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.