​A World Tour of Books: The Dhammapada (India)

At the end of last year I was feeling pretty down. Personal health issues and the election of Trump had made me start to lose hope. To try and find some peace I took up praticing daily meditation again. It is through my renewed interest in this practice I would come across writings on Buddhism and quickly become fascinated with this ancient philosophy and religion.

Buddhism was, it is said, founded by a prince by the name of Siddharta Gautama sometimes between the sixth and fourth century B.C. Distraught by the endless suffering of humanity, he sought to find a way to end it. 

He saw that much of the pain we experience is due to something called tanhā. This Pali word is often translated as desire in English but is more correctly described as thirst or greed. To stop suffering we must therefore extinguish our tanhā and let go of the unnecessary cravings that weight us down. 

As a help to achieve this goal the Buddha showed what is in Buddhism called the eightfold path and consists of right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right concentration, right effort and right mindfulness. According to Buddhism, if we follow the example of the Buddha and walk down this path we can achieve enlightenment and the end of suffering. 

Whether Buddhism is a religion or more of a philosophy has been up to debate. Some, often Westerners who identify as secular Buddhists, are adamant that is was always meant to be only a philosophy. But the early texts of Buddhism, amongst them The Dhammapada, have many references to such things as heaven, hell, demons, and reincarnation so it seems to me that it was initially meant to be a religion. 

But just as a anyone, not only Christians, can find wisdom in some of the sayings of Jesus of Nazareth, even those who do not believe in anything supernatural can learn something from the ancient  Buddhist writings. This why I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Dhammapada.

Originally written in Pali and containing 423 verses, The Dhammapada is a collections of sayings attributed to the Buddha himself. It is a short book but full of unvaluable wisdom. 

How do you live a happy life? How do you find peace and serenity within yourself? What is the proper way to treat other beings? These are questions most people will ask themselves at one point or another. The teachings of the Buddha have life-changing advice on these issues. 

More than 2000 years after it was first written down, The Dhammapada is a still as beautiful a piece of writing as it was then. Its words are timeless and it’s lessons more valuable than anything money can buy. 

P.S. Since it is such an old book it has no copyright and you can actually get it for free both as an ebook on Open Library and as an audiobook through Librivox.  

Am I writing it or is it writing itself?

I remember a school trip I went on when I was around 14. It was at a renown art museum in my birth town Gothenburg. A tour guide showed us around and before telling us more about the different artworks she would ask what we thought about it. What did we think it meant? Did it have a message and if so, what was it? 

There was one painting in particular that intrigued me. In it was a man working on the statue of a woman. But the statue seemed to have come to life and was touching the sculptor’s arm.

The tour guide asked if we thought there was some sort of symbolism in that. Since opening my mouth back then was often an excuse for the other kids to mock my accent and speech impediment, I didn’t say anything. I also assumed someone would say what I thought was obvious. But no one said anything like it. Their interpretations varied from “it hurts and she’s telling him to stop” to “she’s in love with her creator and she’s flirting with him.”

I don’t know why I wanted so to point out what I believed the painting meant but I did it anyway. I raised my hand and said something like: “I think it’s symbolic of the creative process. With her hand, the statue guides him. When you make art sometimes it feels like that. Like it wants to exist and shows you how to bring it into existence.”

The other kids looked at me like I was insane and I immediately regretted not keeping my mouth shut. But the image on that painting really stuck with me. In the last week or so I have thought about it a lot.

I am now almost done writing the second part of my Sorcerer’s Sword series. I have the ending of the story laid out and just have to write it down. For now I’m mostly writing by hand because it helps my thoughts flow and also because my laptop is still in repairs. But when I get it back it will not be too long before I’ll be able to publish my new book.

In a sense it feels like the story has already revealed itself to me and I just need to make it come to life. It has been an interesting journey and often it felt like I was walking through a labyrinth, trying to map it all out with nothing but a faintly glowing light guiding me.

Of course I know rationally that the story was never something outside of myself. It was never a conscious, mystical thing whispering itself into my ear. It just feels that way. 

Whenever I write fiction it seems after a while that it takes on a life on its on. Most often than not it turns out into something quite different from what I originally thought it would. When I was younger that used to annoy me. I wanted to have more control over my own creations. But whenever I tried to it made the resulting story less genuine, almost mechanical. So eventually I stopped fighting it and I let the art become what it becomes. 

In a way it makes things more interesting. Now writing a piece of work feels more like going on a journey and I can never be entirely sure where it will take me. Hopefully my readers will find reading my book as exciting as it was for me to write it.

A World Tour of Books: One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina (Kenya)

The first time I heard of Binyavanga Wainaina was in 2014. Several countries across Africa had either proposed or passed harsher laws against homosexuality. As a response to this and after losing a gay friend whose family was thrown out of church when they tried to hold his memorial, Wainaina publicly came out as gay. He was the first famous Kenyan to do so and stay in Kenya.

There was some backlash, as one would expect, but also a lot of praise for his courage to come out in a country where homosexual acts are still illegal. I remember thinking that I needed to know more about this brave man and made a mental note that one day I should read something of his. 

The opportunity presented itself when I came across his memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place. 

It tells the story of his life, from a day-dreaming school boy to a depressed young student in South Africa to finally realising his call as an author. But it is also a chronicle of a changing country. When Wainaina was born, Kenya had been free from British colonialism for only a little over a decade. Followed did a succession of not so democratic governments, until 2010 when a new constitution was signed into law. 

Wainaina also writes about the evolving culture around him. Music is often mentioned as are books, his constant refuge. With the introduction of the Internet in the 90’s came new possibilities and through it Wainaina would meet the person with whom he would found Kwani?, the first east African literary magazine since the 70’s.

I really enjoyed Wainaina’s writing. His prose has a dreamlike quality to it and the stream of consciousness narrative takes you right into the heart of the story.

One thing I wondered a lot during my reading was how different the book would have been if the author had come out as gay before writing it. No romantic interests are ever mentioned and the reference to him being attracted to women are less than convincing (or did it just feel that way because I knew he was gay before reading his memoir?).

Interestingly, Wainaina published what he called a “lost chapter” of his book when he came out. Titled I am a homosexual, mum, it tells the truth he could not bring himself to say at the time he first wrote down his life story. I can warmly recommend it, as well as One Day I Will Write About This Place in its entirety. 

​A World Tour of Books: Kallocain by Karin Boye (Sweden)

I have been looking forward to writing this post and introducing to those of you who have yet to heard of her the great Karin Boye. Born in Sweden, in my hometown of Gothenburg, she is one Sweden’s most beloved writers and poets.

A talented and complex character, she struggled with her sexuality for most of her life. After a religious crisis (which inspired her novel Crisis) she embraced her attraction to women. For the last seven years of her life she was in a relationship with a Jewish German refugee named Margot Hanel. This at a time when same-sex relations were still illegal in Sweden.

Another interesting aspect of Boye’s life is her politics. A Marxist in her youth, she became disillusioned with the ideology after travelling through the Soviet Union. The authoritarianism she witnessed there was very likely an inspiration to the book I want to write about in this post: the sci-fi dystopia Kallocain.

Told from the perspective of the scientist Leo Kall, the story paints the picture of a grim future. In the totalitarian Worldstate all forms of individualism have been abolished. The state dictates how you dress, what you work with, where you live and even what opinions you are allowed to express. Individuals are seen as worthless in themselves and only part of a wider organism: the State.

But there is one barrier that have yet to be breached: the individual mind. Even with the “police eye” and the “police ear” spying on people in their very home, the State has no way of knowing people’s innermost thoughts and feelings. That is until Leo Kall invents a powerful new drug, kallocain,  that makes people reveal those very things.

Kall is an idealist, loyal to the State and initially very optimistic about his new invention. But what it will reveal is not only the secret world of those he injects the drug with but also something hidden inside of himself. A longing he will himself try to deny. A longing for love, liberty and a true sense of community different from the false one dictated by the State. 

Boye is cold and very matter-of-fact in her depiction of the world she writes. The story gives very little hope of things getting better and something about the ambience of the story reminds me of Kafka. 

Did Boye believe she was writing a depiction of a future that awaits us? Or was it a warning in hope that we would avoid it? Worth noting is that Karin Boye committed suicide mere months after the books was published. It is believed a personal loss was the main contributing factor, but could her beliefs about humanity’s future have contributed to her despair? 

Either way, Kallocain is a great classic in the dystopia sci-fi genre and has a well-deserved place alongside books such as George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. It will disturb you, make you think and cherish those personal freedoms we so often take for granted. 

France embraces progress after all 

Last night around 8 p.m. the results of the French elections were announced and to my relief Macron won with 65% of votes.

Lately I have been worrying more and more about the rise of the far-right in Europe and it has made me question some of my plans in life. If I get married, how do I know my legal union will not be made invalid in a couple of years? Dare I adopt any children? Will a far-right state one day take them away from me because they deem LGBTQ people unfit to care for kids? 

Many great things have happened in the last decades when it comes to LGBTQ rights. But there is so much hatred still, lurking beneath the surface. In many churches, even here in progressive Sweden, they still preach hate against people like us. I know because I grew up in one of those churches. There is far more enmity against us than they dare show openly and many are preparing, binding their time until they get a chance to strip us of our rights. 

But for now we can breathe a little bit more freely. France didn’t choose the path of bigotry and hopefully it will influence the rest of Europe. 

Next year there will be an election on my country. Two parties have actively been fighting LGBTQ rights. One is a small, nearly extinct Christian right party but the other one is a far-right party with roots in neo-nazism and it has increasingly grown in popularity over the last couple of years. 

I’m thinking about getting involved in political activism next year and join the fight against these destructive forces. I haven’t decided yet what party I’ll join but it will be either the Centre Party or the Liberal Party. Either way I’m ready and will not give up my rights without a fight. 

6 months on T and still waiting for a real change + some thoughts on the French elections

Today is exactly six months since I started testosterone. A lot of good things have happened. I’m definitely hairier than I used to be. My muscles are a bit more well-defined. My mood is more stable than it’s ever been. My voice has dropped, not as much as I’d like to but it’s definitely darker than before. 

But even with all that has changed, overall my life has not. I get read as female on a daily basis. Not even having my breasts remove in February has changed that. At work, at the store, on the train… It seems I’m just as invisible a man as I was six months ago. 

Even at home it’s the same. Like many Swedish people in their mid-twenties I have no choice but to live with my parents due to the housing crisis. I get called she and my birth name all the time. It’s obvious by now that my family will never respect that I am a man. I try not to care because I know it will never change. But it still feels shitty and with the state of the housing crisis I’ll be lucky if I get my own apartment before I’m 30. 

Socially and romantically things are also as dead as they were six months ago. I hate going out. I don’t like being around people because, apart from a handfull of friends who truly se me, I’m seen as someone I’m not wherever I go.

Romantically is where it hits me the hardest, though. The only people who find me even remotely desirable are queer women who think I’m a butch lesbian. But I love men. I want a man to love me as another man but I’m invisible to other men who love men. 

Apart from some sexual experiences with women, which I didn’t find arousing or even interesting, unvoluntary celibacy has been my lot. It will probably continue to be for some time. My first real relationship is another thing I’ll be happy if I get to experience before I’m 30. 

On a happier note: I’m expecting to get an appointment next month to the endocrinologist. Up till now I’ve had to go through a doctor in Britain to get my T prescription, which has been quite expensive but still worth it. I also hope the Swedish doc will put me on injections instead of gel. Not being able to do things like exercise or go swimming for must of the day is a real bummer and then there’s the whole thing with always having to worry about cross -contamination. I don’t know how true this is because I keep hearing contradictory statements from both docs and other trans guys but I’ve heard injections are more effective and bring on more changes more quickly, so let’s hope it’s the case. 

Not much else is happening in my life. I focus on my work and my writing, although the latter is going more slowly than I’d like due to problems with my computer. I paid to get it repaired but they fucked it up even more than it was before so now it’s in repairs again. Hopefully I’ll get it back soon and working properly. 

This hasn’t been a happy post and quite frankly I kind of feel like shit today. In an couple of hours the French elections will be over and then a gay-hating, racist bigot could be the new president. Everybody says the center liberal candidate Macron will win by a landslide but I don’t trust humans enough to just assume they’ll make the less insane choice. I mean, just look at what happened in the US elections.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Le Pen won. It could be the start of a massive wave of LGBTQ-phobia and racism spreading all over Europe and that scares the hell out of me. 

But there is no point in despairing before we know the results. Whatever happens I’ll update with a post tomorrow. 

A World Tour of Books: Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids by Kenzaburo Oe (Japan)

​This post will contain spoilers.


I have to admit that until recently I knew very little about Japanese literature (unless you count manga into that category). Haruki Murakami was the only Japanese author I could name and only because he has such an international success.  

I started looking into different writers from the land of the rising sun and one stuck out in particular: 1994 Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburo Oe. 

Oe is a writer who often writes about social issues and his style of writing (which he himself refers to as “grotesque realism”) points at the injustices in society. Many of his characters are marginalised people who challenge the statues quo and who, as the outsiders they are, can see through its lies and hypocrisies.

The Oe novel I have chosen to read for this post is his first published fiction work Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids. It tells the story of a group of reformatory boys who are evacuated to a remote mountain village during World War II. There they are despised by the villagers and treated very poorly. When a plague breaks out they are forced to bury the animals that have died from the illness. Because the villagers couldn’t care less if these reformatory children catch the disease and die.

The next day the boys realise that they have been abandoned. Apart from them is just the corpse of a woman who has already died from the plague and her surviving daughter who refuses to leave her side. 

The boys try to make the best of their situation. Without the oppression from the villagers who hate them they enjoy a relative and short-lived freedom. They meet a Korean boy name Li, who teaches them the hunt small birds and together they organise a festival. The narrator and main protagonist even experiences his first love with the girl left behind by the villagers.

But she is soon infected with the plague and dies. Shortly thereafter the villagers return. 

After having disemboweled and killed a runaway soldier who was hiding in the village, they threaten the children and tell them to lie about the fact that they were abandoned for days. All the boys agree, except for the narrator. At the end of the novel he is chased into the forest by the villagers. What happens next is never revealed.

It is believed that the village in the novel is inspired by Oe’s own home village on the island of Shikoku. There he witnessed how war tore apart the people and the cruelties it led them to. His experiences during World World II led him to become a pacifist and peace activist, which he is to this day. 

Nip the Bud, Shoot the Kids is not for the faint of heart but it is an important and powerful story. A great place to start if you want to become more acquainted with Oe’s work and with Japanese literature in general.

A World Tour of Books: Zeina by Nawal El Saadawi (Egypt) 

We are now at the third stop on our world tour of books and at the first stop on the African continent: Egypt.

For this country I have picked a book by a brave and fascinating woman by the name of Nawal El Saadawi. She is a well-known social activist in the Arabic world and has been fighting for decades against social injustices such as the oppression of women. Her writing has caused her to be imprisoned and later having to flee her country. Still, she persists to fight for what she believes in. 

El Saadawi’s novel Zeina is about an esteemed literary critique named Bodour. She lives a comfortable upper-class life with her husband and daughter and it seems she should be enjoying herself. But Bodour is plagued by shameful secret: when young she abandoned her newborn baby, a child born out of a forbidden love. 

That child grows up to be Zeina, one of Egypt’s most beloved entertainers. Despite growing up as a poor child on the streets she becomes a singer and poet, fearlessly rebelling against social conventions through her art. 

Her classmate Mageeda both admires and envies the beautiful and talented Zeina. Not knowing that they are in fact sisters and have the same biological mother, Bodour, who tormented by memories is writing a fictionalised account of what happened in her youth.

But the novel goes missing. Who stole it? Will Bodour ever find it again? 

Zeina is one of the best written books I’ve read in a while. The prose is amazing and the way El Saadawi dissects both the emotional life of her characters and the hypocrisies of her culture is merciless and often shocking. 

One thing which was bit confusing at first was how often the perspective changed between characters, sometimes after just a few paragraphs. But you get used to it after a while and overall Zeina was a great read. I now understand why Nawal El Saadawi is so often named as a candidate to the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Numb

If there’s a word to describe how I’ve been feeling since Friday it’s that one. Numb. I didn’t feel much when I first heard of the terrorist attack in my country’s capital. Especially not surprise.

Terrorist attacks in Europe are so common now that when a new one happens it isn’t much of a shock even if it’s still horrifying. Sad to say but it’s starting to feel like the new normal. 

That it would happen in Sweden was more or less inevitable. We have one of Europe’s highest numbers of members and sympathisers of ISIS and the government here is known to be especially lack with punishing these fuckers. The only thing that surprised me a little bit was that the attack happened in Stockholm and not in my birth city of Gothenburg, known to be one of Europe’s biggest recruiting grounds for ISIS. 

I’ve been hearing people say that we need to keep doing everything the same to show the terrorists they aren’t winning. But realistically we can’t pretend we are just as safe as before. Earlier this year I already made the decision to not attend any Pride parades anymore. After the Pulse massacre and knowing the hatred these ISIS fucks have for LGBTQ-people, I can no longer feel safe doing that. And I’d rather avoid getting shot or ran over by a truck than make a statement about not being afraid. 

I’m probably not the only one feeling this way and maybe that’s a small victory for the terrorists in the short run. But they won’t win. Rationality, science and atheism are the way of the future. We must never stop fighting for a secular and logical society if we want the world to be a better place.

There is nothing these religious lunatics fear more than just that and maybe that’s why they hate the modern world so much. Maybe the childish minds of the very religious can’t handle living in a world where magical thinking doesn’t work and things aren’t real just because they have faith that it is.

Well, that’s their problem.  Willful stupidity and ignorance can win over science and rationality as much as a rabbit can beat an elephant to death. The religious terrorists’ childish fears cannot and will not stop progress.

Still, right now I feel numb. The nightmare inducing images (that some sick people shared on social media. Seriously, who does that?) from the attack are etched in my mind. The horror feels at once surreal and far too real to comprehend. 

But maybe it’s okay to take some time to let everything sink in. Recharge the batteries before planning what to do next. Because I sure will not just sit on my ass while religious fools are killing children on the streets of my country in an attempt to force their religion on everyone else. 

I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do. I’m thinking about getting involved  in a Swedish organisation that fights for a secular society.

Right now, though, I’m going to go ahead and feel numb. Then I’ll probably feel dread and sorrow. And then, like my country, I’ll get back up and keep going.

Back at work 

I went back to work last week after my 6 weeks sick leave. It’s the same company and kind of work as before but it’s at a new location, an industrial area on the edge of town. A really boring place that looks like it was designed to reflect the mindset of someone with severe depression. 

It could put me in a shitty mood but mostly it’s just compels me to continue on working towards a better life for myself. One day I’ll get out of this drudgery. Just fucking watch me.

At least this boring fucking place inspired a poem I wrote the other day (based on real events):


Drowned in the grey 


Winter snow has turned to spring rain 

The black of the sky has faded to grey 

My soul is an animal trapped in a concrete cage

All around me are walls of stone and sand 

Metal bars holding it all upp, holding our hope out 

Beneath here is a river 

Its water as grey as the sky above and the gravel beneath 

My friend once found a body on its shore 

A woman tired of the drudge had thrown herself away

And drowned in the grey