This is a transition related post and contains a lot of medical, possibly gross stuff you may not want to know about, in which case feel free to read no further. Warning also for photos of scars.
As I’ve written in previous posts, Sweden has a pretty serious housing crisis. Getting your own apartment can take years, up to 20 in certain cities.
So, I’ve been waiting a long time for my own place. Which makes it hard to live my life as I see fit, especially since I have to live with my very religious parents. Bringing home a guy is absolutely out of the question. Even something like listening to the “sinful” music I like has been something I haven’t been able to do, at least not without secrecy and earbuds on.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents. It’s just that I’m a grown man and I want to live my own life.
And today I finally signed the contract to my very own apartment!
I’m very excited by this new development in my life and the opportunities that will come with it. What a great start to 2018!
Johannes Mark Mathabane was not dealt the best of cards in the beginning of life. Born to illiterate parents in a ghetto of Apartheid South Africa, he was during his childhood surrounded by crime and poverty.
His homelife was turbulent and his often violent father, like many other men in the ghetto, took to alcohol and gambling to attempt and escape the oppression poured on him daily. There was also the many surprise raids carried out by the authorities and where black South Africans could be arrested for such “crimes” as being unemployed or not having their passports in order.
But in the midst of all misery, Johannes’ mother saw one hope: education. If he learned how to read and write, she believed her son could one day have a shot at a better life.
The boy was opposed to it at first but did go through school, which his mother struggled hard to be able to afford. Having learned to read, he developed a passion for books and in them found hope and inspiration.
He learned to play tennis and realised he was a gifted player. It was through his involvement in this sport that he eventually got his ticket out of poverty, through a sport scholarship at an American college.
What shocked me the most reading Mathabane’s autobiography Kaffir Boy was how awful the quality of life was for blacks during Apartheid. Of course, I knew it wasn’t good. But I was surprised by the depth of the oppression and the abject poverty most of them had to suffer through. There was also the bureaucratic hurdles put in their way to make sure even something like getting a permit to seek a job was as long and humiliating a process as possible. The whole system was designed to put black people down and have them stay there.
Kaffir Boy is one man’s story of growing up under an oppressive regime which despised him simply because of the colour of his skin. But it’s also about the resilience of the human spirit and about finding hope in the midst of despair. It’s one of the most moving books I’ve read and one I highly recommend.
A janitor’s cart
My boulder up a hill
Between bland meals
And weary dreams
I push my boulder up a hill
Like my father before me
And all around I see
All these people as tired of life as me
Putting their hopes in
The legs of a horse
The right numbers
A golden ticket in a box of chocolates
If hope had wings
We’d fly like birds
But hope is a whip
A stinging weapon which urges us on
To faster roll
Our boulders up the hills
Oh, how I’ve tried to write myself wings
To craft them out of paper and ink
Like a proud Daedalus
But will I crash and burn
For being too in love
With the Sun?
Years ago, I was watching one of my favourite tv-programs, the Swedish literary show Babel, and it featured someone I immediately found fascinating: Jeanette Winterson.
I can’t recall what book(s) the inteview was about but I’ll never forget the impression she made on me. She had this wild, untamed hair, cheeky eyes and smile, spoke with passion about literature and she rode around on a motor cycle. In other words, she was a cool writer and I found myself yearning to be like her one day. I made a mental note to read a book of hers but then “something by Jeanette Winterson” got lost in my always expanding to-read list and I never got around to it.
That is until I found a used copy of Gut Symmetries in a second-hand shop. I bought the book without even checking what it was about because I was so eager to read one of Winterson’s works.
What it is mostly about, it turns out, is this most banal of things called a love story. But that’s about the only thing banal about this particular one and not just because of the bisexual twist. Quantum physics and Jewish mysticism play a large roll in this poetic book which looks at love in a greater, cosmic context.
(GUT: Grand Unified Theory: the “theory of everything” physicists are looking for that will explain the entire universe.)
I’m not much for mysticism myself. Love is in my eyes nothing but a sensation caused by chemicals in the brain to spur us to continue the species. But pretending is fun and I enjoyed reading this beautifully written book. The prose is amazing and the story moving. One of the most original love stories I’ve read so far.
At the beginning of 2017, I was feeling a mixture of sadness and optimism. I was, like most sane people, quite depressed about Trump winning. But I had also more positive feelings about my personal life. I was finally on T, soon to have top surgery and I was thinking that this would be the year I would be able to start living as myself.
My body had other plans, it seems. As the endocrinologist noticed, my body doesn’t seem to be taking up the testosterone as it should. Result: after top surgery and over a year on T, I still don’t pass most of the time. I definitely don’t pass enough to date as a guy, take my shirt off in public (hence why I’ve abandoned my plans to swim shirtless on my upcoming sunny vacation) or even use the men’s room without getting strange looks.
Hopefully, things will get better in 2018 but I’m not optimistic enough to make a long list of plans like I did last year.
All I can say is that I’ll work on finishing my fantasy trilogy, continue writing on my new novel project and start looking for a publisher. I self-published my fantasy series because at the time I started writing it, it was supposed to be a side project while I focused on my university studies. But since I’ve since had to drop out for health reasons, I’m going all in on the writing thing.
Anyway, here’s what happened with my plans for 2017:
Have top surgery. Check! One of the good things that happened this year.
After healing from top surgery, get back to the gym and make some GAINS! Nope. When I made this list I did was I always fucking do whenever I have even the slightest spike in energy: Make up plans I’ll never be able to actually go through with. At least this year I found out the reason I’ve struggled with fatigue for so many years (see previous post).
Get a haircut at a real barber shop. Nope. On count of not being able to pass yet.
Go to the beach and swim with my shirt off. Nope.
Walk in the 2017 Pride parade with my shirt off. Nope. And I’m probably not going to a Pride again any time soon. There’s always some weirdos dressed up like BDSM-horses (don’t ask) or whatever and making us all look like a bunch of exhibitionist perverts. Kinda sick of it.
Run in the summer rain with my shirt off. Nope.
Get my own apartment. Nope. The housing crisis in this country is insane. I must have applied to several hundreds apartments and got invited to see one, which I didn’t get.
(If I get my own apartment) Adopt an animal from a shelter. Nope.
Find a boyfriend. Nope. Just going to go ahead and stop putting that on my to-do lists ‘cause it’s just depressing when I can’t check it off every year.
Apply to school program to become a web developer and, if I get in, start my education + Learn as much HTML and other programming languages before starting school. Nope. I was going to apply to the program when I realised I was missing a credential, a course I haven’t taken. So I decided, fuck it. I’ve also found another program which suits me better and which I might apply to the coming year.
Reach 1000 followers on Twitter. Nope.
If I reach 1000 followers on Twitter, start an author Facebook page. Nope. I didn’t even go up to 500 but I’m still planning to make a Facebook page, for publicity and bookselling numbers’ sake.
Finish writing part 2 of The Sorcerer’s Sword and publish it. Check!
Get a traditional shaving kit that is also vegan. I really tried to get into traditional wet shaving but those razors don’t work for me at all. I’ll probably just buy an electric shaver once I’ve used up all those disposable razors I have at home.
I also learned how to make my own aftershave with 50% water and 50% apple cider vinegar. Before I started using this mixture, I would break out like crazy whenever I shaved. I tried different brands of aftershave but nothing helped. Now I hardly ever get any blemishes.
Start my secret blogging project 😉 Check! My project to read a book from every country and blog about it has to be one of the most interesting things I’ve done and I’m really enjoying it.
Visit the US for the first time. Nope. Those plans got cancelled, unfortunately.
Get my DNA tested for ancestry and genetic information such as predisposition for certain illnesses. Check! My post about my experience with 23&Me.
Continue to support the resistance movement against the fascist orange Cheeto. Check. Luckily, Trump hasn’t (yet) been able to change things enough to become the Putin style dictator he dreams of being but he still has fucked up a lot of things and then there’s at least three more years of this fucking nonsense to go…
Not much I can do about it but I’ll continue helping out the American resistance however I can.
See Star Wars episode 8 in December! Check! It wasn’t everything I dreamed of but overall I liked it.
Scandinavian melancholy is a well-known phenomenon. It’s a reoccurring theme in our literature and cinema (ever seen an Ingmar Bergman movie?). And can you blame us? We’re freezing up here and the days are dark almost six months a year. No wonder we get a bit moody sometimes.
Melancholy is interestingly the main emotion I felt when reading Summer Light and Then Comes the Night by the Icelandic author Jón Kalman Stefánsson. Set on the west coast of the island nation, in a small village of about 400 inhabitants, this novel has no main protagonist but tells stories from the lives of many different people. It reads more like a collection of short stories than a novel and the themes vary from the mundane to the strange and the tragic. Both the small and big questions of human existence have a place in this charming book where the lives of ordinary people are told against the harsh nature of countryside Iceland.
What I liked the most was the stream-of-consciousness mode of narrative. I’ve read books in this style in the past, but most were hard to comprehend or just plain bad. Stefánsson’s words, on the other hand, run across the pages like water. They transport you through the stories seemingly without effort and it often feels like listening to a friend retell an account of events rather than reading a novel.
Overall, I really liked this book. I would even say this was one of the most pleasant reading experiences I’ve had in a while. Unfortunately, Summer Light and Then Comes the Night has not been translated to English yet. But several of Jón Kalman Stefánsson’s books, Fish Have No Feet and the Heaven and Hell trilogy, have been and published through MacLehose Press.
I haven’t read them but if they are even half as good as Summer Light and Then Comes the Night, you will likely not be disappointed.
One of the most common things you hear as a trans guy before going on T is that it will cause fat “redistribution”. That makes it sound like the fat in your body is going to move around and relocate to places where men typically put on weight, like the belly.
In reality there is no fat redistribution. What happens it what when you’ll put on new fat, it will go to different places than when you had an oestrogen dominant body. The fat you’ve already accumulated is going to stay right where it is unless you do what you have to lose it.
I was reminded of this the other day after I booked a vacation to Gran Canaria. This trip will be the first opportunity I’ll have to walk around with my shirt off because my top surgery surgeon told me I should avoid exposing my scars to the sun for at least a year post-op. But as I was looking in the mirror at my shirtless reflection, I realised I just don’t have a masculine upper-body shape. To put it crudely, I look like a hairy girl without tits.
The main problem is my hips. I’m not overweight but kind of on the verge and most of my excess fat is located in my lower body. If I want to develop a more masculine upper body I’ll have to 1. lose fat or 2. build more upper body muscle, but preferably both.
I can do it but I have something that is going to make it a bit harder. As I’ve mentioned in previous post, I’ve struggled with fatigue since my late teens. Well, this year I found out why: I have a condition called Ehler-Danlos syndrome. Mostly it causes me problems with my joints (now I know why they’re always aching) but it comes with a variety of other issues, such as digestive troubles, eye problems and bruising easily.
The fatigue is the symptom that affects me the most. Pain I’m used to. I’ve suffered from joint pain since as far as I can remember so I’ve learned to deal with it. But being tired all the time really makes it hard to live life to the fullest, be productive and reach your goals.
When it comes to my goal of getting the masculine upper-body I want, I’ll have to take this all into account. Having EDS makes it hard to put on muscle and you can’t really put on that much mass in two months anyway (my Gran Canaria vacation will take place in February). Another thing is that weight lifting, or anything that puts significant strain on my muscles and joints, gives me terrible bouts of fatigue. Sometimes for days afterwards.
Cardio, on the other hand, doesn’t tire me nearly as much. Sometimes it even gives me an energy boost.
So I’m going to focus on doing more cardio training, mostly on the crosstrainer at home because it’s the form of excercise that causes me the least joint pain, and to keep counting calories and make sure I don’t get too much of them. I did the later this summer and ended up losing 10 kg without even exercising so I know it works for me.
I started my diet and exercise program on December first and I’ll update in the beginning of next year. If there is other trans men out there who have struggled with getting smaller hips, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to share any advice you might have!
Abdellah Taïa is one of the most interesting Moroccan writers. In 2006, he became the first openly gay Moroccan author and is to this day the only one. Him being opened with his sexuality is probably helped by the fact that he is based in Paris since 1998. Homosexuality is still illegal in Morocco.
The book of his that I’ve picked is The King’s Day, a story about the complicated friendship between two teenage boys. Omar is poor and taking care of his father, who has fallen into depression and alcoholism after Omar’s mother left him. Khalid is rich and has supportive, successful parents. Everything seems to be separating the two boys, but there exists between them deep love and caring.
That is, until Khalid is named best pupil in Morocco. As a reward, he will get to kiss the hand of king Hassan II. But he keeps this secret from his friend and when Omar finds out he sees it as a great betrayal. After that, nothing will ever be the same.
The style of writing in The King’s Day is simplistic but somewhat poetic, although probably not as much as in the original French. I’ve said this many times: the French language has an inherent poésie which is untranslatable.
The themes which are dealt with are not only that of class and frienship, but also of sexuality, gender, race and, in a lesser degree, gender identity. Despair and melancholy I would say are the primary feelings in this story.
The King’s Day is a beautiful and thought-provoking book and I get why it won the precious literary award Prix de Flore. But unfortunately, it has yet to be translated to English.
I often found myself thinking while reading that the story would be unusually adaptable to the big screen and as it turns out Abdellah Taïa is also a filmmaker. In 2013, he directed the movie Salvation Army, based on his book by the same name. It was the first movie in the Arab world with a gay protagonist.
Both Salvation Army and another novel of his, An Arab Melancholia, are available in English and published by Semiotexte.
While pondering what book I was going to read next I realised I hadn’t read anything from South or Central America yet. I remembered that a man from Colombia had won the Nobel Prize in Literature a few years back but I couldn’t recall his name. After a bit of internet searching I realised I had remembered wrong. A Nobel laureate from Colombia had passed away a few years back, 2014 more precisely. 1982 is the year when Gabriel García Márquez won the Prize.
Nicknamed Gabo or Gabito in Latin America, García Márquez was a journalist and author who is considered by many to be one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. He was one of several Latin American authors who popularized the genre of magic realism and even inspired in a way the counter-genre of McCondo; a name derivative of Macondo, the town in which many of García Márquez’s books take place.
This fictional village is the setting for the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. Telling the story of the Buendía family over the course of 100 years, this whimsical book is one of García Marquez’s most popular works.
The magic realism is always present in Macondo, where strange things happen without the people thinking much of it. Whether is people passing by on flying carpets, a woman ascending to heaven or ghosts wandering the Buendía family’s house, none of these things are considered very out of the ordinary. This makes Macondo kind of its own surreal universe, where the reader can never be too sure of what will happen next.
But the town also goes through some more realistic things, both good and bad. War, colonialism, political conflicts and everyday events like people falling in love and having children.
Themes many can relate to, such as love and solitude, are woven into the dreamlike fabric of the story and making One Hundred Years of Solitude a fascinating book unlike anything I’ve read before.