Tuesday, December 18, 2007

When Wall Street Is Atlantis

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

For weeks Paris has been in a cold snap, and I go around the apartment with wool socks and twelve sweaters that disguise my shape so much, that the other day when I looked in the bathroom mirror after a shower I thought I was seeing some wispy, startled stranger.

We put insulation tape around the front door, wheel the little space heater to warm one room at time, and are incredibly conscious of how even a little crack in the window sucks the heat right out. Partly because the electric meter is exposed there on the wall, and we see it spin around every time we turn on the heater, or for that matter, use the oven. With the dollar in free fall, every bit of wasted energy counts.

The meter is a reminder, as well, of what we humans are doing to this increasingly watery planet. Environmentalists, until recently, liked to talk about melting polar icecaps. Now, more inhabited coastlines are disappearing so they needn't bother looking so far afield to make their points.

Last week, a French news channel did a whole segment on how Nags Head in South Carolina was being hit with the reality of global warming. They showed a map of the shrinking coastline, and interviewed a man who had already lost one house to the sea, but then bought another further inland. Now it, too, is on the verge of toppling in. Somebody from the Park's Service only gave it a year. "Those sandbags won't help a bit. Come back next fall, you'll never even know it was here."

Prognosis for Miami and Fort Lauderdale isn't good either. New Orleans, eight feet below sea level, already had a taste, and we're only dreaming that the islands that make up New York City can escape unscathed. San Francisco, Boston, and Seattle will be a little damp, too.

You don't have to agree global warming is one hundred percent an effect of human activity to understand we have to do what ever is at hand to slow things down. Or not. Who needs Indonesia anyway? Or Fire Island? We can let queer history float away like we often do. Wall Street will just be a state of mind and stockbrokers will have to telecommute to the Atlantis of their watery offices.

There was a UN conference for climate change a couple of weeks ago in Bali. As usual, the Americans were the stumbling block. And despite the chunky Al Gore's plea for the delegates to take action without the U.S., the sole developed nation to refuse to sign the Kyoto treaty, they softened their proposals to get the American representatives on board.

I don't know which is more pitiful, this endless capitulation to American bullying. Or the self-satisfied American inaction accompanied by whines of "Acting's unnecessary, too expensive, and I'm still not convinced by the science."

I suppose they think the rising seas aren't even a result of global warming. Or the seas aren't rising at all, and the rumor of disappearing beaches in places like Nag's Head is a fabrication, a trick, maybe, to increase tourism. See the island before it disappears! Take a video! Stick your finger in the wounds of Christ! It works apparently. The woman in charge of tourism told French reporters that the disaster had been a marketing bonanza, though it wasn't exactly a long term strategy.

Guess not. Me, I wouldn't buy New York real estate as investment, at least not too far east, or too far downtown which is going to be oh so underwater when the sea levels rise another foot or two, though if you had a second floor place, you could put in your own dock.

At least, it won't take the loss of the bronze Wall Street bull to end American intransigence. As Elizabeth Kolbert reported in the New Yorker, all of the Democrats have plans to lower carbon emissions, and none of the Republican candidates are, for once, in denial about the state of our seas.

The question now is when will the mayors of New York begin to address the problem? I'm glad Bloomberg is making plans about traffic and so on, but wait too long to deal with global warming, we'll end up living in Venice without the pleasures of risotto and those little boats. There are no shoals to protect us from the battering waves that would tip the things over.

As someone who watched the towers fall, and felt the reverberations of how the geography of New York was altered in a day, I feel an extra obligation to speak out. I know what we lost, and what we stand to lose on a much larger scale. Not in some distant future, but soon, in our lifetimes. The terrorists that shook us once can only dream of such destruction.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Embodying Virtue in America

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Is anybody else disturbed by how race is playing out in this election? -- the messianic message sent out by Obama's team that because of genetics he's got some third world and cross-cultural insight, as if his black skin alone were a bridge. Maybe it is. Maybe not. And god knows we could use one. In terms of race, the U.S. moves one step forward, three back, as they say.

Sure, queers know best about homophobia, women about misogyny, people of color about racism. But does that suffering give each person of color, each woman, each queer some special insight, some gift? Does it make us better? Is that experience enough to turn us into experts on how to extract the nation from its divisions? No, not by itself.

Bigotry is just as likely to leave us wounded and embittered as enlightened. Some turn the pain inward. There are plenty of queer homophobes -- most of them in the U.S. Congress. And Africa and Latin America are full of men like Robert Mugabe who with his dark skin hasn't built any bridges at all between white and blacks, rich and poor. In fact he burns bridges as fast as he can, along with the houses of the opposition, usually with troublesome black dissidents inside. Skin only gets you so far.

The election of a black president in the U.S. would be historic, an important symbol of what people of color can accomplish, and maybe it will build something, a footpath, maybe, but god only knows if it will give him the good sense to walk over it or not. Because race doesn't say anything about Obama himself. That kind of biological determinism, thinking race or sexual identity or gender gives you any qualities at all is the flip side of all the 'isms. In fact, it reinforces them.

In the Democratic primary, besides the question of skin, there's the related issue of sheer beauty. Obama apparently embodies every good thing in that glorious, virtuous face girls shriek over. White ones especially (polls show) are creaming their pants at rallies for the handsome guy in a way that reminds me of those erotic neocolonial French films that are always set on a yacht or some tropical island with drums beating so a white woman can screw her black stallion under the palm trees or up against a mast.

Are they screaming for Obama the candidate, or some erotic fantasy? It may help him win the Democratic nomination, but what effect will this tactic have in the long run? Another black man reduced to his body? Will they turn on him when he fails, as they all do, will they blame his race?

In the U.S., we speak incessantly of faith, but we're more literal-minded than ever. Virtue embodies itself in beauty, potential in skin. The CIA apparently only believes information, "intelligence," when it's bought with blood and screams.

What's a dumpy, matronly Hillary to do in that milieu? She stuffs her significant ass in tailored suits, wears her flaws out there like wrinkles. Experience is etched in her body, when we only want the brand new because it resembles perfection.

As a voter, I'm beginning to lean towards her, like I'd prefer to buy an apartment, if I had the money, that needed work. You can see all the existing problems that haven't been hidden under plaster and paint.

And unlike Obama, she can't pull off the hopeful ingénue. Time has made her cautious. A real politician. She splits hairs and prevaricates, but she has her bottom lines. Saudi Arabia's an important U.S. ally, but a couple weeks ago she very publicly condemned the rape of a woman there and the victim's subsequent sentencing to jail and lashes. After all, she shouldn't have been in a car with a man not her husband or brother. She shouldn't have been out at all.

Hillary didn't buy it, didn't make one gesture to cross-cultural understanding. Every canyon isn't an occasion to build a bridge. Sometimes we must refuse to understand. Torture, for instance, is always wrong, at American or Libyan or Saudi hands. Kindness and sympathy can't wash away blood.

I don't care if Hillary equivocates about how quickly she'll get us out of Iraq, or a dozen other things. Lately, I prefer calculating to hopeful, in its broadest sense. It's a dangerous, complicated world. As long as she's on my side, let's send forth a wolf to meet the wolves.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Breaking the Silence In Newark

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

In the Sunday New York Times, there was an article about queers in Newark, and the delights of the virulent homophobia they face, including verbal harassment, violence, political bias, and scorn from the police, but no mention at all that the city is eighty percent African American. I guess it was enough to show the photos -- all black except for one Hispanic guy.

Why skip that detail in a portrait of the city? Because somebody might accuse the writer of implying that black people are more homophobic than whites? Or because nobody wants to admit that we don't all share the advances of the LGBT community that pundits like Andrew Sullivan keep declaring passé?

Newark is just a couple of miles from Christopher Street, but the activists there might as well be in Zimbabwe for all the support they get. Since Sakia Gunn was murdered four years ago, queers have been trying to get a LGBT center established, but have had no luck maneuvering through the politics at city hall, though Mayor Cory Booker did manage to get a rainbow flag hung last June earning himself a flood of hate mail. Zimbabwe, at least has the eyes of the world. Who's watching Newark?

Laquetta Nelson tried to get a PFLAG chapter started and couldn't get anyone to turn up. I've spoken to her in the past. She's a persistent woman. If she can't fill a room, it's because many people just aren't out, not from political reticence, but because they're afraid for their lives.

I know homophobia in Newark is complicated by other problems. The city's drawing new businesses, new arts centers, but the neighborhoods are a mess. There are gangs, and drugs. Nobody's safe. But why is it always us that has to wait? Why, a few miles from wealthy New York, are Newark queers so poor the only place they can have to themselves is a drop-in center in some crappy building on the outskirts of town where everybody coming and going is so vulnerable they don't want the address printed? Forget the comfort of gay bar, or a neighborhood like Chelsea.

Queers looking for company, for community, have to leave home, cross the river like the young women who tried to leave behind all that hate and violence, but found it renewed in the person of Dwayne Buckle. When they defended themselves and cut the guy, who got busted? Who's sitting in jail? Where is our community for them?

Sometimes I want to scream at all the professional "activists" in New York and San Francisco with their fresh scrubbed rainbow of faces and ask if they remember what it's like to struggle? For many of us, things like gay marriage are just icing on the cake. Plenty of us haven't had the main course yet, aren't even at the table.

It often comes down to class, the thing we Americans are terrible at. We can fill a room full of all kinds of skin tones, but when we open our educated mouths the diversity seems just an illusion.

And the queers in Newark aren't just black, many are poor. The article didn't really say that either, just that queers had to grapple with poverty in the city as if it weren't their own.

Maybe that's embarrassing, too, to describe someone as poor. Instead, one twenty-year old man was "homeless and jobless ... effectively orphaned." Avoiding words like unemployed, abandoned, broke, his condition sounds temporary, almost like a choice.

If only it were enough to wrap people in the cotton wool of civilizing language. If only by refusing to use the word "black" you could erase the tentacles of homophobia entwined in African American culture and pretend like it doesn't take some extra effort to yank them out.

Though maybe the writer, if he didn't want to get published in the New York Times, would be seething with rage, his words burning holes in the paper. Still, those gaps of silence are disturbing. They hide the truth of things, the roots.

Homophobia is everywhere, and everywhere has grafted itself onto the culture of the host like a parasite mutating to protect itself from changes in other victims nearby. Things have changed for middle-class urban whites? Don't count on the same for trailer trash.

And like athlete's foot loves the humidity of the locker room, homophobia loves the sweltering air of religion, whether it lives in a mosque or Pentecostal storefront or cathedral with spires reaching towards the sky.

Lucky Newark, the first black presidential candidate thinks it's okay to pander to homophobic black voters by welcoming anti-gay preachers into his Big, All-embracing, Non-partisan, "I'm a Better Feminist than Hillary" Tent. Do I hear an amen, brother? Pack your bags. We've been sold down the river again.

Visit Kelly Sans Culotte at http://kellyatlarge.blogspot.com

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Rethinking AIDS

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

It's world AIDS day, and what are you gonna do about it? Raise a glass to the dear departed? Celebrate your own survival? Ignore it? Sneer a little at the activists that turned pro and pay their rent with it?

Or maybe you'll get off your ass and do something for a couple of hours, like all those dear souls that spend Thanksgiving serving turkey to the homeless so they can feel better about the outrageous amount they just shelled out to redo the kitchen of their brand spanking new co-op.

It's better than nothing I guess. Maybe. I'm still not so far from the puritan I was as a kid when I used to sit in church on Christmas uncharitably despising all the pew-packing people who hadn't been there since Easter, but had turned up in all their scum-sucking hypocrisy to celebrate the birth of a savior they couldn't be bothered to pray to.

I like to think I've relaxed a little since then. I can appreciate a gesture in the right direction, the symbolic act and all that, especially if it comes with a nice fat check in the right pocket.

Still, it would be better if we thought about AIDS more than once a year. After ARV's started keeping people alive in the West, we don't hear as much about HIV except in the context of those starving, warmongering Africans, and a few Asian or Latin American hotspots. And I think after the latest news it will be even less.

Apparently, the UN just re-crunched the numbers, and there aren't as many HIV cases worldwide as imagined. Instead of 39.5 million infected, it's a mere 33.2 million. Let loose the balloons, hire a band, declare it over.

So what if fifteen percent of southern Africa is infected? So what if Europe is now doing what it can to pick up the slack, along with queers in San Francisco and New York? Big deal. Leave it alone. Now that HIV's peaked, it'll crawl under a rock soon and hide, probably in some far away sweltering continent. There's nothing more we need to do. In fact, acting may cause irreparable harm.

I got an email this morning from a friend of mine, a conspiracy theory kind of thing warning about how years of contaminated flu vaccines were causing cancer in the U.S., and how the whole vaccine market was a hoax ruining our immune systems. After all, plagues like whooping cough and TB were already on their way out in the States just from improved hygiene even before those serums got developed and shoved unnecessarily down our gullible throats.

The original author didn't mention smallpox in his list of unnecessary vaccines, or explain what to do when there weren't the means, for instance, to install indoor plumbing and airshafts in a Bangladeshi shantytown.

Not that they wouldn't benefit. They would. And if you could pair that with a vaccine, you'd be in business. That's really the only combination that will work in Southern Africa, where information campaigns have slowed the spread of HIV, but it's still a killer due to the lack of ARV's and the abundance of opportunistic infections -- among them malaria and TB -- that are still on the rampage.

Malaria infects millions each year and kills a huge swathe, mostly children, that are also prey to viruses and bacteria that cause acute diarrhea. People with HIV are equally vulnerable. That's poverty for you, the synergy of diseases.

What's the excuse for Europe? The rate of new HIV/AIDS cases has almost doubled since 1999 with Estonia leading the pack, and Portugal and Britain not too far behind. In raw numbers, the UK had 8,925 newly diagnosed cases last year, with 5,750 in France and 2,718 in Germany.

The European Center for Disease Control blames immigrants, people migrating from areas of the world with HIV epidemics. "Another big driver has been the increase in cases among men who have sex with men."

Recent polls in Britain show such widespread fear and ignorance I have my doubts. One in seven youths in Britain would not stay friends with somebody if they had HIV. Half would keep it a secret if a family member was infected. Only a third of Britons overall worry about getting the disease.

As a result, they're not prepared. And in a few years they may be a case study of how fragile the retreat of this disease really is.

Unlike, rotaviruses, TB, and for that matter, the plague, which can be improved by government action like improved sanitation and housing, HIV is a democratic disease controlled largely by individuals.

We're the weak link, not our toilets or airshafts. We spread the disease through ignorance, fear, and complacency, forgetting just how bad it can be.

Visit Kelly Sans Culotte at http://kellyatlarge.blogspot.com

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanks, But Not Really, at Thanksgiving

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

The season of guilt kicks off now with Thanksgiving, that celebration of turkey, and family and the tortures we Americans inflict on each other when there are no Iraqi's handy.

Not that I'll pass up dinner. Or any meal, especially in France where it'll come with great wine. So what if I'll blanch a little when some bright soul opens her mouth to say, "Let's go around the table and say what we're thankful for."

It's something we're almost too out of practice to do. I am, anyway. As a kid, what was usually demanded of me was to be grateful.

The females of my species specialized in putting their hands to their hearts and enumerating their many and horrible sacrifices, announcing finally with a tear in their eye, and a catch in their voice, "All I want is a little gratitude. Is that too much to ask?"

We had to be grateful for having shoes. Grateful for having a roof over our heads. And grateful for the horrible haircut on it.

We had to be grateful when my father's nouveau riche side of the family invited us over for Thanksgiving and served creamed vegetables which none of us kids had ever eaten before, especially the mysterious pearl onion which sounded like something you should loop around your neck to keep off vampires.

We were grateful for the teensy-weensy check stuffed reluctantly in the Christmas card and spent so much time on our vacations expressing that heartfelt gratitude, we were grateful to go back to school.

Then there were the TV shows, where there was always some cranky neighborhood cop saying, "You should be grateful I didn't haul you down to the station," his hand around some squirming kid's collar. "Just don't do it again." If it wasn't some kid, it was a Mexican or black teenager trying to repress a seething rage as some cracker told them, "You should be grateful."

What a word. I use it sometimes in emails, usually with a twist of irony. "I'd be grateful if you'd have a look at this." "I'd be grateful if you could get back to me as soon as possible" -- this usually in regards to a matter for which I have been demanding an answer for months.

It's a throwaway phrase of politesse, but I always feel my mouth pucker up as I type it in.

I've been needy too often. I've had to hold out my hand and ask for help and pretend I didn't mind, even as that word "grateful" floated in the background with its implication of benevolence and debt and scorekeeping.

Grateful means a constant erosion of equality on the one hand, and an inflation of self-regard on the other. The more you need, the better some people like it, as long as you're willing to lick their boots.

As for thanksgiving, I'd have to say we understand thanks -- it's what we demand from the victims of our benevolence -- but we don't understand how to make giving a virtue and not one more American vice.

One of the most extreme cesspools of it is manifested in Southern hospitality, where they work so hard to put you at your ease it's clear that they're the host and you're trapped as the guest eating unwanted food, exclaiming over the accommodations. The more they give, the more you're forced to squeal your praise, and declare the awesome wonder of their generous spirit.

"Take the last piece of pie." "I couldn't." "You must." "I'm stuffed." "You don't want me to think you don't like my cooking." "In that case." "And after supper I'll show you to my bedroom where you'll sleep while I find a damp, drafty little, disease-ridden nook in the cellar." "Why, you're an absolute saint."

Make no mistake, by the end of it, they own you. Giving's all about control.

At bottom, America's an old Testament country, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. For every number inscribed in red ink in the debit column, there must be another in the right column written in black.

It's the assumption underlying any of our debates about welfare and soup kitchens, or for that matter our dues to the United Nations, foreign aid, and lately, and especially, the liberation of countries from evil dictators. Why is no one grateful? Why shouldn't we put in our own guys?

For every gift, there must be obligation, some strategic positioning, control of a resource, or endless political concessions. When our protectorates betray our generosity, we're vicious in return.

The truth is, our gifts are not gifts at all; they're down payments for something we'll claim in the future, grabbing at it with our deceptively open, American hands.

Visit Kelly Sans Culotte at http://kellyatlarge.blogspot.com

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Unnatural Acts: In Defense of Cloning

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Not content like their peers making dupes of kittens, cows, sheep and dogs, researchers at the Oregon National Primate Research Centre have finally managed to clone monkeys, or at least create their embryos.

What a blow for those religious folks who said it hadn't been done yet because God wouldn't allow it. Apparently the Big Guy doesn't give a crap, or is even amused at the thought of one primate going out of the way to make another.

I was surprised, though, that the first voices of horror didn't come from a church somewhere, but from the United Nations University – Institute of Advanced Studies. "It is just a matter of time before a human is cloned," they warned.

"So what?" That was my initial response. Since I'm usually on board with UN policy, I examined my conscious a little, and discovered that that was my second and third responses, too. "So what?" Or maybe, for the sake of nuance, "Big deal."

The UNU-INS admitted that cloning, of course, is paving the way for all kinds of medical research promising to fix everything from MS and Parkinson's disease to broken spinal cords. About that, there's room to negotiate.

But about reproduction, absolutely not. And we were reminded that there has been enough international consensus for the UN to pass the UN Declaration on Cloning, that leaves cloning open to research, but condemns baby-making.

I guess you can make arguments about the rights of cloned humans. But even if you believe in sci-fi scenarios of rows of babies in little jars in some Nebraska farm, growing into annoying adolescents kept in barns so somebody can come along and harvest their organs, well, all I have to say is that the kids'll have to fight their way out of the mire just like the rest of us bolstering their claim to humanity. And if they're true clones, if they're really human, then they'll soon cause more trouble than they're worth and the whole project'll be scuttled. You want sympathy, I'd share it with existing humans already giving up their kidneys so their families can eat.

As to the other ethical concerns, most are just nonsense. The recent UNU-INS report, "Is Human Reproductive Cloning Inevitable: Future Options for UN Governance" nattered on about the violation of human dignity, which made me wonder if any of those worthy academics had actually had sex. There's a lot of words you can use to categorize it, but dignity isn't one. The squishy, creaky, slapping, slurping sounds alone preclude the term.

If anything, taking reproduction out of the bedrooms and the backseats of Chevys is a step towards returning humanity to the dignity we once had when babies appeared via storks, in cabbage patches, and from the head of Zeus. Cloning is quieter, more sanitary, and without all that unseemly rubbing of genitals, it's even without sin.

As to the sanctity of creation, it's hard to make that argument, when the earth is so full of it, from single cells amoebas and molds, to water maples, rats, cockroaches, and of course humans. Everything breeds and reproduces with abandon, except the euros in my wallet, which are actually in decline along with the free fall of the dollar.

But what really gets under the rapidly reproducing cells of my skin, is the idea that cloning is wrong because it's "unnatural," a word that's usually paired with "acts" and never ceases to give me shivers. That word's been getting queers beaten up, banned, ostracized and killed for centuries.

Should I turn away from "unnatural" now? Should you? Look around. What's natural about these lives we live? Everything from the food we eat, medicines we take, not to mention this thing of metal, plastic, and sheer energy I'm typing on is a disgusting aberration of something.

Last week I even flew. On an airplane. Up in the sky. That's certainly not natural. Language itself is an artifice, as every day I choose between the words chair, silla, and chaise. One isn't better than another. We made them up.

Like laws. Which act only to control ugly, but natural, impulses that have us swinging sticks at each other when there's nothing else around, or detonating bombs if we have those, stealing if we're hungry or just greedy. Making babies. So what? There are so many other repulsive things we could get up to instead.

I'm all for the unnatural. It's the basis of science, art, politics, and for that matter, religion. It's what keeps us from killing each other and forces us to work together. It gave us Oscar Wilde and the flu vaccine I'm supposed to get tomorrow, the International Space Station, along with the more modest but magnificent infrastructure of the modern city.

It's humans, giving in to nature, red in tooth and claw, that terrify me.

Monday, November 05, 2007


By Kelly Cogswell

Feminism has ceded to post-feminism. Colonialism has been colonized by post-colonialists, and now, apparently, it's time for queers to make their death beds, and then lie in them.

We're over, kaput, passé. The New York Times says so, and so does Andrew Sullivan. Just let me grab a shovel, and I'll get right to burying myself. Or not.

Just because queers are getting priced out of the Castro in San Francisco, and other gay neighborhoods, and tons of us are fleeing to the burbs, doesn't mean the need for community is gone.

Take "post-feminism" -- please. The first time I heard the phrase was in grad school, just a year or two after my mother had gotten fired from her job as a clerk-typist at a bank. While older men were distinguished, she was merely too long in the tooth. I told her to get a lawyer. I don't think she ever did.

At an NYU grad school, where everything was post, I snidely wondered just who the original feminism had been for, and who had the balls to declare it dead when women like my mother were still getting mowed down in the gender war.

It stank of race and class. Just look who embraced the "post," all those academics who write in such tangled, elitist, post-modern language nobody can understand it but the other members of the cabal I clearly wasn't fit for.

That was fifteen years ago. Where's my parity? Isn't anybody else revolted at the premature post-ing of feminism? Not that it didn't need to change. The queer community does, too. That fish is dead in the evolutionary pond.

Still, it's not quite time for post-gay as long as gay marriage is banned, and dykes are still getting thrown out of restaurants in the West Village, and harassed at every street corner by nasty little pricks that shouldn't be surprised when one of us finally pulls out our own blade.

Half the reason queers are leaving their ghettoes is dollars, not sense. In New York, dykes first found a home among the burnt-out buildings and shooting galleries of the East Village. When that got too pricy we went to Williamsburg. Now with real estate crazy there, New Jersey is the next frontier.

Then there are those queers moving to the suburbs to pursue the American dream of 1.2 children and an SUV. Why not? Let them move to the wastelands that are apparently emptying themselves out into the newly heterosexual, newly tamed East Village.

Let them ruin the environment with their three cars and semi-detached energy wasters. Let them separate themselves from the human race and begin to worry what their neighbors think. Let them build the first queer mega-church. Let their children turn to drugs from anger and despair at the isolation and senselessness of suburban living.

Let them be like everyone else, if that's what they want, and embrace a dying lifestyle of petty disputes with neighbors over leaves dropped in one another's lawns and crabapples and unleashed dogs. Let them buy their little castles with moats and dragons and princesses in the attic dying to let down their hair.

In the burbs, you can forget you're a member of the human race. You can even forget you're queer, until the nice neighbors bring over tuna casseroles or whatever the equivalent is these days, and retreat home to rip you to shreds with their night and weekend minutes.

Just remember you'll never really be one of the gang. Women, fifty percent, more or less, of the population, aren't even close to equality, much less queers that at our most exaggerated weigh in at 10 percent. All the anti-bullying programs in the world are not going to protect us in high school where barbarous kids go after the freaks and minorities. All the queer religistas in the world can't change their holy books to offer us open arms instead of rocks aimed at the head.

Sure, society can change. We can pass better laws. We can creep forward if we persist. But imagining a permanent sea change -- delusion, sheer numbers are against us.

The need for queer neighborhoods has only disappeared for those middle-aged LGBT's who came out decades ago. Queer kids still need their Mecca's. Where else can they go? Youth groups at fundamentalist churches? Sports teams, those bastions of homophobia? It's unlikely they'll go knocking on doors in suburbia looking for queer potlucks like kids go door to door on Halloween.

Young queer pilgrims will come where they always have, to the cities, looking for others of their kind that fell off the same turnip truck, that were set down shipwrecked on the same planet. Seeing a few of us on TV, in chatrooms, support groups isn't enough. And if the migrations of tired middle-aged queers destroys their neighborhoods, they will build their own.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Reinventing America

You want a symbol for America try Guantanamo -- an island of dirty, self-righteous laundry surrounded by an ocean of sneers.

When Condi was lecturing the Russians about abuses of human rights, Putin invoked Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and laughed, "You have nothing to teach us."

That was last month. The problem now is that ordinary Americans aren't credible either. In 2003, New Yorkers got out almost 200,000 people, from labor unions to queer Jews, to protest the invasion of Iraq.

Last weekend, for the big antiwar protest, we got what? Two thousand, three? The other 197,000 were afraid to melt in the rain. Who's gonna listen to a scraggly sodden crowd barely filling the three blocks of Broadway north of Union Square. There were more shoppers at the Green Market than protesters.

San Fran and Chicago did better, but the most effective action last week may have actually been held in Paris where four human rights groups filed suit against Rumsfeld, and demanded that he be detained as a torturer when he turned up for a conference.

They didn't expect (or have) the same kind of success activists got a couple of years ago when Pinochet was held in Spain. Still, Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, told reporters, "We know that we can't get him into prison right now, but it would be great to make sure that he couldn't safely leave the U.S. anymore."

That's what I want to see, consequences, even small ones. I just wish we could pull it off here. A few thousand marchers in the street won't stop this war, or the one in the works against Iran. We can't even rely on Democrats to stop torture.

Despite a majority in Congress, they're largely silent about the nomination of the morally challenged Michael B. Mukasey as attorney general. Like everybody, he comes out against torture, but he refuses to define it as acts including waterboarding, a Bush & Rummy favorite.

Arlen Spector, a Republican, actually has a stronger stance, demanding answers both about Mukasey's nebulous responses to questions about torture, and his advocacy of the growing powers of the presidency, a question that should have both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in an uproar. Perhaps they should pack it in, and commission a little crown.

Where's all of our outrage? Why do we all tolerate network "news" that will lament the horrible death of one child from a mysterious infection, and ignore the war, the deaths of hundreds and thousands of Americans and Iraqis that were almost entirely preventable? Why do they never mention torture? Why are the streets empty? Who are we, anyway?

Maybe I've gotten it all wrong from the beginning. Maybe that ancient opposition to the Viet Nam War wasn't a response to the atrocities we were committing there, and all the deaths, but just a selfish desire by idiotic flower children not to get drafted and derail their comfortable, intoxicated path into middle-class adulthood.

ACT-UP's fight against AIDS was all about a bunch of fags who didn't want to die, not a movement of a community. The Lesbian Avengers were just a social network and dating service, OUT for a good time more than lesbian visibility. The founding fathers really did mean all "men" were created equal, screw the women.

Tell me I'm wrong. Tell me most Americans are basically decent and do earnestly believe in democracy.

It's true things have changed. Since 9/11 the world seems to have shrunk and expanded at the same time. Globalization ties us more closely together, but at the same time squeezes so many new faces into the tent that it seems impossible to breathe, much less move.

The Internet doesn't help as much as we'd imagined. You can get a boatload of information there, but it's almost too easy to find a community of like-minded peers. Activists always mistake hot air for action, but in the age of toilet paper emails, we've forgotten that one phone call is worth its weight in gold. A visit, geez, what's that?

We've buried everything we've learned. Including the fact that zeal is great for meetings or chatrooms, but it doesn't get ordinary people past the hangover, past the bad hair day and into the street. Typing alone in a room doesn't build a bridge from everyman's island to the mainland.

To leave the comfort of our houses, most of us have to have a personal stake. We have to know that if we skip the demo we're not only letting down the cause, but all our friends that will look us in the eye and want to know where we were.

That's what's missing. To change things we have to reinvent community, that delicious cocktail of love and shame, that moves us beyond good intentions and into the world.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Gendered Up

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

You were born that way, so what? The next time I hear that given as an argument for bigots to throw open their arms and accept us I'm gonna kick somebody in the LGB Teeth.

The only reason for equality that interests me is that we live in a democracy where that's supposed to be the bottom-line for everybody. So cough up my rights, and do it now. No apologies. No justifications. I don't even need your respect. Just give me that "liberty and justice for all," and the more liberty the better.

It's not just a matter of political style. When you start thinking about how changeable our natures actually are, the more the "born that way" logic tends to fall apart. Sure, we may have some small immutable core, but we screw with it all the time. Especially when it comes to gender.

The other day, during a trip to the Laundromat in Queens, I saw this chick come in and plant her little Chihuahua on the counter. The miserable creature's ears and tail were all fluffed up and dyed some neon pink. There were little pink patches on the feet like shoes, and a pink smear on the tiny muzzle. The coat du jour was a pink and green striped confection with a tiny green pocket.

Hunched on the counter, the dog reminded me of a baby dyke forced to wear a dress to a relative's wedding, and not just any dress, but some spirit crushing thing with bows and ribbons and plenty of pink frills that she replaces at the first available moment with jeans and a tee shirt, boots if she has them, and a piece of bubble gum that she pretends is a chaw of tobacco erasing all that nauseating cotton candy sweetness.

The more she gets pushed one way, the more she retreats the other, and maybe even becomes super butch. In college, as my Southern family ratcheted up the pressure to become marriageable, the more I went around in fedoras and ties that weren't particularly natural to me, either. It took me ages to find my gender comfort zone.

I was lucky they mostly let me alone as a little kid. I remember being five or six and overhearing a neighbor tell my mother, "She walks just like her father." I guess she meant I had the rolling swagger of a fat Kentucky man who, like most Western males, walked as if his spine was fused together.

When I think of it now, even that incipient butchness could have taken a different form. Suppose I'd've been from India. If I walked like my dad there, I may well have had swaying hips that to American eyes would seem positively feminine. The first time I met South Asian guys, I thought they all were gay. That's culture.

Gender changes with age, and class, too. In Delhi, New York, fourteen year old girls are often ultra feminine with painted faces and nails and short skirts. At a married forty, they're lumps of androgynous flesh in supersized pants. Put them in a dyke bar and your gaydar would go haywire.

The further you go down the social scale, the more aggressive the femininity in the young of our species. My sisters wore makeup like war paint. One of them got in girl fights, and when she was pissed took her fingernails down my back in bloody streaks.

The first drag queens I knew reminded me of her, and likewise scared the crap out of me. I'm not sure if it was the blue eye shadow and big hair, or that they fought outside the one gay bar in Lexington, Kentucky, sometimes with switchblades.

When I see groups of transgendered women that all wear skirts and makeup and uncomfortable shoes, I want to ask, "Of all the ways you could have chosen to be a woman, why for heaven's sake pick that?" You've got my skin under your fingernails.

I'm not questioning their gender, just the expression, though I shouldn't judge. Plumage is natural enough, if not in Chihuahuas. It's the changing nature of it among humans that gets me. And brings me back to my original point.

It is nonsense to demand acceptance in the human race because we were born transgender or lesbian or gay and can't change. After all, for most of queer history we contorted ourselves into the conformist box, even if we paid a high price.

What protects us from having to now isn't some new understanding of biology and birth or heterokindness, but years of activism, and that "all" at the end of liberty and justice, the "all," of the self-evident truth we're all created equal. The promises didn't change. We did. Instead of hoping for rights, we began to seize them.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lesbophobia and the Rules of the Game

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I've been watching rugby lately. The sport's World Cup is in its final days in France, and for the last several weeks the bars in the touristy areas of Paris have been full of Scotsmen in kilts and Kiwis in black shirts and painted faces.

How to score is obvious--get the ball over the line, or between the uprights. Aside from that, I have no real idea of what the rules are, and everything seems arbitrary, if not bizarre. For instance, they have throw ins from the side like soccer, but in rugby, the players on the field boost each other up in the air like male cheerleaders in order to get the ball. And sometimes, when the players are in an enormous huddle, and the ball comes tumbling out, I have the strangest sense that the group's given birth to it, and that the man scooping it up and running away is a kind of midwife.

I'm pretty sure real fans see nothing of the kind, but I don't really care. There's something mesmerizing about watching all that activity and sensing an order without knowing what it is. Penalties are especially mysterious.

You could say that sums up my experience of being female.

The first inkling I had that I was dangerously at sea was a visit to one of those Christian camps with the Bethany Baptist Church youth choir. At dusk, the kids paired off heterosexually with members of other groups and wandered off into the woods. When a boy asked me, I agreed to go, too. Why not? I wasn't letting down a side that I didn't know I was on.

He bought me a milkshake at the snack bar before we set off. I remember it was strawberry, and really thick. I was happy as we set off down a dirt path with the scent of earth and leaves in the air. It felt nice to have a good-looking boy pay attention to me. And for that matter, it was nice to have the milkshake. I never had money for extras and I savored it to the last drop.

We held hands. Maybe we kissed, but I'm not sure. The part that stuck with me came afterwards when the girls were analyzing what happened with whom. When all the reports were in, it got back to me that the boy thought I was cute, but was disgruntled because he wanted to make out, and, "she never stopped sucking on that damn straw." Then he used the word lesbo in revenge.

I didn't have another milkshake for years. I also developed a phobia of straws. How old was I? Fourteen or fifteen? And it never crossed my mind that a boy might expect something in return for the price of a beverage. And if he was giving signals about his desperate longing for my ravishing self, I missed those, too.

You could blame my ignorance on the fact that I was a baby dyke. But not all straight women get the rules, either. A woman yesterday was telling me that her friends criticized how she handled broken dates. "Apparently you're supposed to cry and ask why," she told me in amazement. "Or men think you don't care." Apparently her ex liked to tell her that her ego was too big. I bet he also called her a dyke.

There are a thousand different rules you can break as a woman. But the penalty is nearly always the same, an eruption of lesbophobia.

In fact, any progress down the field draws a foul. Instead of analyzing what impact it has that we have a black woman meeting heads of state as the face and voice of America, Condi critics from both the left and right waste newsprint wondering if she's a lesbian because she co-owns a home with another woman.

The closer Hillary gets to sewing up the Democratic nomination, the more she's criticized as too tough, too ambitious, egocentric, mannish. In short, she's a dyke. Like the schoolyard cry of "faggot," aimed at swishy boys, the accusation of dyke has little to do with who we want in our beds, and everything about keeping us in our place as women.

Sometimes I think activists shouldn't even bother using words like sexual orientation, and instead of dumping transpeople to get laws passed against queer discrimination, maybe it's the gay and lesbian aspects that should get dropped.

For men, the heart of lesbophobia isn't disgust at the idea of two women sleeping together, it's not being allowed (metaphorically) to watch. It's the exclusion. And the idea women neither want nor need them. If women have progressed at all, it's not because the rules of misogyny and lesbophobia have changed, it's because we've gotten better at ignoring them.

Here's to all the girls.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Resurrecting Bush

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

You never know who you'll run into when you leave the house, even in Paris. Sunday I ran into my old pal, George W. Bush, who was stuck in the middle of a towering New Guinea bis pole at the Quai Branly Museum. At least I thought it was him.

The figure staring into the room had the same thin, pinched lips and squinty eyes George gets when someone asks him about the war. He was naked, and lean as I imagine, scrunched up in a kind of fetal position, but had something resembling a tin pot or helmet over his privates which was too bad.

I was wondering how he was hung. Now, I'll never know. It was the figure above him which had an enormous protruding lattice-carved dick that was bigger than my whole apartment. The face didn't look like Cheney's, but I'd recognize the prick anywhere.

The pole and figures were carved out of an upended mandrake tree with one of the lower roots reserved to be the giant penis. The figures on the pole commemorate the dead, often warriors. When their ceremonial purpose is done you stake them in the ground in some sacred grove until they rot, exchanging power with the earth, or something like that.

I should have paid more attention to the threat, but I was too distracted by George's captivatingly bitter face. My girlfriend saw the resemblance too, though she remarked his nose had grown. What can you expect after so many years of lying in office? Which also explains why the tree up his butt has merged finally with his spine.

Staring at the sour, wooden face of a dead-in-the-water warrior president, I tried to imagine what he would regret most in the future, the war in Iraq, maybe, or that he did, or did not, invade Iran. I suspect geopolitics will be the least of it, or the failed economy. What will haunt him at night will be the mystery of why he's no longer adored.

Democrats always hated him, of course, rabid and dismissive to the detriment of political strategy, but Independent and Republican voters were enchanted with the comfortable drawl that scorned career politicians and eggheads like Al Gore.

He had a solid Christian faith and knew how to express it. He flattered the working class with the idea that if an ordinary, cowboy hat wearing guy like him could make it, anybody could. He wouldn't let those Dems take their bottom dollar in taxes. Likewise, he preached a non-involvement, hands-off isolationism in international politics, not like that interfering Bill Clinton. For all that he got kudos, applause, and the requisite few thousand votes he needed to squeak in. He even wall-papered his campaign with faces of color to prove what a nice guy he was.

And if he'd stuck to his program instead of getting mired in Iraq, maybe he'd of been able to pull out of his pre-9/11 slump and keep Republican dominance in Congress, and later the White House, assuming that not too many of the GOP got caught with their hands in the till (or in their pants whacking off) because the nature of America hasn't really changed.

Voters are less pro-Democrat than simply repulsed by the reality of Bush and the Republicans who stuck only to their anti-queer, anti-abortion planks in their platform.

Unfortunately, political memories are short. Instead of Democratic soul-searchers asking, "Why did we lose the country in the first place?" They've moved straight on to, "How do we take advantage of their delicious screw-ups?"

It's just as much a failure of analysis as my wooden Bush blaming "Big" Dick Cheney for his loss of popularity. So the guy attends state functions in ominous black leather gloves designed for hit men to keep their prints off guns. That doesn't explain the war, the economy, the toilet paper Constitution.

For the Democrats to do more than just ride the wave of Republican failure, they'll have to address what made Bush so effective in the first place, or in a couple of years that pole will get replanted in the Republican grove and an identical monster will emerge once again conjuring those old ideals of independence, self-reliance, and general goodness which are so consistently appealing to American voters.

And why not? The problem isn't the myths, but how they get twisted into isolationism, bigotry, self-indulgence, and fanaticism.

It's the role of Democrats to persuade Americans that we can find a middle way, especially when it comes to the international scene. We can and must play a role, but it doesn't have to mean body bags or black financial holes. In fact, let's hear it for diplomacy. Talk is cheap, compared to bombers and bullets and lives.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Déjà Vu: Racism in America

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I always root for losing teams, the Mets who amaze more for their ability to blow leads than win tight games, the Brazilian women's soccer phenoms who despite the fact they have no budget and never get a chance to play together made it all the way to the World Cup final, where Germany beat them. Then there are queer activists. Go team!

I want to win for a change. Win for keeps. But it seems like even good news is just a drop in the déjà vu bucket.

So what if yet another study finds that lesbian parents are just as good as straight ones, at least in Holland? The study also showed that lesbians were happier with their female partners as co-parents than their het counterparts who remain challenged in the fields of diaper-changing, and cooking, and pre-bedtime reading. But is there a rush to change adoption laws either in the U.S. or Europe? Did women rush to leave their men? No.

Likewise, in New Orleans, Episcopalians waffle on queer rights yet again to appease their Anglican relations that would rather see us burn than marry or officiate over the divvying up of a dead man's flesh and blood (that's communion for you barbarians) for the suspect purposes of salvation.

Lesbophobia is still alive and well in South Africa where a group of mostly dykes marched to protest the rising rate of violence against them. Two lesbians were killed a couple of months ago. Many have been raped or beaten, no matter that gay rights are enshrined in the Constitution.

What does that count when it's used as toilet paper? In the U.S., that rasping, sucking sound you hear in the background is not one more closeted congressman getting off, but our rights going down the drain in a more or less continual flood.

The real punch in the gut these days is racism in America. What a disappointment. What a backward march, especially in electoral politics. It's not that I thought the Republicans had come anywhere near to embracing equality. I just thought they'd gotten more sophisticated about their bigotry after Bush's successful courting of people of color.

At the last Republican convention there were black and brown faces all over the screen, and a couple of queers, too, before they got their teeth into that annoying Amendment banning gay marriage. The appearance of diversity worked pretty well, paying off in minority votes.

What we got for it were some not so token appointments like Gonzalez and Rice and what's his name, Colin Powell, remember him? Which no matter what anybody says are better than nothing.

They at least created the illusion of civility, offered role models, and meant racists were evolving enough to keep their hate just a little more underground, raising the glass ceiling just a few feet, a few inches. Now it's stone. Like the cowboy's, "Keep your hands on the table where I can see 'em." If nothing else, they're easier to fight that way.

But in this '08 campaign for the White House, Republicans reveal themselves not only as bigots, but the village idiots, their presidential candidates openly alienating more than a quarter of the population by gestures like refusing to participate in a nationally televised debate focusing on minority issues. Head on back to the back of the bus. No debates about racism or class. No stump speeches. Just naked scorn.

Too bad if African Americans make up thirteen percent of the population, and Hispanics are rapidly growing towards fifteen percent. Screw 'em. And the queers, too. Rudy, despite his cross-dressing tendencies and faggot friends is backpedaling away as fast as he can.

I'd crow over how they're shooting themselves in the electoral foot, except somebody somewhere has calculated that they can pull off this election without all us minorities and our troubling issues. And the scary thing is, I think they may be right.

A little luck, a few shenanigans, and one of them can emerge from the pack and beat plastic Hillary like the young, personable George unexpectedly, and against the Los Vegas odds, took plastic Gore, as the Times recently reminded us.

And if it's too close to call, if it's close at all, the Republican machinery may well kick in with the police blockades preventing African Americans from getting to polls, kicking African Americans off voter registries, losing ballots, deleting votes.

In other words, they'll steal the election--again. Sure, the Democrats are controlling some of the machinery Republicans had in hand last time. But the only way to be sure of a clean election is to win with such a margin no thieves can shift a few thousand votes and take the country.

For that we need a Democrat who does more than avoid mistakes, but knows how to close throwing the hard stuff.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Queers and the New Flesh Trade: Nursing Homes

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

With the Republicans on the ropes, the main Democratic candidates have finally been emboldened to take on health care. They're getting kudos for proposing universal care, with expanded federal health insurance, plenty of tax credits, and limits on Big Pharma.

What I didn't see, at least in Hillary's plan, was anything to do with "end-of-life" care, or whatever gentler phrase you can think of for nursing homes. By any name, nursing homes are the new flesh trade, the ultimate rag and bone shop where investors by and sell living meat and no one gets out alive.

They've always been bad. Have you seen the places? Have you smelled them? I've visited a bunch of the homes I'd end up in in New York. The stench hits you when you walk in, disinfectant, urine, sweat, misery and old cabbage soup.

There's no privacy and no private property that you can't fit in a pocket because you can't lock your door and stuff walks away. Keeping even a little CD player, or an ipod is almost impossible. The administration controls your eating and sleeping and shitting and bathing.

Add in the queer factor and hell itself looks appetizing by comparison. Imagine being stuck at the mercy of God-fearing, Christian nurses who already think dykes and fags should burn. That's my nightmare. No room to call my own. Even my body belongs to them. They manipulate it at when they can be bothered to.

Screw aging. We can talk about the perks of wisdom, but really, who looks forward to the mental slippage, the physical parts going one by one, the vulnerability? I do what I can to stay healthy, but there are limits. And there are limits to what our partners can do for us, if we're lucky enough to have them.

One in four of Americans end their lives in nursing homes. I'd rather die. In fact, it's the only point in common I have with my mother who says, "Just shoot me," when the aging quandary comes up. I offered once to do it then and there, but she didn't take me up on it.

I used to think I'd be okay if only I had the money for a private home. But now it seems that middle- and upper-class people are doomed, too.

As baby boomers age, nursing homes have become a new favorite of investment groups. Ronald E. Silva, president and CEO of Fillmore Capital told the New York Times, "There's essentially unlimited consumer demand as the baby boomers age ... I've never seen a surer bet."

Once the investment groups buy a place, the rush starts to decrease costs, and maximize profit, usually by dumping staff. The results are unsurprising.

Investigating private homes, the Times found people dead from preventable causes: complications of bedsores, tracheotomy tubes that were clogged because the staff was cut so far down in the name of profit nobody bothered to do basic checking of these bodies temporarily warehoused.

Ironic how we outlaw prostitution where sex workers are at least selling their own bodies, but we happily trade in buildings full of human beings. If they were on ships, they would be slaves. As it is, incapacitated people in nursing homes are more like pork bellies. I wouldn't be surprised if they were sold by the pound.

Seniors should be up in arms. Everybody should. We should pressure the democratic candidates who think it's enough to court the big voting block of seniors with promises to reduce the costs of prescription drugs and health screenings.

And good luck to 'em. This industry is as secretive and barely regulated as the old Ma Bell or for that matter, military contracting. They protect themselves with Byzantine corporate structures that make it impossible to hold anyone accountable.

But if we don't push for it, no one will. People already trapped in the industry are not able to advocate for themselves. They're already physically or mentally disabled, just plain tired, or hopeless.

Don't console yourself with hopes of alternative places, like assisted living complexes. Increasingly there are queer ones, but they are out of reach for most of us. A small home in the queer retirement community Palms of Manasota in Florida reportedly costs upward of $130,000. I can't afford to pitch even a tent there. And who wants to live in Florida anyway?

I'm not the only concerned one. In the 2006 MetLife "Out and Aging" lesbians were afraid their savings would run out. Fags were afraid of illness and dependence. Both were concerned that healthcare professionals wouldn't treat them with dignity and respect as they aged.

Frankly, we should all be terrified. Aging people are crap in America and old queers are even lower than straights. Maybe it's time for aging to move to the front of our agenda.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Emerging from the Atheist Closet

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Scientists are beginning to discover religion is hardwired into the human brain. I'm not surprised. In Paris, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a cathedral. Their steeples punctuate the red tiled roofs. A couple of times a day bells fill the air.

As for America, the whole story of our "founding" is about religious dissidents looking for a home. Every couple of generations vast evangelical movements and spiritual awakenings sweep the country. We sprout a sect a minute. When we remember Native Americans, it's usually to mug them for their eagle feathers and prayer pipes and sweat lodges.

It's a wonder we ended up with a democracy at all, and not a succession of bloody theocracies.

Given all that, it's interesting to watch atheists begin to emerge from the closet. September 11th was the last straw. Sick equally of Muslims and Christians, groups of nonbelievers have sprung up all over, and have a growing presence on the internet with chat rooms and blogs, all determined to fight the surge in religion.

Their books are selling like hotcakes. "God Is Not Great" by the Brit Christopher Hitchens is number twelve on the New York Times Bestseller List for nonfiction. "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins sneaks in at thirty-four, just after the Pope's "Jesus of Nazareth."

Still, atheists have an uphill battle, especially in the ultrareligious U.S. A poll a couple of weeks ago by Pew Research Center showed that only Muslims and atheists were longer shots than Mormons in terms of electability. But while forty-five percent said they had reservations about a Muslim contender for president, a whopping sixty-one percent of the participants said an atheist was pretty much out of the running for them.

A 2006 Minnesota study said Americans even preferred homos to atheists when it came to questions of trust. All queers do is have dirty disgusting sex. The godless are capable of anything.

Atheists are punished not just with political banishment, but violence. Put a "heathen" bumper sticker on your car, you risk a bashed windshield. Write a letter to the editor, expect a cross burnt on your lawn, at least in Alabama.

I spent a couple of days trying to imagine a world run by atheists. I found it more peaceful and safe--for me, anyway. There was less fuel for misogynists, less hate against queers. No "God is on my side" argument for wars and politics. No suicide bombers with virgins waiting in the wings. Without the excuse of God, greed, fury, ambition and hate have to stand naked. Like charity, kindness, generosity and love.

The problem is, as somebody who not only grew up Southern Baptist, but embraced the sect, my subconscious is crawling with religion. When I sit down to write, I often end up with a page full of religious imagery. Hell, I dream in it, while I work to erase religion from our political lives.

In Paris, I've even taken to haunting churches. The buildings are open all day and if you're out for a long walk, they offer a quiet place to sit and rest. Many of them are gorgeous, and besides, you're more likely to hear a string quartet than a mass. Religious services are held in discrete corners. The rest of the place is given over to art shows and concerts, and tourists who are asked to contribute a euro or two to keep them from falling to dust.

One of the cathedrals I like best is Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois, newly famous for the nuptials of Eva Longoria and Tony Parker. Kings used to get married there. Then there's the small matter of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572.

The bells of the church were rung as signal to kick off the slaughter of a few thousand protestant Huguenots in town for a wedding. That's religion for you. Add in the priests that ran roughshod over French citizens for centuries, you get a perfect explanation of the anticlerical revolution that saw furious citizens pillage every church in the country.

I wonder sometimes why they didn't bring them down stone by stone like the Taliban did with the great stone Buddhas of Afghanistan. Was it residual religious respect? An appreciation for their beauty and history? Or just legendary French thrift? During the revolution, Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois was used for storage, and later as a police station. Now it is what it is. A beautiful, slightly ravaged building next to city offices. A kind of momento mori.

I think that air of decay is what appeals to me. While we can't erase religion, maybe we can find a way in America to shrink it. We can start by shifting it from politics to culture, and we should teach it modesty, let it beg for every penny, like the beautiful crumbling churches of France.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Rose Is a Rose Is a September Bomb

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I know it's an old question, but what's in the name of a thing? I looked out my window the other morning, and where there are usually pigeons picking their way across the red roof tiles, I saw this bird not unlike a crow, but with much longer tail feathers and bright patches of electric blue along the sides, like a kind of penguin.

I don't know anything about birds, but that didn't keep me from thinking, "Tern, I wonder if it's a tern." At least that's what I wondered, until I stuck it in my blog and "Ampy" wrote in and said from the description it was probably a magpie.

She'd be appalled at my friend Zon who knowingly calls every tree a dogwood, even the enormous chestnuts along the Seine. It's perverse, but by and large who cares? Words can mean anything we want. No one else has to agree unless the desired end is communication, and not just some generic word for tree, though "tree" does well enough in most cases. Still, Zon argues, it doesn't have the poetry of dogwood.

The implications are different in Washington where politicians play games with language every time they open their mouths, and not for the sake of poetry. That word "America," can mean a field of corn, a cross, a gun, especially when it's followed by any combination of phrases that include either, "War" and "Terror" or "September."

And in the face of everything meaning almost anything, I'm tempted sometimes as a writer to go mute, that or develop my own dictionary, a lexicon of lexicogswell. The problem is it'd be outdated as soon as it was printed. Words erode as soon as they leave my mouth. Or computer. Starting with September.

I remember when that word used to mean the start of school, used books with their hoard of words, the trying on of hand-me-downs from my sisters, new shoes. In the countryside, it meant goldenrod and asters, the first turning of the leaves. Then there was the winding down of baseball.

Yeah, September was a nice word for a nice time, even in New York. And the day the towers fell was as beautiful a day as New York's seen with blue, blue sky and sun behind the towers, glinting off the falling glass, falling papers, falling people, then the dust and the fires that were only the beginning.

I wish New York could have mourned alone, instead of having a flag planted in our hearts like a dagger. Now it seems ridiculous to pause and grieve when America has thousands more dead, not to mention, (they never are) the tens of thousands of Iraqis that were liberated not only from Saddam but the convenience of regular food supplies, health care, safety, peace, and finally life itself.

That's September for you -- the new word for cynicism and profiteering in the midst of death, chaos, collapse, ruin and patriotism.

In the U.S., on the eleventh, all the baseball stadiums now hope to have a New York team so they can project the tumbling towers and the Star Spangled singer can get that extra little catch in the throat, so that they'll sell a few more twenty-dollar flags. In Washington, they trot out the date to sell new terrorism acts, or war plans.

General David H. Petraeus is at the front of the pack this year, hawking his plan to keep us in Iraq, so he can test a few pet theories on counterinsurgencies and put off the chaos of any withdrawal until a Democrat gets in office and has to clean up the mess.

Meanwhile we pour dead children into our cars along with the oil. Meanwhile, Rudolph Guiliani, Republican candidate for president sells himself as New York's wartime mayor from the blast. Even protests couldn't keep him away from the commemoration ceremony.

I even question our remembrance of LGBT fire fighters, and 9/11 heroes, using them to push ourselves forward as genuine patriots. If the end of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy finally gets bought by Congress, and it's suddenly okay to be queer in the military, it won't be because they admire our courage, but because it's easier to waive the ban on dykes and faggots than reinstitute the draft to recruit more bodies.

This September I'm in France where it's all rugby, rugby, rugby from the World Cup. There's still the Iraq War and September 11th remembrances, but I can watch kids buy schoolbooks without wanting to puke. I can look at the sky, and yellowing chestnuts (dogwoods) without feeling disgusted at how their falling leaves have been co-opted.

We have to remember what words mean, beginning with September, and moving along to truth, justice, and if we dare, America.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

In Praise of the Water Closet

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

If you're going to have a quickie, it might as well be in a public toilet where the basic needs are generally taken care of, and you have all the facilities for fluids to go hygienically from one tube down another. There, help getting off is an act of kindness really, like passing toilet paper between stalls when somebody's out. What's a simple blow job between men?

I've often wished it was as easy for dykes. There's always such a line outside the bathroom door, and inside, too, where there's the scrum at the mirrors and soap. If someone's tapping their foot, it's from impatience at the wailing toddler being coaxed to pee. There's the sound, too, of tampons being unwrapped that doesn't get anybody's juices flowing.

I've tried semi-public sex myself. A girlfriend and I went into the backroom of a bar once where the boys were having a sweetly chaste circle jerk, but when I decided to crawl under her skirt, the bouncer decided we were positively "unsafe" and tossed us out. Though now that I think about it, it was probably the sight of female parts that the guys didn't like, the invasion of boobs and omnivorous vaginas.

That's the thing about public sex. It stakes out territory, something I'd like to see women do more of. Out of a hundred seats in the U.S. Senate, only sixteen are dick free. In plenty of neighborhoods, women can barely walk on the street at night, much less fuck there, forget the ballot box. At a mere 5'5' I consider pepper spraying the dark spaces between cars and carrying a machete.

For women, getting arrested for cruising, or screwing each other in public would be an advance, a sign of entitlement, or at least daring.

I'd like to see marauding packs of dykes in all the dark alleys, peeing in corners like guys, leaving lipstick on lampposts and window panes, hanging out in toilets scaring away the hets who linger with powder and eyebrow pencils and diaper bags and are always demanding if I'm in the right bathroom until I'm tempted to flip up my shirt and show my meager tits.

Which makes me wonder what it means to "out" a guy who's already screwing in public. His body's out there. Or his dick is, anyway, before he puts it away and moves on. Is he gay? Or in this post-Stonewall age, just homosexual? Or nothing at all? Should we take him at his outraged word? "I'm not gay." Making him just another asshole?

Heterosexuality means so many things. It's a convenient mask even for straight people. There's nothing a man can't get away with if he puts on a suit and acquires a wife. As a woman, get a wedding ring, tuck a baby under your arm, and just wait for the social perks. You're a mother, that's it. Behind the façade, anything goes, screw the mailman or papergirl, find a sheep.

Straights themselves know that heterosexuality is a kind of amputation, a ritual scarring with benefits. I remember how my mother regretted marrying and told us so repeatedly, but at least it got her out of her parents' house.

Likewise, a little sex in the airport john shouldn't get in the way of a three bedroom split level with semi-detached garage or singing in the church choir or a nice congressional seat where you can fight the queers wedging open the safe little community you've built. Or that's how the reasoning goes in the dark corner of the closeted brain until you see the looks on your colleagues faces.

The delusion is interesting, though. I think queers pushing for marriage are often playing the same game, imagining the word will give them legitimacy, and not just tax advantages and inheritance rights. More importantly, it'll lay down a road map, offer roles so we don't have to keep reinventing ourselves, discovering what it means to be queer, what it means to be good.

I can see the point of that, too, like a suit and tie. I've always admired them, at least on Cary Grant who was born for a snow white shirt and suit coat. It must be a relief to get up in the morning and grab one of each with no need for coordination. The key is to remember all the latitude and longitude of what's underneath, and recognize that like heterosexuality, suits are a game and mask.

I sometimes want a short cut, too. Like religion with the rules that'll get you to heaven. Don't worry your pretty little head about morality. Just be a husband and husband, wife and wife. Leave your contradictions in the toilet.

You can find sex there, or violence, or love. You can make a cult of it, or catch something from the seat.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Gonzo's Gone, Who's Next?

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

So Alberto Gonzales finally stepped down as U.S. Attorney General, declaring himself smarmily thankful for his "remarkable journey" and popping the champagne cork of the pity party by evoking his immigrant roots.

"I have lived the American dream," he said. "Even my worst days as attorney general were better than my father's best days."

I bet not. Alberto's been in the hot seat for Bush & Co. wire-tapping schemes, and for firing uncooperative U.S. attorneys. For an all too brief moment years and years ago he was wanly criticized for calling the Geneva Conventions, "quaint" in a post-9/11 world.

It was at his urging, the Department of Justice drafted a memo redefining the word "torture" to allow interrogators to do almost everything short of killing.

He defended Bush's secret prisons, stymied voting rights cases, reports of racial profiling, and according to the New York Times, undercut the federal case against Big Tobacco.

What heights for the son of an immigrant. He's even come a long way since he was Bush's Secretary of State in Texas where he and W. combined to kill more prisoners there than ever--fifty-six. What's a couple of humans more or less? What's a life if it's not yours?

His father must be rolling in his grave at a son who considers that a day spent rolling in the sewers of consecutive Bush administrations is better than any of his father's best. As if poor people can't have good days, too, moments of transcendence. A ragpicker is better than Gonzales. The prisoners he shat on sleep better than him.

The only funny thing about his resignation is that Gonzales tried to resign on the phone, but Bush wouldn't let him. He had to go all the way to Crawford, Texas, hat in hand, and do it over lunch. I'm not sure if it was a sign of Bush's misplaced loyalty, a desire to look his old pal in the eye and make sure things between them were square, or if it was just to make up the numbers at the Sunday family barbecue.

Bush's Texas entourage has been dwindling lately what with Rummy long gone, and Ken Rove, was it? The French President Nicolas Sarkozy came running for hamburgers an hour late, but his wife Cecilia backed out with a cold, a terrible, terrible cold that lasted about as long as the picnic.

Mrs. Gonzales, though, was polite enough to come for the last meal. I wonder what was on the menu. Hotdogs? Crow? Did Alberto get a request like prisoners spending their last night on death row? Maybe a nice rice pudding with extra cinnamon? That's calming, if nothing else.

At the press conference, Gonzales didn't give any reasons for resigning, and after making a brief statement literally fled the room before anybody could ask questions, or slap on cuffs.

"Better late than never," said Senator John Edwards when he heard about the resignation.

You could say that about the Democrats, too. They were impotent and fearful under a Republican majority, and barely show signs of life even now, when the tables are turned. What about all of them that gave the White House a free pass recently on a new spying bill? Are they gonna step down, too?

I wish all these people would get what they deserve like in those old Victorian novels where the bad old rich people would lose all their money and have to go begging to their former (now incredibly wealthy) victims for help.

What about the kind of justice you sometimes get in New York housing court where a judge will on occasion condemn landlords to live in their own crumbling rat- and roach-infested buildings until they do the repairs? There's a secret cell in a secret prison labeled Fredo, another for Bush.

Impeachment's not good enough. What is that really, but a chance for some other president to give a pardon? Congress will never throw anybody in the clink. I bet they don't even start proceedings against Bush. For that you need to get a blow job in the Oral Office.

With Bush, it's the American people that got screwed, and Iraqis, and Afghanis, and all the women globally who suffered when he banned health funds to programs offering family planning. Then there are the people living on islands and coasts as the sea levels rise... queers...

Our own Senator Schumer, who has been calling for Mr. Gonzales' departure weighed in with his own two cents, or being a politician, a good half dollar. "It has been a long and difficult struggle, but at last the attorney general has done the right thing and stepped down. For the previous six months, the Justice Department has been virtually nonfunctional, and desperately needs new leadership."

Don't we all?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Queer in the Age of Torture

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

For the last couple of weeks, French newsstands have been displaying this beefcake in a red speedo. He's got his hands behind his head and arches just a little to emphasize his bare naked chest. It's the cover of the struggling gay rag Tetu, but I'm not tempted to buy it.

The white, unmarked flesh seems so vulnerable plastered there in the plexiglass booth. I can't help but wonder what they'd do to it in Guantanamo or one of those secret prisons in Egypt where they practice torture, often on queers.

Sometimes I imagine the perfect pecs shot through with arrows like St. Sebastian. Other times, I see the body with a heap of others, blinded with hoods, piled naked on a cold concrete floor with Private Lindy England smiling over them right at the camera.

Then I think of Matthew Shepard beaten and left to die tied to a fence in Wyoming, and David Wojnarowicz whose flesh was mortified more slowly by AIDS because there were no ARVs yet, and who cared about another dead fag? "If you want to stop AIDS shoot the queers," said one Texas governor.

We think we're safe now. In America, this week alone, we have all the Democratic candidates crowding the civil union bandwagon or leaping on the gay marriage horse, promising to dismantle the Defense of Marriage Act, and the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy for homo soldiers.

Lutherans have even cracked open the gates to heaven. The denomination still bars us from being openly queer in the ministry, but now recommends to its bishops that they pray a lot before dumping us like hot fag potatoes if we somehow come out. In 2009 they hope to come to some kind of consensus about "human sexuality" and until then, caution is the better part of velour, and don't throw bricks at glass menageries.

There's one current moving forward, and one underneath tugging back. Either could drown us.

Think about it. What the Lutheran decision really means is that homophobic pastors are asked to stay their hands while in the backrooms of churches a bunch of others discuss us like plants or animals, considering whether we have souls, if we can serve God, be blessed in a union. If anybody wants to know how many of us can dance on the head of a pin, tell them about 982 fit, but only if we do the rumba.

Can progress root itself in this kind of shame? If it does, will it last? They hate us so much. And our meager gains aren't written in stone. Look at Roe v. Wade. After a couple of years under Bush, the decision that gave women control over basic little things like bearing children has eroded like the Jersey shoreline.

The gains of women and queers have almost always been linked. Maybe the losses will be, too. Maybe they are already, all those anti-gay marriage amendments thriving in individual States.

No matter how many times we've tried to sanitize our image, replacing drag queens and leather bears and dykes on bikes with two guys or two girls in tuxedoes, kissing chastely in front of a judge, declaring gay rights to be all about love and families, sir, please give us gay marriage, the hets still see boys in speedos rolling around on their sanctuary floors.

That's dangerous for us in the age of torture, when sex is a tool for humiliation and bodies alone are almost as superfluous as the limbs of our soldiers in Iraq. We've become hardened to words like waterboarding, stress positions, isolation. We saw corpses floating in New Orleans, lying bloated in muddy gutters, but we went on.

Justice with her blind eyes and sword isn't enough. You can't ask her for compassion, just dollars on the barrelhead when victims sue. Me, I prefer slatternly Liberty with her tits spilling from her dress leading a ragtag band to freedom. Perhaps soon in America there will be an epic battle like Godzilla and Mothra, but with Justice and Liberty duking it out.

It would be better if they worked together, but I don't see it happening. I don't see much of anything lately but unguarded flesh and a bruising world, an America that's turned her eyes away from what her hands do.

If words don't work, I'm not sure demos do either. There's something to the Buddhists priests that set themselves alight in protest. It's a last resort though. For when things get dire enough. The problem is yesterday was already bad. When will we know it's too much?

And will we even dare act? Queers think fondly of Stonewall, but most of us, if handed a bottle and pointed towards the plate glass window, would never have the guts to rare back and throw.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Cry Fowl on Torture

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

It's a crime against nature, but I did it anyway, saved some pigeon from a prolonged and horrible death after the stupid thing slammed into our sliding glass balcony doors, and got stuck on the terrace.

That's what I think happened, anyway. I only came after the first thud, saw the pigeon and the pigeon-shaped smear on the door and made my assumptions.

I considered leaving it there. A month ago, its cousin caught me in the head with such a splashing shower of crap it took a roll of paper towels, a bath, and a Laundromat to get it all off. Now I had one on my balcony, and could have turned the tables, maybe shat on it for a change.

Despite my hard-boiled self I was moved. Every time it worked up the energy to fly off into space, it smashed against the dirty Plexiglass designed to keep toddlers from falling into the noxious schoolyard below. Three or four times it tried, each with a sickening thud that caught me in the gut.

There was something familiar about it. A bird in the hand, then the Bush, our great U.S. President getting ready to bomb Iran after his resounding failures in Iraq, not to mention that jolly vacation destination Afghanistan.

Opium growing is up again, and the Taliban retaking villages where they can, and elsewhere exploding suicide bombs. In Iraq, soldiers and civilians alike are still dropping like crows with West Nile. Women are back under wraps that Saddam at least didn't insist on. Queers get a couple of bullets in their heads for wearing ponytails.

Now Cheney's pushing for fun and games in Iran, and why not throw ourselves against that brick wall with U.S. commanders blaming Tehran for everything from the suicide bombers to the roadside bombs in Iraq? It's all a terrible plot, though for once Condi is up in arms against it, pushing for dialogue and diplomacy instead of the heavy artillery.

The smart money's on Cheney. He always gets his way. I imagine he will now, too. After a few harsh words from Dick and a prayer meeting Bush will claim the idea as his own and fly with it no matter if his father intervenes, or that little French pipsqueak Sarkozy who was invited for a picnic this weekend, but however much he loves the U.S. can never get behind this war unless he wants Paris to burn.

How many times can you set off with such optimism, slam into a solid object dragging a nation behind, without a little self-reflection?

If you're like the pigeon, endlessly. With each false start, each collision I'm astounded Bush hasn't put it together with the bruises on the U.S. economy, our heritage ripped to shreds with that black op torture.

You must have read the New Yorker piece about what the U.S. is doing in secret prisons for our "War on Terror," turning sinners into saints by mortifying their flesh, destroying their minds. Destroying ours.

Even the interrogators have nightmares. "When you cross over that line of darkness, it's hard to come back. You lose your soul. You can do your best to justify it, but it's well outside the norm. You can't go to that dark a place without it changing you."

As for me, I turned away from my small chance for revenge, the pleasure of a helpless foe, the power.

Pigeon feathers were starting to accumulate in the corners, and there was poop on the tile. Each thumping crunch pointed to a new concussion, and the withering chance the creature would get itself off without an injury. There's nothing I can do for my country, but this pigeon anyway, had a lesbian rescuer.

I did hesitate. I'm afraid of birds, and I was on my way out to sign a contract for an apartment. I wanted to leave it there, hoping against hope the creature would think to fly up first, up, goshdangit, up, and then out, before I got back, but every time I watched the stupid thing just tried to go directly out.

Imagining a return to broken wings and filth, I pulled on a raincoat and gloves, everything but goggles which I would have worn if I'd had some after watching Hitchcock's birds, and went out on the balcony, muttering lies I would have said to a horse, like "Calm down darling, everything's fine, just fine."

I pushed a broom towards it, slipped it under the scared flapping wings, lifted it up, complete with bird, and watched the fat dirty thing fly away at an astounding speed considering the bird brain damage.

I got no backwards glance, or coo of thanks, nothing but a little stray fuzz and the greasy pigeon-shaped smear of Turin marking pity on my door.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Terrorism: The Inside Job

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Acts of revolt aren't what they used to be. Either you blow a couple of thousand to kingdom come, or wear a Che Guevara tee-shirt and call it a revolution.

Sunday, a gaggle of fags on bikes almost ran me down on the sidewalk, and when I shouted, "Try using the road," one screamed back, "It's an act of transgression, you bourgeois pig." Apparently in Paris, if you take down a dyke pedestrian, the status quo crumbles at your feet.

In Rome, all it takes is a kiss, not Judas this time, but two guys going at it in front of the Coliseum. After getting arrested by an army of carabinieri, they turned into heroes, mobilizing thousands for a kiss-in, and winning for their tribe a gay street shut off from traffic for a few days a week.

Then there's Charles Merrill, the queer Palm Springs artist who hacked up the bible with a black marker and scissors, and a couple of weeks ago burnt up an old and expensive Koran his late wife left him.

I kind of liked that, taking on God, pissing off the extremists to make a point about homophobia and religion. Say what you like about modern interpretations and love being the true essence of Islam and Christianity, it's there in black and white for fundamentalists. God wants us dead.

The only problem is one gesture won't win that fight. You have to bolster the seawall between Church and State, and there's nothing sexy enough about that to attract a flamboyant artist, much less street activists.

I shouldn't judge. Lately I've been cowering in corners. Call it a side effect of being a foreigner in a country where the latest pastime is immigrant tossing, preferably African or Asian, but not exclusively. I've hung back at demonstrations, and not stuck around to bear witness when I've seen cops setting up checkpoints.

Last month, I thought about buzzing off all my hair, but only got a short little cut that makes me look positively cute and harmless, ears sticking out and everything.

Caution never pays. When I wanted to make a quick trip into England this week, I still got delayed at the ferry by a lengthy interrogation at passport control while the line behind me piled up with some suspicious looking backpackers that stank, if you ask me, of terrorism and drug smuggling.

I don't know exactly what marked me, my dykeness, the short spiky hair, or what. A haircut can be style in one place, a declaration of war in another. Once in the East Village, I did a Sinead O'Connor, shaved my head, and felt a brief moment of liberation.

A couple days later on the train to Bensonhurst, I found myself surrounded by a bunch of young black men arguing about whether I was a racist skinhead or if it was "Just a 'do, man. Just a 'do." It was September of '89. I was fresh off the bus from Kentucky and had never heard the name Yusuf Hawkins.

At the ferry, probably my simple existence was enough for suspicion, an act of challenge and revolt. We queers have to remind ourselves of that.

We've won hate crime laws, the occasional marriage and civil union victories, but it would be a big mistake to imagine we've changed what seems to be an almost biological revulsion towards difference.

By its nature, our homo orientation will always put us on the cultural shit list. We're turned in the wrong direction, headed away from the pack, sticking out, the sore thumbs, a threat to society.

I got a first class ticket by mistake and got to sit for a while in the lounge in a fancy leather club chair surrounded by thin, chinoed and button-downed English chaps who ordered scrambled eggs and smoked salmon with toast in polite plummy drawls.

A couple hundred yards away in the self-service café people loaded their plates with beans and toast and fried bread and eggs and these enormous sausages. All the men were blokes, and mates and the children were skinny and pasty white and the women scrawny or enormous bloated things.

I got stared at in both places, and in the first class lounge asked for my ticket and called "sir" all morning long by the waiter who was forced to serve me a free latte despite himself.

I'm an amnesiac to forget it, how humans shudder at difference, and how sometimes, difference shudders back, like Charles Merrill cutting the bible, burning the Koran like a flag.

Rarely, though, do real outsiders throw bombs. That takes something else, the fury of men who expected to belong, a will to power that mirrors the boys on top. In other words, it's an inside job.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Queers As Terrorists -- Again!

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

The Europeans have climbed into the gutter with the Americans, agreeing to give the lowdown on air travelers headed for the U.S.

Forget criminal records or terrorist ties, what Uncle Same wants to know about is race and ethnicity, politics, religion, and union membership, not to mention travel partners, health, and sexual orientation.

That's right, if you're a dyke or fag, you might be a terrorist, and Homeland Security is gonna find out, even if it means asking travel agents to keep track of who has requested a single queen-sized bed instead of two doubles, or who gets listed as next of kin.

Why? It might have prevented the attacks on September 11th. That's what Homeland Security Tzar Michael Chertoff says. Information like this would have, "within a matter of moments, helped to identify many of the nineteen hijackers by linking their methods of payment, phone numbers and seat assignments." Right, Mike.

What repulsive lies. What gall to drape our dead New Yorkers in the Stars and Stripes and use it to justify the new and improved American Stasi.

On Sunday, I watched the Tour de France hurtle to its dope-riddled conclusion along the Champs-Elysée. There were a couple of actual French people there, but most were tourists waving flags and cheering. All I could think of was how I wanted to burn them, the flags, I mean.

Sew a couple of strips of material together you can brighten up a picnic or car lot, spy on neighbors, send kids to die. What do we want nations for, even queer ones? Why do we need flags? I'll bring the gas. You bring the zippo.

Not that getting rid of them will help much. The gaggle of American tourists waiting with me on the pavement didn't have one between them, but they somehow managed to stake their claim. And over four excruciating hours, pressed against a metal barricade and holding in pee to hold my place, I got a crash course on what Americans think of the world, Europe, anyway.

To sum up, in Brussels they make great Belgian waffles. Chinese Italians don't make the best the pizza in Rome, and arranging the finale of a race to make eight loops along the Champs-Elysée is "so gay. Isn't it gay? They're not going anywhere."

That was the P.E. teacher and youth group leader, a muscular twenty-something white man with fair hair, fair skin and a slight twang, my compatriot, brother practically. After weeks of getting himself some culture, seeing the world, the best he could do was, "Isn't it gay?"

His companion, a sweet blonde girl who works in sales at the Body Shop, thought it was nice. "It means everybody gets to take lots of pictures."

I don't hate them. I'm just so depressed that it's clearly these folks that Homeland Security is making the country safe for. Me, I catch a plane, I'd be flagged for a dozen things. I could be hauled off to jail, and would these folks notice? They can barely find their way to the nearest Hard Rock Café.

How could you begin to explain to them that what's happening now makes New Yorkers both victims and perps? Half the 9/11 dead arrived in planes, or their parents did, and they came with big ideas, and their skins were all kinds of colors. And the next time somebody blows up something again, I bet it'll be the New York melting pot again.

I'm ashamed I didn't say anything about that whole "gay" thing. But I couldn't face them knowing what I was -- an American. Here, if you reveal that you share an accent, a language, Americans give you a fat complicit grin of Us against Them and I couldn't stand it.

I shouldn't have worried. When I finally did say something to one of the women after the racers had gone by in their first gay circuit, she said, "I thought you were foreign." "Nope." "So you're American?"

She didn't quite believe me. Maybe she'd never seen a dyke before, just a girl on the "L" Word series. And I hardly look like them with camo pants, tee, and short spiky hair nobody's spent a week on.

But it means something that the word which came to her mind wasn't lesbian or dyke, but foreign, even though she was the one far from home. It brought back images of those days in pre-med biology where foreign matter got lodged in throats, foreign cells tried to invade, and the protecting ones slowly enveloped and killed them.

I think the word foreign suits me, no matter where I am. My customs aren't yours. I burn flags. Or want to. In my mouth, all the words in your tongue mean something new.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Cut It Off -- And Stop AIDS

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Women are dying of AIDS while some researcher bends over his penis, smiles at it fondly and imagines what little alteration would make it an all purpose tool safe to use again.

He's not the only one with his dick in his hand. Each new report on male circumcision pumps up the protection of that little snip, snip until pretty soon, I expect to see the numbers not only show the procedure will stop HIV dead, but reduce global warming, and maybe slow the Iraq war, too.

Not that it doesn't have limited benefits. Circumcision may lower the rate of transmission as much as fifty or sixty percent for men, as long as they screw in the missionary position, and only between the sheets of a few very controlled studies.

In the real world of South Africa, there's very little difference in HIV rates between communities that snip, and those that don't. In Northern Zambia, the difference only lasts until the young men move to the big city with its bright lights and Manolo Blahniks, metaphorically speaking.

Forgotten also are all the circumcised men in the States that dropped dead before ARV's came on the scene. A foreskin more or less didn't help them. Or don't faggots count when you're counting heads?

Women aren't factored in at all except as a vector of disease. While millions of dollars are already pouring into circumcision programs even if only men have foreskins to whack off, women are struggling for equivalent funds for female condoms and microbicides, forget programs with as vague a goal as girl power, the real key to HIV prevention.

It's young women getting AIDS these days. UNAIDS says we already make up sixty percent of the fifteen to twenty-four year olds living with HIV/AIDS.

In sub-Saharan Africa girls of that age are three times more likely to be positive than their male peers. In the Caribbean it's 2.5 times. Why? Because in most places we still don't own our own bodies. Men think we're dirt and they treat us that way.

At a recent conference of HIV+ women in Kenya, activists talked about how more and men are raping virgins because they're assured of a "clean" screw.

It's a kind of rape, too, those men who know they're positive, or do plenty of high risk messing around, and still refuse to wear protection with their wives. Insist, and a woman may face violence from her husband and community, too.

Some activists told stories about how women are used as "testing kits" for their husbands, sent to clinics and when they come back positive, tossed out of the house with their kids. Often they are beaten first, sometimes raped. The men then find new "clean" wives that will get infected soon enough, but at least last long enough to take care of their bastard husbands.

The women in one seminar began by introducing themselves as widowed or separated with one kid or two or three, each proclaiming in no uncertain terms, they weren't in the market for another man. Maybe when pigs fly or hell freezes over.

If circumcision means anything to these positive women, it's just more of the same or worse. They're worried men may respond to the increased protection by throwing away their condoms and screwing everything that moves, hastening the spread of HIV. And having been promised near immunity, who will men blame when they catch it? Who risks violence and death? Ladies first, and girls.

Beyond the problem of HIV is the greater one of misogyny with a deep thread of lesbophobia. Women fighting AIDS are women fighting, stepping out of their place. In South Africa that can mean a death sentence.

Just last week, Sizakele Sigasa, an outreach coordinator at Positive Women's Network and queer activist, and Salome, a dyke friend of hers, were tortured and murdered. Sizakele when she was found, had her hands tied together by her underpants and her ankles tied together by her shoelaces. She had three bullet holes in her head and three in her collarbone.

In June, Simangele Nhlapho, a member of an HIV postive support group run by the same Positive Women's Network, was found dead with her two year old daughter. Both were raped before they were killed. The daughter also had her legs broken.

It's time for AIDS activists and researchers to shift their attention away from the penis and see the connection between hate and HIV and dead women. Only power will save us, not cuts, not even condoms unless we can make men wear them.

And if somebody still insists on tinkering around with men's dicks to stop spreading HIV, maybe they should do a more comprehensive procedure, call it the Bobbitt and cut the whole thing off.