abetted by a mainstream media that didn't dare, for instance, use the word torture to describe what resulted because his administration was so vindictive that rags like the Times were afraid their journalists would be excluded from a press conference or something. Then, the impact was mostly abroad. Domestically Bush made nice, never once called Latinos rapists, and had in his cabinet black and brown people like Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, and torture apologist Alberto Gonzales.

Trump is not even gonna play that. Not with a Republican Congress at his back. We're gonna see wackjob Giuliani redux, a Gingrich thrilled that Trump has promised to deport immigrants, destroy the Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade, roll back marriage equality among other monstrous things. On the global level, Trump scorns not just specific agreements but the whole idea of international cooperation on trade, defense. If somebody annoys you, just nuke 'em, though handsomely reward your extreme right pals like Putin, France's Marine Le Pen.

So what I want to know is, are the Democrats and the media gonna roll over again, kiss goodbye the rule of law, accept dirty and missing votes, suppression of speech, of assembly, a politicized judiciary just so they can keep access? Make money? There's no question that all the Republicans who turned their backs on Trump last week are gonna kiss his ass today. But will the Democrats and the media bi-partisan and co-operate this country to death? Are they gonna throw the entire world under that very big fucking bus?

I really do need to know. My household's kinda vulnerable you see. Two queer females. One dependent on Obamacare. Another an immigrant. I wish I'd done more. But I've been paralyzed with a kind of sick fear. This country can be so ugly. The only moment I felt vaguely hopeful was last Saturday, when I went to Clinton's campaign headquarters downtown to get tickets to her election night rally and saw the enthusiastic mix of races and ages bent over their phones, sending texts to get out the vote under a distant banner acknowledging Orlando.

Everybody looked so calm and happy it made me a little teary. When I saw a woman take her two young daughters to pose in front of some Hillary signs, I nearly sobbed. I wonder if they're going to find some way to keep participating now that my fellow Americans have voted, not just for Trump, but against Hillary, against the last eight years of LGBT progress, new black and Native American activism, and women, women, everywhere.

Some of us will get lost in fear, or embrace an ugly cynicism because many of us imagined as I did growing up that our system of democracy was somehow as fixed and invulnerable as a statue of blindfolded Justice in which her scale never wavered. And when I began to understand misogyny, racism, homophobia, classism, and that nothing was fixed, or guaranteed, the whole thing did seem rigged, like lies. I felt ashamed and guilty, and ready to keep the whole country at arm's length as if I could avoid contamination.

We can't. We shouldn't. The truth is that we are not the best country in the world, nor are we the worse. Not yet. We have done great things, and horrible things. What redeems us are the people here who understand that words like liberty, equality, justice are not facts, but aspirations, which require unending vigilance and the kind of hard work Clinton, anyway, was known for. It is time to recommit ourselves to the fight.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Make America Rape Again

By Kelly Cogswell

It’s not just a joke. The only upside to the Trump candidacy is how having a sexual predator as presidential candidate has inspired women to talk about just how frequently we are attacked and harassed.

One woman can just be contributing a perfectly harmless comment to a Twitter thread, and the next thing she knows some man is typing, FUCKING CUNT, FUCKING BITCH and getting all his friends to make death threats. Another is merely walking down the street, a hallway, a subway platform, and some man screams at her, or grabs her body, or shoves her wordlessly merely because she exists as a woman in a man’s world and she happened to cross his path.

The weird thing is that people rarely talk about these attacks as in the same category as racist aggressions, or homo- or trans- phobia. In fact, groups tracking hate crimes rarely even keep statistics on anti-woman acts.

Maybe it’s because rapists, for instance, are rarely seen as anti-woman. Young or drunk they're excused as normal red-blooded boys just overcome by normal sexual urges that got a little out of hand. That is why men are not to be tempted with short skirts, scarlet lipstick. Or public female drunkenness. Who can really blame swimming star Brock Turner for getting some when he had the chance? Later on, men who rape become outcasts, are considered the intrinsically violent, the “perverts” whose choice of female victims is almost beside the point.

In college, I remember being shocked when I read Susan Brownmiller’s groundbreaking book, “Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape,” describing rape as an act of domination which was all about power, not sex, even if men used their dicks to do it. For one thing, it was the first time I understood that all girls got the warnings my mother gave me, and also that this vulnerability, this violence was partly why all the presidents and vice presidents, almost all the representatives and senators and preachers and doctors and priests--were men. (And overwhelmingly white).

Brownmiller’s 1975 book also contributed to a growing understanding of how rape is used as a tool of terrorism, aimed at punishing and subduing whole populations. And why we see rape wherever we see war and civil conflict. Across different cultures and races. From the Sudan to Syria to the American South, both during and after slavery. If she made this leap forward, seeing rape as pure power, it may have been because she was building on work done by black women in the South who had already begun framing it as a civil rights issue when they pressed rape charges against white men who not only wanted to humiliate and paralyze black women, but shame the black men who could not protect them. Eldridge Cleaver was inspired to rape white women in revenge--first practicing on black women--before he had a later change of heart.

The problem with talking about rape as a tool, is that it begins to sound abstract. And erases women. Making the men seem detached and calculating almost as if there was no hate involved, and that rapists, and aggressors don’t hold inside of them a cache of fear and loathing that occasionally, or often, wells to the surface in violence and rape. As if Trump grabbed women by their pussies just to establish his power, and not in the joy of pure hate directed at our femaleness, and a desire to humiliate and destroy.

We don’t have many choices in how to respond. You can fight it every time and die of grief and rage. You can ignore it, even as you shrink a little having learned, as do all people of color in this predominantly white country, that the bodies we inhabit are vulnerable, don’t quite belong to us. The way an effeminate boy learns to shudder at the locker room.

But indulge this machismo enough, allow your culture to celebrate it, you get femicide, the murders of women like Lucia Perez in Argentina who was drugged and raped so violently the pain gave her cardiac arrest. The BBC reports that on average, one woman is killed there in domestic violence cases every 36 hours. Argentina adopted an anti-femicide law in 2012, with harsher penalties for men who kill women because they’re women.

By comparison, in the larger U.S., three plus women are killed every day just by their partners or ex’s. Many more every day are raped. The biggest difference is that last Wednesday people all over Argentina walked out of work for a couple hours in the pouring rain to protest against anti-woman violence. Signs read, "If you touch one of us, we all react," and “Not one more.” Protesters supported them in Mexico, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. I can’t remember the last time women in the U.S. have been outraged enough at murder after murder, rape after rape for us to take to the streets on our own behalf.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Our America

By Kelly Cogswell

I was following my twitter feed and channel surfing during the "debate" last night when I heard a news anchor announce that the police were looking for a serial groper. When I glanced up I really did expect to see Donald Trump's pink butthole of a mouth, and flabby sulking face, but it was a photo of a normal looking white guy with ear buds in, and a greenish grey tee shirt hanging over his skinny chest. Which is what most sexual predators look like. As ordinary as anything.

There is nothing particularly impressive about dictators either. In photos, Pinochet smiles like somebody's affable grandfather. Hitler only looks peculiar to us because of his mustache. Evil doesn't leave a trace. Even Putin looks ordinary with his slightly balding pate, though like with Pinochet, the journalists, activists, or politicians who oppose him have a way of spending years in prison, meeting untimely ends, disappearing.

All day, I'd hoped Clinton would simply refuse to go, quit normalizing Trump's candidacy as all of America has done for the last year, imagining that this rapist, this tyrant, and Putin-loving demagogue would just go away. I'd add racist or bigot to the list, but the words seem too mild to describe how he intentionally enrages the rabble, attacking people of color, immigrants, women, Jews, Muslims. Words like nigger and kike are coming back into fashion as Trump, and his anti-gay running mate Pence, not only reveal America's latent hatreds but fatten them every time they open their mouths.

And yet, when nine o'clock struck, Clinton took the stage with Trump, and both smiled for the cameras, as if it were business as usual. Republicans versus Democrats. Later on, I even saw a few tweets by folks complaining that nobody was talking about the issues. Why wasn't there a mention this time of police brutality? As if we could even hear what Clinton said while Trump furiously grabbed his chair, lurked behind her like a psycho killer. As if Trump would say something rational, not respond to questions with lies and obfuscations, offering a bizarre dismissal of his taped sexual assault brags, as "just words... locker room talk, and it's one of those things. I will knock the hell out of ISIS." Sniff!

Given the circus-like atmosphere of the election, I'm not sure that we have seriously considered the implications of Trump's threat to unleash his Justice Department on Clinton if he is elected president, to send her to jail. It was the most naked assertion to date of his aspirations to rule without the rule of law, binning the basic protections every citizen is assured by our constitution.

The response was enthusiastic applause from the back of the room. Because what so many Americans want is a strongman to take the cunt down. Take all the pussies down. Commenters across the board found this disturbing, chilling even, though this has been commonplace at Trump's rallies for the eternity of this election season.

I can't stand any of it. His red-faced lying, rapey hate. Everybody's perpetual surprise. The GOP's attempt to distance itself from the monster it created. The Democratic silence about its own treatment of Clinton for decades. The dykes who have repeatedly announced their hatred of her voice, her thighs, her hair. All those gay men feeling absolved by their gayness that call all women cunts and bitches every chance they get. Who exclude women from leadership positions. Fuck you. Then there are the lefties who will get behind every mediocre man of any color who promises the populist moon. No wonder Trump was applauding Sanders, Sanders, Sanders.

Through it all, Clinton remained pleasant and composed, even smiling as Trump did his best to intimidate her. And I watched as guys tweeted things like, "I don't know how she does it." "I'd be pulling my hair out." "She should knee him in the nuts." All the women were like, "Every female on earth has had to learn how to deal with this." Because we have. With strangers in the street, or bosses, but more often from classmates, men at church, cousins, brothers and fathers. All of them threatening us with their dicks, and asking, Just who do you think you are?

As @meganamram tweeted, "With this election we're simultaneously breaking through the glass ceiling and the rock bottom. We got a really big room now." And it's not even over yet.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

President Trump?

By Kelly Cogswell

Well, I won't do that again. Not without a lot more alcohol down the hatch. But I did it. I watched the first Trump-Clinton debate. I will summarize it for you as a rational, mostly truthful woman answering the moderator's questions on one side, and on the other a shrieky, red-faced man interrupting her twice a minute with a mix of gobbledygook and factually challenged, often terrifying statements, all delivered with the absolute conviction of a sleazy used car salesman.

FYI, Ford is not packing up and taking its plant to Mexico. No, Clinton is not responsible for ISIS. Or the Iraq war, either. (See Bush, George W.; unilateralism). And the fourteen million your pops gave you to start a business was not a "small" loan. And no, you absolutely don't get to bomb another country's ship just because somebody made a rude gesture to yours. Yes, Russia is to blame for recent cyber attacks and hacking meant to elect Trump and/or discredit our electoral process.

And long before Trump declared Obama and illegal immigrants were responsible for the uptick in murders in Chicago, while repeating his dog-whistle call for law and order, I was thinking for the millionth time that you'd have to be nuts to vote for him, and have no idea at all of how the world works, or even your own country. But then I remembered-- that's entirely possible. This is America, where half the people that get federal entitlements are against federal entitlements because they don't understand that that's what disability payments are, for instance. Or social security checks. Public schools. Medicare. VA programs.

Reason and logic and knowledge have nothing to do with it. We've proudly announced for years that we vote for whomever we want to have a beer with, so why not that smirker Trump who rails against the politicians who screw everything up, and positively gloats about not paying taxes "because they would just be squandered"? Yeah, he tells it like it is. So heck yeah, I'm for Trump, his supporters say. So what if he's declared bankruptcy a whopping six times, he must be a smart business man because he always seems to come out ahead. And ISIS is a big problem. And Secretary Clinton has been in power for like a million years, so it's all that cunt's fault.

Almost as deluded are the folks on the other side who believe that just because Trump uses imaginary words like "bigly" bigly! and lies every time he opens his mouth, that voters will laugh him out of contention, a tactic that worked so well in previous elections (ibid). It was almost heartbreaking how happy they were last night that the polls after the debate showed viewers believed Clinton trounced Trump, as if a poll actually had some long-term impact.

A large part of the problem is that the mainstream, and even alternative media, does little to challenge Trump directly. Mostly because they don't really care about fairness or justice, just the illusion of it. Remember their coverage of same-sex marriage? They'd have one person rationally explaining the importance of equality under the law and what it meant to lesbian and gay citizens, and then some random preacher ranting that The Gays were going to destroy the family and we should all be killed. And both were equivalent, as if we were discussing whether tax penalties or incentives were more effective.

This time, we end up with rags like The New York Times using their op-ed page to offer the unprecedented acknowledgement that a candidate is entirely, one hundred percent unfit to be president, but this morning sends out an email again reporting on the attacks and responses in the debate as if the strengths and weaknesses of both candidates were equal.

Ditto after the debate, when I watched the PBS commentators lift a few mild eyebrows at Trump, but then go after Clinton, quibbling with how she responded to Trump's criticism of her economic proposals, but mostly offering the usual Hermione-hating crap like "her answers were too long" "she didn't offer us a vision" "she didn't reveal herself." In short, she didn't slide down in the stirrups and let us see a vagina bursting with rainbows and unicorns.

So I'll tell you all what I've been telling my friends for months. Don't underestimate the power of stupidity and misogyny in this election. If Democrats continue to smugly laugh at Trump, if the extreme left and independent voters continue to say both parties are equal, advocating protest votes, we could very well end up with President Trump. He would not only support conservative white nationalists that hate minorities of all kinds, including queers, (seriously! they hate our guts), but would ravage the economy and environment for his personal gain. Trump might even employ nuclear weapons to avenge the slight insults. And I will be the first rat off this sinking American ship.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Season of Grief

By Kelly Cogswell

My uncle died a couple days ago in Kentucky. I can't digest it. Maybe because I'd only seen him once since I left almost three decades ago. At first I'd make occasional pilgrimages back to visit my gay-hating mother, but there was too much suffering involved, it messed me up. So I finally quit going altogether, and lost them all-- cousins, uncles, sisters. Even now, with small reconciliations, it's too late to recover what's gone, or grieve what I already mourned.

I won't go back for the funeral. Who needs to revisit old wounds? Who needs a memorial, installation, TV program, anyway, to remind us of the dead? I know what I'm talking about. Saw both towers fall with my own eyes. Today, September 12th, 2016, it's enough to look at the sky which is the same bright blue that the passengers saw fifteen years ago before they crashed, the same gorgeous blue in which we first saw the two enormous plumes of smoke that would loom over the city for months. Or are burning still.

I've never been to the 9/11 memorial, though I've seen the selfies of friends who've grinned in front of it for their camera phones. I guess that´s better than the fake solemnity you sometimes get. One of New York's football teams went and during the pre-game show we got to see a video of this beefy white guy trying to bow his head but having trouble because his neck was so stiff with muscle. Probably we don't deserve better. The streets were still covered with ash when vendors began to sell tee-shirts, "I survived the Twin Towers" or whatever.

There's not much dignity in human history. It keeps repeating itself, sometimes in tragedy but mostly farce. We didn't even get a gloomy sky as backdrop. Worse, it was an election Tuesday in New York with the usual cast of ridiculous Democrats running for mayor. The big, red-faced, meaty-fingered Hevesi. The flip-flopper Ferrer. And whatshisname Green. I want to say Al, but that's just wishful thinking. Ana and I woke up to shouting from our neighbors behind us, and for some reason turned on the tube. Then Ana went downtown with her journalist's notebook, while I went up on the roof, saw the world changed, then went back downstairs and, after Ana returned safe, but covered in dust, predicted the rise of a stupid new American nationalism, cycles of revenge and retribution, foreign wars, racism, Islamophobia.

Nothing that came after was a surprise, not even the Islamophilia in which "progressives" absolve themselves of their own privilege and bigotry by letting that religion off the hook for misogyny and queer-bashing we'd never let slide in Catholics or Southern Baptists.

Still, I had nightmares. For weeks afterwards, local TV showed nothing but the buildings burning then falling, then burning, then falling, and people jumping from the upper stories again and again and again, and every night I'd be fleeing fireballs. When the bombing started in Afghanistan, portions of ravaged bodies would also enter my dreams. I was overcome with fury and grief, mourning the victims here in New York, but also those in Kabul, and then all of us who would be destroyed by the delayed real and metaphorical explosions any idiot could see coming in Bagdad, Aleppo, Orlando, Nice. Moscow.

Remember how Putin was emboldened to become less and less democratic after Bush's unilateral actions in Iraq? Remember that while the world was distracted, the Cuban regime arrested a huge swath of disgruntled bricklayers and independent librarians, many of which are still in jail, or exiled, or conveniently dead?

Our whole response was so stupid, but it's too late now. Even this cult of September 11th is weird because we usually mark the ends of wars, not the beginning, except in local ceremonies. And we're still in the middle of this one as a nation with no end in sight because the "War" Bush declared "On Terror" wasn't against a human enemy, but an abstraction, requiring not just the usual boots on the ground, but an army of watchdogs, an infrastructure of new language and a legacy of fear and loathing that we must continually replenish.

There's something so… made-up … about the whole thing I sometimes think we should be able to unravel it. We've been duped. Before September 11th we Americans didn't even have a Homeland to defend, just a home. Or a country that may or may not have embraced us, but was ours. Sadly, the history we repeat doesn't offer quick solutions. It's only easy to destroy.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Queer Kitchen

By Kelly Cogswell

So, I've been trying to write a cookbook for the last couple of years, deluded into thinking it would be a nice, light-hearted distraction from the horrors of politics. And why not? I had a bunch of good Kentucky recipes and decent home cook creds. There was even that summer during college that I did a stint in a professional kitchen at Yellowstone National Park.

I began as a dish dog, and got promoted to prep cook where I chopped about a thousand pounds of onions for French onion soup and made broccoli quiche. The adventure came to a quick and very painful end when I was lifting an enormous pot of boiling pasta, hit the edge of the stove, and tipped it over on myself. Who knew polyester pants could actually melt and stick to your flesh?

After that they shuttled me out of there as fast as they could. The guys didn't like having a girl in the kitchen, and they reassigned me to the gift shop where the most dangerous things I faced were the mice attracted by the huge blocks of fudge. It was too late, though. I was hooked, had learned how to use a chef's knife and cutting board like Julia Child on TV. When my mother or grandmother wanted to chop anything from a potato to a peach they'd hold it in their left hand and cut away at it with a small paring knife in their right. It was a miracle no one ended up with nubs.

For cookbook text, I thought I could tell a few stories like that about my family, and maybe even make them funny. You'd have to, after all. Cookbooks are a peculiar genre in which we all love the mothers and grandmothers that influenced us as home cooks, or even as professional ones. The cooking of our roots is shared without resentment. Healthy recipes are offered without the anxiety, self-loathing and fear that spawned them. If we admit we grew up on fried bologna sandwiches, Hamburger Helper, and canned green beans it is done only with sophisticated irony. In fact, let's have a dinner party with Jell-O salad and tuna casserole slathered with cream of mushroom soup and those crispy little onion rings. A martini will help us choke it down.

I tried to write that way, I really did. But it came off as false. I am as disgruntled in the kitchen as I am in the activist street, and have such mixed feelings about the whole thing it's a miracle that my cakes rise and the milk doesn't curdle. I have an abject fear of getting fat which is partly vanity, but mostly the diabetes that runs rampant in my family. One of my aunts died not long after they amputated both her legs.

And while my grandmother would bring out the baked ham and homemade cucumber pickles on holidays, and maybe a big pan of apple crisp, the rest of the time, she just wanted to boil up a hotdog for dinner or eat cheese and crackers. If she wanted to work all day in a hot kitchen, she could have stayed on the farm, working like a dog, and popping babies. Lord, she was happy when she got her tubes tied after her fourth baby. It was a step up to work in a factory. I think of her when I read about the slow food movement, or some writer hectoring us to get back in the luminous kitchen.

Then there are the cookbooks by black writers who carefully describe the contribution of black chefs to the Southern kitchen, detailing everything from cooking techniques to the actual seeds that they brought along on the slave ships. They celebrate survival and ingenuity, the ability to transform the leavings from the master's kitchen into haute cuisine.

And I can only marvel at how rational yet heartfelt it is, and begin to imagine the writer on Xanax. Yes, I know that "soul" food was reclaimed during the Black Power era, in the same way many of us have reclaimed the words fag or dyke or queer, but doesn't that recipe for mustard greens stick in your craw? Don't you want to throw that okra in my white face? I mean, the food is tasty and all, but doesn't it leave a bitter taste in your mouth?

I often forget just how deep my own grief goes until I step into the kitchen and roll out a pie crust or drop some biscuits onto a pan, and evoke my family and Kentucky, remember how my Southern Baptist mother disowned me for decades. And the preachers and politicians there still wish I were dead. And should that happen as it did in Orlando, would refuse to bury me, or bring a covered dish to my mourning lesbian family.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Politics of Fear

By Kelly Cogswell

It's time to quit blaming poor white people for the rise of Donald Trump and his immigrant-hating, misogynist, racist, anti-everything minions. No, according to a huge study by Jonathan Rothwell of 87,000 Gallup poll responses, Trump supporters include a lot of white men with blue-collar jobs, but they aren't poor. In fact, their incomes are a little bit above average even if they don't have college degrees. Trump's not particularly popular in manufacturing areas either, even those affected by, for instance, the migration of jobs to China.

Trump's main supporters are white men working in occupations like construction, repair or transportation — all of which Max Ehrenfreund and Jeff Guo of the Washington Post noted, "are protected from Chinese competition. Chinese workers might be assembling semiconductors, but they are not adjusting the thermostat or changing the oil."

So why do they respond to Trump's anti-immigrant message? Why do they come across as poor and precarious, clamoring about the denials of opportunities, stolen chances, when they're actually doing somewhat better than most of us?

Probably their family history is a little like mine. Probably they had grandparents somewhere back there who, to keep from starving, left the countryside for the nearest big city and a factory job. With a little bit of luck, and white skin that allowed access to decent mortgage rates, they were able to buy a house in the suburbs and after twenty-odd years, pay it off. Their kids did it, too. No shame in wearing that blue-collared shirt with your name stitched over your heart when it meant you could get ahead, take care of your family. And when you retired there was a pension and social security, and maybe enough savings to ride around in an RV for a while, then go into some kind of retirement home if you had to.

This fairytale of an American Dream shaped my expectations, led me to imagine that ordinary decent-paying jobs would always be there for the taking. Like most girls, I'd actually learned to type in high school because it was "something to fall back on." And after graduating from college in '88 with a liberal arts degree, I temped as a secretary, which gave me enough money to pay my share of the rent. Only a few years later, there were less jobs of this kind because by then PC's and email began to make letters and the people who typed them nearly obsolete. Like jobs on now automated assembly lines.

A few years later, journalism changed too. The financial crisis hit and the market was flooded with A-list journalists from newspapers who were consolidating and downsizing. Sites like the Huffington Post popped up which managed to get writers to work for free, claiming the experience and exposure were good for them. Free labor pushed down rates in the pro market, and as a result, independent journalists work for a fraction of what we used to get. Without a trust fund you're screwed. And don't get me started on how many job descriptions now require an MA because what's experience next to a brand-spanking new graduate degree?

I'm kin to these Trump's supporters who grew up with these expectations, which aren't realistic anymore. And now they're angry and afraid. Maybe not even for themselves, but for their kids or their community. They're afraid of the poverty they heard about with no shoes, and no food. They're afraid of difference. And of change. Afraid of you. Of me. And when we're afraid, we feel helpless and weak. We need something to fight against that is more tangible than the passage of time, or a changing economy that we feel doesn't have our best interests at heart.

Any canny politician can take that fear and find a target for it. Blame other humans for what is not in our direct control. If our crops fail, it was our neighbor's evil eye. AIDS is the fault of The Gays. Those “beaners” are taking our jobs.

Scapegoating is so easy when you don't personally know the target. One unsurprising result of the Gallup study is that a great many of Trump's anti-immigrant supporters live in white neighborhoods that are more segregated than others populated by white people of their same background and class. Exposure means everything. A lesson queers have long known, and why coming out days make such a difference.

Which is why it's not enough to vote blue to defeat Trump. He's unleashed a huge wave of fear and hate and anger that job growth won't cure. And neither will more outrage at each new Trumpian atrocity. Queers and people of color, immigrants, women, other social minorities have got to find other ways to bridge the gap. If not knocking on terrifying doors, then supporting artists and writers, pushing our way into American culture and introducing ourselves again and again until we're known.

Monday, August 01, 2016

For This Culture War Redux, Hil Yeah

By Kelly Cogswell

In 1992, failed presidential candidate Pat Buchanan went to the Republican National Convention and declared "a religious war...a culture war...for the soul of America." America's enemies? Radical feminists, environmentalists, homosexuals, and people of color. Though not all of them, because praising the "brave people of Koreatown" was a good way to slam the terrifying and cowardly [black] mobs of the LA riots.

It's almost twenty-five years later, and we're hearing the same refrain, but a hundred times louder, and in plainer, more dangerous speech. Independent women and feminists are fat, disgusting, threatening pigs. Latinos are rapists and criminals. Black people are thugs. Homos and trans people are pervs that need to be put back in their places by judges appointed specifically for that purpose. And of course, Muslims are terrorists who should be banned from immigrating, and subject to torture any time, any place.

Trump scares me, scares everyone I know. The Latino supers are out in the street talking about the tyrants he reminds them of. And I remember how the Republicans lost in '92 but still radicalized Christians nationwide, inspiring a hydra of anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-multicultural campaigns, each followed by violence. Because bigots don't just hate ideas. They hate people in the flesh. They wish we all had AIDS. Were locked up in camps. They want to drag us behind trucks like James Byrd. Burn down our houses with us in them like Hattie Mae Cohens and Brian Mock. Blow up our clubs and abortion clinics. Rape and emasculate black men like Abner Louima, screaming, "It's Giuliani time!" as they attack.

And they never just have a single enemy. I learned in the first Culture War that hate is a habit, a worldview. The white anti-gay foes of the Rainbow Curriculum like Mary Cummins also had racist agendas freaking out over "chinks" daring to run for the school board. That's why the long view demands that organizations and activists fighting for queers also work against racism, and misogyny, and anti-immigrant sentiment. (And vice versa.) And not just because any of them can and will explode into queer-bashing, but because the LGBTQ community reflects America at large. We rise and fall together.

So in this year of the Culture War Redux, hell yes, I’m with Hillary who's already more "evolved" at this stage than the 2008 Obama, who campaigned with the same anti-gay preachers as George W. Bush. As for his policies on homeland and security, don't even get me started. And yet, Obama turned out pretty good.

This time, instead of positioning themselves to cater to the lowest element of the Republican party, the 2016 Clinton and the Democrats are going high. (Yes, I'm stealing FLOTUS' line). Their convention featured a rainbow of speakers from trans women to the disabled. While I'm usually pretty cynical about this kind of circus, they seem like they might actually be on board with a progressive agenda.

Even the speeches designed for disaffected Republican consumption insisting on her (relatively) "hawkish" creds to be commander and chief, also reiterated Clinton's preference for the exercise of soft power abroad--at which she excels. They also strongly denounced torture, which should go without saying, but this is America post-Bush with Trump gung-ho for waterboarding.

Less explicit at the convention was her commitment to economic equality. Sure, she's an advocate for debt-free college, perhaps thanks to the Sanders campaign. But she's gone further than the Senator from Vermont, regularly consulting with the extremely progressive Roosevelt Institute. They not only develop concrete policy measures, they identify key appointed positions across government that could have an immediate impact on economic and racial equality.

I'm not sure anybody cares. So many people just hate her. Just because. Or they dismiss as window-dressing the people of color front and center at the DNC that featured not just speeches by heavy hitters like Cory Booker or Michelle Obama, but even Black Lives Matter, and the black mothers of the victims of racist violence. Clinton herself didn't just speak vaguely of equality, but specifically denounced systemic racism. But so what? So what if the leadership of the party is now in the hands of three formidable black women? Donna Brazile, Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, and Rev. Leah Daughtry.

I'm also seeing lefty sneers at the speech by Khizr Khan, which in some ways may be more important than Clinton's historic acceptance. Too bad if he lost his son in Iraq. It's one more narrative of the Good Muslim. These "progressive" critics are missing the importance of his expansive rebuke to Trump in the name of diversity, and why the man exploded in rage.

"Have you ever been to Arlington cemetery? Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one." And by offering to lend Trump his well-worn copy of the U.S. Constitution where he should "...look for the words 'liberty' and 'equal protection of law'" the immigrant lawyer signaled that he is not trying to be accepted as a good Muslim, he's fighting for the soul of America itself.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Anti-Queer Terrorism, What a Joke

By Kelly Cogswell

Listen to this. It's hilarious. So a guy walks into a bar. A gay bar in Orlando on Latino night. He has an MCX and a 9mm-- No, you haven't heard this one before. That was a pipe bomb and New York. No, not that it either. That was New Orleans and fire. Let me finish. -- So a guy walks into the bar where all these Puerto Rican fags are dancing and drinking, maybe even kissing or something, and he starts shooting.

And I forgot to tell you. He's called 9-1-1 to explain he's doing it in the name of the Islamic State. So anyway, he kills 49 people and wounds 53. Almost every single one is queer. And here's the hilarious thing, nobody says it’s anti-gay or terrorism. I mean, aren't you just ROTFL? C'mon, you have to laugh.

I'm not making it up. It started as soon as they released his photo and name, and several men came forward identifying Omar Mateen as a gay man, or at least somebody who had sex with men. That's when the U.S. media changed gears and the narrative of "Terrorist Attack in Orlando" became a story about "One More Self-loathing Faggot Bashes Other Queers." Which is funny, because in France the coverage focused almost exclusively on terrorism. French media and politicians twisted themselves into knots to avoid mentioning that Pulse was a gay club and the dead were almost all unseemly queers.

If U.S. queer activists didn't put up much of a fuss at how the story shifted, it's because we'd rather talk about anything besides religion, especially Islam, or even plain-old homophobia. Gun control quickly became the big story. Because nobody would ever think of plowing a truck into a crowd like they did in Nice and killing a scant hundred people that way.

Black Lives Matter especially, in a bizarro statement on their website, did a real intersectional number on Orlando. Denouncing anybody that blamed Islam even a tiny little bit for the attack, and explaining it was "... born from the anti-Black white supremacy, patriarchy and homophobia of the conservative right and of those who would use religious extremism as a weapon to gain power for the few and take power from the rest...Homegrown terror is the product of a long history of colonialism, including state and vigilante violence. It is the product of white supremacy and capitalism..."

I don't know if it was their goal, but they seemed to imply that the victims, who were mostly Puerto Rican, weren't really killed because they were unapologetically and even joyfully gay. Readers also might get the misleading impression that the killer was a white American. Not a Muslim-American of Afghan origin who lived in terror of his fundamentalist Muslim Afghan father. And quite clearly announced that he was going to kill a bunch of people in the name of the Islamic State. Whatever.

I still wasn't prepared for the FBI to join the ranks of the jokers, and declare that there was no evidence that Omar targeted Pulse because it was a gay club. It's like they bought the whole fucked up homo-narrative that it was all about his mental health and personal history. So they threw up their hands when they didn't discover any real evidence of his reportedly gay lifestyle that reportedly left him conflicted. No photos in his computer. No Grindr account. No "gay slurs during the shooting spree inside the club."

So much for the dead gay bodies. And the 9-1-1 call, and his commitment to ISIS, which encourage good Muslims to kill us and regularly puts videos on YouTube of jihadi tossing queers out of windows and over balconies and parapets. For committing sodomy. For extramarital sex. Maybe most importantly, for polluting a pure and sacred apocalyptic Caliphate. But Why? Why? Why would Omar Mateen target Pulse?

What is everyone's fucking problem? A guy goes into a synagogue, a black church, and kills a bunch of people we know it's anti-Semitic, or anti-black and racist. We don't need somebody to draw us a picture. And it used to be that when somebody explained their act as terrorism we believed them as soon as we saw the blood. We didn't ask for a membership card or a certificate of mental health. We certainly didn't look for alternative explanations. Did you trip with your finger on the trigger? Were you playing Pokeman Go? Was it... capitalism?

Terrorism has always been a DIY operation with small cells run by borderline crazies. And post-social media it's easy to recruit worldwide. ISIS is brilliant in this regard. While Christianity produces queer killers pretty regularly, that was not the case here. And it does no good to look away. You can almost hear them chant, "We're here, we kill queers. (And Jews and those secular French) Get used to it."

Monday, July 04, 2016

Income and Equality on Independence Day

By Kelly Cogswell

It's the Fourth of July, and Independence Day in the U.S. seems especially ironic this year, since Britain, the country we won our independence from, just voted to sever ties with the European Union and is already regretting it.

Those who voted to leave said they didn't like EU taxation, (even though they had representation!) Neither did they like how EU immigrants could compete for jobs in Britain. They were shocked to discover that dumping their obligations would also mean losing access to the benefits, like the EU single market and trade deals (the source of many jobs), or even that agreement with the French to stop migrants from crossing the Channel at Calais.

They seemed particularly surprised to learn that the European banking industry that made London its capital and spent years fueling British growth no longer had any reason to be there post-Brexit. So out with the bath water go those massive companies and their employees who spent a gazillion pounds a day on goods and services, paying taxes, creating work.

I'd sneer, except that both Trump and Sanders are happily pushing for the same isolationism and anti-globalization. This is partly to satisfy garden-variety xenophobia and racism, but also as an alternative reality solution for income inequality. If you believe them, there will be plenty of good jobs at home once corporations are forced to keep them in the states.

It might even have been true at one point, but at last week's summit between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, Obama reminded us that one of the biggest reasons for job loss wasn't outsourcing, but automation. The U.S. is actually manufacturing more steel than a decade ago, but there are simply less jobs for humans. Robots do everything from building cars to assembling computers. They even stock shelves and pack boxes, carry and fetch, count and send.

Tech of course has affected middle-class jobs too. Retail stores have given way to Amazon's robots, too. Like bank tellers, though not bankers. Thanks to the Huffington Post, and other new media, journalists exist, but are expected to work for free.

For the U.S. to create, industrial-economy jobs in the twenty-first century, you wouldn’t just have to roll back trade deals and alliances, you would have to smash the machines and turn back time. Anything short of that, would be Brexit redux. We'd maybe gain a few jobs here and there, but we'd lose far, far more which have been created by our global, service economy. And we'd also lose manufacturing jobs, because the global shock waves would devastate developing markets. All we'd create are more poor people.

The world these days is complicated and interdependent. Solutions to inequality and poverty have to be, too. Even improved means of communication can build invisible walls. These walls don't divide the 1 percent and the rest, but the great bulk of our population from a bottom tier that includes a disproportionate amount of people of color, and LGBT people of all races.

It's not like the old days when the differences between the rich and middle-class and poor had a lot to do with the model of your car, or the size of your TV. Even most poor people could afford a set, and no matter what size TV you had, or how many, they still broadcast the same shows. Even if they excluded you, and you were watching them from outside with your nose pressed up against the screen.

Now, money doesn't just buy better technology or more, but something entirely different. You can't replicate the experience of owning a smart phone, for instance, by having a cheap cell, plus spending a few hours on a computer at the library. No, without a smartphone you're in a different universe where even the sense of time is different.

News doesn't depend on daily newspapers but instantaneous pings from Facebook, Twitter, and newsfeeds. A question can be answered as soon as it is posed. A wrong turn in the real world can be corrected immediately by GPS and Google maps. Instead of waiting for a car service or a cab, you log in to the Uber app and get a ride that is both quicker and cheaper.

And of course, you can network perpetually and instantaneously without taking the time out for coffee or meals or cocktails, reinforcing and augmenting the privileges you already have. Which helps some people when they need to do a job search. Because employers look not only at the resume you submitted online but at your entire network of friends and followers to see if you'll fit in with the company culture. The drawback is you may find yourself on the employment version of Grindr. No fats, no fems. No...

Maybe most troubling is how this technological divide leaves the poor on the wrong side of the tracks in the democratic process which we are supposed to use to fix things. And even as politicians celebrate the apparent accessibility of social media, and hold town meetings there, we discover that smart phones and internet access are like entry fees. And not everyone can go.

Friday, June 17, 2016

When Religion Bolsters Violence

By Kelly Cogswell

I was eating fennel salad a couple weeks ago in this Italian dyke's house when she asked if I knew why fags there were called "finocchio" or fennel. And in between bites she explained that in the old days when the Catholic Church burned inherently heretical fags at the stake, they'd throw fennel on the fire so heterosexual nostrils wouldn't be offended by the stench.

The story made me queasy, but I finished eating anyway, even had a second helping imagining each crunch as a kind of sacrament. Like when I finally went back to the Café Voltaire where a guy blew himself up in November, and lifted my glass of pastis to all the Paris dead, men and women killed together for their secular, wine-drinking, music-loving, gender-consorting apostasy.

I also thought of the so-called Islamic State who beheads queers, or tosses us out of window, or off balconies, or any other high place they find because there are sacred texts calling for sinners to be cast down from mountains, or be stoned. ISIS regularly feature our murders in their video feeds and encourage their supporters to kill us, or maybe some Jews, or school teachers who dare educate the young using nonreligious texts. The list is far longer than that, but you get the idea.

It seems to be working. There was that shooting in San Bernardino. Then all those dead Latino queers in Orlando. There have been several "incidents" here in France. The most recent was just the day after Orlando, when Larossi Abballa killed a cop and his wife, stabbing them to death in their own home in response to the latest, pre-Ramadan call by ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani to target civilians in Europe and the US.

No need for big, shady networks. It's the kind of do-it-yourself terrorism we saw at the height of the anti-gay Culture Wars in the U.S. when our murderers were egged on by the Christian Right and queers dropped like flies. Pat Robertson in particular harangued us as sinners, degenerates, and child molesters, even enemies of the nation, and as a result the public at large cheered our deaths from AIDS. Some took more immediate measures.

In 1992 alone, a student at Auburn leaned out his dormitory window with a gun and picked off members of the lesbian and gay organization. In Virginia, a gang of children--one was eight years old ! --shot a gay bartender. An off-duty cop and his pal attacked some dykes in Massachusetts. A month later, a lesbian couple was shot by their neighbor. Trans hero Marsha P. Johnson was killed and dumped in the Hudson. Brian Mock and Hattie Mae Cohen, a white queer and black lesbian were burned alive when some neo-Nazi wannabees threw a Molotov cocktail through their rooming house window in Colorado. And these were just the attacks that were known.

Queers fought back, made progress, but Christians worldwide are still in the queer-hating business, even if plenty of Muslims are challenging their monopoly. A few hours after we were massacred in Orlando by an Islamist zealot, Catholic leaders in the Dominican Republic joined forces with Evangelicals to participate in a previously scheduled march against the "Gay Agenda." The Vatican fights tooth and nail against marriage equality, sneers at trans youth, continues to demonize us as sinners and degenerates, hideous to God. Plenty of American preachers and politicians responded to the attack saying that we deserved it. The repulsive Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick tweeted, "You reap what you sow." Unsurprisingly, about 500 LGBTQ people have been killed all over the Americas in 2016 so far according to the website, Al Momento.

So why consider Omar Mateen crazy when he was just pursing hate and fear to its logical end? If we are abominations to God, why not rid the earth of us? After all, God cleansed the earth with the flood. Destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire because of people just like us. Most of the people screaming outside Planned Parenthoods are perfectly sane, perfectly sure that the care providers are bound for hell, and leading others there.

That's the beauty of religion. It can give such certainty and power. We have God on our side after all. We search the sacred texts to uncover our heart's desire, and if there is love inside of us, that's what we find. If there's hate and fear, and a desire for vengeance, we can find that, too. Even Jesus lost his cool, overturning tables in the temple, and chasing out the loan sharks and tchotchke vendors. He himself was crucified, which is an encouragement to sacrifice yourself with as much blood and drama as possible for whatever you believe in. Yes, what would Jesus do?

We queers, in this religion-loving America, have to face that religion is intertwined with past violence and will be a part of it in the future, too. It intoxicates, like alcohol. Cynical politicians wrap themselves in its authority, use it to justify their own homophobia and misogyny. It guides the hands that pick up the guns we surely have to get rid of. But if there's not a gun, there's a knife, there's a cliff. Or rock or bomb. And even one death is too much.

Equal rights aren't enough either. We have to go after the root, which is pure hatred and an addiction to violence. That means, in part, supporting queer and progressive Muslims, and listening to ex Muslims, too, as they battle for the soul of Islam. Ditto for progressive Christians and Jews, other religious people, former believers, atheists, and anybody else grappling with hate.

But we also have to turn a skeptical eye on the enterprise of religion itself, and vigorously defend the separation between the Church (which regularly tries to strip us of our civil rights) and the State (which is supposed to defend them). Because as long as religion exists we'll never be safe. Fundamentalists and extremists will always emerge, and the hatred of queers, and of women, is right there in the text.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Trading in Rage

By Kelly Cogswell

Donald Trump is all my fault. So are the Bernie Bros. I left the door open behind me and they snuck in with their red-faced, white-knuckled rage. I didn't know it would matter. Since mostly anger and rage propelled people onto the street to protest dyke-bashings, people dying of AIDS, I tried to provoke raw emotion when I co-founded The Gully online magazine in 2000 and first started writing commentary. I thought if only people knew about police brutality, the stolen election, anti-gay campaigns and betrayed revolutions, and poverty… If only we shared enough facts, explained them, drew connections, wrote about them with enough feeling to make them real, then people would be compelled to act.

Style was half the message. We wrote informally, usually in the first person. Sometimes we reported moderately, but often we ranted in outrage. It was the early days of the internet and our truthful anger stood in refreshing contrast to the decrepit and sterilized style of the usual mainstream newspapers. Our first tagline was even "digested news, raw opinion from the queer edge of America." Which meant we shouted. And why not? What else do you want from two dykes who had fought for years to draw attention to lesbian issues? Especially those affecting dykes of color, and queers on the global front?

What we said was important and hugely urgent. Everything online always is, and this style became the norm so quickly that outrage now trumps content online, and shoutiness and rage is considered an indicator of truth on both the Right and Left. As we see the flowering of it in the presidential campaign this year, I find myself going around like the stereotypical librarian whispering, "Shhhhhhhhhhhh" and trying to write like the über-civilized Henry James because it's the only way to ask what the endgame is these days, especially for so-called progressives. Liberation? Equality? Revenge?

Anger and rage have their limits. At first, it's liberating to voice them, denounce our oppressors, sneer at the powerful, and marvel at how our angry voices resound. But then we fall in love with the sound of them. Outrage becomes a habit. It narrows our gaze until we sometimes confuse the goals of justice or social change with a simple desire to humiliate and wound.

I recognize it in myself, trained to hate by a mother who was a specialist. A broken glass could set off an earthquake. She was worse during her divorce. I remember how she ranted against my horribly lazy, good-for-nothing father who really was kind of a dick. But there was something disgusting, too, about how the litany of her very real complaints, her grief and anguish always provided her with the grotesque satisfaction of a case proved. He was a monster with nothing redeeming at all. By contrast she was the victim, absolved and pure.

She took such pleasure in her hate, and with that hate the generalizations that always imply simplification and lies, the amnesia of her own failings. And sometimes I say, "Men are pigs", or even, "I hate men" just to see what it feels like to dip my toes back into hate, to see if I can get myself worked up. But the man-hating lesbian stereotype just requires too much energy, and like most dykes I'm nearly indifferent to the category of men except maybe for an hour or two after getting harassed on the street, or trying and failing to find work without smearing on the lipstick and dick-sucking smile. If the myth persists it's so that interested men can feel they've still got a central place in our female lives, and indirectly in our beds even if it's just as the objects of scorn. In terms of persistence, hate is far better than love.

That's really why I say "I hate men," to remind myself of the consequences. How that "hate" joins and opposes "I" to "men" immediately gendering my body and brain as female, caging me with males condemned to a toxic masculinity. Phrases like that leave none of us free. Which is why feminists prefer to denounce patriarchy and its systems which subjugate women, instead of accusing "men", so that all individuals have more room to maneuver. And more importantly, space to think and change.

In either case, hate is a trap, like shame. You can see the addicts online, the militants who take such pleasure in publically denouncing even unimportant people for racism or transphobia or misogyny, and the violent responses by bigots large and small to any accusation until all sides seem inextricably bound together, with people as happy to be hated as to hate.

It's hard to break free. I'm not sure we're supposed to. Like a bloodless war hate distracts us from the real enemies, from grappling with the systems that are resistant to change, and as indifferent to our anger or fear as the floodwaters of the Seine.

Monday, May 23, 2016

From Paris to Peru: Women Daring the Streets

By Kelly Cogswell

I was sitting on the Paris metro last week when some guy of about thirty plopped himself down next to the teenage girl across from me and began to ask, "Where are you going? What stop are you getting off at?" as he touched her shoulder, and touched her arm. She didn't look at him, but kept answering. She'd been trained to be polite after all.

When she glanced over I told her, "You don't have to respond." And the guy turned from the girl to me, asked, "Are you her mother? Is she your mother?" And the girl and I looked at each other and said, "Yes," in unison.

He pawed her one last time, and left at the next stop. I hope his dick falls off, though another creep will appear. The girl told me that she is harassed all the time on the metro. That's what women exist for. Our opened mouths are only allowed to laugh at your jokes. In advertisements our lips are permanently parted so you can imagine your cock in there. Yeah, every woman is dying for it. Except for senile old ladies like me who might act irrationally, forget what we're doing and bite it off.

Afterwards, I had this insane desire to laugh. Like mother like daughter, I let men do the same things to me at her age, worse even, wanting to please. I had no stock response that would deflect attention without making a scene that might humiliate or enrage them, and then whatever happened would be all my fault. Even if nothing did, I’d still be that humorless, screaming harridan that even other women hate, afraid I’ll make them look bad.

About the same time, a large group of female ex-Ministers of both the right and left denounced pervasive sexual harassment within the French political class. They seemed less angry than relieved to finally speak up. I remember how happy I was the first time I was on the street with a bunch of dykes and, transformed from object into actor, finally began to express myself on this bigger stage, claim space with my body if nothing else.

Lately, though, I think street activism is only radical for women. There's nothing new about seeing men there. My mother never even ate in a restaurant at a table for one, never went alone to the movies, or even saw a woman preacher in the pulpit. Decades later the idea of a woman in the White House still seems ridiculous.

The woman owner of a big-time French soccer club is told to go back in the kitchen. In November, ISIS terrorists blamed women for forcing them to pick up automatic rifles, strap on suicide vests and attack Paris bars and cafés. Because what could be more of an affront to God than seeing women relaxing in public, polluting nearby men? Not long ago we went back to the nearby Comptoir Voltaire, which had finally reopened after the attacks. I ordered a glass of cold white wine. The woman next to us drank coffee and turned her face to the sun. We spoke French, and English, and Arabic, all genders together. We thumbed our noses at God. Or just men, maybe.

Last week, three Femen interrupted an appearance by Muslim Brotherhood’s golden heir, Tariq Ramadan who likes to tell credulous westerners about his peaceful version of “political Islamism”, and his love for democracy, but has a side game encouraging young men (and women) to build a world in which women are legislated into our place. The French, Algerian and Moroccan Femen not only bared their breasts to expose painted slogans, they tried to cover up Ramadan's face with the black abaya which allowed them to piously sit on the first row before storming the stage. Ramadan didn't like it at all.

A double discourse works just as well for the Pope who seems positively gay-friendly and progressive when he visits the U.S. but in Italy mobilizes his forces against LGBT activists, so effectively watering down a recent civil union bill my queer Italian friends didn't bother to celebrate when it passed. Worldwide the Catholic Church works against access to contraceptives and abortion, torturing poor women with enforced pregnancies and even jail if they dare interrupt a pregnancy. Recently in El Salvador, a women sentenced to 40 years in prison for a presumed abortion—she said it was a miscarriage—was released after five years in jail.

In Peru, another Catholic country, women also went topless last week, to protest new penalties for abortion and denounce the candidacy of Keiko Fujimoro, whose father is the former president. Alberto Fujimoro in jail for corruption and a couple of small massacres. Between 1996 and 2000 he was also responsible for the sterilization of as many as three hundred thousand poor, indigenous women, the majority against their will.

The cops tear-gassed them, of course, these dozen terrifying women. That image for me says it all. Enormous armed men. A cloud of teargas erasing vulnerable women with a few words scrawled across their bare chests.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Vampires, Activists, and the Return of "The Gilda Stories"

By Kelly Cogswell

When The Gilda Stories came out in 1991, vampires weren't such a big thing, and black, lesbian ones were unheard of. But that didn't matter to Jewelle Gomez who at first was just writing for revenge. Cat-call her, harass her on the street and she would rip your throat out -- in a story. Gradually, though, these scenes deepened into a novel that not only changed the demographics of vampire stories, but endured as a lesbian classic, an escaped-slave narrative, and an important work of Afro-Futurism that continues to influence young writers, especially young writers of color.

The story is launched when a young unnamed slave runs away, killing a slave hunter who finds her. Still covered with blood, she crosses paths with Gilda, a white woman and brothel owner, who takes her in. After the girl gets older, Gilda and her companion, a Native American called Bird, reveal that they are vampires, and she willingly enters the life. When the first Gilda dies, this young woman adopts her name, and becomes the second Gilda.

It could have been a series of satisfying adventure stories, with Gilda romping around with delectable mortals, perhaps in a leather bustier, while she slays bigots and rapists. In fact, deaths are kept to a minimum. Older vampires teach young Gilda to take blood without killing, and share something in return: hope, knowledge, health. This is a code of honor that Gomez said she learned as a feminist. "The more power you have, the more responsibility," she told me in a recent conversation.

What intrigued me most about The Gilda Stories, though, was how the novel used the convention of immortality to grapple with time and the nature of social change. After all, vampires don't just suck blood, they live forever. This part of the mythology allowed Gomez to imagine the life of a black, queer woman through almost two centuries from a small Missouri town in the 1920's to Boston’s South End in the Fifties, and the Off-Broadway theater of 1971 New York framed by black liberation and the Attica Riots. In a brief jump to the eighties, we find her with a circle of black lesbian friends.

The book was written at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S., and the final chapters leave us in 2050 where a similar disease is ravaging the world, and only the rich can survive, either fleeing in space ships, or hunting vampires and compelling them to share their immortality.

The ending surprised me. Narratives involving social issues almost always finish on a positive note, as if equality were inevitable, part of some upward arc, and we activists can invoke it with our own chants. "What do we want?" "Justice!" "When do we want it?" "Now!" Gomez though, emphasizes cycles. In fact, in an echo of Virginia Woolf's suicide, the first Gilda chooses to take the True Death just before the Civil War because she can't stand to see more war and destruction.

The second Gilda is repeatedly cautioned by Sorel, one of the oldest vampires, to step back from the mortal world. Just like queers, vampires create their own communities, and families. Keeping her distance is especially hard for Gilda, maybe because she has a vested interest. Gilda may be tough to kill, but she remains black, and queer, and female, at risk every time she enters the public space whether it's a dusty road in the nineteenth century or a deserted street in the twentieth.

When I asked Gomez about this emphasis on cyclical time, she said she'd probably been influenced by her great-grandmother. Not just that she was a Native American, which gave her a different perspective, but that she was born in the 1880's. "Imagine. It was a whole different world. She was trying to make sense of how we got from one place to another." Feminism also taught her that you just don't get everything at once. You have to "chip away at liberation."

Especially if you're a black woman. In the late twentieth century, we see Gilda surprised by her own, persistent anger about "the disappointment that she'd seen on the faces of black women over the years." Not just due to white racism, but to black men with a vision of liberation that rarely included the freedom of women, or LGBT people or Puerto Ricans.

Gomez confessed that in an earlier draft, all the embattled vampires climbed in space ships and left, leaving the humans to deal with their own messes. But when her editor asked her to think about what it would mean in moral terms, if Bird had to give up her land a second time, Gomez decided they had to stay and fight. If there is redemption here, it is that she doesn't have to do it alone, but with her chosen family.

A 25th anniversary edition of The Gilda Stories was released in 2015 by City Lights Publishers.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Nuit Debout: This Revolution Is Not for You

By Kelly Cogswell

Revolutions don't excite me any more. They're never for me. Not Occupy Wall Street. Not the new social movement going on in France right now, called "Nuit debout" and centered fifteen or twenty long blocks from me at Place de la République.

It began on March 31 following a series of protests against proposed government changes to the labor laws that might or might not make things worse for workers. What's sure is that France has a high unemployment rate, and young kids are already so worried about retirement that associations of high school students joined labor unions as the prime organizers in these enormous demos. I saw the student leaders, and was excited that some were young women.

These protests exploded into a movement that seemed spontaneous, at first, but was triggered in part by François Ruffin, a journalist releasing a Michael Moore- like film, and other activists. They reportedly decided to piggyback on the March 31 demo, by refusing to leave the plaza afterwards, encouraging others to stay with them. Their goal: to unify several social movements including concerns of labor protection and income inequality. It worked spectacularly well. Ruffin's film is a hit. And, "Nuit debout" (Up All Night, or Standing Night ) has become a more general movement frequently compared to Occupy Wall Street.

After weeks of encampment, they've reached a détente with the authorities, settling into a rhythm where they only gather on the weekends and after work until midnight or 1 a.m. If you pass by, you'll see tents, and tables and small working groups. Other times, there are big general assembly meetings with lots of speakers. In terms of gender, the overwhelmingly white crowd seems reasonably mixed, but when it comes to speakers it's mostly men. The men talk a lot-- about equality, horizontality, and intersectionality, drawing connections between civil liberties and income, police reform, immigration, Palestine, the environment, questions of race, women, queers.

Probably, if I stayed, I'd even agree with a lot of what they say. But form matters, too, and at Nuit debout, men hog the podium in general assemblies, and grandstand in working groups. Not only do more men speak, they speak much longer than women. And when women finally do get a word in, they are repeatedly, frequently, inevitably interrupted.

The feminist group there proposed that they partly solve the problem by alternating genders on the list of speakers, but the crowd determined that there weren't enough female speakers to justify such a move. And never once thought it useful to ask why.

The group, Commission on Feminisms, has also been trying to hold regular women-only meetings to encourage more women to articulate their issues, at least in this smaller protected space. But men, that often self-identify as feminist, come to harass, and harangue them, inspiring one of my friends to joke that they'd finally figured out how to interest men in what women have to say.

These "feminist" men have also used the open, mixed feminist meetings to rage against women-only meetings being held in a public space like the Place de la République, in a public movement of citizens like Nuit debout. So what if women can't fully participate in this public movement, or even stand safely in the public plaza?

Sexual harassment there is not uncommon. There have even been sexual assaults. I read one blog post describing how when some women tried to talk about their experiences right there at Nuit debout, (just like Occupy Wall Street!) some man shouted he'd never seen such a thing. And when the women responded rudely, the man's feelings got hurt and the group had to process that. Because his feelings, of course, were the point.

Nevertheless, it was a woman, Fahima Laidoudi, a 53-year old cleaning lady and far-left militant, who apparently has prodded Nuit debout to recognize their lack of diversity on the racial front. In response, Parisian activists created a sort of outreach committee. In the city of Marseille, they went further, and organized an event Saturday in the cité des Flamants, a housing project outside of town.

Almost nobody came except journalists, including one from Le Monde, who reported that instead of a tickertape parade, they got a critique from one local activist, Fatima Mostefaoui. "Here, we've been standing and awake for thirty years," she told them. "Nobody here was waiting for you to fight poverty, police violence, social injustice… You came here to give us a voice? We've had a voice. It's just that nobody's listening because everything we say is censored and stigmatized."

Afterwards, one young man told Le Monde that they'd picked the wrong place. "I'm not sure I'd try again."

Me neither. Even though the men of the left have increasingly mastered the language of change, they themselves haven't budged. They don't listen, can't stand any voice but their own. Without women, without poor people, people of color, oh yes, and queers, the end result can only be more of the same.

Monday, April 11, 2016

State of the Queer World

By Kelly Cogswell

This week, anyway, it seems that the world is lurching closer to acknowledging that we LGBT people deserve basic human rights and maybe even, the full rights of adult citizens. On April 7th, the high court of Colombia ruled that same-sex couples could marry. About the same time, the UN released the report, "ENDING VIOLENCE and other human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity."

The 91-page effort was result of a dialogue between the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations. It describes the horrible problems that we face worldwide, acknowledges them as human rights abuses, and calls for governments to work to end them.

Both achievements seem almost inevitable now, but I remember when queer activists in Colombia were still afraid for their lives and even the goal of half-assed civil unions seemed ridiculous because everybody's energy was consumed by the ongoing civil war. Queers, and women for that matter, never do well in a militarized environment. And Colombia had guerrillas, paramilitaries, the military, and government all at each other' throats.

I also remember when we were pariahs on the international scene. In the bad old pre-internet days queers were isolated and alone in their countries, and the U.S. State Department would pair up with Tehran and the Vatican to thwart any language in any international agreement that even acknowledged we existed, much less deserved human rights.

It was explosive when we began to gather at events like World Pride 2000 where activists from El Salvador, Romania, Zimbabwe, Colombia, Brazil could suddenly all bear witness on the same stage about how queers in their home countries were murdered, imprisoned, threatened. This was about the time that global organizations like Amnesty International finally acknowledged that LGBT rights were human rights, a hugely important boost.

If queers in Colombia can now get married, and if the UN is now advocating for our rights, it is because a lot of people worked really hard, year after year coming at problems every way they could think of. Militant queers took to the streets demanded change and demanding it now, other LGBT activists and their allies pressuring elected officials and policy-makers more politely, all of them sharing information and skills.

More and more, this exchange is happening on regional and international levels. Guatemalans are talking to Nicaraguans talking to Nigerians talking to Chinese. The rainbow of U.S. activists is also playing a role. Not just the usual alumni of ACT-UP involved in the global fight against AIDS, but maybe Latinos in the U.S. supporting the rights of queers to organize in Cuba.

Americans have a lot of power, and money. Sometimes we even use it for good. After Colombian queers won marriage equality this week, I noticed activist Elizabeth Castillo tweeted "Big hug @evanwolfson thanks by your support and passion!" After our own successes at home, it's only right that an architect of the victorious Freedom to Marry Campaign should help other queers fighting for the same rights. He even traveled there to speak out.

When Wally Brewster was appointed ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 2013, all he had to do to support queer visibility in the DR was to go to official functions with his partner Bob Satawake. Besides that, the two have hosted a small group of local LGBT activists at their official residence, and offered both funding and encouragement to local queer groups, ignoring the gay-baiting and insults from the likes of the repulsive Cardinal López, the Archbishop of Santo Domingo.

It's not that hard for Americans to support LGBT groups abroad. We've been there, we've done that, and in most places in the U.S., we still are. All of us, everywhere in the world, need organizations to track human rights abuses, lawyers to get us out of jail, advice on lobbying tactics, plane fares to conferences. Money for computers and offices. We also need funding for cultural programs like film festivals so we can create images of ourselves, shape our own identities.

In fact, successful U.S. organizations should make more of an effort to share skills and resources at home where one state can feel like 1952 and the next 2010. But while many LGBT Americans are at least familiar with LGBT struggles in Nigeria and China we often manage to ignore vast swaths of our own country until a ridiculous figure like Kim Davis emerges. Or until we get a "bathroom bill."

Race and class are clearly part of why we ignore them. A white person from California may have less baggage working with a black person from Ghana than with a person of color from Louisiana. But we Americans have all that wealth at our fingertips, and we owe it to each other to try harder.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Identity, Politics, and "Authenticity" Post-St. Pat's

By Kelly Cogswell

Last week, Irish queers marched behind their own banner in the Saint Patrick's Day parade for the first time ever in New York. In the photos they look so happy. More importantly, the crowd did, too. Most of them didn't even know it was a landmark year, assumed that battle was long over if they knew about it at all.

Nevertheless, I remember how faces in the crowd were twisted with hate the first time we tried to march in 1991, and all those years afterwards. They'd spit and curse. Scream that we had our own parade. The gay parade. And that they hoped we'd all die of AIDS. Then they'd go home and dig up the phone numbers of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, as well as of our spokespersons, and leave death threats on our answering machines. Some of us were bashed, some attacked. Some lost jobs.

I participated because I was queer, though not particularly Irish. And watched how these activists were gradually exhausted, frustrated. Even bored by a battle that went on year after year after year. The group splintered and reformed. Friendships and relationships were strained, sometimes destroyed. The broader LGBT community abandoned the fight because the parade was ridiculous after all. An excuse for straight people to get drunk on green beer. Or ogle underage girls in skimpy costumes smeared with lipstick and twirling batons.

I heard more than once, if they don't want you, why would you want them? Irish queers took pains to explain that identity is complicated and you can have more than one at the same time. You can be Irish and queer. Irish and female. Irish and Jewish. Irish and black. Marching as out LGBT people was a way for Irish queers to assert their existence within their broader Irish community. Other queer immigrant groups understood, and fought their own battles for inclusion in similar parades.

Identity was the heart of the problem. Not just what queers deserved to do as citizens. But in fact who got to be Irish in the non-Irish world of New York. The ultraconservative Catholic parade organizers there, The Ancient Order of Hibernians, were quite clear that being gay somehow disqualified you. Ideally, you would be not just straight but safely married with a passel of kids.

There were also issues of identity within the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization where some were Irish-Americans and others recent immigrants, a little puzzled about how the hyphenated identities in America worked. Each had very different understandings of what that word Irish meant. Nevertheless, they organized around it. Like they organized around "lesbian" and "gay". Then eventually "queer."

This battle, and plenty of others wouldn't have been won without "identity" politics. I'm not sure what other kind of politics there are. There is always some aspect of "identity" uniting us. Race. Class. Nation. There are just as many dividing us, though, so that if you start pulling threads the whole thing unravels.

Abroad, I'm visibly American, but it's complicated to define my relationship to those tourists demanding ketchup or those soldiers in Iraq. I have tits and a cunt but women sometimes scream at me in the bathroom. I have a certain amount of privilege associated with this skin, but beware of the assumptions you make because of it. And as a lesbian, well… There is something we recognize in each other when we pass on the street, but sit a bunch of us down at a table and we're suddenly mute strangers.

We need to begin to think about this contradiction in coherent ways. The main argument for marriage equality was that our identity was meaningless. Lesbian and gay couples were the same as hets and deserved the same rights. Nevertheless, activists found enough in common to organize together as queers. In fact, that's the only reason they could organize at all.

I see identity as an artificial thing that takes root. It has meaning and consequences which vary from one person to another. In one person over time. Activists are lost when we begin to believe our own PR-- that these differences actually mean something specific and fixed. We end up with territorial battles like the bitter feuds between some dykes and some trans women. As if it matters what a "woman" is, when none of us are safe in the street.

The word "Muslim" has become so weighty it is almost impossible to pronounce. Some hear it as an equivalent for terrorist. For the so-called progressive left (of all races) from the U.S. to Britain and France it often seems to mean victim or saint. They denounce troublesome secular-minded Muslims as "inauthentic," "self-loathing," or even, "Islamophobic."

I'm not surprised. Despite last week's victory, it sometimes seems we've gone nuts. That we've increasingly become our own Hibernians, dividing into camps, imagining there's only one way to define things--ours. And everyone else is an enemy.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Queers in Alphabet City

By Kelly Cogswell

What a mess. Already in March somebody suggested that trans people take their T and exit from the LGBT movement. And I eavesdropped on an all too typical election year conversation in which a young gay man long mentored by a dyke called her something along the lines of idiot cunt indicating just how much the G's despise the L's, and not just when they vote for Clinton. The invisibility of B's continues, though these days duck and cover seems a sensible life hack.

Queers of color, on the other hand, are less invisible than they were, thanks to some extent to their roles in #BlackLivesMatter. This, however, translates less into actual power in the queer community than new attacks from the right, as well as the white left which dismisses them as not authentically black, Latino, Asian… should they happen to support a white woman whose husband signed a crime law eventually used to send a huge swath of black men to jail. No matter that many in the black community--as well as the Black Congressional Caucus--applauded the law. At the time. Because they were sinfully short on hindsight.

This kind of stupidity is nothing new, but it certainly seems louder, faster, and more insistent. If in the old days, a lie could travel half way around the world while the truth was putting on its shoes, now, thanks to social media, it can circumnavigate the globe four or five million times, replicating itself in carefully witty memes, while the truth is still opening the closet and figuring out which pair of kicks to grab.

Ironic, considering I used to think that the internet was the best antidote to lies. During the George W. Bush administrations, I spent my time reading the latest nonsense his press office produced about everything from global warming to WMD, then writing articles in response proving why they were wrong using actual facts and offering as much context as I could manage. When it came to policy, I'd even try to think of alternatives.

Of course, the news cycle was longer then. Not as long as when we all waited for the early edition of the daily newspaper to come out, but you'd have a couple hours, maybe even a couple days between travesties that gave you time to assess the quality of information. See how ideas and information and trends fit together.

Sure, there's an upside to the new speed of media. When Hillary Clinton said something idiotic at Nancy Reagan's funeral, praising her as a "low-key AIDS" advocate, the internet immediately blew up. And just a few hours later she issued not just an apology but a full-fledged position paper on HIV/AIDS, highlighting the decades of mostly queer activism that have tried to stop it.

But even this speed troubles me. It somehow redefines our sense of what is right or true. We judge truthfulness by how meme-ish the tidbit becomes in the echo chamber of our followers and friends. When newsfeeds are refreshed every minute or two, and things appear by the second on social media, delays are lies. Context and scale are meaningless. Most importantly, we have no time to consider the future. Or even the different layers of past, because we are so busy keeping up with the now.

Living in internet time, our sense of the possible has been warped into a form of magical thinking. More and more we see cycles of impossible promises on the part of politicians and a backlash of rage when it turns out that the mayor or governor or president has to pass a law before they can give out free ponies. And to become a law, a bill has to get past committees and congresses and courts. And if it does eventually appear on the executive's desk, we are shocked to discover that the pony has become a hamster, funded by cuts in after school programs.

Which is why the process gets called sausage-making and often makes us sick. And why a quicky revolution can seem so attractive. Especially if you don't know most revolutions are unimaginable disasters. There are lots of victims. Usually the first people to support them.

Shit. I'm not saying what I need to. Maybe because I can't hear myself think. Everybody seems to be screaming. There's no time or space to think about the future lurking there just a little ways past this continuous present.

Nevertheless, we are building one out of mud and howls, mostly. The smuggest fury I've ever seen. And many of us are using against each other what Audre Lorde called the "master's tools", reinforcing homophobia. Racism. Misogyny. These deep-rooted and timeless hates.