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.

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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.

 

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 Modern Classic: Forbidden Colours by Yukio Mishima 

TW: There will be mention of suicide.


A while back I started to read up on Japanese literature for my World Tour of Books post series. Eventually I picked a book by Kenzaburo Oe but there was another writer I could not get off my mind: Yukio Mishima. 

This beloved Japanese writer became infamous in 1970. Seeing that Japanese Traditionalism was being replaced by Western values with all its empty materialism, he attempted to incite a coup d’état along with his own private militia. But the attempt failed miserably and, dishonoured, he killed himself by seppuku.

Many believed his motives to have been genuine. But others saw in his actions a sign of psychosis. Yet others believed that Mishima had always planned for the coup to fail so that he could end his own life, this due to his disgust with the idea of getting old. Which reminds me of a quote that stood out to me in Forbidden Colours:

“What is the death of the body, after all, compared with the unbearable death of youth?”

But whatever his motivations were, there is so much more to Mishima than him being “that Japanese writer who killed himself like a samurai”. Three times he was nominated to the Nobel Prize in literature and during his career he would publish 25 novels and write 80 plays. He also starred in movies, became a skilled martial artist and a bodybuilder and even directed his own film. 

Seeing what a fascinating man this Yukio Mishima was, I felt I had to read something of him. I picked the novel Forbidden Colours, I must confess mainly due to its gay theme. 

In retrospect I should have started my journey into Mishima’s literature with the semi-autobriographical Confessions of a Mask but Forbidden Colours was still an amazing read.

Telling the story of Yuichi Minami (notice the resemblance with the author’s own name) it is believe to be also somewhat autobiographical. One summer he meets an elderly writer by the name of Shunsuké who in his books praises women but in reality despises them. His hatred stems from his numerous failed relationships and in his bitterness he wishes to punish women. 

In Yuichi he finds the perfect tool for this. The young man’s unusual beauty catches the opposite sex’s attention without effort and his homosexuality ensures that he will never reciprocate any woman’s feelings. Under the guidance/manipulation of Shunsuké he marries a woman, trapping her in a loveless marriage. He also charms two other women, making them fall in love with him but never loving them back.

But Yuichi will grow weary of being Shunsuké’s puppet and will realise his own power, much to the elderly writer’s dismay. 

What can I say about this book? Because it is not simply a story written down, it is a work of art. Filled with meaning boiling below the surface, it grabs your mind and demands attention. It is both beautiful and sort of ugly in its descriptions. The way the author writes about the characters’ inner life is moving but also disturbing at times. 

Shunsuké especially is a quite dislikable personality, with all his selfishness and bitterness. Yuichi is more sympathetic but he too grows cold with time. Melancholy is the word that springs to mind when I think about the spirit of the book. Hopelessness also. But somehow Mishima knew how to make the tragic beautiful. 

Forbidden Colours is considered to be one of Yukio Mishima’s lesser works and if it is then I can’t wait to read those books of his that are seen as masterpieces. Either way, I am definitely not done with his literature. 

​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.