Back from vacation, back in the saddle
Words! So powerful. As authors, we use them to create entire worlds. We elicit the strongest of emotions with them. We make people laugh out loud, we make them cry, we kidnap their attention for hours on end. As a linguist, I’m also painfully aware of the flipside of words, how deceptive they can be. That which may be oh so obvious to me may hold entirely different connotations, different meaning to someone else. Words can cause pain, intended or not.
Front cover of my coming children’s book “The Dragon Princess” about love being love. I love the way Felicity Swan has interpreted my text.
A month ago, I wrote a blog post which caused pain, completely unintended of course. For that, I would like to apologize. I have no control over people’s reactions, how people feel, how they choose to interpret my words. I most certainly did not intend to cause pain or even tears as it were in some cases. It’s been a month and the reactions still sometimes keep me awake at night. Some might find that a small consolation.
I stand by my message
I worked a long time on that blog post, and re-read it countless times. I do not regret writing it (quite the contrary) nor the message I tried to convey. You can go back on this blog and see that I have tried (unsuccessfully) to address the issue of appropriation and misrepresentation of gay men many times before, just as I have highlighted the importance of romance novels.
Sadly, to hold meaningful discourse this day and age is extremely difficult, not just within the confines of literature. In the past, when I’d use temperate words, I would simply be ignored, or patted on the back, and even though I really try hard to always see both sides of any issue, and after having thought to have built credibility in the industry over the years, I finally realized that you need to shout to be heard. That makes me sad. My message isn’t new, the delivery was. The shouting that came back, however, was somewhat unexpected. I’ll readily admit to that.
My second shitstorm, and what a shitstorm it was/is. Emotionally, it’s been difficult. Luckily, I left for a long vacation just a couple of days after publication and while I stayed away from most of it, the threats (including death) against me and my family caused me several sleepless nights. Thank big pharma for sleeping pills! Financially, it’s been a boon, as I’m literally saving thousands of dollars, euros and pounds that I was sponsoring MM events with, money swiftly returned to me as my name has apparently become so toxic that I’ve been declared persona non grata across the entire “mm” community. I choose to wear that epithet with pride. My family is most grateful for those funds that will be put to good use elsewhere. Always holes to stuff when you have small kids!
Let’s get things straight (for once…)
My coming fantasy novel is the first book in a planned series of three. A story for youths and teens primarily dealing with the big threats our planet is dealing with today.
I do feel strongly that I need to clarify a few things that have been claimed in the comments to the post and from (what I heard through the grapevine) online:
- I do not hate women. Nothing could be further from the truth. My issue is with the misrepresentation and appropriation of gay men in MM, not the genitals of the person doing it. Dicks can be dicks, too, just saying!
- I do not advocate censorship. We must make a distinction between our right to speak and our right to critique the message. I may not believe that some things should be said/written/published, but that is not the same thing as advocating to stop people from doing so. It is a most important distinction. The only time I may be advocating restrictions to free speech is when it directly incites violence.
There is a lot more I would like to say, could say, but at this stage, I won’t. I just don’t think I can find the appropriate words when everything I say can and will be used against me… The issues at hand are extremely complex and branch out into many different directions, from women’s rights to the definition of community and discourse in our time. Many issues need to be discussed, e.g. as we currently do within my publisher’s circle: the underrepresentation of women, non-binary and other main characters in fiction.
So many important, difficult and complex issues to discuss and analyze. For the time being, I will try to limit my contributions to smaller circles, where people are given the benefit of the doubt.
Last night, we returned from our annual summer vacation and I really want to get back to my work and try to put this behind me. I never felt I was part of the MM community, and now I have that in writing. My next two books are so far removed from everything “MM” that it will help cement that reputation: my children’s book “The Dragon Princess” and the first book in a fantasy youth series called “The Golden One”. I’ll be working hard on those two over the coming weeks.
2018 “pride” month is over and we’re in the first of eleven straight months
That’s probably the first thing straight people will react to, a “straight month”, what’s that? Well, that’s what the LGBT community lives through when it’s not Pride day, week or – in the US – month. It’s our everyday life. Someone told me just today that “I can understand how gay people would only ever read gay fiction…” I’ve yet to meet that person. I doubt they exist. Why? School! Tell me a single school where gay literature is an integral part of the school’s curriculum, where “LGBT” isn’t just confined to sex ed, or being damned and banned altogether. We’ve all grown up watching straight TV, straight movies, playing straight games, seeing straight couples everywhere and, yes, reading straight literature, from our kids’ books to adult literature. Straight people don’t realize it, but the world is awfully straight. Everywhere. It’s a wonder we turn out alright after all that brainwashing. LOL
There is a lot on my mind these days, and I’ve reached a point in my life where I am once again enraged. Not just by the injustices against my people in barbaric countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran or Russia, but so-called civilized countries like the UK, where the minister in question thinks it’s perfectly okay for “female only” events to ban trans women or the US, where… Yeah, let’s not ruin the mood completely, shall we?
Worst kind of “con crud”…
A couple of weeks ago, I returned from a convention for LGBT writers, and while there was a significant LGBT representation there, most of the attending authors and readers were not (which per se would not be a problem), and at one point, when discussions began to circle around “mpreg” (the in-word for male pregnancy, and we’re not talking about trans men here!), I had to leave the room. So much of the “m/m” world is so badly homophobic that I became physically ill. When later in the evening, we were discussing an upcoming panel at another convention, the “male writer panel” was quickly identified as “that’s where we learn the mechanics of it all…” Let’s just say if that’s going to be the case, despite assurances by the organizer to the contrary, I’ll leave that panel. But let’s face it, as a man, a gay man, in “this genre” (generally depicting male-male romances, which are nothing but reading material for women to get off) I have long ago been reduced to a sex toy, or – alternatively – an instructor to teach straight women the basics of anal sex, since you can’t ask questions on porn channels. Dare I open my mouth, I’m told to shut my filthy trap and stop mansplaining.
And so I shut my filthy trap and make fists in private, for the longest time. I dared not speak up against penises as swag, at “cock-walks” which aren’t about roosters or all those perfect half-naked specimens of male models on the covers, or all the porn actors that dance around some authors like flies drawn to the … I’ve once wondered why it always had to be porn actors and not regular teachers, or mechanics, bakers or homemakers. I guess we’re not good enough masturbation material, and we most certainly suck at being PR material when it’s time to sell our latest oeuvre… Nothing wrong with porn actors per se. I’m sure they’re nice people like the rest of us, but let’s not fool ourselves. The interest in their personalities is about as deep as someones next orgasm. “I know a porn star!” Well good for you. I know many human beings, regardless of their profession, but I don’t collect them by profession.
“You hate romance, that’s why…”
If anyone were to actually read this, I’d be accused of hating romance, and they might not be entirely wrong. I’ve really begun to dislike the genre as a whole, but not because I dislike love stories, it’s because of the many rules regarding sex in romance and particularly the appropriation of gay men in M/M. Just the other day someone told me they read M/M because the het equivalent (which I depict F/M (but predictably, women put the men first and call it M/F) wasn’t realistic enough… Yeah right, I can totally see that… If a grandmother came home with her bullied grandchild from school, a child she looks after because her daughter is dead, a child she had to pick up from the principal’s office, would you deem it realistic if she sent said child to their room to be able to fuck her lover? No, of course not. No sensible female would do that, right? Totally unrealistic. She’d (rightly) be expected to realistically comfort that child, look after them, send loverboy on his merry way. But the gay grandfather in the M/M? Sure, let him be fucked brainless by the ex-Seal from across the street. It was, after all, time for that sex scene in the chapter, right? We can’t disappoint our readers now, can we? Totally believable, and so realistic. Who really cares about the grandchild. Move away, orgasm on the way here. Men are sex pigs after all. Especially those gay guys. They’re the worst. We’ve all seen it, haven’t we? Redtube, Pornhub, those CockyBoys… Totally “realistic”! NOT! #DNF
I’m enraged. I’m enraged because so many of the 130,000 books on Amazon that supposedly are about LGBT people, in fact, aren’t. The men in those books aren’t real, they’re about as real as vampires or shapeshifters, probably less so. Gay men (and more) have been appropriated by mostly het white women to make money. They color their hair and nails in rainbow colors, but if you point out to them that their depictions aren’t realistic, you’re labeled a male chauvinist pig and you better stop mansplaining them, and besides, and I quote “M/M is a fantasy, created by women for women, not men!” My favorite defense of all times when faced with criticism of how they write about gay men: “I have a gay friend.” #facepalm
So where do stories about real men go? Those of us (regardless of gender) who write outside the M/M sea label them “gay fiction”, but now even that is contested because some of the M/M authors claim that if “M/M is about fiction primarily for women, then I’m not an M/M author. I write gay fiction!” Thank you very much. Now you’ve just taken our last refuge. I feel like the proverbial Indian being evicted from his reservation! No offense to my native American friends, but you get the point. These people don’t care about us, they care about their balance sheet, and gay men are the pen(ises) to balance their checkbook. #CulturalAppropriation
Great stories are lost in the vast sea of M/M. Books worth reading are like grains of sand on a beach. How do you know which is which? #NeedleInAHaystack
Actually, I don’t, but don’t let that stop you from saying so anyway…
What makes it so heartbreakingly difficult is the fact that there are some truly amazing gay romance stories out there, that there are authors, men, women, others, gay, straight, bi, other, who pour their life’s blood into each and every book they write. People who do their research, people who know what they’re writing about. I think I’ve said it before that I’m no big fan of #ownvoices because we’d never have seen characters like Othello, Romeo, Julia, Lady Macbeth or Hamlet see the light of day at Skakespeare’s hands if #ownvoices were da shit, because: how dare he write them? He was white, not black, like Othello, a dude, not a girl like Julia, a man, not a boy like Romeo, not evil like Lady Macbeth or Danish, like Hamlet. Empathy is every great author’s tool. And therefore any great het writer should be able to bring gay characters to life. There is precedent, just saying. However, in the romance genre, the rules are followed all too rigidly by far too many, strange reader expectations and author desires for a quick buck are dangerous ingredients in a foul-smelling blend.
It’s difficult to explain to an outsider how it feels to be appropriated by another group for their (sexual) amusement. Insiders have tried, like this great author friend of mine. Authors using cock-shaped key chains as swag. I ask you this: if men showed up at an RWA convention with cunt-shaped swag, would you laugh hysterically, jump up and down and scream “OMG I need one of those!”? If I were to collect money for say, a charity to benefit abused women, auctioning off countless cunt shaped objects, quilts, macramé, pottery etc., would you find that amusing? Or if I’d invite Stormy Daniels to perform at the RWA gala dinner, dangling her tits over your entré? Titillating? Would you be able to keep your hands in check or would they be all over her? What if I wrote erotica (!) where the intestines and vaginal tracts of the heroine were torn apart (literally!) again, and again, and again by (take your pick) dinosaurs, dragons or ancient gods only to magically heal by divine power or the “magic” semen of the male beast in dub-con/non-con (I call it for what it is, rape) scene after scene? Book after book?
Allow me to exemplify…
In M/M, that’s not only possible, chances are the bottom ends up magically pregnant, not to mention that all is forgiven and they end up happily ever after in the end. This is of course also true for the trans woman who is so badly injured by her rapist that she is hospitalized for months (!!!), hanging on to life by a thread. Needless to say, she ends up moving in with her rapist in the end. Why did he rape her? He was upset she had certain dangly parts left… Totally believable, right? Transphobia & rape, all beautifully wrapped on KU for Her to get off. I have read things in M/M that have left me traumatized for life, and these are just a few of the examples.
It’s weird, you know, attending an LGBT writing conference, listening to a panel about diversity (a good panel, mind you, nothing wrong with that), and how we should be more inclusive of mental disease, ethnicity, age etc. and how important it was for, and I quote “accurate and true representation”. Yet I sit in the audience and wonder, why doesn’t that basic and healthy concept of “accurate and true representation” which these panels demand for just about every nuance under the limitless rainbow, why does this basic concept not apply to gay or bisexual men? Why is it okay to see us pregnant even though so many of us are involuntarily childless, suffering that pain, that emptiness, day after day for our entire lives. To be reminded of that in fiction, callously shortened as mpreg is, is utterly disgusting and heartless, and no matter what attempts at justification these authors and readers may offer, there can be none. Why is it okay for men to be “gay for you” even though there is no such thing in real life. We’re all on a spectrum between the two poles. Denying that, to maintain that “illusion” of heterosexuality, simply because it has a higher status? Shame on you. Your homo- / biphobia disgust me! True representation? My ass! #outrage
Life is rarely simple. I know some amazing authors, but they make bad friends in real life. I know some really crap authors (with regards to the above), yet they’re good people. The same can be said about readers. Such is life. I am angry, really pissed off, but this post isn’t about you, not you personally anyway. Chances are it might just be about your reading choices or your writing decisions, but it’s not a judgment of you as a human being. Most likely I don’t know you personally, and even if I do, it’s probably superficially at best, from social media or a brief hello at a conference. So please, as you go through various emotional reactions to this post, keep that in mind. Most people are kind, some are simply ignorant. Some never actually think about the ramifications of their actions, what signals they send. I was once told by a reader of these rape books that she “liked her men to suffer, just as she had once suffered at the hands of her rapist, and then some, just for good measure.” Revenge is a dish best served horny, it seems. Might I suggest a slightly more constructive choice of therapy? Counseling maybe? I understand the pain of rape far too well (#MeToo), and if writing helps you cope, heal? Great. But does it have to be published? And why do you feel the need to punish gay men for your heterosexual rape?
Think about this for a moment…
In closing: yes, I’m angry, furious at a literary world where gay men are reduced to vibrators, and I’m incredibly saddened that this happens while my people in the real world still fight for their lives, their dignity, and their happiness. Think about it, for every sex scene that you jerked off to in your latest M/M, a gay man was hung in Iran, flogged in Saudi Arabia, tortured in Chechnya, imprisoned in Uganda, thrown off a roof-top in Syria, fired for getting married in America, disappeared forever in Russia, or China; stoned in Afghanistan, burned with acid in Pakistan, mass raped by an angry village mob in rural India, denied to adopt his partner’s child in Poland, or killed outside a gay club in London. I could go on and on (and I’ve said nothing about my sisters, bisexuals or trans/intersex people who all suffer through variations or hells similar–or worse–to ours.)
Yes, the (LGBT) world needs positive stories, we need romance, we need love. What we don’t need is to be reduced to toy boys for your reading and masturbation pleasure (or bank account.) Can we at least agree on that?
Hans M Hirschi
Writer of gay and LGBT fiction
Migration is a symptom, not the root cause. We should focus on that instead
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” From “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus
I often think of these two lines from the famous poem, engraved at the foot of the Statue of Liberty in the harbor of New York City. The statue represents, to me, everything that is good about humanity, and Ms. Lazarus perfectly captured the essence of the welcome to New York, Ellis Island and the promise of America, the promise of the Land of the Free, the Land of the Brave, the American Dream.
Why do people migrate?
Nothing symbolizes the promise of America like the Statue of Liberty, as she stands proudly in the harbor of New York. Yet never before has this promise been as threatened as it is now.
I’ve asked myself that question more often than not in these past weeks, months and years, ever since we Europeans saw the biggest refugee crisis since probably World War II at our shores, as the Syrian War escalated and millions left the country, fleeing to Europe. These days, we reap the crops from the seeds that were sown in 2015: every election, in every European country, is all about migration.
In the U.S., where–for now–the Statue of Liberty still shines her lamp at night, a man got elected into the White House on the back of a promise to end migration, the very core of America’s success, to build a formidable, “beautiful” wall along America’s southern borders. And we’ve seen the pictures and reports from the Texan border, where parents are separated from their children. Children which are kept in cages, kids as young as two to four years of age.
This makes me wonder. Migration? Why on earth would we migrate? I don’t have all the answers, of course, but humanity has always been migrating. If we hadn’t, we’d still be living on the edge of rainforest and savannah in Africa, and who knows, maybe Earth had been a more peaceful place.
But migration seems to be part of human DNA, this insatiable curiosity for discovery, learning new things, exploring new realms. It’s led to humanity populating every last corner of our planet, including places I personally wouldn’t want to live in, including the Arctics, the desserts of South Africa, the Amazon jungle or Australia’s red center. But for the people who migrated there from Africa eons ago, it’s home.
Most humans aren’t migrating voluntarily…
But curiosity isn’t the only reason why we migrate, or else farming wouldn’t have become a trade. We’d all still be hunters and gatherers. And we wouldn’t be having this discussion in the first place. When our ancestors reached the shores of Alaska, Australia, the Pacific Islands, the Andes, the Amazon basin, Scandinavia etc. they settled down. They developed distinct cultures based on what the land provided, and from those early ancestors, beautiful cultures evolved: Inkas, Mayas, Inuit, Sami, Aboriginal, Samoan etc. Too many to count them all.
So we do we see migration today? Shouldn’t it all be bliss then? Well, apart from those among us who have that migratory gene, some of us humans are forced to migrate for two other reasons: 1) threats to our lives and 2) inability to survive on the land/provide for ourselves. While the distinction may seem semantic, or intellectual, from a legal point of view, it is an important one: the former entitles you to the status of a refugee under United Nation conventions, the latter does not.
In the (filthy) rich west, we seem to have forgotten what it is like not to have that daily meal on the table, we seem to have forgotten what it means to risk life for speaking our minds, praying to the wrong gods, looking suspicious or loving the wrong person. We seem to have forgotten what it is like to be persecuted, hunted, just for who we are. But it’s all coming back to us now.
Empathy is the key to understanding migration
To understand migration, we need to understand the root causes. I may never know why Mr. Trump’s granddaddy left Bavaria for a life in America. Maybe he harbored thoughts that may have become a threat to his life or maybe he merely wished for a better life for himself and his family in America. He wouldn’t be the only one, because let’s not forget: all Americans today, par first nation members, are immigrants, and the vast majority came to America, not because of persecution, but to seek a better life, i.e. 2) above, that which is not protected by those important UN laws.
When you see central American refugees at the Mexico-US border today, they are there for the same two reasons. They didn’t leave because they wanted to, but because they saw no other reason, either because they were persecuted for being a minority or because they couldn’t provide for their families. So they pack their meager belongings and head north to the promised land, just as every white person in America once did. Now think about it: “how would you react if you were in the same situation?” In the case of my American friends, why did your ancestors leave your home countries?
Fight the root cause instead
Sadly, rather than fighting the causes that make people leave their countries, we fight the refugees. The U.S. treatment of children at its borders is inhumane, but I guess it’s easier than tackling the corrupt regimes in Central America. And the EU does nothing to stop the war in Syria, which is the main reason why people flee the country. Admittedly, the situation there is very complex and Europe has little leverage over a war fought between essentially Russia and the U.S., but maybe it was time we presented Trump with the bill for what the refugees cost us next time he reminds us of our debts to NATO?
The other big wave of immigration is from Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa. Both regions suffer greatly from corrupt regimes, and both are –at their roots–due to Western imperialism. Be it French or English colonies, it’s not surprising that many people in those regions look to Europe, France, and the UK for delivery from governments unwilling to provide for its people. Just today I was reached by the news that ethnic cleansing is rampant in Kamerun, a country historically linked to both the UK and France, with a French and an English speaking part. They’re now at each other’s throats. But the EU does nothing.
Why it’s easier to fix North Korea than say Iran
Fixing the root cause of migration isn’t easy. I’m not naïve. It’s also the reason why Trump chooses to meet with Kim and not Ayatollah Khamenei, even though a meeting with the latter would be more promising. Iran is, for all intents and purposes an open country, a country with rule of law, a democracy even, to a degree. North Korea isn’t. Kim is a ruler in the image of the best in Europe: Charlemagne, Louis XIV, or Henry XVIII. He need never ask his people for permission to do anything. Khamenei was brought to power thanks to a revolution by the people, to end the oppression of a ruler who was held in power by, at least partially, the U.S. The fact that many Persians abhor the U.S. is found right there. Iran is a proud country, with a history dating back thousands of years and having faced the west again and again ever since Alexander the Great. Lots of reasons not to trust us. But as swiftly as Khamenei and his ayatollahs came to power, as swiftly they could be removed again if they lost the support of the Iranian people. A sign of the openness perhaps, but not all Iranians dislike their government…
Whereas in North Korea, the situation is different. The people hardly have any information, the country is completely isolated, and the memories of American troops moving through the country north toward the Chinese border in 1952 are still alive among the elder. They genuinely fear America, from first-hand contacts (and decades of propaganda since.) But if that one propaganda channel suddenly changes its tune? If the leader suddenly smiles with Trump and shakes hands? Needless to say, reality is complex, in both cases, but there are reasons why people act the way they do.
To build trust in North Korea takes one person: Kim Jong-Un. In Iran, Trump would have to convince an entire people. That takes time. In Guatemala for instance, it would take years of working to strengthen the economy, fight corruption on every level of government, empower first nation initiatives etc. to stem the flow of refugees from that country. Makes for lousy tweets, boring Instagram updates, few likes on Facebook. Hence of little interest to the new generation of politicians like Trump, Orban, Söder, Farage, Kazcynsky et al.
Nobody wants migration unless want to themselves, or have to…
This is my personal story of “migration”. Luckily it was only a nightmare, but I promise you, waking from it was a great relief. Free for you to read and contemplate.
I am an immigrant myself. I left my birth country of Switzerland for primarily political reasons. I moved to Sweden because it was more open to people like myself, more open to the idea of Europe. I got to stay not because they sympathized with me, but because I met a Swede. Humans like me have always been around, we’ve never really seen borders as anything but hurdles to overcome. But for most of us, my family and relatives included, migration is not on the menu. We are close to our homeland, our own town or village. We rarely travel beyond county lines, and even when we take that charter vacation once a year we come home, applaud a safe landing and exclaim “borta bra, hemma bäst!” (Swedish proverb: good to be gone, better to come home)
Unless war comes, or a famine, and we suddenly find ourselves fleeing for our lives. Not primarily for our own sakes, but that of our partners, our parents, and our children. So think about it, what would you do? Would you flee if you hoped to be able to provide for your family elsewhere? I would. As an author, I am privileged to host a healthy dose of imagination in my brain. It once ran amok after the Russian invasion of the Crimea and the (still) looming threat of further aggression in the West. My story “Nightmare” is the result. You can read it for free, right here, or read it along with several other short stories here.
Why are we arguing over this?
The arrival of large groups of people, numbers likely to grow exponentially once our oceans rise significantly due to global warming, is–no doubt–a threat to Western societies, our way of life, our wealth, beyond the threat from home-grown extremists. Suddenly, we must make tough choices of paying for that extra opera performance or paying for beds for refugees. A new playground for our kids or a classroom for the new arrivals. Some politicians, always looking for short-term optimization of media coverage and thus an uptick in approval rates or votes will do whatever it takes to vilify migrants. Us against them is an easy sell, certainly easier than justifying investing in Africa or Central America, closing borders seem so much more effective and media savvy than behind the doors pressure on an African dictator or two. We built the EU to stop that, to tear down borders, allow for free migration of our people, only we forgot that Europe is no island. We’re not alone. And many members bring a dark past along, former colonies eying our riches, people seeing opportunities for themselves and their families. We really cannot blame them for that. We would do the same. Many of us have already done that, or have ancestors who did, ten, one hundred, one thousand years ago. The best way to stop migration is to remove the need for it. If people can safely and peacefully provide for their families in their own countries, 99.99% won’t want to leave. The handful that still comes will continue to enrich all our cultures.
As always, if you like my blog or my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great day and don’t be shy: your experiences and comments are valuable and most welcome.
Hans M Hirschi
Depression is a very common affliction, and we all can suffer from it during our lifetime
I’ve had better days, and nights. When you’re contacted by friends, as you’re brushing your teeth, getting ready for bed, alerted to a publicly posted suicide note from a close friend, your entire being goes into crisis mode, and for the next four hours, I spoke to suicide hotlines, the police, family, friends, and acquaintances, scrambling my tired synapsis trying to find clues as to where said friend might be, what he might do, how. This isn’t the first time I’m in this situation. About four years ago, shortly after we had visited a close friend in Los Angeles with our newborn son, barbecued in his yard and spent a great day, we had a conversation on the phone where said friend announced that he was done with life. He suffered from depression and had attempted suicide in the past. I knew that. I also knew he medicated and thought he was fine. Panicking, nine time zones away, I contacted a local suicide prevention program and asked them to reach out. That night, I lost a friend. He never forgave me for making that call. A call that could’ve saved his life, had it been serious.
No choice really
I lost a friend. That is fine. Because he is fine. Healthy, he met a guy, got married and moved to San Francisco. But he never forgave me for making that call because suicide is illegal in California and failing can get you in jail… All is well, which is really all I could ask for. Depression is a vicious disease. Anyone can get it, and we all are depressed from time to time. The difference between suffering from Depression and “just” being depressed is significant. We all have our lows every now and then, but when you’re clinically depressed, the effects are deeper and they last.
Picture depression like a black hole in the ground. You call in, you realize it’s not very deep and you climb out again. Sure, you may have scraped your knees, bloodied your hands, and you’re dirty, needing to wash your clothes, but all in all, you’re none worse for the wear. For someone with clinical depression, when they fall into that same hole, they can’t get out. They are unable to feel the ground underneath their feet, and they feel as if they keep falling, i.e. things are getting worse. There seems to be no way out of it, no end (no positive end anyway), and they can’t grab a hold of the walls and climb out. Everything is slippery and wet, they can’t get a foothold anywhere. They just tumble and for every step they DO take, they fall right back in.
Therapy, medication help
This is where therapy and medication come in handy. They provide a steppingstone, a foothold. They “dry” the walls of the hole, enabling the patient to climb out of it, to see normalcy again. Because that’s what this is mostly about: outlook. I, like most people, have been depressed. Not clinically, but you know, down, really down. And you know what? It’s easy to let yourself fall, once you fall. You escalate any and all disagreement, you choose to view anything negatively, even though you probably might view it as something positive if your mind frame were different. Depression, like most mental afflictions, is about our thought process, how we interpret the signals around, and we have a choice. When depressed, that choice seems mute, impossible.
For someone who’s healthy and “normal” (as in occurring in relatively frequent numbers, not better!), it seems that making the choice of interpretation should be easy. Duh! But for someone with a bout of depression, it’s not. I get that. I’m an author, I’m surrounded by a lot of artists, and we are prone to mental afflictions. Always have been. There are good reasons for that. As authors and artists in general, we need to be able to reach the depths of human emotion in order to transform those emotions into paintings, music, sculptures, and books. Therefore, we are in great sync with our emotions. You’d be surprised by the number of artists with mental afflictions, or rather, meeting someone who claims to be “healthy”. It makes you wonder if they’re merely faking it.
And faking it, they might. Simply because there is still so much stigma associated with mental health, or the lack thereof. Even though nobody’s ashamed of admitting to hay fever, asthma or having a cold.
The downward spiral of depression
People with depression are often jovial to the outside world, they put on a brave and happy face. My friend, the one who ‘ruined’ my sleep the other night, is never seen with a serious face on any photograph. He’s got a bubbly, happy personality, and he often expresses his gratitude for all the chances he’s been given in life. As a good friend, I know it’s just a facade, a Potemkin one at that, hiding the truth of an existence most of us wouldn’t dream of in a nightmare. A difficult life.
The challenge for many people with depression is their inability to get help. The need to keeping up appearances (for whatever reason) is so strong, the willingness to acknowledge the problem so strong that they let themselves sink deeper and deeper to the point where they see no way out but to give up completely, and bow out of life. I don’t mind people ending their life, in principle. When you’re old and terminally ill, why not. We do it with our beloved pets. Better for them, better for us.
What about those around you?
But to take your life when you’re young? Physically healthy? There’s really no reason to (and I refuse to make any religious arguments here, because “Harry Potter”, who cares what he has to say on the subject) except that the patient feels as if they’re this great big burden on people. They can’t, they refuse to see the other side of the medal: family, friends.
I was telling my son about my friend and how sick he was and that he was all alone in this big city. Sascha, with the wisdom of a five-year-old, responded: “but how can he be lonely with so many people?” That is exactly the point, isn’t it? Not just as a problem with our society in general where New York feels lonelier than a tiny island with 1,400 inhabitants like ours or that someone in a depression isn’t even capable of seeing their own friends and family as present anymore if they’re not physically in the room. It’s so easy to be lonely. It’s so easy to choose not to dial a number. So simple not to. To just watch this star die, or that one. To get sucked deeper into the abyss that is depression. Not to reach out. Not to cry because one is strong really, while inside the shards of ones broken existence are cutting fresh, bleeding wounds.
It’s easy to believe that the world would be a better place without me. The pain within getting stronger, the loneliness outside palpable, physical. The decision easy. The deed as well. You write that note and you leave…
But you’re not alone…
The reactions to that note were amazing, at least from my vantage point. So many people reached out. It surprised me that one human being could be cared for by so many. So many who would miss him. No, we no longer live in a village where you see people every day, where you meet them on the way to the bathroom even. Our modern world works differently, less physical, more online. For better or worse. Calls were made, the police were alerted. Friends who had only known ‘of’ each other began to communicate. We worried, we shared, we searched. Friends spoke to family, for the first time, ever.
Finally, he was found. Alive and well. He’s now in the care of professionals. I’m glad and I felt great relief. And as my tensions released, I realized how stiff my body was, how everything hurt, headaches and just how exhausted and tired I was. Not just from lack of sleep, but from the tension, the nightmares (author here, remember? Great imagination) and the fear. When it all came tumbling down, I took a sleeping pill and went to bed. Next morning, I’m still tired, my body still aches, but at least my mind is at peace.
I speak not for myself…
I’m not the only one who cried tears of relief yesterday. A mother, a father, siblings and relatives cried, too. So did friends on every continent: Australia, America, Asia, Africa & Europe. I know that some will read this who are aware of the situation and the names of the parties involved. It is not my intention to reveal them. What I hope this post will achieve is to serve as a beacon, to others who feel they are on the verge of slipping into that hole. Don’t let yourself fall. Fight! Talk to someone. The sooner the better. You would be astonished at the great compassion humans can exhibit, if you only ask.
Call a suicide hotline. I won’t list any because every continent, every country, and every city have them, in some shape or form. Just google. Make that call. Ask for help, because even if you feel that you have nothing left to contribute, your family, your friends do, and they would miss you terribly.
If you’re young, and LGBT…
I heard your “but my family…” the second I typed the word. Yes, I know. And I understand you perfectly. You’re young, very young, still at home, and you have no friends (yet) to talk to and your mom and dad hate you for what you are, they mourn that which you can never be, they threaten you to become something you know you aren’t. I understand. Been there! It is pride month in the world, and in some countries, we feel as if we’ve accomplished it all, yet there are still so many families out there where children keep the lock to their closets close to their hearts, where society shuns you. In the words of the Trevor project: “It gets better!” Call them, talk to an understanding youth organization. Reach out, get help. You are NOT alone. Our family is big, and we are strong, and even stronger together. I will never turn away an LGBT youth in need, but I cannot be everywhere. Make that call, you are not alone. That is my solemn promise. It’s worth it.
To my friends with depression and other mental afflictions: know that I love you and that I am grateful for your contribution to my life. I support you in your quest to feel better, to become stronger, for your strength to fight the demons.
As always, if you like my blog or my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great day and don’t be shy: your experiences and comments are valuable and most welcome.
Hans M Hirschi
Pride month brings up calls for #ownvoices, but why?
June means pride month, not just my birthday. And already, just six days into this year’s June, we have great news from the European Court of Justice, and the Bermudian Supreme Court, along with a Salomonian verdict from SCOTUS. Congratulations, we all get what we deserve!
Pride and #ownvoices
Pride month always means a lot of people talk about #ownvoices. I’ve always been a skeptic of that concept, not just because I often write about minorities other than my own (blacks, Sami, Latinos, disabled people, etc.) but also because I disagree with the whole concept of #ownvoices as a matter of principle. This has gotten me into the hot seat before, with hateful messages and threats on Twitter because I wouldn’t promise and LGBT Maori to never, ever, write about them in one of my books. I refused, for two reasons: a) it is my right, protected by the constitution of Sweden (and New Zealand), to express my thoughts freely, without prior censorship. Freedom of speech is an important right many of us have died for and still do, in countries where speaking your mind can get you killed. Why would I give it up freely just to please someone else, someone who isn’t hurt in any way shape or form by my voice? No, thank you. But more importantly, I believe that b) a great author must be capable of writing about any person, any group. How else could Shakespeare write about Italians? How dare he, Englishman as he was? How could Stephen King write about Annie Wilkes in Misery? Clearly, with the strict #ownvoices argument, a man can never write about women. It couldn’t be #ownvoices.
The (futile) hunt for #ownvoices in LGBT fiction
The struggle for love never ends, and it is in these the darkest of times, that our resolve to love is tested the most.
#ownvoices is a foreign concept to me, even though I’m currently (read “Pride month”) featured on a daily level on Facebook and Twitter by readers and fans as one of many #ownvoices with regards to gay fiction. But let’s look at this for a moment: does the fact that I, a gay man, write gay fiction, make me a better writer than the hundreds of straight women who do the same? Or is it the fact that 90+% of what most consider LGBT fiction out there has NOTHING to do with the reality of gay men? “M/M romance” was never meant to be about gay life, and gay authors are told again and again: “m/m are stories from str8 women for str8 women and you [i.e. gay men] better know your place and shut up! (Not my words, but I, along with many other gay writers, have been told so on numerous occasions.) It’s a genre so filled with preconceptions, prejudice and false assumptions about gay men that I have long ago stopped taking it seriously.
Some readers (men, women, gay and otherwise) understand that, and they look for “realness” (thank you mama Ru!), for genuine stories about the lives we live, to celebrate LGBT authors during Pride month. To find those stories is hard, impossible even, given that we’re just grains of sand on a vast beach. The proverbial needle in the haystack.
Is #ownvoices not fiction?
In one of those discussions, I came across this passage from a straight female author:
I also do not write #ownvoice stories. I consider my books to be fiction.
This had me puzzled because #ownvoices is fiction, unless it’s a biography (and even then… We’ve all read those, and often enough, they seem more fictitious than based on reality.) So wtf did the author mean by that? Is it the fact that she doesn’t do her research into her “male/male” characters? All those “gay for you”, “May/December”, “mpreg” and other stomach-churning sub-genres out there? Or is there actually a deeply held belief somewhere that gay writers only write about their own lives? Or something else? I honestly don’t know. What I do know though is that the only difference I can spot between a writer who writes about his own minority and a writer who isn’t a member thereof is the amount of research that may have to go into a book. And let’s be honest: in real life, things are a lot more complicated. A South Korean who grew up here in Sweden, adopted by Swedish parents at birth, is no more Korean than I am. He simply looks like one, while I don’t. Does that make him more #ownvoices if he had written my latest novel? Of course not. On the other hand, a European who’s spent his life in Korea would (at least in my book) be considered a more qualified expert in the field than either of us, my adopted Korean pal or I. What we are, who we are isn’t so much a function of our DNA (I’d say), but of how we are raised. The difficulty lies in how we are treated by others, how they view us, but that again, is per definition, racism. An entirely different post.
So what’s wrong with M/M and why isn’t it ever #ownvoices
This is just a guess, of course, and one that is very specifically related to the LGBT community, and gay men in particular. Romance as a genre has a bad reputation, always has. This is, of course, a result of the lack of women’s choices being attributed equal value to men’s. Most literary critics don’t take it seriously, and you’ll never see a Harlequin (let alone an m/m) win a Pulitzer, a Man Booker or a Nobel Prize. Duh!
Not that there is anything wrong with Romance. I could’ve said the same thing about Thrillers, Sci-Fi, Horror or Fantasy, which are more “male” genres, even though, all in all, women are–by far–the biggest reader category. Clearly, Romance is popular. It’s the world’s biggest genre with more books published in one day than the world probably produces in literary fiction in a year. Readers around the world love to get lost in a world where there is still good to be found and where happy endings reign.
The challenge lies in the rules of romance. As a genre, to be crass, it’s porn for women who read. While guys usually turn to RedTube or Pornhub these days, as they did to Playboy, Penthouse et al before the arrival of the Internet, women get off reading their books. And just as vanilla porn nor longer does it for many guys, many women are no longer content with damsels in distress being fucked to the high heavens by their long-haired alpha males from the eighteenth century. “Two men are better than one” promises better reading and happier endings (literally!) M/M, as are all trad romance novels, is littered with sex. The problem lies with the stereotypes, false or even dangerous, propagating the image of homosexual men as sex-crazed beings who think of nothing else but the next fuck. This isn’t our doing. we didn’t label ourselves. Str8 people did that to us.
So wtf is this desire to read #ownstories all about?
The rainbow flag heralds love and inclusion. It’s the main reason I love it so much. Yet as humans representing the rainbow, we’re not always as loving… We are, in effect, merely human.
And while we may be more sexually openminded than the het majority (or so we believed), that doesn’t mean that we don’t relish the ‘mundane’ aspects of life, that we don’t take our jobs seriously, love our children. But when romance authors describe how we abandon children to fuck our latest love interest, you not only write fantasy, you perpetuate a dangerous stereotype. Clearly, that author did not do her research (or she is simply latently homophobic.) When anal sex is depicted as the gold standard of gay sex, the author has no fucking clue what she is writing about. How could she? Gay porn is clearly not a good source of information.
I use “she” with regards to those authors on purpose because that’s where I think the demand for #ownstories stems from, a desire to read stories that are truly well-researched, stories that showcase men who are “real” men (not merely girls with a penis*), where the sex serves a purpose and is depicted realistically (I could tell you stories…)
BUT, and this is an important but: women, straight women, as well as (gay) men can write those stories. I know so because I’ve read amazing stories written by straight women. They may be romances, following many of the typical norms of the genre, but the characters are flesh and blood, they feel real, even to me as a gay man. And no, they’re obviously not #ownvoices. Who cares?
But in a world, where it is so damned difficult to find the good stories in a sea of “not so good ones”, I can understand that gay men, at least during Pride month, ask for #ownvoices. Because we all know, come July, it’s hetero world again, and the straight women will tell us to shut up and know our place again, for the next eleven months, where we still don’t matter, can be ignored and discriminated against, where it’s okay to appropriate an entire literary genre to once again make a minority invisible.
My beef with “M/M” isn’t primarily about the reduction of human beings to letter combinations, from mm to mmmmmm to mf or mmf etc. It’s not even about the fact that women label the het variety mf rather than fm, putting men first (that says so much…) My beef with “M/M” is how it suppresses gay fiction, how some authors and readers (far from all, just to repeat that!) are trying to push gay men (readers and writers) out of the genre, as stated above.
I don’t think that happens anywhere else. No, women did not invent gay romance. It’s been around for eons. Some women were simply clever to rebrand it. The result we see today. And while I applaud the hundred thousand plus stories out there, as a treasure trove for young LGBT kids to delve into,
I’m also aware of the pitfalls, how we are once again threatened of being expulsed from our own spaces, as so many times before in our history. That is worth thinking about during Pride month.
Hans M Hirschi
Author of Gay Fiction
*I know that trans-, genderfluid, and gender queer people read this. The expressions “real man” and/or “girl with penis” do not, in any way shape or form, relate to the TQ+ aspect of our community, but simply to characters so badly developed that you’d think the author simply changed names. There is of course nothing wrong with female, male, masculine or feminine attributes unless you’re trying to depict something else entirely. I felt it was important to clarify this here. I could go into a lot more detail, but that would mean another post.