Monday, December 04, 2017

State of the Global Queer Nation, Post-Trump, Year 1

By Kelly Cogswell

It's hard to do more than gape at the destructive ripples we're sending worldwide, the terrible knowledge of how fragile our already imperfect American democracy is, how dependent on custom and those "gentlemen's" agreements, and not the beleaguered U.S. Constitution. Who knew it only took one mad, racist narcissist to inexorably open the floodgates to the blatant white supremacists, and rapacious thieves dreaming of a toilet paper little ‘c’ constitution except for the ironclad detail about bearing arms?

For U.S. queers, this means what? That those of us that were already poor and marginal will be even poorer, even more consigned to the ninth circle of political and economic hell. Especially trans people of color. Already at the bottom of our community's economic heap, they were just beginning to make a little progress under Obama, but were targeted immediately under Trump, and are now invoked as monsters at Republican fundraisers. Give us money and we'll keep you safe from them in bathrooms.

And lesbians --and their children-- who already suffered from the customary salary penalties assessed to all those obviously female humans will have even less help from the federal government. The tax bill passed by the Senate last week and awaiting confirmation from the House, essentially takes from the poor to give to the rich, creating unimaginable deficits, and knowingly setting the stage for the destruction of programs like Medicare and Medicaid which were saving our lives, though in some states were already tough to access. Those of us who sidestepped the discrimination of the market by hustling our own jobs, now face the elimination of all our usual deductions, while private jet owners are allowed to exempt their maintenance.

Bad as all of this is, the worst thing is the frontal attack on democracy and the constitutional rule of law. As queers, we've relied on them for progress and protection. We've pushed for social change on the streets and in the courts, while persuading legislators to enshrine our gains into law. It was already hard enough to gain access, with so much Congressional horse-trading going on behind closed doors. But in the era of Trump, horse-trading is being replaced by one sneaky self-coup after the other. The latest was when Senators were forced to vote on a tax bill literally written by lobbyists that few Senators had time to read, much less was comment on, and debate. All taxation, no representation. Congrats to us as we take another baby step towards ‘illiberal (aka fake) democracy‘, a la Erdogan or Putin.

Apparently the guy tapped to head the Republican National Convention three years from now is a gerrymandering/voter suppression whiz. At this rate, the only votes we will be left with are our voices in the street. And there, we must be prepared to be prosecuted not as citizens engaged in protest or civil disobedience, but under the Homeland Security laws meant to apply to terrorists. Because what could be more terrifying these days than citizens saying, "No." "We resist."

The courts, too, are being revamped top to bottom. Every empty seat open to a lifetime appointment has been filled by radical conservatives prepared to ignore existing law to attack LGBTQ people, people of color, the poor, women. We can only hope there is some way to challenge them, maybe if they are too blatant as they disregard laws. We have to find out. We have to educate ourselves. Encourage young and old queers to go to law school, support organizations like the ACLU. The Innocence Project.

Things may not have been perfect but they were moving, even if two steps forward, one back. Now reversals are happening so fast no one can keep track, much less digest. And we'll have to do what we've forgotten how to. Build community. Look after each other. Order medication from abroad. Get our scripts from tame doctors that we can't afford to visit. And also, keep an eye on queers abroad.

The impact of Trump's America doesn't stop at our borders. LGBT refugees, like Chechen queers facing a brutal purge, aren't enthusiastically welcomed here. Funding for global health programs including those fighting AIDS have been or will be slashed. The destruction of the U.S. State Department is not only irreparably damaging ordinary relations abroad, but gutting the Obama policy of declaring LGBT rights human rights. Thanks to that policy, the U.S. offered financial and moral support to embattled LGBT groups worldwide, and saw their work as intrinsic to larger projects of broadening democracy.

In practical terms, this means that queers in Turkey who've already seen their Pride Parade banned in Istanbul, have even fewer allies as they fight back against new anti-gay measures like the ban on their queer film festival, PinkFest, which has been declared "an incitement to terrorism."

If we are going to survive this, we have to stop exhausting ourselves with every Trump tweet, or the latest indignities visited on us by the Republicans. We need to think bigger, much bigger, and begin to plan. For the long run.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Long Live the King! Celebrating Diane Torr

By Kelly Cogswell

Sunday afternoon, I gussied myself up and was at the door putting on my red shoes when I realized I was still wearing puffy white athletic socks. I was going to a memorial at Dixon Place for Diane Torr, a remarkable artist, extraordinary human, and king of all drag kings everywhere who died in May. So of course I stopped and changed.

The first time I met Diane, we were both on the bill for a fundraiser at Jennifer Monson's Williamsburg loft that in 1992 did double duty as a dance studio and performance space called the Matzoh Factory.

There was nothing legendary about the encounter. I had to piss and she was hogging the bathroom. "Come on in," she said in her slightly Scottish lilt. "Don't mind me." And when I hesitated-- because I'd never met this slightly stocky woman in trousers and a man's shirt, squinting in concentration as she used eyeliner or something to draw on a beard on her face, or maybe it was a mustache-- she said, "I promise not to look."

I wasn't so sure. She had a wicked gleam in her eye. And as a newly minted dyke, nearly fresh off the bus from Kentucky, I declined the offer, and had to read my poems with a busting bladder. Of course I almost peed myself when she performed.

Diane did experimental dance, performance, and film, but that night, she was my first drag king, and her work shook me as much as the Five Lesbian Brothers whom I'd just seen not long before, and were so unapologetically raunchily, lustfully, and lesbianishly perverse that I blushed all night long. As for drag performers, I'd seen drag queens in their high heels and big hair at a gay bar in Lexington where there were rumors of knife fights. And then again in New York en masse the time I'd been caught in the middle of the Halloween Parade.

But Diane was something else. She crackled with an energy fueled in part by anger, sex, and more than a little mischievous glee as she crossed boundaries you weren't supposed to. A woman making dick jokes and pulling one out of her pants!? Impossible. How she strides across the floor! How her form grows in mass and density as her largely feminine body accepts the mantle of masculinity!

Her performance was alternately an exploration, a critique, and maybe, revenge. She ran away from a violent, alcoholic father, and got dumped in reform school for her pains, where she had to fight to be allowed an academic education. She never took "no" for an answer, and won of course, even going on to college. Then in Seventies London, got radicalized as a feminist and Marxist, and studied dance before she moved to New York in '76 and discovered the downtown art and performance scene. She wasn't the only one who worked as a go-go dancer to pay the bills, but she was one of the few to defend their rights.

All that was in the delight and power she claimed with every step in front of the crowd at the Matzoh Factory. Yeah, this girl from Aberdeen that was supposed to be a shop assistant or factory worker can put on a suit and tie and take up as much space as you, you fucking wanker. There's not some magic power in your body.

She was committed to sharing the experience through her drag king workshops, which she'd launched just a couple years before. She later renamed them "Man for a Day," when drag kings exploded in popularity, leaning more and more towards entertainment and humor.

As hilarious as she could be, her "Man for a Day" project, teaching women to pass, wasn't a joke. And certainly not just a "performance" meant to fuel the work of gender theorists, as that word "performance" increasingly minimizes the consequences of how we express gender. How we get beat up for it, raped, ignored, and marginalized.

At 5'3" she learned aikido to defend herself on the streets. In a clip of a documentary they showed at the memorial yesterday, she explained that part of the attraction of going out in drag was the vacation it gave her from being Diane. From being a woman in public. It wasn't just about danger. "If you walk into a room as a man, you are seen. Walk in as a woman, and you're checked out. By both men and women. To see if you are sexy. At least until you're thirty-five or forty, then you aren't seen at all." As a man though, she existed. Was suddenly human.

That's the gist of what she said anyway. I wasn't taking notes, and was suddenly overcome with loss at the sound of her voice in the room, her kind face. It is impossible that this artist, this groundbreaking human--is gone.

Monday, October 23, 2017

#UsToo: Reclaiming "Lesbian" in Vienna

By Kelly Cogswell

I recently went to a march in NYC organized by Voices 4 Chechnya and RUSA LGBT demanding that the U.S. welcome queer Chechen refugees who are being tortured and murdered by the brutal regime of Putin faithful, Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov.

I'd heard a lot about how gay men and trans women in Chechnya were targeted by police stings, and often kidnapped, but very little about lesbians. During the pre-march rally in front of the Stonewall Inn, one woman read a message from a Chechen lesbian who reminded us that they were being attacked, too.

If lesbians were invisible in this "cleansing," it was because of women's lowly status in Chechnya, she explained. Unlike gay men, they simply didn't have a chance to escape. Women were barely allowed to leave the house, and were almost never permitted to study or work abroad. So, rather than sending them to jail and torturing or killing them there if they were discovered to be lesbians, the cops, or their neighbors, or relatives would simply pressure their immediate family to do the bloody deed at home, behind closed doors. And they often did--with complete impunity.

I was grateful they featured that story at the rally. It's time we talk more about how the experiences of gay men and lesbians are different. Even lesbians don't talk much about lesbians anymore--at least in the U.S. Perhaps because many of us have abandoned that word. Young queer women say it's too final. Too fixed. Not to mention the fact that it's so terrifyingly efficient, that in a mere two and a half syllables, it identifies sex and sexual identity, and with a loud, perverted, BANG! effectively slams the door on heterosexual female privilege.

It's also true, that we're used to keeping quiet about our own abuse. Even though women broke our silence this week on social media speaking out about our experiences of sexual violence and harassment, none of the lezzies I know, including me, talked about how this had affected us as dykes. Perhaps we don't think it did. Or we don't feel entitled to ask ourselves the question, and examine this nightmare, much less talk about it, through the lens of our insignificant unlabeled lives.

Do I sound bitter? I hope so. When I recently suggested to a bunch of dykes that they incorporate a focus on lesbians into their work for women, for queers, for immigrants, against mass incarceration or racism or poverty, nobody spoke in agreement. In fact, one woman sneered and said her work was too important to wait until she found some token lesbian case. As if we weren't already present. Facing job discrimination. Going to jail far more often than straight-seeming women when faced with the same charge. As if we didn't face violence, harassment, marginalization. As if black dyke lives didn't matter. And they don't. Let's be honest. None of our dyke lives count.

If we don't have enough anecdotal evidence proving how trifling we are, it's there in dollars and cents. Out of 424 million dollars budgeted for international LGBTI issues in 2013-2014, only a measly 2% went towards projects for LBQ (lesbian, bi, queer) women. And out of hundreds of recommendations put forward at the United Nations in recent years, only one addressed specifically lesbian issues.

Those figures come from the first European Lesbian* Conference that took place early this month in Vienna, and were the proverbial last drop that pushed the organizers into action. (They should crunch the numbers for women's projects, too, which I suspect are no more eager to embrace lesbian issues than queer NGOs often headed by gay men.)

The two researchers who presented a report to the conference on lesbian lives in Europe discovered that we were almost on par with unicorns when it came to mining data even among countries in the relatively progressive European Union. This meant that not only were they limited in the conclusions they could draw, but that we would hit a brick wall if we wanted to propose a project on lesbian mental health, for instance, because we wouldn't have enough figures proving it was needed, or to create a model for how it might work. Ditto for projects addressing violence against lesbians. No data. Therefore, no funding. And no action. As a result, almost every researcher at the conference begged the lesbian participants from Iceland to Uzbekistan to get involved collecting data on their own communities.

The second, equally repeated request, was for lesbians to come out, and stay out, both online and in real life. This visibility tells young lesbians they aren't alone, and creates room to maneuver for all those who can't risk coming out, especially in cultures where all women are excluded not only from politics and culture, but from public spaces like parks, streets, cafés.

Oh, and even though they added the asterisk, acknowledging some felt more comfortable with other words, they insisted we use the word, lesbian*. Because a word is not just a word. In practical terms, lesbian is the only word so far that includes all of what we are. As much as I like "queer," it fails us with its masculine default. And while a word like "fluid" may be accurate for some, or even many, it not only sidelines gender, but hedges its sexual bets, conveniently leaving the door open to straight privilege. One Ukrainian dyke called a refusal to use the word lesbian flat-out homophobic. I'd say there's misogyny at play as well.

This erasure of “lesbian” and the return to the linguistic closet has real world consequences--less political power, less funding, less research, more invisibility. Visibility is key not just to power, but hope, solidarity, and even joy, if you judge by the ecstatic faces at the lesbian march through the center of Vienna on the last night of the conference. Words also give people ideas. It's why when homosexuality was outlawed--again-- in Britain in 1921, they, too, refused to include the word lesbian. During the debate in the House of Lords, the Earl of Malmesbury famously explained, "The more you advertise vice by prohibiting it, the more you will increase it." We can only hope.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Mixed State of the Queer World

By Kelly Cogswell

I went for a check-up last week, and when the doc asked, "What's new?" I blurted out, "It's the End of Days. That's what's new." Then I grinned so he wouldn't haul me off to Bellevue. I hadn't seen him since before the election when he told me there was no way Trump would win.

Now, we have straight up Nazis in the very White House, daily earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, islands in the Caribbean destroyed beyond belief. Narrow shaves on Obamacare. And I'm in the middle of my own middle-aged dyke job search, which is going demoralizingly, and terrifyingly, slow.

I am premature in my despair. Here in New York anyway, we've kept our feet dry during this hurricane season. The mayor and the governor speak out for immigrants, and promise to keep providing health care for struggling New Yorkers. The Planned Parenthood nearby does get demonstrators, but abortions are still available and safe. Queers can get married under both federal and state law. And there is a reasonable amount of protections for us.

New York City even has a department that investigates civil rights violations, especially important now that the Trump administration may decide that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (barring job discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin) doesn't protect queer workers.

And here we can go to Trump Towers and protest in relative security, while in St. Louis, cops shout, "Who's streets, our streets," arresting protesters as violently as possible. If I walk down the street here, I may occasionally get harassed as a queer by other private citizens, but not by the cops or security enforcing the will of a government that hates my guts. At least not yet.

There's a special kind of terror for queers who don't just experience a violent discrimination, but whose very existence has been declared illegal. The BBC reported a couple of weeks ago, that in Tanzania, where gay male sex is a crime punishable by up to thirty years in prison, twenty people were arrested and charged for alleged homosexuality. Their crime: sitting in a hotel to receive training about HIV/AIDS. Earlier this year, the government made HIV/AIDS services illegal even in private health clinics because, they claimed, even talking about AIDS promotes gay sex.

In Baku, Azerbaijan, where homo sex is theoretically legal, the cops recently used the excuse of an anti-prostitution campaign to beat, humiliate, even arrest at least 100 gay men and trans women, not only grabbing them in public spaces, but in their homes. According to the Advocate, "victims report they have been subject to verbal abuse, beatings, and forced medical examinations. (In addition, trans women's heads have been forcibly shaved.) Many were only allowed to leave after providing names and addresses of other LGBT people."

An anti-gay purge continues in Chechnya as well, targeting gay and bi men using dating aps, in which victims expect to meet a hook up, but find cops and security forces which stick a bag on their head and drag them off to be interrogated and tortured. And when they've given up a bunch of names, are outed to their families, which often respond with violence. This according to Kimahli Powell, head of the Rainbow Railroad, which has been working with the Canadian government to get them to safety. Canada has declared that Chechnyan queers are refugees.

Plenty of Americans sympathize--with the Chechnyan regime. While our federal government doesn't yet have the power to strip us entirely of civil rights, Trump and his henchmen continue to attack basic freedoms. And the hateful language of our bigot-in-chief is echoed everywhere from New York City subways to Olathe, Kansas.

Participating in a football homecoming parade there, members of a gay-straight alliance were taunted by classmates throwing things at them, and chanting, "Make America straight again," along with an assortment of slurs, insults and encouragements to go kill themselves. The school district denounced the behavior, but some students in the group were so shaken they didn't return to school the next day.

There have been a few queer bright spots, too. In Hong Kong, an appeals court just ruled--unanimously-- that a British lesbian whose partner works in the city should be granted a spousal visa, because the government had not proved the necessity of "indirect discrimination on account of sexual orientation."

In the U.S., Lena Waithe became the first black woman to pick up an Emmy for comedy writing for an episode drawing on her own story as an out lesbian.

And lastly, the brand Lululemon, is aiming to move beyond skinny white girl territory by adding a menswear collection. They're launching it with a campaign called "Strength to Be" which features the likes of out gay Puerto Rican boxer, Orlando Cruz, and queer hiphop artist Zebra Katz. Nice.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Caring About Queers In the Age of the Trumpocalypse

By Kelly Cogswell

After gracing the front pages for what seems like years with major gains in trans rights, and marriage equality, queers are nearly invisible again in the face of neo-Nazis in the White House and board rooms, nuclear war with North Korea, deadly earthquakes in Mexico, fires across the globe, and their evil twins--floods--impolitely fed by global warming.

Traditionally-defined queer issues seem the least of our concerns. Just like after 9/11 when the local TV chains in New York suddenly disappeared everyone from the African American women who did the news, to city fixtures like Al Sharpton and Latina lesbian Council Member Margarita Lopez along with our tiny problems. Police brutality. Health. Housing. Freedom. Equality.

Our replacements--all white guys all the time, the universal news anchor with dark suits and hard-ons, military brass and congressmen next to Rudy Giuliani in his rotating NYPD, NYFD ball caps. George W. Bush denouncing imaginary weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and encouraging citizens to rat each other out. His reps issuing yellow, orange and red terror alerts actively frightening people who are frightened still, and determined to return the country to a moment of pure and peaceful and prosperous white maleness as fake and powerful as Saddam's chemical weapons.

I try to imagine how terrifying it must have been to see those indestructible towers fall from a distance. Because everything is worse from afar. Then how great it must have been for these men equally deflated by strides in feminism, LGBT rights, racial equality to see dark skin and female flesh hidden away. And white guys back on top of the human dungheap sacrificing their lives, being heroes. (Even if there were a few minimized reports buried in back pages that hinted some of the newly named "first responders" shouldn't have been inside the towers at all, were actually ordered not to go in but went in anyway. And so died with their comrades.)

There was no room for queers in the heroic narrative. Except for the gay rugby player who intervened on one of the hijacked flights. And the dead gay priest. There's always room for a dead gay.

Yes, there was a sudden masculinization, a very white washing, a re-heteroization of America. But LGBT people in the U.S. had already ceded cultural ground. The queers I knew in ACT-UP continued to work on global AIDS, but seemed to rarely mention homophobia. Dykes I knew from the Lesbian Avengers kept doing activism, taking to the streets for social justice issues like income equality, but somehow never became advocates for poor dykes. Maybe they imagined that there would be some trickle down, or just wanted to get out of our ghetto.

And so, we queer activists left Gay Inc. to their usual devices, including political maneuvering and backroom deals, and only emerging occasionally to complain about their relatively conservative agenda (same-sex marriage, gays/trans in the military, etc.) though we lustily celebrated each normalizing triumph.

Things are no different now. Tracking my "radical" queer friends on Facebook, they frequently mention women, or people of color, but almost never LGBT people unless Trump does. Like when he tweeted he was booting trans folk from the military or trumpeted his support for homophobic bakers. And yet, these “radical” queers are in the street for everything else, from nuclear war to neo-Nazi posturing.

About queers, they, we, are mostly silent. And in that void of our own creation, the conservative, "family values" nuts have stepped in, stronger than ever. They’re cleaning us out. Quietly.

In New York, the Justice Department butted in a workplace discrimination case arguing that the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not protect workers on the basis of their sexual orientation. Meanwhile, all mention of LGBT people and gender identity has been stripped out of certain federal documents including those for a program for child victims of sex trafficking.

In Tennessee, the Knox County school board is considering changing its harassment policy to remove language explicitly protecting LGBT employees.

And, of course programs for women which somewhat benefit dykes and trans women, programs that fight AIDS in black Southern gay men are all being eliminated and cut.

That’s what you get when no one’s minding the store.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Truth and Reconciliation

By Kelly Cogswell

I decided to go down to Louisville last week, and hopped on a Chinatown bus for a mere thirteen hours with a bunch of Asian and African immigrants, two or three South Asians, a couple of Latinos, and a handful of young African- Americans, all glued to their smartphones and tablets and largely indifferent to the white dyke shivering in her blue child's hoodie.

The last time I took the bus down was twenty-five years ago, when the riders were almost all poor whites and poor blacks sneaking cigarettes in the Greyhound bathroom, and drinking 40s to kill the time. Looking around at the vastly different faces, I took it as a sign of hope, a reminder of how much the South has changed despite the gerrymandering by bigots trying to turn back time.

They can't. Progressives can't either. We cannot return to the world before Trump. White hetero masculinist supremacy is entering its death throes, ranting and lashing out as viciously as a bear we've baited with every minuscule victory. If we resist a few more years, though, if we aren't all burned to a crisp, something interesting may emerge from the wreckage. I suspect it will come from the unthinkable South which has been quietly digesting their new multicultural existence, without abandoning their desire for community, family, a kinship to the land, even beauty.

Culture there is as important as politics. And it cuts across racial lines. When the young black mother in front of me confessed she was considering moving back to Atlanta from New York, she said it was because Atlanta was more chill. She wasn't at home with New York's pumped up aggressive attitude. She also missed her family down south, even if she didn't get along with her mother. "Me either," I said, "Though I'm on my way to visit her." Her face lit up. "That's just what I needed to hear. Family's family," she said. And insisted on a high five.

My friend Leigh picked me up at the gas station. After a slow beer on her front porch, I went to confront my mother. When the attendant brought her from her room, she didn't know who I was, even though I said, "It's Kelly. Your daughter." She just smiled a little worriedly, wanting to please. Didn't look like a monster at all.

After a while, she relaxed and chatted in a disjointed, mumbly kind of way. She'd pause now and then, stroke my hand with pleasure and say, "You're so pretty. You look just like my boyfriend. God is good. Isn't God good?" And I'd say, "Sure." It was hilarious that she liked me now that I was somebody else. And could even find my boyishness appealing.

Once my two sisters and I hit adolescence, her general expression was one of loathing and disgust. She was cultural enforcer extraordinaire, slamming us all as being fat and no-good just like my father. Bound straight for hell. When I came out, she utterly rejected me. Even after ten years with the same girl, she'd ask when I was going to stop that nonsense and find me a man. She had plenty to say about race, as well.

Of course she hadn't entirely changed. When she told me that lots of girl friends visited her, she took pains to reassure me that she wasn't "queer." She still asked how much I weighed, but without the same urgency, the same hate. It was just a tape playing in her head. I suppose it always was. She smiled and laughed, and praised Jesus. I figured she also said offensive things to her young black caregiver who had just moved down from Chicago, but got a pass because of her illness and age, and perpetual smiles.

The attendant said she was actually a favorite at the facility, though of course she had her moments like all the other Alzheimer's patients. I didn't try to disabuse her. My real mother, the person responsible for so much anguish, was already dead. Let her rest in peace.

It was kind of freeing, abandoning all hope of reconciliation or understanding. It absolved me, too. I'm the activist who abandoned her bigoted mother. Allowed her to persist in her hate. Pollute her grandchildren who are now mostly unredeemable bigots who hate blacks, immigrants, queers like me, though I'm not so bad, they say. Not at all what they expected.

I took her outside in the heat for a walk, passing through locked doors too heavy for her to open alone. She started to get unsteady after fifty yards or so and I turned back. "It's this way." She stared around her and didn't recognize a thing. "How do you figure out where to go?" she asked. I couldn't answer.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Abandoning Outrage

By Kelly Cogswell

I've been thinking about outrage lately, and how inadequate it is when it comes to Americans and Trump. Maybe the problem is that outrage requires some level of surprise, and, at this point, surprise seems false, even bizarre, in the face of a president who revealed himself clearly in all his pre-election conspiracy tweets and unsavory deeds: from boasts about grabbing pussy to KKK-filled rallies to asking why we couldn't just nuke undesirable people or countries.

Yep, he was pretty clear up front about his goal to take us back to the good old days when a man, a white man, could buy a home with a good blue collar salary. And the women and the blacks and browns and gays and dangerous foreigners all knew their third class place.

The outrage seems especially false when it comes from a Sanders-embracing Democratic party who share certain goals with Trump--the delusional return of heavy industry, the retreat from international agreements, the rescue of an idealized working class, which is somehow always defined as white and male. They're still salivating over the mythical Trump voters, no matter that study after study proves poor whites-- like poor people of color-- actually voted for Clinton. That it was mostly middle and upper class white folks characterized by pathological bigotry that voted for Trump.

Instead of trying to rise and resist fueled by outrage—and a good dose of righteousness--why not lie down and concede? Who has the time or energy to think past Trump?

Me, I no longer have the skills. I invested so many years in outrage that there are only ashes left where my brain once was. Outrage, after all, was what mobilized me as a Lesbian Avenger. It was what I'd try to inspire in you with my writing, imagining you'd be forced to act if you felt the same horror and anger I did at queers getting beaten and killed. Or cops gunning down some man raising his wallet in a black hand because they were afraid--and never paying for it. At elections being stolen. War declared for no reason. Prisoners tortured. I'd even offer tips for action. Tell my newly furious readers to call this Representative. Write that Senator. Think about this law.

I gradually discovered outrage really only works to elicit more outrage. Real action-- not so much. Outraged people might send an email, or go to a couple demos, or vent on Facebook, but real change demands a lot more. It is sometimes boring, and always slow, and actually requires a suspension of the anger that got you involved in the first place.

After all, change needs wide support, and to get it, you can't just tell people something is right--or wrong--you have to persuade them of it. And that requires making arguments. And effective arguments require getting to know someone, and finding common ground, at least on that one issue, and accepting that on others you might remain impossibly far apart. Which means you also have to refuse purity, refuse hate, agree to listen more than speak.

Not everyone is cut out for this. Fewer and fewer even try. We've replaced analysis with censorship. We have forgotten how to be wrong. We've also forgotten how to be right. On Facebook, last week, I noticed that people can’t tell anymore when somebody is trolling them, or agreeing with them. Last week on two different pages, and two different threads I saw people get blocked in fury because they restated their agreement in different language, or wondered what happened if you took the same train of thought a little further.

We've all lost our damn minds.

Lately, I've started to wonder what would happen here if somebody tried to build a movement in the mold of Macron's successful En Marche in France. They did two important things. They divided campaigns by neighborhood. So whomever you talked to from En Marche probably only lived two or three streets away. Right away you had something in common.

And during training, all the volunteers were told to remain pleasant no matter what. To listen. To never dismiss. Never harangue. Even if somebody was offensive. My girlfriend went out to canvas voters and decided to follow instructions even though she was extremely skeptical. And every night she'd come back after handing out flyers or going door-to-door marveling that in divided, combative, bitterly sectarian France something so simple worked time after time—if not to win a vote, to open an honest dialogue among citizens. A dialogue free of hate and outrage which, if sustained, might in time change things much more than an election, though they pulled off the win.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Notes on the State of the Queer Union

By Kelly Cogswell

Last week, I bought seeds, and potting soil, rigged a couple of egg cartons, and planted tomatoes and herbs. Before I went to bed yesterday, I saw the first pale sprouts of basil emerging. I check back every half hour now, to see what else has poked out. At least that hasn't changed. Stick some seeds in some dirt, add water. Something will grow despite the violence in the air. So much rage that I no longer know how to talk about it, much less confront it.

It seems like a decade since forty-nine people, mostly queer and Latino, were slaughtered in a gay club in Orlando, Florida by a guy with a lot of guns, even more rage, and a history of domestic violence. Since then, the U.S. saw fit to install a monstrously angry maniac in the extremely White House egging on the most fragile men among us to do their worst with four a.m. tweets, and each day seems like month.

Every day, we are attacked and harassed, sometimes killed. A couple of weeks ago, I was just standing on the subway, and this guy walked through the car, caught sight of my apparently inappropriately masculine hairdo, and started loudly saying, "Fucking lesbians, fucking gay men. I don't want them in my country."

It sounded bizarre coming from a short, brown, Latino man with a thick, Spanish-accent. But so what? He'd swallowed whole the antigay, white nationalist rhetoric, and not even the faggot an arms-length away met my eyes as the guy continued to repeat, "Fucking lesbians, fucking gay men. I don't want you in my country." I monitored him until he got off, wondering if anybody would help if he came over and smashed my face in, or tried to, like the guy who shattered the eye socket of that dyke on the Q train.

Last week, as if in answer to the critics that lefties don't care enough to get violent, James T. Hodgkinson, a Saunders supporter, shot up Republican congressmen practicing baseball. While his politics may have been somewhat different than the usual attacker, he was still the usual male with a history of violence-- a profile so common every case of Intimate Partner Violence should be treated as a sign of incipient terrorism. Who needs Syria when you can practice on the woman in the kitchen?

Good times in New York, 2017. Good times in the U.S.

Meanwhile, in France, the sane centrist Emmanuel Macron won the presidential election, and his party just gained a parliamentary majority, so he should be able to pass the modest reforms France has needed for decades, and push for social and economic equality for poor minorities. Just as important, his pro-EU stance has given new life to a foundering European Union. Instead of ending the E.U., Brexit, and the American fiasco, have made the need for European self-sufficiency increasingly clear in all matters from defense to the regional economy and the environment.

That's good news for European queers who benefit every day from the EU, whether they realize it or not. Not only is the EU an important funder of LGBTQ projects on the regional and local level, almost every local lawsuit on queer issues like marriage, adoption, basic civil rights cites EU agreements because they are often more progressive than those of member states. If Italian queers ever get to tie the knot, if French dykes gain access to insemination, if queers from countries experiencing a populist, rightward trajectory are able to protect themselves, they will likely owe at least a little to the E.U.

I don't know what we're going to do here in the States where the buck stops with a U.S. federal government actively hostile to its citizens, especially social minorities. Even before Trump, before the Minnesota jury that acquitted Jeronimo Yanez, in the 2016 shooting death of Philando Castile, there was no justice for Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Rekia Boyd, Sean Bell, Tamir Rice, Freddie, Osca, K, Aiyana Jones, Ramarley Graham, Amadou Diallo, Trayvon Martin...

Now, every civil right imaginable is under attack, along with the very premise of democracy. If we can't reach up for help, we're gonna have to reach out, go horizontal. Our lives may depend on it.

Monday, June 05, 2017

In Defense of Lesbians ie. Those Fucking Dykes

By Kelly Cogswell

On Saturday, May 20, two lesbians got attacked on the Q train. The news reports say it was an altercation over seats. Apparently two lezzies had them, and when Antoine Thomas got on the train he demanded theirs, bumping against them, and screaming "Faggot," and "Dyke."

When they asked him to calm down, he beat them, smashing one woman's face until she was unconscious. At the hospital, they treated her for a concussion, a broken eye socket, and a nice array of cuts.

Thomas was arrested by a transit cop, then charged with assault, menacing and harassment, but the next day, the judge in Brooklyn Criminal Court let him go without bail. Why not? It's just some man beating on women. And not just any women, but dykes.

It's tempting to blame the attack on Trump, and the ascendance of white, aggressively hetero, male nationalists. After all, violence always follows hate speech, and there has been a surge in it against women and queers, people of color and immigrants, since he took to the campaign trail.

The problem is, during the U.S. election 2016, or 2008, it wasn't just the extreme right sneering at Hillary Clinton's voice, her hair, her thighs. The left was just as thrilled to embrace every fake news story about her, and glory in attacking aspects of her career that they minimized, or ignored altogether in her male counterparts.

The truth is, the vast majority of Americans despise women. And long before Trump, lesbians already experienced this hate exponentially, because we are by definition women who primarily make our lives with other women--however you define that elusive creature.

Nevertheless, the women's movement is still not a particularly welcoming space for us. Straight women often don't see the woman in the dyke, and pack us off to the LGBT community the first chance they get as if we were extraterrestrials. Even among queers, we're screwed. An acquaintance did the breakdown of a European LGBT fund, and discovered that only a tiny, tiny fraction went to projects that prioritized lesbians.

Here in New York, I was at a performance and reading Friday night by two dyke artists as part of a celebration of the Lesbian Avengers 25th anniversary. A prominent gay man invited to attend more or less said he'd rather die than spend an evening with lesssssbians.

When my friend, a straight man, told me about it, I think I was supposed to laugh, make fun of the guy. But I felt like somebody punched me in the face. I'd forgotten for a moment just how much people hate us, how ridiculous and disgusting they think we are. How acceptable it still is for absolutely everybody to express these views, though not necessarily to our faces.

Every day I rediscover that the funny, chic, thin lesbians we think are giving us visibility are in fact perceived as the exception. The rest of us dykes are absolutely monstrous if we exist at all.

This is why the Lesbian Avengers was created in the first place, to bring us real visibility, call attention to our issues, reshape the stereotypes. It is a measure of how powerful lesbophobia is that this lesbian visibility group has been largely erased from women's and queer history. No matter that the New York Lesbian Avengers spawned sixty chapters worldwide, drew tens of thousands of dykes to enormous Dyke Marches which have persisted lo, these twenty-five years.

What a delightful cocktail--the misogyny and homophobia of lesbophobia. Lately, it is playing itself out in questions of language. I'd be rich, if I had a dollar for every time I've been told in the last few years that nobody uses the word, "lesbian" anymore. It's passé. It doesn't speak to the young'uns who prefer queer or fluid, anything but that word abandoned by everyone but our greying institutions and a very small minority of trans-denying bigots.

Nobody wonders why most replacements for "lesbian" conceal gender, obscure orientation, refuse to slam the door on the heterosexual privilege that women get when there's at least some possibility they'll sleep with a man.

Nobody asks if our hatred of that word, "lesbian," reflects in part our hatred of the women it represents because they are all... what? Boring? Dour? Humorless? Ugly? Angry? Trans-hating? And frigid, of course. Except when we are oversexed nymphomaniacs. Add your stereotype here _________.

Above all, nobody seems to care that we can't organize politically without a word that captures both the misogyny and homophobia that govern our experience no matter what we call ourselves. And if we don't organize, what will change?

Monday, May 08, 2017

France at the Authoritarian Crossroads

By Kelly Cogswell

It's almost a miracle, how in just one year, centrist Emanuel Macron and his supporters launched the grassroots movement En Marche! (Forward!) that not only got him into the second round of the presidential vote, but helped him win. Much of the work was done by folks who hadn't been involved in politics before, including many women, and people of color. Victories in the upcoming legislative elections, when voters are not facing the threat of white nationalist Le Pen, will hopefully confirm that democracy still works in France, and people not tapped into traditional parties can still have a voice if they are willing to knock on enough doors.

Even if they win, France is still at a crossroads. In the first round, almost fifty percent of voters chose a populist from the extreme right or the extreme left. In the final round, anti-Europe, anti-immigrant right-wing Marine Le Pen won thirty-four percent of the vote, drawing in not just voters from the center right, but poaching some from the extreme left. Like Trump, she also benefited from the many leftists who chose to stay home or vote blank and take their chances with virulent white nationalists, rather than vote for a centrist.

At a recent political meeting, Daniel Cohen-Bendit, whose family literally had to hide from the Nazis, blamed the growing power of the racist, authoritarian National Front on the French failure to remember and transmit their knowledge of Nazi atrocities. That's absolutely true, but I also blame the left worldwide for ignoring their own totalitarian past, so that when their candidate gets knocked out, it's no stretch for them to abstain, or even to embrace an extreme right promising to support workers. After all, class trumps everything, from misogyny to racism and the abuse of human rights. And when they say class, make no mistake, it's a white male factory worker they're thinking of.

It started with Stalin, who in the name of that working class, executed a million or so, "enemies of the state" often identified by their ethnicity. He killed another million in the gulags, and deliberately engineered famines that killed another five million, including more than a million nomads of Soviet Kazakhstan, and 3.3 million in the Soviet Ukraine. Poles were targeted, too. According to historian Timothy Snyder, "it was Stalin, not Hitler, who initiated the first ethnic killing campaigns in interwar Europe."

Not that anyone cares. Part of the problem with the left is that they are just as willing to ignore facts as any Trump voter. When it comes to Cuba, for instance, every report about the long-term failure of the 1959 revolution -- the poverty, the corruption, human rights abuses, the racism, and homophobia--has been denounced as fake news. Every voice protesting the treatment of the opposition is dismissed as a CIA plant, or just dismissed.

When I told a dyke acquaintance I'd never vote for the extreme left French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon-- a re-packaged Communist-- because he was too fond of tyrants—like Russia's Putin, Syria’s Assad, and Venezuela’s Maduro--she first claimed the media made up those connections. And when I pointed out his recent, lengthy eulogy for Castro, she declared her own love for Fidel. And when I brought up the queers he threw in jail there-- "including my girlfriend," she sneered like I was pathetic for letting concentration camps stand in the way of embracing the Revolution.

Most recently, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela seduced the masses at home and abroad with his fancy Bolivarian speeches. But if you dare explain to someone that the country is now an economic and political disaster where dissidents are jailed, you can't buy an aspirin or a roll of toilet paper, hospitals are closed, people are dying of hunger and there are mass protests where demonstrators across the political spectrum are shot dead in the street… the typical leftist response is, "But they're from The Right, aren't they?"

Call me a right-wing reactionary, but I find this callousness as monstrous as the bloated rage of any Trump or Le Pen, and just as racist. Instead of the exploitation of natural resources and labor, these colonialist revolutionaries worldwide prop up dictators with alt-facts, alt-narratives so they can play out their utopian fantasies. That the ordinary people in places like Venezuela and Cuba might aspire to the same standard of living, the same freedom and human rights that we enjoy in the U.S. or France, is of no consequence whatsoever.

This is playing out in France, too, where the left is determined to thwart Macron's incremental proposals for economic reform. They see only that the rich might benefit, never consider why so many people of color and immigrants who voted Socialist for decades and got nothing, might enthusiastically embrace the social mobility, jobs, and improved education that are largely the point of Macron's plans. I get the idea that they want black and brown people to stay poor and pure, untainted by the privilege or money they themselves inherit, which they often pretend appeared under their pillow, or grew on a tree.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Voting for Hope in France

By Kelly Cogswell

The first round of the presidential election is over, and it's down to the centrist Emmanuel Macron and the candidate of the extreme right, Marine Le Pen. I think he'll win. God, I hope so. In many ways, he was the most progressive in the pack, emphasizing education, human rights, social mobility, economic justice (achieved through reform rather than revolution), and the democratic process. It is to his credit that he was, and is, the candidate most hated by Putin, partly because nine of the other ten candidates wanted to leave Europe, not stay and push for reform.

My girlfriend’s been campaigning for Macron for weeks, going door to door in our modest Paris neighborhood, leafleting at metro stops, and in the outdoor food markets.

Here, in the 11th arrondissement, situated between Place de la Nation and Belleville, she saw a clear racial divide among voters. Young white lefties mostly stumped for the left-wing populist, Jean-Luc Melenchon, but almost everyone with roots in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, West Africa, happily took Macron's fliers and stopped to chat, even grabbing my girlfriend's arm, assuring her at length that God was on their side. "Don't worry, we'll win."

One was impressed that on a trip to Algeria, Macron acknowledged that French colonialism had included crimes against humanity. More importantly, he refused to recant, hedge, or soften his words, even though there was a total uproar afterwards that set back his campaign.

Another liked his plans to improve schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods, but also offer retraining for the unemployed, and continued education for everyone in this new world where technology and information advances rapidly.

Others support his plans to modernize the fossilized economy and create jobs in this country with 9.6% unemployment, making it easier for them to start new businesses, from small law firms to nail salons. They are tired of being offered handouts instead of jobs, palliative care instead of access to social mobility, which begins quite literally with public transportation. Out in the Paris banlieues, the suburban ghettoes, it’s a lengthy and expensive process to get to jobs in the city, assuming you can find one. They applaud when Macron calls it “house arrest”.

Like him, they see plenty to criticize in Europe, but they also embrace it. They understand a Frexit would be an economic disaster for France, and probably the end of the European Union. They know that retreats into nationalism are never good for anyone, particularly for minorities. Immigrant bashing is Britain’s new pastime, like in Trump’s white nationalist U.S.

They are glad that Macron is young, and hopeful, but pragmatic. Many, like my girlfriend, have seen what happens when authoritarian populists come to power, and are quite certain that utopias of the left and of the right, like coalmines, and salvation by old-time manufacturing, are pipe dreams that belong to the last century.

Unlike the white French, few of them consider Macron tainted by the three and a half years he spent in an investment bank. One immigrant I know considers the experience a plus. If you want to reform an economy, it helps to have real world experience on how they operate, and to accept that globalization is as much of a fact as mechanization. It's how you handle it that counts.

Women's rights and gender parity in his movement En Marche are an important part of Macron’s platform. He's also recovered his footing on LGBT issues even though he stumbled trying to reach out to right-wing voters that had opposed marriage equality.

Last Monday, we went to a big public meeting, and Macron's supporters represented, as they claim, the face of France, including an enthusiastic range of ages, races, genders, ethnicities, accents. Big screens broadcast images of the crowd, and when it showed two dykes who were surprised to see themselves there, they suddenly smiled, turned to each other and kissed, and the crowd went wild with cheers and applause. A few minutes later, it was two men kissing, who also got applause.

When Macron finally spoke, I found myself agreeing with nearly everything he said, especially his insistence on complexity, and his use of the phrase, "en même temps," at the same time. He was comfortable expressing pride in the ideas of the Enlightenment, while at the same time acknowledging that France hadn’t achieved them. That France had to modernize the economy and create job growth, but at the same time continue to protect the vulnerable. That he had to engage with countries like Russia, but still denounce the abuse of human rights, including the concentration camps in Chechnya where they had been torturing gay men. When he mentioned those, the horror was visible on his face.

If I could vote for him, I would, not just to thwart Marine Le Pen, but because I believe in his platform. Whether or not he can pull it off is another story. He'd have to get a majority in the legislature, and unify a fractured country. He may not even get past the final round vote on May 7th. One obstacle: a substantial minority of the extreme left prepared to sacrifice people of color and immigrants--among many, many others-- as they self-righteously proclaim, "Anybody, but Macron."

Monday, April 10, 2017

Don't Mention Gender or Race

By Kelly Cogswell

For the next four years our only strategy on the national level can be to persistently say, "no." And "no." And "no." No! to every single thing Trump does, or that the Republicans propose from Supreme Court candidates to financial reform, and next season's wars. Odds are we'll still lose. But as bad as things seem, they'll be worse if we sit at home with our mouths closed.

Of course, there are also proactive things we can do on the local level if we can just get out of bed. Many of the rights and privileges we've already seen stripped away can be restored or protected, at least in part, by the states. Let us then work in our hometowns for access to health care, and education, and jobs, for righteous police forces, immigrant rights, environmental protection, fair voting districts. Not to mention gender and racial inequalities.

Really, seriously, don't bother mentioning those at all. We've known since before the election that Trump voters actually had a higher income than Clinton voters. And now that it's over, studies confirm that having strongly bigoted ideas predicted Trump voters much more closely than income. But no, let's continue to dissect the Democratic campaign and its "failure" to reach white working class voters.

Especially don't contradict that large minority on the left still asserting that Sanders would have won, "If the Dems hadn't rigged, rigged, rigged the primary in favor of that horrible bitch." They still believe everything Sanders said in his speeches. Nothing that Clinton did. Believe none of the criticism about their white-haired masculine savior. Believe every single attack on that girly-bitted, establishment cunt who dared talk about race or gender when it's only class that matters. Especially the heart-breaking struggles of former factory workers and coal miners that just happened to be white. And male.

It's almost funny to watch the contortions of the white, masculinized left as they try to hide their scorn for the really, truly, actually poor. Like, for instance, immigrant women of color trying to survive in service jobs, turning up as home aides even if they can barely walk themselves after years of caring for heavy bodies, and no time off or decent insurance to fix that back, that knee.

The French are no better. I was out with a friend at a bar when he suddenly became monstrous in his hardline lefty manliness explaining that poor people shouldn't be polled on political issues because they weren't educated, didn't have time to be informed, or have the intellectual tools to think deeply about their conditions. And when I asked if he really meant that poor people couldn't be trusted to serve as experts even on their own lives, he actually said yes.

That's patriarchy. That's paternalism. That's my ticket to the nuthouse. All those men who won't let poor women stand in their way as saviors of the working class. They are all just victims themselves. Losing ground in politics, in business. Even the arts. Take that cute little animation film, "Alike", by Daniel Martínez Lara and Rafa Cano Méndez which has picked up zillions of prizes for its heartfelt observations about how society grounds out your creativity.

But in the midst of the sappy music and all the manipulated feels, nobody seems to have noticed that every single one of the hundreds of carefully universal figures whose creativity has been... let's say emasculated... by society were all male. For the entire seven minutes, females didn't exist at all. Weren't in the identical dead-end cubicles, weren't staggering down the streets to grey jobs. Weren't among the children learning how to be grey adults.

Perhaps the animators thought our bodies would have introduced a degree of difference that would have ruined their aesthetics of their metaphor which also carefully made the men all blue-grey, and "alike" in their white collars and ties, because race would also have distracted us from talking about what really matters: the freedom and happiness of those poor disappointed men of the ruling class who expected more out of life than all this horrible sameness (that they themselves willingly reproduce).

We've got plenty of similar men in the LGBT community. Some even think Trump's not such a big deal. And maybe he's not--for them. You're not really a fag if you're a white, straight-acting top, can put on a collar and tie. The one they'll come for is the guy who swishes a little. Giggles. Or snickers and snipes. Maybe even has a few curves. Or wears colors outside the golf course. Or is of color. Or erodes the assumption that there's something inherently, "universal" or "superior" about being born with a dick. In short, challenges the idea of just what a man is, or should be-- an endeavor that is as worthy as calling your senator or rep. And taking to the street one more time.

Monday, March 27, 2017

More Radical Than Hate

By Kelly Cogswell

A couple of decades ago, the Lesbian Avengers did a Valentine's Day action at Bryant Park reuniting the statue of Gertrude Stein with Alice B. Toklas. Veteran activist Maxine Wolfe launched the proceedings with a speech explaining that the purpose of the action was to make "visible the fact of lesbian existence and lesbian love in all its forms and expressions including (…) the love we have for ourselves and each other when we organize and take direct action together on our own behalf."

I don't think I really understood it at the time, but now it reinforces my idea that we're missing something essential in our resistance to Trump. We're certainly not lacking in organizing skills. If there's something queers know how to do, it's how to monitor politicians and throw a demo. We ACTed-up against AIDS. Avenged lesbian invisibility. STARred in the fight for trans rights. Even now, we're winning battles, stopping Muslim bans dead--but not anti-immigrant hate. Putting Trumpcare on pause --but not destroying our unlikely bedfellows in the extreme right.

The problem is that direct action is really only a tool, especially good as triage to keep the patient alive, while we try to find a path through this flaming shit storm, hopefully coming out somewhere different than where we went in.

But so far, the largest difference I see between my pre- and post-Trump community is the fullness of our demo calendars, and the amount of alcohol we're sucking down in anger and fear. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are still full of activists that are just as fact-challenged as voters who want to Make America Great Again. Do you hate that the Republicans took the White House? Let's bash a hillbilly. Are you enraged at trans murders and legal defeats? How 'bout we erase the many times trans people and lesbians have worked successfully together, and blame the dykes? Or let's slam Hillary. Why not? We're the Democrats. We're the queers. We're puritanical crabs in a barrel. That's just how we roll.

Since George W. Bush was elected in 2000, we've preferred to scape-goat whole regions rather than support the large groups of embattled activists of all races in the South that have been resisting Christian Zealots and White Nationalists for decades. More and more we chase our enemies from campuses instead of debating and debunking them. We attack our allies like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie with the same zest as Jeff Sessions or Donald Trump, if they don't stick exactly to our scripts, our language.

We refuse nuance. Reflection. Doubt. Even generosity. Maybe because we are desperate to believe we are different from the monsters who so clearly want us powerless and afraid. Health care is the least of it, when they reject not just our identities, but our bodies, our pleasure, our love. When they want us dead.

But believing ourselves separate, believing ourselves different is a fundamental mistake. Audre Lorde wrote that, "the true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations that we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us." We have more in common than we think. We’re equally governed by fear. Things like race and class, ability, and politics divide us, but only in the middle ground. When you get extremely close, our DNA is practically identical. Pull back as far as you can go, we are indistinguishable as ants. Countries and borders seem irrelevant. Our faces despising our enemies look the same as their faces despising us.

Everything in them is in us. We all embrace hate, usually under a different name, like uprightness. Justice. Self-defense. I'll admit naked hate is even good for some things, like getting a crowd on the street, but then what?

Love? It embarrasses me to talk about it, admit that Maxine's speech has begun to make sense. Love seems so soft. So retro. There's no street cred in it. And it took me so long to get Old Testament angry. I was raised female in the Southern Baptist Church. Turn the other cheek, they said, and I did. I was so fucking humble and mild and loving I was ready to kill myself to save them the trouble.

When I finally tried to get mad, I had to get past the fear of being that shrill, shrieking cunt of a woman. The angry, man-hating dyke. You don't know what it costs me even now to raise my voice. Send something back in a restaurant. And yet. And yet. I've been in the world long enough to know just how corrosive anger is. You can't build a movement, or a life, on it. If we want to endure beyond Trump, and we have to, only love, pure love, will be radical enough.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Temptations of Direct Action

By Kelly Cogswell

Right before it happened, I'd turn on the news and watch a black or brown woman interviewing the likes of Al Sharpton, or Margarita Lopez, who was the first out Latina dyke on the New York City Council. It didn't seem remarkable then, seeing so many women, so many people of color on the tube. And queers, even. But after September 11, suddenly the newscasters were all white straight men with a certain, forced gravitas, their interviewee the pale-faced mayor Rudolph Giuliani available twenty-four hours a day complete with a NYFD or NYPD ball cap. Bush Jr. was there, too, surrounded by grimacing white congressmen.

In her book, The Terror Dream: Myth and Misogyny in an Insecure America, Susan Faludi argued that those terrorist acts actually launched a new attack on feminism. Focusing on the post-attack media, politics, and popular culture, she showed how they were all committed to elevating "traditional" manhood and gender roles, celebrating cops and firemen, sidelining women from nearly every heroic narrative of September 11.

I can feel it happening again. Not just because a pussy-grabber's sitting in the White House. But because a large minority of the besieged left, apparently emasculated by Clinton's successful primary campaign, is still going on about how Bernie "Big Dick" Sanders would have beaten Trump for sure. Our current problems are all Hillary's fault and the Dems that anointed her. So much for all those votes she got, all the people she mobilized. And now that the white nationalist kleptocracy is in full swing, that's somehow the fault, too, of girly liberals like her for not destroying it while we had a chance. What we need are more broken windows. More burning cars. More radicalized radicals taking names and kicking ass. Down with the effete failure of liberal democracy. Up with a vaguely defined utopian working class state that will rise magically from the ashes of what we have now.

Just for the record, I'm all for holding demos, and blocking airports and streets, along with Trump and his truly horrifying agenda. Direct action is perfect to voice a giant, "No!" And has always played an important role in social change, not just because it disrupts the steamrollers of power, but because a vibrant, visible left gives teeth to more modest, yet crucial measures like letter-writing, phone calls, voting, running for office -- the things that take root. When politicians have to compromise, and they always do, crowds in the street mean they can bargain from a position of power and won't have to give up so much.

Direct action as a tactic is also one of the few ways to make things visible that society wishes to remain hidden, an AIDS epidemic, for instance, lesbians, police brutality, the erosion of abortion rights. Activism can also transform those of us who have never tasted power before, never had a public voice. There's something intoxicating about confronting your fear, stepping into the street, and feeling the adrenaline kick in with an amazing whoosh. You feel good, powerful for a change, as your voice is amplified by all the bodies around you.

The problem is that this power can also corrupt, especially those young straight men that were born to it. Who, after all, already dominates the street? Ride the subway after 10 p.m. it's almost all men. Women are home taking care of the kids. Or they're just scared to go out alone. Pretty soon young men aren't satisfied with waving a sign and chanting, but take a brick and toss it through the nearest McDonald's window in the name of the working class and a healthy environment.

You get a positively explosive formula when you mix this temptation to violence with the activist tendency to imagine that getting arrested for blocking traffic is somehow more noble than making a phone call. Or that a sympathizer in the Senate who knows how to compromise and wrangle votes is nothing more than a turncoat.

Like the "alt-right," the “alt-left” is going beyond rejecting the conservative nature of our institutions, to rejecting the institutions themselves, despite the fact that they consolidate our gains, and have the resources to protect them, if only we insist on it. They never see the change democracy permits, only its failures. They think stability is always bad. And demand bulldozers and steamrollers.

So even as I rejoice at the vast numbers on the streets blocking everything Trump conceives of, I remember that revolutions so many activists are calling for have always and only benefited men—particularly white men-- in multiracial societies. Women are sidelined, along with disenfranchised people of color who were deluded to believe this was ever for them. As usual, the Puritans of the left will also purge queers, if not for our sex lives, then liberal alliances, not to mention the tasteless jokes we make when we despair of the world.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Baiting Trump

By Kelly Cogswell

I was so happy when I saw the SNL skit for the first time with the brilliant Melissa McCarthy decked out as Sean Spicer, guzzling gum, throwing tantrums, blasting the press for questioning Trump's Muslim ban, destroying language itself and offering an imaginary narrative, while accusing journalists of spreading fake news.

It was a blistering characterization that not only ridiculed the incompetent, know-nothing Spicer, but highlighted the undercurrent of violence in Trump's blustering, authoritarian administration which aims to rule through sheer domination, destabilizing tactics, and fear.

McCarthy seemed the perfect choice after her role as Detective Joyce Nelson in the movie The Heat with her potty-mouthed rage and extreme physical comedy. You want fury? She's a bundle of it. Want fearlessness? I can't think of a male actor in recent times who's thrown their body around as audaciously as McCarthy.

It seemed irrelevant that she was doing it drag. The script didn't mention women, and Alex Baldwin's fake blonde wig seemed more of a stretch than her thinning brown wig, and ill-fitting suit. She dominated the room, not with a dick, but the pure force of her personality. What did gender have to do with anything?

But then the news broke that what had Trump and Spicey going nuts was not so much the portrait of Spicer as an enraged, gum-chewing, shit-gibbon, but that he was played by a woman. Once we heard that, the game was on. Rosie O'Donnell replaced her Twitter profile with a convincing image of herself as Bannon.

Stephen Colbert declared "... If the president thinks a woman playing Sean Spicer makes him look weak, then he’s really not going to like this picture we made of a little girl pretending to be Donald Trump. And he’s especially not going to like it when you retweet at him with the hashtag #largerhands."

This statement, which came with the release of a photo of a little girl in a pink dress with a big Trump wig, was where I started to squirm. Because there's a big difference between a grown woman laying bare the rage of a toxic white masculinity, and a photo of a pretty little girl in a Trump wig designed to impugn his manhood, not critique it.

Apparently, the only thing worse than being a little girl, is throwing like one, crying like one. What could be worse, in fact, than being a man touched by femininity? A fucking fag? A trans woman who abdicated her rights in a man's world? Sorry, but we don't need more misogyny -- ever. So fuck you, Stephen Colbert. And everybody whose Trump-baiting humor doesn't go beyond jokes about Trump's small, feminine hands.

This is especially important with the Renaissance of White Nationalism where the subjugation of women by men is the model for every other domination, Christians over Muslims, White over Blacks, Straights over Queers, good old American English over every other language, every nation in the world. Yeah, let's grab 'em all by the pussy. Who's the bitch, now?

The control of female bodies, forcing us to remain pregnant and have children whether we want to or not, is not a separate issue from the control of black and brown bodies in the street, and workplace, and school. The defense, even encouragement, of domestic violence against women, is the same as the bullying of certain young white males to insure they remain in their place. On top. And know what to do once they get there.

Using a little girl to attack Trump actually reminded me of Lynndie England--the U.S. Army Reserve private serving in Iraq who got her 15 minutes of fame for agreeing to pose for a photo holding the leash of a naked detainee cowering on the ground at Abu Ghraib prison. In another, she gave a thumbs-up behind a pyramid of naked prisoners. In another, she smiled as a guy was forced to whack off.

She was one of the few who went to jail for abuse of prisoners, but women soldiers under Bush were regularly used to humiliate men who were compelled to crawl on the floor, wear women's underwear, pose naked. Men were also forced to engage in homosexual acts. Let's humiliate those Muslim bastards any way we can.

While Colbert didn't torture anybody, the image of the little girl was used in the same way, to pollute, to provoke disgust and ridicule. Like the SNL jokes about Trump's attraction for a bare-chested Putin.

Nothing good will come of it. It never has. The Abu Ghraib photos boosted anti-U.S. sentiment worldwide, became big recruiting tools for Al Qaeda, were cited for the execution of American Nicholas Berg, and set back progress for women and queers.

In the U.S., sneering only at his masculinity might piss off Trump, but it won't help us, won't do anything to undercut his desire to be a “real man”, and dominate America by violence, instability, and hate.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Lessons from Egypt on How to Organize the Resistance

By Kelly Cogswell

Six years ago last week, on January 25, 2011, mass demonstrations began in Egypt that would topple the corrupt, brutal regime of Hosni Mubarak. Following the lead of Tunisia, demos were at first just inspired by, and reported on, by social media. After a couple days, they became so big even Egypt's official radio and TV was forced to acknowledge them.

Inspired by hearing about the huge crowds, even more protesters joined in, demanding "Bread, Freedom and Social Justice" and the end of the regime. A few weeks later, protesters had taken to the streets in such vast numbers, everything ground to a halt, and Mubarak stepped down.

The lesson here, if we hadn't learned it before, from the Tea baggers or the black civil rights movement, or a host of others, is that resistance doesn't require political savvy or pollsters, just large numbers of pig-headed participants willing to face down the state again and again. Already, after two days of mass protests in airports all over the country, and some brave judicial rulings, Trump was forced to reverse at least part of his executive order banning Muslim immigrants.

This gives me hope that we may actually be able to fend off the worst under Trump and Pence if we're on the streets every day for two years, for four, for eight, saying no to everything. Making nuisances of ourselves. Trampling Trump even if he miraculously promises to undo trade deals we don't like, suddenly reverses himself on walls, makes the trains run on time. We have to stand in the way, literally.

But we also have to start thinking of the future. Because if Egypt teaches us about the effectiveness of protest and direct action, it also warns us to be prepared not just for disaster, but victory. There, where it came so quickly, demonstrators were taken by surprise. Young activists and bloggers didn't have either the skills or desire to become parliamentarians. No central unifying figures emerged, and the military quickly moved into the power vacuum and seized control.

While the U.S. doesn't necessarily face a military dictatorship, we do face a profound crisis of leadership among both conservatives and progressives. Neither seems able or willing to stand up to Trump. And if we don't have a plan, and participants, to repair our damaged country, another radically far right win is not just possible but inevitable in the long run, with even more disastrous results.

This time, even a moderate Democrat as POTUS won't be enough. Obama's election did end eight years of a torture apologist, Constitution-eroding Bush, but did little to restore our civil liberties taken away under the guise of security, little to reverse the gerrymandering of election districts. Neither did it end dirty votes in places like Florida, which was what put Bush in the White House to begin with.

Queers were as bad as anybody. We breathed a quick sigh of relief then pushed successfully for our legal rights like marriage. We did too little of that grassroots organizing which is essential in building broad movements and giving social change deep roots. The faces of our organizations remained far too white, far too cis male. We understood "inclusive" as an advertising concept, not something that ties us to other communities and makes us strong.

Activists, too, sometimes seem to misunderstand "intersectional," as the obligation to make laundry lists that just produce new pecking orders. To survive this time, we have to truly understand—-beyond emotions and ideology-- how we're in this together, how we’re all relying on the health of democratic institutions for the basic tools of social change, like free speech and assembly, votes, the judiciary. No more asking what's the difference between Hillary and Trump? What are a few Supreme Court nominees?

As a result of our short-sightedness (and a lot of help from Putin and Assange), we find ourselves facing a total breakdown of democracy, from attacks on an independent press to the dismantling of our procedural safeguards, with no real opposition in sight. For the moment, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand is the only Senator to vote against all of Trump's nihilistic appointees, whose mission is not to administer departments, but to dismantle them.

If we want to save our country, we have to quickly identify candidates that don't need to register a certain number of phone calls to know that bans on Muslim immigration are moral, legal, and security disasters. That the head of the Justice Department should care about justice. That the head of the Department of Ed should know something about education. Or that the head of the Environmental Protection Agency should accept scientific fact and consensus just like Mike Pence accepts Jesus Christ as his lord and savior.

Any congressperson willing to collaborate with these anti-immigrant, anti-queer, anti-education, anti-science, white Christian nationalist monsters needs to be sent home on the next bus. And if we can't find enough candidates, we have to be willing to run ourselves.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Women Rising?

By Kelly Cogswell

I'm back in France, and about the time that Donald Trump was taking the oath of office in the rain, I was trapped on a bus in the dark going around and around and around in circles. That's what it felt like anyway, going round and round traffic roundabouts in the dark countryside after being bottlenecked for hours.

I was afraid it was a metaphor. I've been afraid for months. Of losing my insurance. Getting hassled, beaten, attacked by newly emboldened bigots. Targeted for being a dyke, or using the women's bathroom while slightly butch, or maybe for speaking a foreign language out in public with my partner, or friends. It's happened before. I didn't know a few syllables of Spanish could turn a white guy's face so red.

But then Saturday, Saturday. I turned on the TV in the afternoon, and saw women, thousands of women. All those pink and red and magenta pussy hats. And signs, funny, furious, witty, obscene and glorious messages of hope and resistance. I was taken aback, not just by the protesters, but the fact that the misogynist French mainstream media was actually covering the Paris Women's March. They were even interviewing a range of women, an old white one. A young brown one, and that was just the beginning. All night long they followed marches in the U.S. The BBC meanwhile, had reported on the tens of thousands of protesters that filled Trafalgar Square. I couldn't believe the images from the U.S., all those gazillions of people, mostly women, pouring into the streets in Chicago, and Detroit, and even mustering several thousand in Lexington, Kentucky.

I got kind of teary, but with joy for a change. At the marchers. But also at a new opening in the media that might just pay attention this time because democracy itself is in danger. And I tuned in occasionally to the Washington March, and listened to the speakers who were a righteously diverse bunch. Even the longwinded mansplainer Michael Moore offered Ashley Judd the opportunity to school other women in how to deal with that kind of masculine gasbaggery. You pull the plug, totally step on their ass. I was also impressed at how comfortable she was performing that poem that had her talking about racism, and queers, and trans people. That gave me hope, too.

I admit, I didn't expect such a high turnout for the Women's March, especially in the U.S. where most Americans have never been on the Street. Even the black marchers of BLM are only a small percentage of their communities. And seasoned activists are often snobs. Before we go to a march, we want to know who's organizing the thing, what their pedigree is. Is it up to snuff? Are they? Who else is going? Are they radical enough? Inclusive enough?

There's a reason for our skepticism. We often see LGBTQ describing an organization or event even though it's dominated by gay white men. The women's movement in the U.S., and many other places, has a history of indifference, if not outright hostility towards dykes, poor women, minorities, trans people.

On the other --left--hand, the last time I went to a march in Paris for International Women's Day, I thought I was in the wrong place. All the signs were about Palestine or the Iraq War or the environment, and didn't even include the word, "Femme". The bodies in the crowd didn't give a hint either. Most of the women were there with men so no one would think they were dykes. It seemed like women needed some kind of modifier to be valued, were expected to embody an inclusiveness that other groups, like #BLM are entitled to push back from. Don't come here with that #alllivesmatter nonsense that stinks of racism and privilege.

And yet, and yet. Women are half the population of the earth. Half of every racial and ethnic and religious group. All social and political issues everywhere affect the lives of women in some profound way. Don't expect me to leave my dykeness at home. The place I came from. Our experience of race is entangled with everything. The challenge for the new women's movement is to acknowledge these threads without erasing fundamental truths about the identity that arbitrarily unites us -- how our lives are marked by a toxic masculinity that systematically attacks and diminishes those of us with female bodies, or touched by femininity in any way at all.

After a rocky start, the March organizers did a good job of pulling all the issues, all the people together. If Trump and his minions have performed one service, it is to make visible the deep connections between our country's hardcore misogyny, and anti-queer, white supremacist hate. All us social minorities are in the same boat. And if we don't rise and resist together, we're sunk.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Trump Redux in France?

By Kelly Cogswell

In France, we're gearing up for a presidential election where the likely victor, François Fillon, is as friendly with Putin as Trump, and has policies as disastrously conservative as Pence.

There will be no saviors from the floundering left. The incumbent Socialist president, Francois Hollande, is so unpopular he isn't even going to run. The half-dozen men who want to take his place promise change without change. The impossible return of factory jobs. A retreat from a Europe demonized by the populists of the right and the left.

Their frontrunner: old globalization foe, and Chávez admirer Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Mélenchon's sudden fondness for the environment is getting him an unusual bump in the polls, but he has little chance of winning the Presidency. More likely he'd play Ralph Nader, fatally splitting the left vote on the first round of the general elections (only the 2 top vote-getters will go on to the 2nd and final round.)

Right now, the likely final round contenders are expected to be the extremely conservative, Putin pal François Fillon, and Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right, populist-nationalist National Front.

Fillon’s base is a surging hardline Catholic movement that was built opposing same-sex marriage. They despise queers, feminists, trans people, and anything that smacks of multiculturalism and gender equality. They want back French society pre-student revolution of 1968 if not earlier, and Fillon promises to give it to them -- along with a slash and burn of the state health care system, just like Donald Trump.

Worse than Fillon, but only in some ways, there's the smiling Marine Le Pen, another Putin admirer--and lately, a vocal Trump fan-- who's spent the last decade or so normalizing the National Front, the nearly neo-Nazi party founded by her charismatic father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Softening the rough edges of overt racism and anti-semitism, and masking the hatred of immigrants, people of color, and queers, she's successfully courted former Commie and anti-globalization voters, dug up gay apologists, and even found supporters in communities of color, who don't want to find themselves vying for crappy jobs with new waves of refugees.

Le Pen's base is the disenfranchised white working class in former industrial areas that used to vote for the Communist Party. Like Trump, she presents herself as their champion, but unlike him, or Fillon, she swears to protect Social Security, secularism and abortion rights. She'd pull France out of the European Union, NATO and the euro-zone, immediately. People who used to scoff at her viability are having nightmares since Trump made everything seem possible.

Then there's Emmanuel Macron who was the Minister of the Economy for a while under the current Socialist President François Hollande, before he left to begin an independent grassroots movement, En Marche. He's the only one who really stands a chance against Fillon, and might knock out Le Pen, but he still faces long odds with most lefty voters because he used to be a banker and wants to liberalize the economy. Like in the U.S., many on the left would rather cast their votes for a pure, but unelectable candidate, than even give Macron’s platform a look.

I actually like him. He's had the nerve to tell French voters that the world has changed, and they have to as well. Automation is a fact, like globalization. And they are never getting their old jobs back. I even agree with his solution, which is not to reject globalization, but figure out how to make it equitable, harness it so that it can benefit modest people for a change.

As for women, queers, immigrants, and disenfranchised minorities, he's far more progressive than most on the traditional left, even calling into question these labels of “left” and “right,” when the real chasm is between “conservatives” and “progressives” who can be found in either category. Recently, he actually had the audacity to tell a crowd deep in Le Pen's white working class territory, "Never accept those who promote exclusion, hatred or closing in on ourselves!"

The problem is that time is running out. The first round of the French presidential election is April 23, only three months away. And although Macron himself is getting big crowds all over the country and campaigning vigorously, he still has not hired a campaign manager. And his young, one-year old "participatory-democracy" movement, En Marche, is still in progress. It now has more than 3,000 neighborhood committees and an army of volunteers, but no public funding.

They're also still processing last year's findings when those grassroots volunteers went door-to-door asking citizens about their problems and concerns. Now, they’re crowdsourcing ways to address the problems--creating a political program and policies, with help from sympathetic experts. Or, as they say, creating “a contract with France” which, if elected, Macron and En Marche promise to fulfill.

Which is exciting. But I wonder what all this networking and movement building will translate to if En Marche itself doesn't concentrate more on getting out the vote. And Macron fades in the first round.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Nightmare on Penn Street

By Kelly Cogswell

I've decided to consider the next four years as an existential opportunity to be liberated, not by hope, but by fear. I'm not joking. I'm waking up at night in a cold sweat I usually reserve for mice infestations. The election really did happen. And in about two weeks DT's sneery face really will be delivering rambling addresses in front of the presidential seal, as he distractedly tweets poisonous nonsense, and toys idly with the big red button that could nuke us all.

And with no further ado his host of actual Nazis, and climate change-deniers, and billionaire conmen, and anti-gay, anti-women vigilantes will be unleashed to chew up, shit on and destroy every aspect of the government from regulations shaping the entire U.S. economy to the federal Justice Department. Probably, the only thing left standing will be the military, which will be given bright and shiny new toys. Bye-bye Obamacare and my beloved migraine meds. Along with the liberty and justice I still don't regret pledging myself to.

Already the subways and streets are bubbling up with increased hostility thanks to the hateful tweets of the Bigot-in-Chief, and to a media that no longer distinguishes what is newsworthy from what get hits. And as the hate speech is amplified, and becomes normalized, so does violence. Anti-queer, anti-women, anti-Muslim, anti-Jew, anti-black, anti-anything violence.

Not everybody on the Left seems sorry. I've read more than a few posts by a rainbow of activists smugly dismissing fifty years of social progress to announce that with the election of DT we're just uncovering America's true face of bigotry, war-mongering, and unbridled capitalism. The implication is nothing's ever changed, especially for social minorities. That the streets Zora Neale Hurston walked down a few years out from slavery are exactly the same as those of Claudia Rankine. My own life is no different than my grandmother's who was born into a world where she couldn't have her own credit card, file rape charges. Vote.

Why are we so incapable of saying that things have changed, but not enough? Not for everyone? It's like we believe having some kind of historical perspective is a betrayal of today's pain. Fire must be fire whether you're considering a candle or a burning house, the flaming towers of 9/11 or the melting mushroom clouds of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nobody suffers more than me. The incremental progress of a democracy is never real, only its failures. Love never beats out hate.

It's a problem because I don't see how we can strategize effectively unless we face that DT is our backlash president. And that the reason we elected the whitest, straightest, most pussy-grabbingest mogul on earth was precisely because we'd had eight years of Obama, a ground-breaking bid by Hillary, and a decade of escalating progress for queers, and a visible racial justice movement. Sure there were a few election missteps, and Russian interference, and yes, the white working class is struggling to find a way forward, but the biggest predictors of a vote in this election wasn't income, but how much the individual hated women and blacks and queers.

How can we imagine the future, and seize the one we want, unless we admit that it is new, in fact, for modern America to install actual, overt Nazis? Embrace an administration hostile to civil government itself, which aspires to pure autocracy with a soupçon of rabid nihilism that makes Heath Ledger's Joker look positively sane.

Everything follows from what comes before. Everything has roots, and unintended consequences. Perhaps some of them will even be good. Because the same brutes bashing Muslim women on the subway are harassing young Jewish girls and turning menorahs into swastikas, Muslims and Jews are now joining forces against bigotry.

Maybe our big mistake wasn't celebrating incremental progress, but shaping movements based on the belief that history is bent in an arc towards justice. We understand now that progress is not inevitable. Democracy is fragile. God is dead. If history resembles anything it is the mountain range of an EKG, bumping up and down. The only questions are, Is this downward dip the big one, or will it go back up in our lifetimes? Or even flatline entirely with one big boom? How can we shape it?

Believing in an arc made us too cautious, subservient. Now maybe queers can quit pretending that if we prove ourselves worthy, sanitize our movement, emphasize love and marriage, dress up chastely in suits and sweater sets, transition undetectably to the appropriate gender, use the right words in the right order, that we'll continue to collect our rights like Girl Scout merit badges. Now that we know things can turn around in an instant, we can refuse to cling to crumbs, become generous, open our arms, and our movement. Embrace each other. Why be careful when we can be free?