Liebster Awards – Part 2

After giving it some thought, I have decided what blogs I am going to nominate for a Liebster Award. Here they are:

Caspian aka afab1996 writes about his experience as a transman in the UK. A very interesting blog, be sure to check it out.

The Foundry
Ruhen writes about writing and I find it fascinating.

I often find myself scratching my head, wondering how the hell people think. That’s not a good think to be so clueless about human psychology if you’re a writer. Luckily, Psychology for Writers is here to help!

Philosophy and Video Games. I stumbled upon this blog while looking through the Absurdism tag (Absurdism being one of my favourite philosophies) and discovered the fascinating subject of philosophical themes in video games.

DMY Inspires. Dmitry is a bisexual teenager with Aspergers and ADHD.

As a favourite blog, I would have to say it’s a shared win between Androgendernaut and Sebastian Lewis Pod.

To the nominated: you are hereby challenged to write a post nominating five other blogs with less than 200 followers, choose a favourite blog and if you wish you can also answer my ten questions.

What is your favourite dish?
What is a great documentary you think people should see?
Do you have a motto or favourite saying?
What day do you consider to have been the best in your life?
Why did you start your blog?
Who are the best: cats or dogs?
What is the best book you’ve ever read?
Tea or coffee?
What is, in your opinion, the best genre of music?
Do you have anyone you consider to be a role model? And if so, why?

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To Boycott or not to boycott?

One of my favourite events every autumn is the Göteborg Book Fair in Western Sweden. It’s the biggest cultural event in Scandinavia and one I’ve been looking forward to every year since I first attended it when I was twelve.

Some controversy arose last year when it was revealed that the far-right magazine Nya Tider was going to be allowed to participate in the event. This so-called newspaper is notoriously bigoted and is on a mission to paint Sweden as a country falling to pieces because of immigrants and changing norms, such as a greater acceptance of LGBTQ people.

As a response to this many participants and visitors decided to boycott the Fair. Last year I couldn’t attend so the question of whether or not to go wasn’t one I had to make. But this year I will be able to and Nya Tider is still going to be there.

My first instinct was that I didn’t want to set my foot anywhere near where this garbage of a magazine would be exhibiting. I thought about it some more and realised that might be exactly what they want. After all, isn’t a society without trans and gay people exactly one of the things Nya Tider is fighting for? In their eyes, I am among the undesirable and the Fair will only be made better by people like me not attending.

I don’t claim that either boycotting or not boycotting is the right answer. In the end of the day, people have to follow their own conscious and do what they feel is right.

But personally, I feel more than ever that I need to go. The far-right has doubled down their propaganda in later years and made their way into places they would have never been tolerated before. That’s why I want to never back down and keep reminding them that I and all other people they have marked as enemies have as much a right to be here and as much a right to life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness.

This year especially I feel an urgent need to stand up against these destructive forces. Apart from Nya Tider being allowed into the Fair, the city as given permission to the neo-nazi organisation Nordic Resistance Movement to parade through Gothenburg during the event. To give you an idea of how insane this is consider that beside being openly and shamelessly Nazi, this organisation is also responsible for actual terrorist attacks. Just last year they set off a bomb in the very city they will now be allowed to march through!

That’s why apart from going to the Fair and buying as many books as I can that Nya Tider wished didn’t exist (queer books, books by people of colour etc.), I will also attend on Friday the 29th a protest against Nazism.

If Nazis and other far-right extremists think they can scare their opponents into silence, they are terribly mistaken. We aren’t going to go down without a fight. Just bring it on.

My predictions for The Last Jedi

A while back I had a short Twitter thread about what I believe is going to happen in the next movie of the Star Wars saga:


I thought I’d write a post to expand on my theory.

In the previous movies, the Force is presented as having two sides: the light one and the dark one.
The light side of the Force is followed by the Jedi Order. They are all about complete self-denial and abnegation and focusing entirely on the well-being of others. These beliefs are taken quite to the extreme, to the point where any type of attachment and loving one person more than another is seen as an offense. Romantic relationships are strictly forbidden and the to-be Jedis are taken as children from their families and kept from ever seeing them again.

As a cult survivor, this has always disturbed me about the Jedi. I grew up in a religion where healthy self-interest and personal attachments are considered sinful and threats to the goals of the group. I’ve experienced first-hand what it does to you and how it destroys families and communities.

This is why in my eyes, the Jedi are not as good and loving as they think they are.

But the Sith aren’t so great either. They take things to the other extreme and are focused on nothing but self-interest and personal passions, often to the point of bringing on their own end.

So, both the “light” and “dark” sides of the Force are destructive in their own ways when followed dogmatically. There has to be a way between being an egotistic tool and self-denial to the point of near self-eradication.

To find this balance, one can turn to the teaching of the ancient Je’daii, as they are presented in The Star Wars Legends. The Je’daii were the predecessors to the Jedi order but unlike them they believed both sides of the Force were necessary to keep balance within oneself and in society. Kind of like Taoists believe yin and yang must be in interaction for things to not fall into chaos.

What we know is that after Return of The Jedi, Luke Skywalker founded a new Jedi Order. But just like the previous order, it was destroyed by an apprentice who joined the dark side. Perhaps driven into its arms by the dogmatic demands of the Jedi?
Many Star Wars fans were upset when they heard Luke say “the Jedi must end” in the trailer to the up-coming movie. Not me, though. When I heard Rey’s words “light, darkness, a balance” followed by Luke saying “it’s so much bigger”, my thoughts immediately went to the Je’daii Order and their belief that the Force is far too great to be categorized in two completely opposite categories. 

Personally, I can’t wait to see both the Sith and the Jedi come to an end and be replaced by something better. That is assuming my theory is right. To find out if it is I guess we’ll just have to wait till December, when the movie finally comes out.

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.

Writing, growing the hell up and taking responsibility.

I was recently watching the trailer for the upcoming A Wrinkle in Time movie and something I heard in it really stuck with me:

The only thing faster than light is the darkness.

I don’t know it that’s an actual quote from the book but it hit me how true this is. Our planet and the universe it exists in is not only indifferent to human life but also often dangerous to it. Most of our time we struggle to fight against the elements. We live in houses to protect ourselves from the weather and dangers outside. We cloth ourselves to protect us from the cold that could kill us. And we spend most of our days working so that we can continue to afford all the things we need for our survival.

The universe is mostly chaos and destruction and order and happiness are the exception much more than the rule.

But while humans have been often successful in fighting the darkness we have also added to it. Bloodshed and cruelty have been present in all our history. We have treated other humans and non-human creatures like complete shit simply because we can. Not only have we shown as a species a special kind of cruelty towards other sentient beings, we’ve also managed to screw up the whole planet!

Seeing how wretched humanity is, I’ve often wondered what the point is of being a good person. From an early age I was one of those treated like an outcast by the collective so there has been for me also the question of whether being a good person was something worth focusing my energy on. If society tells you that you are useless, then what’s the point of trying to be useful? They’ve already told you they want nothing to do with you!

This thought have been on my mind a lot lately because I discovered something while at work, where I often listen to audio books and lectures to make my janitor job less dull. I was listening to a clinical psychologist who claimed that responsibility is the thing that gives life meaning.

I wouldn’t be able repeat his exact words but his reasoning went something like this: we live and survive because we constantly battle the chaos around us. The whole history of humanity and in fact of life itself has been a struggle to keep existing in the midst of a destructive universe. To be able to stay up and fight one must first take upon oneself the responsibility to do what is good (by which he means what is contrary to what is destructive) and act accordingly. Taking responsibility is what gives life meaning because it is the most important tool we need to keep on living a life worth living.

I’ve listened to many of his lectures and I’ve realised that he’s probably right. What gives life most meaning is usually what demands most responsibility: raising children, working on maintaining healthy relationships, reaching career goals, fighting for an important social cause etc.

The more I though about it the more I realised that the times my life has felt the most meaningless were the times when I had little responsibilities to bear. So I started to ask myself two questions: 1. How can I take on more responsibility, within my reach and ability? 2. How does my writing tie into all this?

One answer to the first question was to continue working as I do. I was never one of those people who leach of others while trying to make it as an author. Whether I eventually reach a large success or not I will continue to make my own living. You know, like a grown-ass man.

Then I want to find a new, better paying job. I want to continue trying to find my own apartment (nearly impossible with the massive housing crisis in my country but what can I do if not try?). I will look for a stabil relationship with another man, get married and adopt children who need a family.

When it comes to my writing it isn’t as clear what responsibility has to do with it. The thing with fiction is that people can read all sorts of things into it. Some people read Catcher in the Rye and thought it told them to commit murder, which the author never intended.

And why should I write? Merely to entertain? Or should I have some important message? If yes, what message should it be?

After thinking about it I’ve realised that the issue that by far means more to me than any other is the environmental issue. The way I see it, no other issue is going to matter much if we can’t even live on this planet anymore. Climate change and pollution are the most urgent problem of our time and the number one cause I want to focus on.

But how? Perhaps I can make it a theme in future works. Mostly I want to continue writing about it here and on Twitter. I want to do my part, no matter how small it turns out to be, to keep encouraging others to live a more eco friendly lifestyle and to contribute to important environmental projects such as the Ocean Clean-up.

I feel more harmonious than I think I’ve ever felt before. Maybe it’s because I may have just stumble upon what gives life true meaning: to grow the hell up and do what you have to do to try and make this world even a little bit better.

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. 

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.

I’m 3,3% Neanderthal and other things I learned from my DNA test 

Back in December I ordered a DNA kit from the company 23andMe because I was curious about what my genome could tell me about me. Several weeks later I got this box in the mail:

In it was this little plastic tube I had to spit into:

Then I put the tube back into the box and had it shipped to the 23andMe lab in the Netherlands. Fast forward two and a half months later and I got an email that my results were in.

The first thing I checked out in my online 23andMe profile was how many procent of my DNA was inherited from Neanderthal ancestors. The reason is that I kind of have a nerdy fascination with this extinct species of humans and was eager to know if I’m in anyway related to them. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I am actually in the 99th percentile, meaning 99% of 23andMe users have lower Neanderthal DNA than I have! 

It can seem a weird thing to be happy about but I’m kinda weird so there you go. Having a high procentage of Neanderthal DNA can also tell you something about you. It has been discovered for example that it can lead to having a higher risk for depression but also a better immunity to certain diseases.

Then I looked at my ancestry. Having a French father and a French-Swedish mother I was curious of what it might look like. This is what I found:

As expected I was mostly French. But as was a little bit surprised to find out I was more British and Irish than Scandinavian. Overall I think it was cool to be able to see my ancestry all over Europe, from Finland to the Iberian peninsula. 

Next I looked up what genes I may have that carried potential for different medical conditions:

To my relief I didn’t find anything unusual and worrying. But certain features were locked, like info on whether you have the genes for Alzheimers and breast cancer. It seems you have to ask to have that unlock, probably because a lot of people prefer not to know when it comes to these conditions. I’m myself still pondering whether or not I want these features unlocked.

You can also look up other interesting genetic traits you have:

Some are not that super interesting, like the texture of your earwax. But others can be very helpful to know. Like for example I learned I have a higher number of fast-twitching muscle fibers, which makes me better for strength training than endurance training: 

This has actually helped me make a decision. I’ve been pondering lately if I should focus on running or go back to weight training. As I’m genetically much more built for strength training that’s what I’ve decided to focus on. After the 5K I have in the beginning of May, I’ll get back to the gym! 

The 23andMe website has other cool features to help you learn more about yourself, like it can help you find genetic relatives. This has actually helped people who are adopted reconnect with their biological families. 

You can also browse raw data if you’re looking for specific genes:

There is even a website you can upload your genome information to and learn more about your genetic makeup. A word of warning though: you might learn some things you would have preferred not to know. 

Overall I’m glad I took this test. I learned a lot of interesting things about myself  that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. I’m definitely not done researching my DNA and I hope to continue learning more about it. 


Here is the link to the 23andMe website if you’re interested in taking their DNA test: 23andme.com