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.