#Review: Meghan Maslow’s “By Fairy Means or Foul” #fantasy #lgbt #amreading

#Review: Meghan Maslow’s “By Fairy Means or Foul” #fantasy #lgbt #amreading

“By Fairy Means or Foul: A Starfig Investigations Novel” or why I’m still not into fantasy

My first fantasy novel, ever. Yeah, I admit, I haven’t even read LOTR, the language had me asleep before I got to chapter two in The Hobbit. So why on earth would I want to read a novel about fairies which the title not so subtly alludes to? One reason really: the author. Meghan Maslow is a friend, albeit a rairly recent one, but a good friend nonetheless, and I always read what my friends write, no matter how bad or “out there” their writing seems to be. Meghan sort of attached herself to me and a friend at the San Diego version of GRL, the annual reader-writer convention of people who love gay romance literature, and where I, for some odd reason, have found a home, even though I don’t belong there, since, yeah, I don’t write romance. Meghan is witty, she’s smart, and she’s one hell of a writer, or so I discovered after having read her first foray into what some people refer to as “m/m” (you know how much I despise that word).

The cover of "By Fairy Means Or Foul" by Meghan Maslow

The cover of By Fairy Means Or Foul by Meghan Maslow

Ergo me reading By Fairy Means or Foul, a novel with more innuendo than anything I’ve read for a long time. Let me get this out of the way right now, before Meghan, who I’m sure will be reading this, gets her dreads in a twist. And just to say this again, just because I’m friends with Meghan, this is an honest to the bone review, as you’ll see shortly. Here it goes: Meghan is an insanely talented writer, and you can tell by all the subtleties that she’s also well educated and knows her genre, probably a gazillion times better than I do (since, yeah, my first, remember?)

Here’s the blurb, to save me summarizing it:

“The last thing half-dragon, half-fairy private investigator Twig Starfig wants to do is retrieve a stolen enchanted horn from a treacherous fae, but there’s no denying the dazzlingly gorgeous unicorn who asks Twig to do just that. Literally, no denying, because compelling the reluctant detective is all part of a unicorn’s seductive magic.

To add to his woes, Twig is saddled with the unicorn’s cheeky indentured servant, Quinn Broomsparkle. Dragons are supposed to want to eat humans, but Twig’s half-dragon side only wants to gobble up Quinn in a more . . . personal way. Making matters worse, it’s obvious the smokin’ hot but untrustworthy sidekick is hiding something. Something big. And not what’s in his trousers. In the PI business, that means trouble with a capital Q.

Throw in gads of zombies, a creepy ghost pirate ship, a malfunctioning magic carpet, and Twig’s overbearing fairy father’s demands to live up to the illustrious Starfig name. Naturally, an old but abiding enemy chooses this time to resurface, too. Those inconveniences Twig can handle. The realization he’s falling for a human who isn’t free to return his affections and whose life may hang on the success of his latest case?

Not so much.”

I’d hate to give things away, right? Reading a book about fairies and dragons and men in slavery just never really made it to my remotest level of interest, but oddly, I found this an amusing read. I chuckled a lot, shook my head in disbelief even more often, whether it was about the powers of dragons or witches or unicorns, and how they “really” are in terms fo strength of character (or lack thereof) is quite amusing. And the story flows freely and is well paced. No boring spots here. I absolutely enjoyed the plays on the genre “rules” that I think Meghan bends, and warps, but without turning hard-core fans off (I hope). Sadly, I can’t be sure, since I don’t read the genre, but yeah, I get the impression that she gets away with her plays… Don’t believe me? Read the reviews online…

Meghan Maslow's pirate escorted Her Majesty to the party in San Diego. I guess that costume explains a thing or two about the expanse, right?

Meghan Maslow’s pirate escorted Her Majesty to the party in San Diego. I guess that costume explains a thing or two about the expanse, right?

Now, to the parts that didn’t please me quite that much, and they’re part of the genre “gay fantasy” or – shudders – “m/m fantasy”, the way the human always has to be succumbing to the beast (whether a werewolf, a werecat or a dragon). Meghan has an interesting twist on that (no spoilers), but I’m deeply troubled by the whole notion of “active – passive”, “top – bottom” and their portrayal in gay romance, and how it’s really just a prolongation of “saving the damsel in distress”. I’ll grant you, I skipped the sex scenes because it’s even worse to read it than seeing it on screen, so I can’t say if the dragon ever bottomed, but it would somehow defy the genre expectations, wouldn’t it? This is a series, and – Meghan, if you read this – there’s hope… I certainly know Meghan’s heart and mind are in the right place in what we call “IRL”.

What I did like was the “of course” attitude of the fantasy society to gay love or relationships/mating. It was refreshing to read that, but it also reminds us just how “fantasy” fantasy really is, or is it vice versa? I can never get that right. The other aspect I didn’t enjoy was some of the predictability associated with the romance genre, like the misunderstandings in all the right places, the sex scenes, again, and again, and again, like the pistons in an engine, but even here, Meghan manages to surprise us one more time with a [no spoiler].

Conclusions? This is a brilliantly written novel (phew, that makes seeing Meghan again in two days so much simpler), playing the genre like a virtuoso (I think), with really well fleshed-out characters, a fun and action-packed story and the promise of more of the same as the series continues. If you love your boys hot, your stories “out there” in the paranormal fantasy realm, then you absolutely MUST read this book. By Fairy Means or Foul is available on Amazon right now. I give it four stars there, the fifth star withheld not because it isn’t a brilliant book but because I just don’t enjoy this sort of stuff. It’s amazing that Meghan wrote a story I read to the end without suffering too badly.

If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week. This Friday, I’ll be posting from Denver, and this year’s GRL.

Hans

Sometimes, life makes you choose between two evils…  #amreading #asmsg #family

Sometimes, life makes you choose between two evils… #amreading #asmsg #family

When my mother in law had a heart attack, we were facing impossible life-altering choices

When this post goes live, I’ll be in Switzerland, buying sweets and chocolates for my trip to the U.S. next week. I’ll be enjoying the company of family and relatives, amazing food and hopefully glorious fall weather. St. Gallen, my home town, can be glorious this time of year. However, this year our trip is overshadowed by my mother in law’s health. After suffering a heart attack, she was rushed to the hospital where the professionals quickly surmised that she needed major open heart surgery to replace a heart valve and to undergo a triple bypass. Yeah, imagine. Life…

Disease isn't 'really' about Alzheimer's, it's a story about celebrating life, creating memories that outlive our physical existence.

Disease, my highly praised coming novel, isn’t ‘really’ about Alzheimer’s, it’s a story about celebrating life, creating memories that outlive our physical existence. You can pre-order it here.

Open heart surgery is never easy. Recovery times are three months for healthy people. Well, healthy for someone who needs that sort of major op. But for someone who’d suffered a major stroke, whose general health is on a slow downward slope? Yeah. Luckily, we didn’t have to make the choice between surgery and no-surgery. In Sweden, when someone isn’t of sound mind, that decision lies with the healthcare professionals.

Today the hospital informed us that they wouldn’t perform any surgery on my husband’s mom. I should say I’m relieved, but on the other hand I also know that this means that she could suffer another heart attack at pretty much any given time. Tomorrow. Or a year from now. But like Hunter in my coming novel, a best before date has been place on my MIL’s life, and unlike the date we all have to face at some point, it’s not in the too distant future.

The death of Casper is the start of the story, not the end. A story of life and one hell of a relationship.

Luckily for her, she’s not aware of all this, never will be. Not consciously. But we, her kids, and her grandchildren, are. And we have to deal with it, somehow. Carpe diem comes to mind, and we’ve already decided to travel the three and a half hours north to see her more regularly. Quality of life. And if seeing her grandson and her two “boys” (as she refers to us) gives her joy then so be it. Least we can do. Meanwhile we get to form some final and lasting memories of our mother, mother-in-law and grandma.

Needless to say it’s hardest on my husband. He lost his dad twelve years ago, and is now facing the harsh reality of losing his second parent any day. For me, it’s going to be rough. I’ll be reminded of my own mother’s passing, I’ll think of the day when my dad joins her and that I, too, will be all alone. No more calling “home” for advice or that friendly, non-judgemental ear. You know? That unconditional love? For our son, he’s only four and a half years old, it’s difficult to say how he’ll react. He was only nine months old when his Nona passed. Nothing to remember. But he knows his grandma, and he even left her one of his plush animals at the hospital so she wouldn’t be alone. It’s hard to tell whether he loves her and how that manifests in terms of loss. We’ll see. Maybe, just maybe we’ll get to practice this with our oldest feline family member first. He’s been getting weaker and weaker and at almost nineteen, he’s way past his prime. But yeah, loss we’ll experience. Part of life, the ultimate consequence of it, actually.

Alex (my husband) lamented the other day that being middle-aged meant having more and more death around you. Hopefully we’re better equipped to handle it than when we were kids. But I understand how he feels. Pretty soon, our generation will be the “oldest” one, the one at the frontier so to speak, the next one in line to… kick the bucket? Pick out the good suit? People sometimes ask me why I chose to write two books in a row about death, first Nilas’s story, the loss of Casper, and now Hunter’s, and Ethan’s coping with that. Sometimes I think people misunderstand. Neither of those books are about death, or dying. They’re about living, Nilas’s is about the memories he holds of Casper and their life together and how he can best celebrate that memory by living his life to the fullest. For Hunter it’s all about maximizing the quality of life, rather than the quantity, to bestow as many good memories on his little daughter Amy as humanly possible. Quality over quantity.

So if you pick up any of those two books, by all means, shed tears, but make sure they are cathartic, because those stories celebrate life, and for as long as we have memories of our loved ones, they live on, forever, through us.

Have a wonderful weekend,

Hans

PS: If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

PS2: I was recently invited to a great podcast called The Wrote Podcast. Click here to listen to the episode.

Getting ready for  a convention and a book release… #Amwriting #amreading #ASMSG

Getting ready for a convention and a book release… #Amwriting #amreading #ASMSG

One word could summarize how I feel: AAAAAAAAAARGH!

Time, whatever happened to time. That’s certainly true when you prepare for a large convention where you have a major investment while also being eighteen days away from a major book release. Now to be fair, I am doing okay. Maybe it’s reading all those posts in the GRL Facebook group form all those people with (admitted) OCD who have already packed their bags (that’s on my mental – mind you – to do list for next Tuesday, the day I fly out), people who are already on their way to the airport and what not, worrying about spending money, taxi fares or high altitude sickness. I’m not even close, and life just handed our family a major curve ball last week that threw our planning about as out of whack as only life can do.

A trip to my native Switzerland and St. Gallen with its beautiful hinterland beckons this week. Nothing like coming home…

Oh, did I mention that we have another trip planned between now and next week? Yeah! GRL is the last convention of the season for me and as it is the largest one, I’m always looking forward to it. New city, old friends, new acquaintances, and you always have to come up with new ways to please readers, not just with better books, but more exciting swag, crazier costumes and funny or tear-inducing readings.

I DO have a bit of a reputation in a couple of departments. My planning for GRL starts early, along with everyone else, as we sit down on a Saturday evening (my time) and engage in a crazy game of “fastest clicker”… I won again this year and as a sponsor of the event, my nerves were not as tested as some of my friends’. After that, there are discussions with the organizers of what to do with my investment as sponsor, and then spring and early summer settle into a calm rhythm of monthly payments, and waiting. Waiting for the theme of the costume party to be announced, waiting for the Facebook groups to open, waiting for program advertizing, waiting, waiting…

Meanwhile, I was working on my fall release, Disease, to be finished, and this year, my publisher and I are doing a special, to sell Disease exclusively at GRL, a full week before it releases to the public. We’ll see how that works. That also meant that we had to finish the galleys earlier than usual, to make sure the print copies made it to Denver in time. As I am writing this, my publisher just sent me the tracking number for my four parcels on their supposed way to Denver. Given that the hotel threatens to charge $20/day if they packages arrive more than three days before the guest, we’re playing a weird game of target practice with a moving target, as postal services and deadlines are notoriously unreliable, no matter what country you’re talking about. Oddly, my pre-order of ten copies for myself and family has already been delivered to the hotel we’re going to this week, four days ago. Color me puzzled.

There will be no appearance of Her Majesty, the Queen of Unconventional Happy Endings or me this year at GRLs costume party. Photo: Christy Duke

This week on Thursday, we fly to Switzerland, for our annual visit of the St. Gallen agricultural state fair, OLMA. It’s an old family tradition and my son loves the rides as much as the animals on display, and we enjoy the culinary delights and seeing relatives and spending time together. Plus, I’ll be stocking up on chocolates for friends stateside and for my surprise cornucopia giveaway for people who sign up for my newsletter. It will be filled with an Amazon gift card as well as Swedish candy and Swiss chocolate. Hopefully it’ll prove to be irresistible to readers attending GRL. We return on Sunday afternoon to do laundry and grocery shopping (you know those pesky weekly tasks of survival in your average family) and next Monday I’ll get my GRL haircut, I’ll write my final pre-GRL blog post and then on Tuesday, I’ll pack my bag(s). I’ll hopefully have bought all the stuff that I need for Denver, but Monday-Tuesday are sort of my final days to sort out any last minute glitches and “shit, I forgot to…” Knowing me, there will be more than one of those.

Tuesday night, my family will drop me off at the airport and I’ll fly to Munich, where I’ll have to spend the night at an airport hotel, as I would not be able to catch the early morning flight on Wednesday, seeing as my first ferry in the morning reaches port fifty minutes before the morning flight leaves… Unless you travel faster than the speed of light, a no can do. Wednesday morning, I’ll take it easy and board my flight to Denver just before lunch, arriving there at two pm. I’ll have my bags with me (hard to get lost on a direct flight), I’ll hopefully be able to breeze through immigration, I have my sales permits in order, I (will have) all my ducks lined up in a row and I’ll be ready. I usually use the flight to prepare for my readings (two this year, allowing me to read slightly longer passages from my two most recent novels) which is great. And I’ll spend some quality days with my tribe of friends, unless life decides to throw us another curve ball…

Yeah, life. It has a tendency to foul most plans and because shit happens, shit tends to happen when you least expect it (or need it). Last week, my mother in law was admitted to the hospital for difficulties breathing, in the middle of the night. Now here comes the odd part: turns out she needs major open heart surgery, and as relatives we obviously wonder how doctors could have missed that, given that she’s been in and out of hospitals on four occasions in the past twelve months. I’ve had more doctors listen to my heart in the two visits I’ve had in this time than she did. I had two, she had one. I’m fine. She’s not. Needless to say, that this is really throwing our lives out of sync, not to mention that my MIL is suffering. My husband is a mess, it’s the second time he has to deal with this, and with a family trip and my GRL-trip ahead, we struggle to make this manageable. Somehow. Coping. Breathing. Speaking of moving targets… This is a developing situation and we don’t really know what is when and how or even if.

Makes no sense? Welcome to mi vida!

This has ben a great way for me to be seen by readers, meet new ones, and just talk. Goes far beyond just selling books. I’ll once again have a table to sell books in Denver. Just two more than last year, plus the beckoning cornucopia as a prize for signing up to my newsletter.

So, GRL. I’m nervous. Nervous, because my new book is miles apart from what the vast majority of the other authors are there with. So much more than any of my previous releases. I’m a gymnast among swimmers, a dodo among flamingos. This is gayROMANCElit after all, not gayFICTIONlit. I feel at home, don’t get me wrong, but Disease is a very different beast. And I’m nervous about the week as such. I fly in late (for different reasons, but maybe it was foresight?), I only stay Wed-Sun before I fly on to Tucson to see family, and I just couldn’t come up with a decent costume idea this year, so rather than failing expectations this year, I decided to skip that night and “Do Denver” on Saturday night.

I mean really, “Wild Wild West” (the second wild added late in the season, once again throwing me a curve ball, alluring to a crap Hollywood movie), just as last year’s “under the rainbow” was suddenly changed to “The Wizard of Oz” making my gay roman emperor look weirdly out of place among emerald cities, tornadoes and munchkins. How can you make a costume pop out among cowboy hats? How could I possible top Her Majesty? It’s all either cowboys or inappropriate “Indians”. Unless you show up as a wagon, full with four drawing horses… I just couldn’t come up with any fun ideas, maybe I was too preoccupied with writing Disease at the time, maybe you’re only afforded one good costume idea in a lifetime… So no costume, no party this year, but maybe pleasures of a different kind? I can be as wild in the wild west as the next person…

This week will also include some minor GRL and book launch activities, mainly blog posts for the time while I’m gone, release interviews etc., but also some time allocated to look after my mother in law. She lives three and a half hours away from us, and we just visited her yesterday. This week we’ll be dealing with doctors and planning for the next steps in her care. As her guardian (after her stroke last year), the buck stops with me. I’l have to make the final decision on a surgery, which – trust me – is not a situation I ever envisaged myself (or hoped) to be in. But with my husband and my sister-in-law, I’m sure we’ll find a way forward that we feel is in her best interest. Ultimately, this proves once again that we may feel that we are in control of our lives, our fate. We may write long to do lists, set goals for this and that, but ultimately, life always sits on the biggest trump card, and we just have to learn to deal with that, as best we can. Maybe something to keep in mind…

If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. I hope your week turns out to be calmer than mine, and peaceful, and may Prozac and Valium guide the world away from the precipice of another global conflict…

Hans M Hirschi

#Review: “In his Eyes” by wordsmith Larry Benjamin #amreading #LGBT

#Review: “In his Eyes” by wordsmith Larry Benjamin #amreading #LGBT

In his Eyes is so beautifully crafted, it feels almost too fragile to read

Larry Benjamin’s What Binds Us, his award-winning time piece once inspired one of my novels. I was curious to read In his Eyes, particularly as I’d seen some reviews online which were puzzling. Larry calls himself a wordsmith, and I have no reason to doubt his assessment. Yet somehow, I wonder if the word is accurate. When I picture a -smith of anything, I see fire, I see an anvil, hammers and coarse tools. Larry’s tools most certainly include the fire of this passion for writing, but his writing reminds me more of calligraphy than forging a tool. Not sure that makes sense.

In your Eyes cover

The cover of Larry Benjamin’s In your Eyes.

A puzzle

In his Eyes is the story of four young men who meet in college many years ago. I tried early to set the stage in terms of timing and I guess it begins in the seventies and ends in 2005. Four men who meet, form two couples, break up, meet others, yet through the years, their lives’ paths keep crossing, again and again. No spoilers. The way the novel is constructed is like a collage of little vignettes, small portraits, glimpses into the lives of the four protagonists and the people they meet. We have a narrator, but we also often get to see things from the individual points of view. In a way, the novel feels like a puzzle, where you as reader are challenged to add the various pieces to each other, to get to the final end result. What that result turns out as, I believe, is entirely up to each and everyone of us.

Fragile

It’s taken me days to read this story. Larry’s writing is carefully crafted, and not as fluent as someone who writes more subconsciously. Which makes reading an effort, and in order to really enjoy and enjoy it, one needs to pace oneself. You need to take it slow, be shielded from outside interruptions or disruptions. I tried to read on my way to town or as my family was watching TV, but failed. Finally, last night, with my husband focused on his work, I was able to read in peace and quiet. It’s like listening to a piece of classical music. You have to focus, but you’ll be rewarded for your attention.

Yesterday’s storyteller

author Larry Benjamin

Our word smith, or calligrapher, Larry Benjamin

I can’t say I “liked” the plot of the story, because it is dark and belongs to a time I hope remains in the past, most certainly for us in the West. I know that for large parts of the world, this may still look like a bright future… It highlights not only the plight of black gay men in the United States, interracial relationships and their challenges, re “snow queen”, but also the darkness of our existence in a society from pre-AIDS where being gay was still largely frowned upon. Larry is the storyteller of that era, and he does it amazing justice. I usually try to avoid those times, because they are, by and large, quite depressing for our people, with so much misery and sadness. Larry showcases not only that misery, that loneliness, even when in company with others, society’s brutal judgement, but also the small progress, intimacy and how love can take so many different shapes. In Larry, that time is brought to light, and even though I hope we may never have to see such days again, it is still valuable to have that time period accurately reflected and brought to light, as undoubtedly many of our young who grow up under more hopeful circumstances may not even be aware of our recent history. For those of us who witnessed it, it’s slightly different, painful reminders of a recent past, of things we have lived through and endured ourselves.

In his Eyes is a beautiful story. Not an easy read, but a true work of art. If you like to read meticulously crafted books, and you have the time to really let go and focus on a slow read, I highly recommend you to take a journey into the past and re-live (or experience for the first time) what things were like for gay men in the past four or five decades. Well done, Larry, very well done.

In his Eyes is published by Beaten Track Publishing and is available on Amazon and other fine online retailers as e-book and as paperback. You can learn more about Larry and his craft on his website.

If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a wonderful weekend.

Hans M Hirschi

 

#MondayBlogs: How to deal with success as an author? #amwriting #asmsg

#MondayBlogs: How to deal with success as an author? #amwriting #asmsg

Success, how to recognize it? How to make the most of it?

A caveat first. MondayBlogs, the hashtag I regularly blog under on Mondays has a couple of inofficial rules, one of them being that we don’t write about ourselves or market ourselves. It’s not to be a megaphone to get people to spread the word about ourselves. Not an easy thing when you blog, as much of what we do as bloggers is based on our own experiences. So please bear with me for a moment as I try to explain the background of today’s post: success. Why am I suddenly interested in this topic? I’m hardly successful as author, plagued by constant imposter syndrome and spending more money on getting my books out to people than I’ll probably ever make. So how does one define success?

What is success? Are we simply chasing a phantom? An unatainable phantasy?

Success. It sounds so appealing. We all have our dreams of being successful, having successful relationships, marriages, we want our kids to be successful in life, we dream of successful careers, but what does it really matter when push comes to shove? What is success? Here’s the take of Merriam-Webster, on the definition of success, taken from their website:

2a :degree or measure of succeeding
b :favorable or desired outcome; also :the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence

So, since they link to succeeding as a “degree or measure of”, here’s what they have to say about that:

a :to come next after another in office or position or in possession of an estate; especially:to inherit sovereignty, rank, or title
b :to follow after another in order
2a :to turn out well

b :to attain a desired object or end

  • students who succeed in college

While this helps us a little, it still doesn’t define what a “good turn-out” is or what it is we desire. Because let’s face it, that is highly individual, far beyond that what society may think is a measure of success, i.e. inherit a sovereignty, rank or title, wealth, favor or eminence.

Hence, we all have to individually figure out what success means to us. I can only speak to myself, being the author of several successful books. Imho, success is to touch people, to have written a book that appeals to people beyond mere entertainment or enlightenment, a story that touches people deeply, moves them, gets them to think and maybe, just maybe, even act upon that which they have learned.

 

Is there no in-between? Is this the only choice we have? How do you know which way to go?

For my coming novel, and this is mere background info, I have tried a somewhat different approach in my marketing, soliciting the help of my readership to get as many early reviews as I possibly could. A good fifty people have volunteered and we’re well underway to gather their reviews, a month before the book is released. And suddenly something happens, something I have never seen before. I get feedback above and beyond anything I would’ve ever imagined, and suddenly I get this impression that I might be onto something, something that is bigger, larger, better than what I’ve seen before.

 

And it leaves me stupefied because I don’t really know how to deal with it, or what to do with it. Hence my question: how do you deal with success? Yes, I’m immensely proud (I’m not a complete basket case), but do I just wait and see how this plays out? Do I try to get more people to read it in advance? Do I… So here’s my question to you, dear fellow authors, and readers alike: how do you deal with success? How do you humbly accept that you’ve done well and make the most of it? We’ve all seen the movies of the actor getting a break, of a sportsperson doing well and then some, all having agents and people representing them to maximise on that success, monetizing it even. As an author I’m far away from that. Because my success is a universe away from a Stephen King or a Jackie Collins. A half-decent book doesn’t constitute wealth or fortune, nor is it (maybe my imposter syndrome speaking) a sign of things to come, not to mention the burden of following up on a good book with a better book.

Needless to say, we all want to improve and become better at our writing. Anyway, this is what’s on my mind right now. I see this sapling in front of me, this sprout, this bud of what could be very important for my career. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m delusional (imposter syndrome?), maybe… This is a call for help, for advice. How have you, more successful than I, dealt with this? For me, this isn’t primarily about money, as nice as it may be to finally be able to pay some bills with my art. I also don’t want this to get to my head, because I fear the fall…

Anyway, let me know your thoughts on this, whether you’re a reader or a writer… And as I look out into the first real fall storm unleashing its rain and winds upon my island, I want to thank you for coming back to this site once or twice every week to read my posts. Thank you. If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans M Hirschi

When Nazis march through the streets of your city, you cannot sit idly by! #ASMSG #Gothenburg #LGBT

When Nazis march through the streets of your city, you cannot sit idly by! #ASMSG #Gothenburg #LGBT

This is how I’ll be consciously protesting the Nazi march through the streets of Gothenburg tomorrow

In our lives, it’s often difficult to discern good from evil. Life isn’t black and white, it’s mostly shades of gray. We all know that. However, there are some notable exceptions, and Nazis are one of them. You needn’t be a historian to understand that the genocide of more than six million Jews, Gays, Jehovah’s Witnesses & mentally disabled people was a defining moment for humanity, unparalleled in its industrial approach, its cold-hearted planning and faithful execution by the German Army and the various police forces of the era. It’s evil, pure and simple. The hatred against minorities, be it religious (e.g. Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses), ethnicity (Roma, Africans, Asians) or otherwise (disability, sexuality) is nothing new, and most certainly not a German problem. And the simple method of scapegoating is perpetrated again and again, in every country challenged by today’s complex world.

Gothenburg, my home town. Photo: Daniel Sjöström, CC

Sweden is, sadly, no exception. We’ve long prided ourselves for our open and welcoming society, and in recent decades, much like America has been in times past, we’ve welcomed immigrants to fill the jobs our own refused to do: clean toilets, look after the sick and elderly, janitorial services etc. On the other hand, our educational system is failing, after countless attempts by far too many politicians hellbent to leave a mark and fix a system that was geared toward graduating everyone “because they tried”.

We’ve had three (!) completely different grade systems in the 25 years I’ve lived in this country. Young Swedish males (they are primarily male) who fail school, don’t have much of a life to look forward to, they’ll find it difficult to find partners if they live in rural areas (because young women are more likely to get educated and more likely to move to university cities), jobs, and they often look to explanations outside of themselves. Racism (be it the socialist version we call Nazis or the conservative version that is fascism) provides all the easy answers. If only we didn’t have them, we‘d have plenty of jobs… If only they‘d assimilate, we wouldn’t have to rape to get women… Their sense of reality as warped as it can be.

This Saturday, the most active Nazi group in Sweden, The Nordic Resistance Movement, is going to conduct a march through the streets of Gothenburg, do demonstrate while the Gothenburg Book Fair, Sweden’s largest annual cultural event, takes place. Loads of international media on site, Yom Kippur on Saturday as icing on the cake, and thus plenty of opportunity for great press (according to the motto: “all press is good press!”) They’ve already conducted an impromptu march a couple of weeks ago, taking everybody by surprise, as they hadn’t sought approval for a march. According to Swedish law, you can demonstrate any time, anywhere in public, as long as you don’t disturb the peace. To seek approval only gives you first dibs to a specific time and place. The route of the demonstration is still disputed in courts, and the Nazis have claimed to ignore any official ruling. The Police have built make-shift lock-ups for hundreds of people underneath police HQ, and the extreme left have vouched to bus people to our fair city to stop the Nazis from marching. Violence begging for violence.

Gothenburg, an open, inviting and international city, built by immigrants for free global trade, from day one. Photo: Rob Sinclair, CC

Gothenburg is a vibrant city. Sweden’s second largest was built on clay soil and swamps by primarily Dutch, Scottish and German engineers after King Gustav II Adolf decided he needed a fortified city on the west coast to protect the nation against attacks from primarily neighboring rival Denmark in 1632 (we are now very close to our Danish neighbors, just saying.)

Today, greater Gothenburg is home to some 1.5 million people from over one hundred cultures. Our weather isn’t the fairest, but we have a vibrant cultural scene and my city, which was already once plagued by Nazis in the nineties (see my book Last Winter’s Snow), when even I was once attacked by VAM, raised itself above it all, and will host EuroPride 2018 together with Stockholm. It’s a diverse city, for sure, home to some very large global companies like Volvo Cars, AB Volvo, SKF, SCA, Essity, Mölnlycke Healthcare, AstraZeneca and many others, companies who all rely on experts from around the world, companies who are home in almost every corner of the world.

For weeks, I was determined to stand alongside the march, draped in a Swedish and a Rainbow flag, the symbol of universal love, to show those monsters that there is another story of Sweden, a story of Sweden where color plays no role, where love is universal. I was determined to not sit idly by when the symbol of our nation (our flag) is hijacked by a group of thugs and criminals (the majority of the leaders of NMR are convicted felons according to research by local newspaper GP.) They don’t scare me as an individual group, but I am of course concerned with the wider implications of the rise of “white power” across Europe and the United States. Have we already forgotten the sacrifices of our grandparents?

There are several demonstrations planned against the Nazi march, some by individuals on the extreme left who are just as unpalatable, re “only a dead bourgeois is a good bourgeois…”, “kill those capitalist swines!” No, I would never join any of those groups, but I was looking forward to my silent protest, as scared as I was that it might provoke the Nazis to physically attack me. Despite the largest police contingency planned since the fateful 2001 EU summit, it doesn’t take much to hurt someone. But, as you can see from my use of time, I was going to protest on site. But an article in today’s Metro changed my mind. The authors of that article are spot on: the Nazis want attention, they’re first class attention whores, which is why they’re doing this now, while the world is gathered here for the Book Fair. Instead, the authors propose that we actively turn our backs, not physically in situ, but by staying away from the streets they’ll be marching on. Remember the 1980s peace movement mantra: “what if there was a war but no one showed up?” Kind of the same thing. We should instead actively protest their idiocy by spending time with our families, our children, our friends, do loving things, and suck the oxygen away from those thugs. The city of Gothenburg has also begun to fly the rainbow flag across town, as a strong symbol for love and our city’s diversity. When I dropped off a guest in front of the fair grounds and saw it fly I almost cried. It is a potent symbol for love, universal love.

My grandparents. I miss them very much, and I am proud of their stance and accomplishments during the WWII Nazi plague. Photo: private

Allow me to share an anecdote from my own family. I have German ancestry. My great-grandfather on my mother’s side emigrated from Imperial Germany to Switzerland, where my grandpa was born in 1907. My grandpa was my childhood hero. He was the operator at one of my hometown’s theaters. I loved him and grandma to pieces, spending every childhood summer at their place in St.Gallen. Grandpa was no saint, far from it, but he did one thing right: he refused to join the Wehrmacht (Germany’s army) in 1938 when he was drafted. He and his entire family subsequently lost their citizenship and my mother was born stateless in 1941. My grandpa spent the entire war in camps, as free labor on Swiss farms, far away from his family who suffered enormously of famine and lack of pretty much everything. His brothers all joined the war effort. None returned alive, and there was considerable dissonance between my grandpa and his sisters because of his choice. Personally, I think it’s amazing that my grandpa had the balls to stand up to Hitler and give him the finger. Whether he did if because he was a coward (as some in the family have claimed) is irrelevant today. I have many German friends who live with the stigma of having a grandfather who served in that war and who may have participated in crimes against humanity. How do you deal with that?

He and his entire family subsequently lost their citizenship and my mother was born stateless in 1941. My grandpa spent the entire war in internment camps, providing free labor to Swiss farmers, far away from his family who suffered enormously from famine and lack of pretty much everything. His brothers all joined the war effort. None returned alive, and there was considerable dissonance between my grandpa and his sisters because of his choice. Personally, I think it’s amazing that my grandpa had the balls to stand up to Hitler and give him the finger. Whether he did if because he was a coward (as some in our family have claimed) is irrelevant today. I have many German friends who live with the stigma of having a grandfather who served in that war and who may have (willingly) participated in crimes against humanity. How do you deal with that?

The author of this post in Central Park, NYC. May 1, 2017. Photo: Alina Oswald.

I have to honor my grandpa for his choice, I have to honor my grandmother who worked tirelessly to shelter, clothe and feed her four children born during the war without any help from her husband, I have to honor my uncle and my aunts who suffered from the long-term effects of malnutrition their entire lives. The tragedy of WWII, and the horrors bestowed upon us by the Nazis linger.

I have a four-year old son. I have a responsibility to make sure that his friends at his international school, Nigerians, Somalis, Iranians, Indians, English etc. all have the same shot at a happy life, regardless of the color of their skin, their creed or who they might eventually end up falling in love with.

This Saturday, Gothenburg has a choice to make when the Nazi march through our city takes place. We let them, because it’s part of our system of free speech and freedom of assembly, but we don’t have to let them do so without showing how pitiful, small and insignificant they are. There are no two sides to this! Will you be with me? Will you stay away from the Nazi march through town, not ogle them, not demonstrate against them, most certainly not use violence against them, but spend time with your loved ones, and demonstrate (as in showing) that Gothenburg and indeed the world, can be a kind place, a loving place, a place where infinite diversity can peacefully co-exist in infinite combinations (to lightly adapt a Vulcan proverb).

Thank you and have a wonderful weekend.  If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans M Hirschi
author, husband & very proud father

#MondayBlogs: Why I can’t wait for my son to be reading books #amreading #amwriting

#MondayBlogs: Why I can’t wait for my son to be reading books #amreading #amwriting

I still remember my childhood, reading books

I face fierce competition in my strive to get my son to start reading books. Since the age of nine months, the iPad has been the most popular toy in our house. He’s not unlike other boys though, toys with sirens (particularly fire trucks) are always cool, and I don’t recall how many times we’ve driven by our local fire station just to make him smile. Spiderman is his (and many of his friends in school’s) favorite superhero, and there’s always a train track covering the floor of his bedroom. Plus Lego etc.

At some point we had to limit his iPad consumption, and mind you it’s not violent slasher videos he watches, but Peppa Pig (which Daddy despises with a vengeance), Ben & Holly, the Cat in the hat etc. Good kids entertainment. And for us parents, the iPad is a blessing. He gets up on a Saturday morning, grabs his iPad and crawls back under his covers to watch his cartoons without waking us. Needless to say, Pappa and Daddy are happy for the extra hours of sleep. During meals, between ten am and noon and from one-thirty to four pm, and always after seven pm, the iPad is disabled thanks to an app we have installed. And the great thing is, we can increase that time on the fly, or decrease if needed (long car drives, plane rides etc.)

Remember this? I doubt that very many millennials have seen one of these in real life. I believe this was the most popular program on our channels…

When I was a child, we had a handful of TV channels, and more often then not, in the afternoon or mornings, you’d see the “test screen” on your TV. There was simply no programming. Today, all channels broadcast 24×7 and there are more channels out there than you could ever wish for. At some point, my dad (he’s got a satellite receiver) had over 400 channels in his TV, making it virtually impossible to find anything valuable to watch. We’ve completely abandoned old-TV style watching, unless we want to watch NPR-news when something’s happened. Otherwise, we use our old DVD to watch one of our many hundred discs lying around the house, or it’s Netflix or something directly from Apple on our Apple TV. Books compete with a lot more media today than when I grew up.

But it’s not just more competition for books, it’s also (or so it seems to me) less time. When I was my son’s age, my mom was at home. A home maker she raised us until we “had to” go to pre-school at the age of six. My son began pre-school at the age of one due to both parents working. He’s already in his fourth “academic” year and he’s only four and a half years old. He has long days, starting at 6:30 am and he won’t be home until 4:00 pm today, often later. My school days began later, were shorter, which left me more time to play.

When I was able to read, I also began to read (and write). And while I can’t remember what books I read at what age, I recall the emotional impact of diving into different worlds, whether it was science-fiction with aliens and rockets and star ships, or to be transported across time and space to the old west and Karl May’s many books about cowboys and indians, with the Winnetou trilogy my childhood favorite, along with many others. It was that feeling of instantly being transported to a different place, imagining that place, the characters, living their adventures, following along on whatever track they were pursuing. It was so riveting, so fulfilling.

Reading books is still one of my favorite past times, even though I have less time for it now than ever before. But unlike TV or the big screen, where we get to watch one person’s imagination of whatever it is we’re watching, reading books allows us to fill the blanks ourselves. We get to design costumes, build sets, choose the actors to play the roles, we determine if the sun’s out or not in various scenes, and we get to hop from character to character and live vicariously through them.

My son's library. (Picture) books from several cultures, some new, some classics. My own childhood books are stored elsewhere.

My son’s library. (Picture) books from several cultures, some new, some classics. My own childhood books are stored elsewhere. We also read a book a week from my son’s school library.

I really want my son to experience that. I really do. And whenever we read a book together, usually before bedtime, it’s one of our best times together, as we both dive into a story, and you can tell which books excel at enabling children at this journey, and which don’t. My son goes to an amazing school, and every Friday, he brings back a new book from their library to read over the weekend. An amazing program for sure, and we usually send the book back Tuesday or Wednesday. We want to make sure he gets to read it at least twice and our weekends are often bookless, as he gets to stay up late because we’re out or watching a family movie together. But to read with Sascha, kid in my lap, even if we’ve read the same book one hundred times already, is always something special. And he already has a fair collection of books in six different languages: English, Swedish, German, Alemannic, Hindi & Raeto-Romansh.

Children have an almost limitless imagination. Once they reach scholastic age, that imagination is slowly but surely driven from them, until they are mostly grown-up automatons. As an artist, I managed to keep some of that imagination, that ability that allows me to think outside the box (to speak corporate for a second), to challenge status quos, see new ways to do things. I want my son to retain that ability, too, because it’s such a priceless gift. Just as he picks up a stick in the forest to be used as sword or magic wand, he can read books to transport him to strange new worlds or quaint places instantly, to learn and grow as a human being, to walk a mile in the shoes of those less fortunate, those utterly unlike him. And when he’s old enough, I hope he’ll read my books, too, including the one written specifically for him, because I have a hunch that his opinion is one I’ll cherish more than that of a Nobel Prize critic…

How did you get your kids to read? Do you find it hard to compete with TVs, phones and pads? Share your best tips here… If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week.

Thanks,

Hans

Gay Literature, or why I have a responsibility to write #LGBT #BiWeek #Alzheimers #ASMSG

Gay Literature, or why I have a responsibility to write #LGBT #BiWeek #Alzheimers #ASMSG

Hans, tell me, why do you write gay literature?

Actually, I don’t. I write stories (whether they qualify as literature is for others to judge). I write stories about life, stories to depict the human condition, showcase our humanity, the challenges we face, the struggles, the ups and downs of our lives. A long time ago, I had this discussion with my father about why I chose to write about gay characters (which isn’t the same as gay literature) rather than commercially more viable het characters. It’s a question I’ve wrestled with every time I write a new book, for five years straight.

I’ve always said that I write about gay characters because there aren’t enough stories for us, stories where my people are depicted, not as villains, clowns or freaks, but as human beings, just like everyone else. Here’s how my latest character, Hunter, a journalist, views is. An excerpt from Disease:

Disease, the cover, a novel by Hans M Hirschi

Disease, my new novel, about a father in his “best years”, who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

However, since I’m apparently not a “normal” parent, according to Connor, I have no clue how “normal” parents travel with their kids. I decide to call Emily. She’s “normal”—married to lovely Keith, a pleasant enough forty- something guy with a fully developed dad-bod, and they have two kids just a couple of years older than Amy. Emily is our sports editor. She travels, too. I’m sure she knows what it’s like when “normal” people travel.

“Sports desk. Emily speaking.”
“Hey, Em. It’s me, Hunter.”
“Hunter, hey. How are you doing? What can I do for you?” “It’s the assignment on travel Connor has me working on.

He wants me to write this piece on gay travel with kids. He seems to think we’re special somehow. And since I can’t figure out how, I thought I’d call you. You’re sort of normal, aren’t you?”

“He said what? That man is such a homophobic jerk. Shoot, what’s on your mind?”

“I don’t know. I honestly don’t know how straight, sorry, normal people travel. I mean, I always travel gay—on gay airlines, in gay economy seats, eat gay snacks, drink gay soda and gay beer. What does a heterosexual meal taste like? Are your heterosexual hotel rooms any different than ours?”

“Testy today, aren’t we?”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for you to get caught in the middle of this. It’s just that it’s such a moronic assignment. How am I different as a father than Keith? Do you know?”

Yeah, not easy, is it. The story is about Alzheimer’s, and Alzheimer’s doesn’t make a difference between gay patients or het patients, it doesn’t distinguish between Asians or Africans, Mexicans or Germans. It affects us all. It’s a human disease, and it’s growing, as the global population ages. However, society, and the way we are treated as we get sick, that’s different. Here’s how Ethan, Hunter’s partner, writes to us at some point in the story:

Just imagine, we could have finally gotten married. You have no idea what I would have given to turn Hunter’s fantasy wedding in Amalfi into a reality—to fly our family and friends out to Italy to wed the man of my dreams, the love of my life.

Just imagine Hunter finally being able to adopt his daughter, Amy, finally being able to say that his girl was truly his in every sense of the word, even legally.

Alas, it was not meant to be. The day when the Supreme Court handed down their landmark ruling that marriage equality was indeed the law of the land, and the entire land—Michigan included—was forced to start handing out marriage licenses to LGBT couples.

On the day itself, Hunter had a really bad day. I think that somewhere, deep within him, he instinctively felt that for us, this day would be of no consequence, as we would not be allowed to get married, anyway, as Hunter was no longer “of sound mind”— a prerequisite to enter the sacred state of matrimony. To ignore the day, to retreat into his own mind, was a coping mechanism of sorts.

No, I never envisioned writing “gay literature”, but I think I just had no choice. Our lives, our existence, to this very day, is so different from the rest that when a character is LGBT, so much around us changes, radically. And while my story doesn’t show a worst case scenario by a long shot, it could’ve been worse, as some U.S. states allow doctors to refuse LGBT patients care, or that simply being LGBT is lethal or illegal still, to this very day, in many countries across the world, and even in our protected “west”, there are political parties, groups and religious organizations who wish us ill.

No, I never wanted to write gay literature. I have a responsibility to highlight the ongoing discrimination against my people, my family. I am privileged. I have freedom of speech, I have the ability to put my thoughts in writing, and therefore the responsibility to speak up. It is, after all, still, to this very day, a matter of life and death.

If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a wonderful weekend.

Thanks,

Hans

PS: Tomorrow is Bi-visibility day. My publisher has a great sale going on with all their books with prominent bi-characters. There’s also a great giveaway. Check it out, right here.

 

#MondayBlogs: has our strive toward individualism gone too far?

#MondayBlogs: has our strive toward individualism gone too far?

Individualism and society: is there a balance that allows us to combine the two?

We (in the west) live in societies where the “I” or the “me, me, me” is more important than ever. Call it entitlement,  “human rights”, “civil rights” or whatever you find fitting for the situation (and I do NOT equate the terms). We are extremely individualistic societies, where each individual’s drive to maximize their own dreams and hopes are at the core. So far so good. However, sometimes, our drive to maximize our own “gain” or freedom clashes with what is best for society, that which all of us share together. Question is: is there a way to combine the two?

Allow me to exemplify: when I grew up, society and societal pressure was everywhere. It kept our societies relatively homogenous, individualism was frowned upon. Our freedom to express ourselves was limited. I recall the first wave of fashion with torn jeans, way back in the 1980s. I had just purchased my first pair when a lady on a bus glared at me and asked if I “couldn’t afford a whole pair of jeans?” I never wore them again. When two girls joined us at the central station of Zurich to depart on a four week language adventure in St. Malo back in 1983, both cried, having just been chewed out by their parents for having colored a lock (!) of hair, one in pink, the other in blue. A lock of hair! Not the entire head, mind you, just a lock. They were barely allowed to board the train. Over a colored lock. Today, nobody would bat an eyelash, for either things. Men color their hair, and even people my age still get to wear torn jeans. Nobody cares.

However, when it comes to other things, our liberal societies still find themselves in crosshairs. When two men or two women want to get married, the Christian right suddenly believes their own existence to be threatened. So there seems to be an aspect of individual liberty that affects others, or does it? I’ve followed the marriage equality debate in twenty-four countries, and the arguments are always the same. We are a threat to the very fabric of society, yet oddly, in the twenty-four countries who have marriage equality, nothing’s changed, no marriage has been adversely affected. The world is still spinning. The same will be true if and when Australia joins the civilized world as the twenty-fifth country, unless beaten to the punch by Chile…

On the other hand, there are things that disrupt society, and oddly they are often small things, such as parents not looking after their children in public, allowing them to behave pretty much any way they like, vandalism, feet on chairs on public transport etc. The English tried to make this illegal during the final Blairite years, and went too far (outlawing hoodies in public, duh!), but they were on to something important: have we, as societies, sacrificed our duties toward each other, the common good, for our individual, egotistical reasons? Because it’s too uncomfortable to tell a teen to take their feet off a chair on a bus, or to make sure our children don’t vandalize, or to make sure that we go to work, even if we don’t feel like it?

What do you think? I offer no solutions, but this is certainly something I think about a lot. Yesterday, we were picking mushrooms in a forest, and I saw this dump of old VHS tapes and DVDs, in the middle of the forest, some 50 ft from the nearest dirt road. Why? Why dump in the middle of nowhere? The poison released into the ground is just… #facepalm

 

Ross is bisexual, and most certainly a handyman I warmly recommend to anyone! 50% off this week as part of the #bivisibility week

How can we draw the line between the “common good” and individual rights? Has the pendulum swung too far toward individualism? Curious to hear what you think…

 

BUT, on to another topic, before I let you go for the week. My publisher is highlighting #bivisibility this week, in literature, with a great discount on all books with bisexual characters. Have a look: http://www.beatentrackpublishing.com/?ref=bivisibility

BUT, on to another topic, before I let you go for the week. My publisher is highlighting #bivisibility day on September 23, with a great discount on all books with bisexual characters. Have a look: http://www.beatentrackpublishing.com/?ref=bivisibility

There’s also a great Rafflecopter giveaway you may want to enter to win some great books:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Great offer, eh? Take advantage and find amazing reads. I know several of the authors and I can vouch for the quality! So what are you waiting for? 😉 If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a wonderful week.

Thanks,

Hans

Facial recognition: threat to our lives or a tool to simplify our lives? #LGBT #Apple #ASMSG

Facial recognition: threat to our lives or a tool to simplify our lives? #LGBT #Apple #ASMSG

Facial Recognition, right or wrong?

I was one of many who watched the Apple keynote on Tuesday. It’s become a bit of a family tradition for us, and needless to say, ten years after the initial iPhone launch, we were more than curious to see what they’d come up with. Ten years ago, I was still 100% based in PC land, with an Ericsson phone (yeah, right? Seems forever ago…) in my pocket. But the iPhone, when I first saw one live in early 2008, had me convinced, and my husband and I bought the 3G version. We’ve upgraded every two years since. The iPhone X with facial recognition instead of fingerprint ID looks amazing, and as Apple fans, we’re excited. However, that same week, we’d read articles in the news about a Stanford study of an algorithm with an uncanny “gaydar”, with up to 81% chance of identifying gay men from a picture.

Countless people have suffered badly from the pseudoscience called phrenology. Including the Sami people of Scandinavia, as I’ve described in Last Winter’s Snow. Does this mean that Facial Recognition is going to be as bad? Photo credit: From People’s Cyclopedia of Universal Knowledge (1883) and Wikimedia Commons.

This morning, I read an article which draws parallels between facial recognition software and nazi-time phrenology, where people’s abilities were supposedly determined by the shape of their skull. Debunked fake science, for sure, but even I was taken aback by the Standford study. Do we have reason to worry? First of all, let me just say that I’m surprised that this hasn’t been in the news before since Samsung and many android powered phones have been using facial recognition for some time. I guess this shows just how powerful Apple still is perceived to this day with their decisions to adopt a technology or not. Maybe it’s true that they are better than the rest. With regards to the use by Apple and the iPhone, it’s a matter of trust. Do you trust that your face measurements stay within the phone and aren’t transmitted to Apple servers? I can only answer that question for myself, and my trust in Apple is greater than my trust in say Google, whose entire business idea is based on extracting money from “data collection”…

But what about Facial Recognition per se? Well, I see it primarily as a tool, and just as any tool, it can be used to do good (protect my data, make my purchases more secure, allow me entry to another country etc.) or evil (the Stanford algorithm in the hands of evangelicals or Putin for instance). in the U.S. questions have been raised about forcing people to look at their phones by law enforcement to unlock their phones. Well, yes, that is obviously a threat, and legally, this isn’t resolved. Not there, not anywhere really. The technology is too new. However, law enforcement, if they have probable cause, can already search our devices, and the San Bernardino case shows that it is possible to even hack a relatively secure iPhone to get the data they want, even if the supplier (in that case Apple) doesn’t co-operate with the authorities for reasons of principle (which again goes to the whole trust issue).

Retina scans, facial recognition and other biometric features in e.g. passports have been in use for years. We don’t even flinch when we have our picture taken and our fingerprints scanned for our new passports, and when you use a kiosk to e.g. enter the U.S. or the EU, that data is scanned from live pictures and compared to the data stored in your passport, making it less likely that a passport is used by the wrong person. As the Stanford study shows, algorithms are better at comparing data than humans are. Changes in facial hair, hairdo, glasses etc. all have an impact on how we visually appear to an immigrations officer. Algorithms are less gullible.

As bad as nuclear weapons are, this is a photo of the planet’s first nuclear explosion, we also use nuclear power to power our Teslas… Just saying. Photo credit: Jack W. Aeby, July 16, 1945, Civilian worker at Los Alamos laboratory, working under the aegis of the Manhattan Project.

But as easily as algorithms can be used for good, so is their potential for use for nefarious purposes. The Manhattan Project is just one example for that. As a member of the LGBT community, I worry, of course, that countries, where we are persecuted, are going to use such technology against us. Ethics should always be discussed. However, using facial recognition in a phone won’t change that, either way. We don’t stop using knives to cut our food even though that same tool can be used to cause terrible harm to others. It’s illegal, period.

The problem with facial recognition or the Stanford algorithm isn’t the algorithm (which quite to the contrary actually proves that the gaydar is a real thing…) per se, it’s the fact that homosexuality and members of the LGBT community are still illegal and persecuted. It’s the legislation that is problematic, not a tool to identify us. Throughout history, nefarious groups have always found ways to “identify” us, even without technology, through e.g. infiltration etc., while we’ve found ways to try and hide, e.g. through marriage.

I welcome the advent of facial recognition and the applications it offers to us. Immigration kiosks shave valuable time off my entry to other countries, and the new iPhone technology will allow me to pay in stores, log into my bank account and other secure applications much more easily and securely (according to Apple, facial recognition is 20 times less likely to be fooled than a fingerprint). It makes my life easier and simpler. I welcome that. As for the threats, and I don’t deny their existence, they haven’t become any worse because of Apple’s adoption of the technology. We need to call out bigotry, homophobia, transphobia etc. wherever we see it.

What is your take? Curse or blessing?

If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great weekend.

Thanks,

Hans

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