Book Recommendation: The Male Brain by Louann Brizendine, M.D.

Whenever you bring up the topic of neurological differences between men and women people often assume you are trying to make a point about superiority. Because if two things are different then one must be better than the other, right?

Not at all says neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine. Author of the best-selling The Female Brain, she followed her success with The Male Brain and nowhere does she ever try to make the point of one sex being intellectually superior to the other. On the contrary: studies have shown that men and women can solve the exact same problem but will use different parts of their brains to do so.

According to Brizendine, accepting our differences and learning to understand each other can help bring more peace and success in our personal lives.

The Male Brain follows the man’s brain throughout the stages of life, from fetal development to old age, and explains how the masculine brains circuits along with a man’s changing hormones affects male feelings and behaviour. It explains for example why a man’s reaction to a woman’s problem can be perceived by her as insensitive while it is in fact a sign of his concern and affection.

And why do so many boys like rough-and-tumble play? Why are their games so competitive rather than cooperative? Why are certain adult males such players while others are strongly monogamist? Why do men become calmer and more affectionate with age? These and many other questions can be understood by learning about the male brain, male genetics and the effect of male hormones.

As a transgender man, the topic of male-female brain differences has long interested me. Obviously, if male and female brains were exactly alike people like me could not exist. One cannot feel like a man or like a woman if there is no such thing as a male or female brain.

Reading through this book helped me understand myself a little better, although it never mentions anything about trans people. I have now a better understanding of why I preferred “boy games” as a child and why I process emotion differently since I started taking testosterone.

Because not all gender differences are made in utero, at 8 weeks gestation when the neurocircuits for gender identity are believed to be laid. Hormones create certain changes also, as this book explains.

The Male Brain is mostly focused on the heterosexual male brain, which is understandable as the straight male brain is the average male brain. But there is also a very interesting although short appendix on the gay male brain. Studies have shown that homosexual men have a similar pattern to heterosexual women in the parts of the brain that affect sexuality, for example the parts that control how someone responds to male pheromones. But there are often similarities in other areas, such as the parts that effect verbal abilities.

One thing I really like about this book is that it is thoroughly well-research with plenty of references to scientific studies. In fact, the notes and references part make up almost half the book.

I would recommend The Male Brain to everyone. If you are a woman wondering how the hell the men in your life think, this book is for you. If you are a man, you could learn something important also. Through knowing oneself, it is possible to learn how to best overcome one’s weaknesses and how to best use one’s strengths.

Yourself is after all the person you need to learn to know best since it is who are going to spend every moment of your life with.

 

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A World Tour of Books: The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (China)

I have long been fascinated by the psychological phenomenon known as flow, that feeling when you are “in the zone” and your actions seems to come without effort. It is through reading about flow that I came across the Taoist concept of Wu Wei.

Wu Wei, or effortless action, is the art of doing without striving to do. Sounds paradoxical? In a way, it is. And yet, anyone who has ever experienced this state of mind will recognize what it means.

There are several theories by different Chinese sages on the best way to reach this state of being. For Lao Tzu, the supposed author of the Tao Te Ching, the way to go is to return to nature and live in accordance with it. Simplicity and contentment are highly emphasised in this ancient writing and are seen as a way to avoid unnecessary distractions from the important things.

The book also highlights the value of cultivating such qualities as compassion, caution and humility and of keeping a calm and clear mind. In these ways, Taoism has certain similarities with Buddhism.

Tao Te Ching was written in the fourth century BCE and is one of the two foundational texts of Taoism. The other, the Zhuangzi, was written in the third century BCE.

The central teaching of Taoism is that one should follow the Tao, meaning the Way. This mystical force is what holds the universe and everything in it together. By following its laws one can find harmony with oneself, others and the world around us.

The Tao Te Ching explains these laws in 81 short chapters and often uses parables to make them easier to understand. Not that it always is simple to grasp the meaning of what the author was trying to say. Many sayings are paradoxical in nature and even seem contradictory. This is a book that will make you stop and meditate on what you just read.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject of philosophy. There is a reason why this writing has been cherished by many for over 2000 years. Its wisdom is timeless and thanks to its old age it is also copyright-free and doesn’t have to cost a dime. You can find it for free online and as an audiobook on Librivox.

Not that its knowledge could ever be valued in gold.

A World Tour of Books: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)

For the country of Nigeria, I have picked what is probably the most well-known African novel of all times: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Set in the late 1800’s, it tells the story of a brave warrior by the name of Okonkwo. He is a hard-working man and resilient even in the face of setbacks and adversity. Driven by a desire to never be like his father, whose laziness often led his family to the brink of starvation, he always does his best.

Like all good literary characters, he does not only have good traits. His fear of being weak leads him to rule his family with an iron hand and he frequently beats his wives and children. Although he still does feel love for them, especially his daughter Enzima.

 

chinua
The Swedish translation of Things Fall Apart

 

Okonkwo makes a name for himself in his village and earns titles to show that he is a great man. But things will fall apart. First, he and his family will be exiled for seven years after he accidentally kills a man. Then the white people will come.

Bringing with them not only a new and to the Igbo people strange religion, but also military power like they have never seen before. Shortly after hearing of the white people, Okonkwo learns that another village has been eradicated and its population almost entirely decimated because some of its members killed a white man. After that, things will only get worse.

Things Fall Apart was first published in 1958 and is one of the most important novels about the European colonization of Africa. Previously, Africans had often been portrayed as dumb, animal-like and without any culture. But through this book many outside Nigeria learned about the complexities of Igbo society: its beliefs, values and its social order.

Sadly, many societies not only in Nigeria but all throughout Africa would be torn apart by people who thought they came with the light of civilization and of God himself. The bloodshed and suffering it led to is a truly shameful chapter of human history.

It is a known fact that history is mostly written by the winners. This is why books like Things Fall Apart are so important: to give a voice to the stories the colonisers of Africa would have preferred never to be heard.

I found this book to be very well-written. The way Achebe depicts the characters makes you feel for them even with all their flaws. Realism is the genre that best describes the style of writing. Achebe does not romanticize anything and doesn’t look away from the tragic, the disturbing as well as the beautiful.

Some of my favourite parts of the novel were when people shared stories with each other. As a writer I have a deep interest in the art of telling stories and I was fascinated with the glimpse I got into the rich tradition of Igbo storytelling.

In conclusion, this is an important and fascinating book. Truly one of world literature’s great treasures.

Hashtagging #TransRights last week, hating the “Google-memo” guy this week: the stunning hypocrisy

Recently the president of the United States tweeted that he wanted to ban transgender people from serving in the military. Immediately, hoards of “progressives” took to the internet to let the world know that they did not support this and that they were for trans rights. I’m a trans man and I also think the ban is stupid. Still, I don’t see how serving in the military is a “right”. But that’s beside the point.

What I’m saying is: a lot of people seem to believe that trans people are genuine and not suffering from some personal delusion or just imposing a personal choice on others. Therefore it would make sense that they also believe in the scientific evidence that points to this fact, right?

So what is this scientific evidence? Among other things that transgender people have brains that more resemble that of the gender they identify with than the one associated with the biological sex they were born as. (There are also genes  believed to be linked with gender dysphoria). So if you are to take this evidence as true, you have to accept the notion that there are neurological differences between the sexes.

Fast forward to this week when a guy at Google wrote an memo in which, among other things, he pointed out some biological difference between women and men that would explain why less women are into tech. He later got fired because of this memo.

I’m not arguing for or against the firing. The guy said some non-PC stuff and that’s bad for business. If Google wants to do what they think will protect their company, that’s their choice.

What pisses me off, is to see the stunning hypocrisy of people who argue that 1. Transsexuality is a real, genuine thing and 2. That a man is an evil misogynist because he points out that women and men are different.

Is there are no neurological differences between men and women, how can transsexualism exist other than at as a personal choice or a mental illness?

Now, I have something extremely embarrassing to confess: I used to be a fervent believer in the bullshit theory that gender is just a social construct. Even back then I knew I was deeply uncomfortable living as a woman. But, being convinced that gender differences had no basis in biology, I wasn’t going to take synthetic testosterone with all the risks it entails and have healthy body parts cut off my body over a fucking social construct. I have more self-respect than that. It was only when I honestly looked at the evidence for the biological basis of gender differences that I realised I wasn’t going to escape my gender dysphoria by simply ignoring gender norms.

This is why I for the life of me can’t comprehend how someone can both accept transsexualism as real and refuse to see that men and women are wired slightly differently. Accepting these facts doesn’t mean a person is a carbon copy stereotype of every other person of their gender. Of course there is variation. And of course it doesn’t mean women should be forbidden or intimidated from joining STEM fields or that men can’t be stay-at-home dads or work in female dominated fields. It just means people are what they are and it’s not the end of the goddamn world if there isn’t at least 50% of women in every profession.

Let people be who they are and stop forcing your social constructivist ideas on the populace, the vast majority of whom have no interests in living to prove your ideologies.

Oh, one last thing: DuckDuckGo is a better search engine than Google ever was and unlike them, they won’t store your search history for marketing purposes.

A World Tour of Books: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Russia)

I haven’t written a World Tour of Books post in a while and that’s because I have been reading a very long book: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.

When I first came across it while shopping at a bookstore, I thought that maybe I should find something a little shorter but after reading on the back cover that this is considered by many to be the best written novel of all times, I just knew I had to read it.

 

Karenina
At over 800 pages, Anna Karenina is quite a thick book!

 

So it was with great expectations that I began to read the story of the forbidden love between Count Vronsky and Princess Anna Arkadyevna Karenina. To my surprise I found that I felt little sympathy for these characters. To try and seduce a woman you know is married, like Vronsky does, seems not very moral to me and he comes across as kind of a douche.

As for Anna, she accepts his invitations, cheats on her husband then leaves him for her new beau and even abandons her own child in the process.

Probably, I would have not disliked Anna’s character as much if her husband and been abusive towards her. But he’s actually a good person who shows an impressive patience with his wife’s childish behaviour. He is so kind-hearted that he even feels love and eventually adopts a child he knows is not his.

So, the two main characters I felt not very strongly for even if their love story is superbly written.

The character that did touch my heart was Levin. A socially awkward but highly intelligent landowner, most of the plot following him is centered around his love for Kitty, whom he later marries. But this happy ending love story is not what I enjoyed most when reading about Levin. Rather it is his ponderings on religion, philosophy and politics that made me like him so much. He is a deep-thinking individual and a lot of times I was actually annoyed with his overly emotional obsession with Kitty, which I felt often distracted him from more important endeavours.

Interestingly, Levin is based on Tolstoy himself. I highly suspected this due to the similarity of their names (Lev is the Russian version of Leo) and the fact that Levin expresses many opinions that Tolstoy was known to have. As I’ve long been fascinated by this writer, it is no surprise I really liked Levin as a character.

One thing that I found irritating with this book is that sometimes in dialogues there are whole sentences in other languages. Luckily for me, most of them where in a one of my two mother tongues: French. Still, it’s quite annoying when you have to put down a book to consult Google Translate because you can’t understand what it says. At least, there should have been translations on the bottom of the pages.

Overall, I really like this book. I don’t know if it the best novel ever written (how do you even determined that objectively?) but it is definitely one of the great treasures from the history of literature.

When you’re gay and don’t fit into gay culture…

Since I’ve started passing more frequently as male, I have gathered my courage and taken my first step into the gay male scene… and discovered I can’t relate to it at all. Well, except for the whole liking guys thing.

As I’m not much for gay bars and partying, I’ve been looking around for different gay clubs and organisations in my area. Turns out most have something to do with either sex/fetischism or some endeavour like drag and other stereotypically “gay” things.

I did find this one club for bears and other masculinity-embracing men but I learned they’re in the process of closing it down due to a lack of interest. I kept looking for another place I felt I could fit into but came up empty. Why is it so hard to find somewhere I can be just a guy who likes guys without having to pretend to be more flamboyant and sexual than I am?

What kind of bothers me too is the values you’re supposed to have to be “a true gay”. If you’re not a left-leaning, anti-capitalist, “sex and kink positive”, “body positive”, intersectionalist-of-many-buzzwords person, then you’re just not one of them. Because you know, gay is obviously not a synonym for homosexual but a collection of arbitrary opinions and beliefs…

So, as a center-right liberal conservative who has little interest in casual sex and who on top of that is not like those funny fashionable gays on TV I kind of feel out of place in the mainstream gay community.

Maybe I’ve been looking at this all wrong. What I’ve been searching for is “my tribe”, so to speak. But does that have to be somewhere my sexuality would be even relevant? There are plenty of places a guy can be himself regardless of what gender he loves.

Maybe an environmental organisations could be a place for me? I have become very passionate about climate issues lately so that is highly relevant to my interests.

And when it comes to dating I guess I’ll try one of those serious dating websites and keep looking for Mister Right.