The dedication of The Killing Spell. Certainly made my day…
A couple of months ago, I noticed a post on my Facebook wall. Someone had posted a picture from a book, thanking me and a couple of other authors for our help in making the book possible. I was intrigued. Rewind the clock another couple of years to 2016 when I was contacted by Shane. He had some questions about writing and publishing. I was happy to respond and connected him to a local South California writer friend of mine. We’ve been loosely in touch ever since, but the release of his book caught me by surprise. Seeing the dedication with my name made my day. I bought the book and asked Shane to sign it for me. After it arrived last week, I’ve finally had the chance to read it, even though I’m in the thick of publishing one myself, not usually a time when I read.
The Killing Spell is a youth novel in the Harry Potter tradition
Remember that first letter to young Harry Potter, inviting him to attend Hogwarts? That is exactly how The Killing Spell begins, with a letter to the main character in the book, Edward Peach. I won’t spoil the story. There are other similarities and Shane has cleverly placed his novel with references to the Potter universe and others. The big difference? Where there is no mention of any LGBT characters in Harry Potter (until way after every book was published and the money safely in the bank), Edward is openly gay. At least to the reader. He’s not really interested in going to the prestigious school he’s invited to, but goes anyway and soon meets another youth, merely mentioned as Mr. Andreas. His first name carries a curse and must not be mentioned.
I presume there will be more books about Edward and Mr. Andreas, as the story mentions fifth-year students. The language is carefully crafted to suit Edward’s very English background and a young audience. I’d have no qualms recommending this to kids ten years or older. The YA genre is a bit misleading because the books are typically written for teens or youths, not “adults”, young or not. It is what it is.
My very own signed copy of The Killing Spell
The language makes this an interesting read
Readers who are familiar with the wizard genre will quickly recognize themselves and the reading flows easily. I’ll be honest and readily admit that I’ve not read Harry Potter myself. This is not typically a genre I read. So I don’t know how Ms. Rowling crafted her books, nor am I interested in how Shane’s writing compares. His language is interesting and I’ve found myself more than once having to look up expressions that I was unfamiliar with. So thanks for those lessons in British and Australian English. Narrated in the first person, we get to know Edward intimately, his thoughts and dreams. As he often thinks about Mr. Andreas and the latter is a bit of a cumbersome expression to use frequently, Shane had to come up with quite a few synonyms to use.
To make being gay an integral part of a story is an interesting approach. Not because we are part of society, but because it’s so rare. In mainstream media, young LGBT character portraits are still largely revolving around the coming out, the discovery of their sexuality, e.g. “Call Me By Your Name” or “Love, Simon”, to mention two recent examples. To write a story about a character who faces adventures, and challenges despite being gay are most refreshing. Shane does an excellent job at portraying a youth who knows he’s gay but whose sexuality still has not come to bloom. The descriptions of a first kiss or a sleepover are so sweet and innocent, but yeah, very realistic. We’ve all been there, done that. Maybe not always this innocent. But let me reiterate: this isn’t primarily about Edward’s sexuality, but his innocent relationship to Mr. Andreas is at the center of the plot for reasons I can’t divulge without giving away the plot.
I read this book in three sittings but could’ve in one. I was positively captivated and wanted to find out what was going to happen next. The ending had me want more, and given that Edward only just got through his first year, I suspect there could be at least four more books to make this a really nice series. Needless to say, I’m curious as to what Shane will throw in Edward’s path next. We get to know a little bit about the school, the houses it’s made up from, etc. but there is not much detail and I was often left wanting to know more. Why is it this way? There will be plenty of filling out to do in subsequent books, should Shane write them, not only allowing for further character growth but also to expand the universe of Arcadia and Prymoutekhny Wizards Academy.
If you like to read fantasy books, or if your kids do, I highly recommend you to give this a chance. The Killing Spell is published by Deep Hearts YA and is available from all your regular outlets, including Amazon.
As a writer, I am aware of the raw power of my tool. As a linguist, I am also aware of how many of the world’s languages have evolved from common ancestors, how they are related and how the meaning of the same word can differ from one sister language to another. Language is extremely complex, and the more you learn, the more you know, the easier it becomes to get lost in language, to make mistakes and realizing just how little you actually know.
Just last week I was made aware, in a most humiliating way, that an expression used in the blurbs of one of my books had offended a group of people. I was given a proper dress-down, in public, which led me to withdraw that particular book from the table where I was selling it along with my other work. Seems that both the sensitivity readers (which we’d used, despite the accuser’s assumption of the contrary), the publisher, editor, and this author had completely missed it. I won’t go into details here, but oddly, when discussing this with fellow authors and members of the affected group/minority, everyone was puzzled and wondered how else to express oneself today, to be politically correct and not offending anyone.
Languages evolve, all the time. There are many examples in history and from literature where the most highly acclaimed books include wording that is no longer considered okay. We no longer use “nigger” or “negro” to describe blacks or Africans, which is a good thing. African American is the term used if you’re in the US but is of little help to describe black people from other parts of the world. But when Astrid Lindgren wrote her Pippi books back in the 1960s, it was perfectly okay to write that Pippi’s father was “negerkung” (negro king.) In recent editions, the term has been replaced. This is probably the most famous example in terms of language evolving, but there are literally thousands of expressions that have changed, be it for people with disabilities (or function variations as may be more modern), people from within the LGBTQ community, etc.
Lost in translation: politics, philosophy, religion & culture make things complex
As a member of the LGBTQ community, I am a member of a minority, and I’ve always been acutely aware of how I’m labeled by society. Often times words also carry a political notion, a belief held by the speaker. After Chernobyl, people who were fighting against the use of this particular way to generate power were, in German anyway, always speaking of atomic power, and the slogan “Atomkraft, Nein Danke!” became a household term. The proponents of nuclear power did not use atomic power. They call it nuclear power. Neither terms were “offensive” to anyone. They simply indicated a political belief. There are many similar examples of words and expressions who carry a philosophical belief within the word: capitalism vs. free enterprise, sexual orientation vs sexual preference, etc.
Words carry political beliefs
Then there are differences across cultures, which make many of the words which are used across languages dangerous pitfalls. Even within a given language family, a word that carries a connotation in one country may not be viewed the same way elsewhere. The word black is one such example, where it may be deemed acceptable in some flavors of English, but might get you stares if you use it in the U.S.
You might also remember the time when the Swedish chairman of BP was criticized for using the term “little people” in a White House press conference. While a perfectly acceptable term in Swedish, translated ad verbatim to English it becomes offensive. What he meant was “ordinary, regular people like you and I.”
How we view history changes
To make matters even more complex, we are, as a people, really bad at looking at history through the lens of the time. I’ve just returned from Washington, DC, where I also visited the National Archives Museum where the original Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution are on display. When you read these documents and you read things like “We the people…” or “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” yet are aware that this did not apply to everybody. “People” and “all men” did not include Native Americans, Africans or Asians. Because if you believe in slavery it makes no sense to assume that Africans were entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” because clearly, they were not. Men, back then, obviously also did not apply to women.
Did not apply to blacks, women, Asians or Natives.
However, today, we look at these words and we can feel pride in the accomplishment of the founding fathers, even if we’re Korean, Sudanese or German, and decisions rendered by the Supreme Court of the U.S. has updated the interpretation of the meaning of these words over time. It just so happens that the probably biggest struggle within said court these days is in the interpretation of the constitution: as a document in time, or to read it literally, or if you prefer, a liberal or a conservative interpretation.
Labeling a group of people, labeling “me”
Language evolves, all the time. Would it not, we’d all still be speaking a proto-human language we don’t even remember. Latin would not have evolved into Italian, French, Spanish, etc., and Germanic into German, Scandinavian and English. So that’s a good thing. We also introduce new words, we share them across languages and cultures and make new words our own.
It’s a good thing that we no longer use words like “nigger”, “cripple” or “faggot”, as the negative connotations are painful reminders to members of said communities of a painful past. And language continues to evolve: it’s better to say transgender than transsexual, as the trans experience isn’t primarily about people’s sexuality but more about their gender, we talk about marriage equality rather than “gay marriage” because a marriage is a marriage, it has no sexual/romantic orientation.
For most people, all of this is way above their heads, and they’re not really affected by the terminology used within a certain community, and how groups try to improve on language to make it more inclusive and less offensive, divisive. For older generations, much of this may pass them by. However, when words and expressions are used that are hurtful, the consequences can be dire, and we can observe this in our everyday lives. Ten years ago, gender fluidity and trans people were not discussed in mainstream society. The language was very CIS, except for the affected people. Therefore, for most people, meeting members of the trans community can be an interesting and frightful experience, as it not only challenges the language they speak but also some of the very fundamental core foundations of their education and the two sexes: male and female. Migration challenges other long-held beliefs.
Political correctness and the backlash of the Trumpian era
For some, things have clearly gone too far and they push back. Migration is used as a term to lump together people who come to our countries for very different reasons. No longer is a distinction made between refugees and economic immigrants, it’s all equally bad. And in our strive to create a label that fits just us, we make it a perfect pitfall to be offended, for how is a stranger to know if you want to be addressed as Mr., Mrs., Ms. or Miss. Or something else entirely? How are we to know if you are bisexual or pansexual? Oftentimes, terms are used interchangeably and what means something to one person, has different connotations to someone else.
This may be controversial but sometimes I feel we have gone too far. We are too easily offended. And some people have begun to push back. To mislabel something doesn’t necessarily make a person a “bigot” or “racist” or whatever. They may simply not be familiar with the latest developments in the language. Trust me, it’s easy to get things wrong. When I first moved to the US in the eighties we used a “bathroom” to go potty, these days it’s “restroom” (although given American toilets, they’re anything but restful with their lack of privacy, but that’s another story.) In India, people still go to the toilet, in English.
The drive for political correctness sometimes feels like a provocation. And we are quick to accuse, prosecute and judge people for using the wrong words. The judgment can be harsh, particularly in this social media day and age where the action often precedes contemplation and thought. And I feel that some people have begun to push back. And as I’ve mentioned above, language is becoming political, but not always. But when someone talks about “gay marriage”, I for one assume they’re not supportive of the concept of marriage equality. But an I be certain?
The benefit of the doubt
Here’s the thing. Our societies have become very black and white in our political discourse, and we seem to have a hard time to accept dissenting views and opinions. There is less and less discourse in society about where we should head, how to overcome the challenges of our time. Instead, driven by 140 characters, we simplify and shorten. It’s not necessarily beneficial to being respectful to one another. Trying to do the right thing can be frightening and intimidating and a friend of mine recently said that the fear of saying the wrong thing has led him to avoid public discussions/settings. That’s a shame.
What about we give each other the benefit of the doubt? What if we were to assume that most people are NOT trying to offend us, denigrate us, insult us. So when they use a term we find offensive, don’t lash out, forgive and educate. Tell them how you’d like to be addressed, politely. Chances are, they’ll be grateful, i.e. if you do it with a smile and non-judgemental way. I often feel that we usually use the opposite approach: we’re offended, we judge and keep a grudge and the message gets lost, simply because the wrong word was used. I think we could all be helped if we calmed things down a bit, in the interest of communication and understanding.
I know that my own language is far from perfect, regardless of which one I use. I’m also aware that being multilingual increases my potential for making mistakes. I beg your forgiveness and oversight for any words used mistakenly.
Remember: you may not have the power to choose the words used to describe you, but you have the power to choose how to respond.
What is your take? Do you think we should tackle this dilemma? What is the best way to help people use the least offensive and most inclusive language? Feel free to use the comment section.
It’s happening right now, in a way we never thought possible…
I read the strangest article (in Swedish) in one of my regular newspapers, about pop stars, models and social media influencers that don’t exist. Think about that for a moment. There are artificially created people on Instagram and elsewhere, with photorealistic imagery that do not exist. Yet they have millions and millions of followers, some of them even publish songs. And at the same time, we have politicians all over the globe who lie more frequently than they tell the truth and accuse everybody who doesn’t agree with them to lie and label any news outlet who disagrees with them as fake news. And no, Donald Trump isn’t the only one. “Fake news” has become a thing for far too many politicians in every corner of the world. He simply “perfected” the act. Fake news is no longer about news which is incorrect, fake news is news you don’t like. What a fundamental shift in connotation, in just three years.
Fake people, fake lives, lies, and truth interchangeable, how are we as ordinary human beings going to survive this? How will we, as humanity, be able to overcome the threats to the very core of our society if we keep blurring the lines between reality and fiction, imagination and deception?
Not a new idea, or concept
I’m not the first person to think about this. And smarter people than I have been trying to show us possible outcomes for decades. Picture the Terminator and the threat of what AI could do to humanity. Or worse, The Matrix. These movies were all pre-Internet, and pre-virtual/augmented reality. I saw another flick called Player One a few months ago, which is a movie that actually does take place knowing where we are today, and it painted a bleak picture, too, albeit with a happy ending.
I’ve also read articles littered with examples of so-called “deep fakes”, of YouTube or news cast-style videos that were completely fake, with “real” people saying things they’ve never said. With our current level of technology, you can interchange Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler, although that doesn’t really achieve much for anybody. However, what if say you could have a candidate for the 2020 Presidential campaign say something untoward? And what about someone who’s actually said something untoward being able to completely deny it? Even though the latter happens already.
It’s on the radio, it’s got to be true!
Many years ago, I was actively engaged in public access radio, which is a great way for ordinary people to express their opinions on FM-radio. More than once I encountered people who would complain about things said there, particularly if it was from someone who was from a rival political party or ethnic groups. Oddly, when I reminded them that it was our remit to transmit our own opinions, not state facts, I would often hear “but it’s on the radio!” as if the mere fact that they heard in through an FM-receiver somehow made whatever statement be the truth. I am afraid that we all suffer from that mentality, a little, and it’s enhanced when we hear it on TV, or from one of our elected officials, even though, these days, we can’t really trust anything we hear. We all have to double-check the facts.
Add to this the fact that more and more of us live our lives on social media, that people mourn the deception of so-called “friends” online, people they’ve never even met. How can anyone trust a complete stranger whose words you read on your computer screen, without the infliction of the tone of voice? Need I remind you of how quickly we descend into trolling when we think we’re alone and anonymous? It’s so easy to hurt people online, and it’s so simple to create misunderstandings when you don’t really know the person on the other end, do not understand what personality they have. Suddenly, the most innocent joke turns into the vilest of offenses and we “block” that someone, never to speak to them again. Virtually anything can create an online shitstorm. All among people who don’t know each other, not really.
Forget to like a friend’s post and you’ve begun your journey to forget them…
Then you have the algorithms of the various social media engines who ruthlessly serve you what is in their best interest, not what is in yours. Forget to like your friends umpteenth cat meme and they will slowly but surely wither away from your stream (and–sadly–your consciousness) replaced by advertisements for things you incidentally said to Alexa, Cordana or whatever other assistants you’re using or searches made or click-bait you couldn’t resist. We are manipulated online and it’s getting almost impossible to resist the allure of the almighty algorithm. Don’t believe me? Go have a look at what your interests are on Facebook, based on the site’s ad-settings on your profile. It’s not only a good idea to detox those hundreds (!) of “interests” every now and then, but some also provide a clue as to how the algorithms work and more than a handful of headshakes as to how stupid they actually are. No AI out there, yet!
Combine all of the above and you have a toxic cocktail. And as an author and creator of fiction, I wonder. Will I still be needed in the future? Will anyone still read my stories? My books? I do not know. If we start to live the fiction and use our personal lives to escape the harsh reality of this world, will fiction be there to bring us back to reality, after a long hard day in Escapia? Or will we become completely superfluous, no longer necessary since our own chosen realities surpass anything fiction could ever hope to offer? A world where every human is the main character in their own story, and we all walk through the streets with our 3D goggles on, eating at Klingon restaurants, being served by people we don’t look at, servers who think they’re serving us to the Minotaur of their own reality. Meanwhile, the puppet masters sit in their mansions enjoying the spectacle we’re making of ourselves.
Where will we be in a few years?
I don’t have the answer to any of my questions, but I worry. I wonder if humanity is equipped for the future we’re setting ourselves up for, or will we, given climate change and the potential for human conflict inherently part of it, be the end of ourselves long before we reach the full potential of that future?
What do you think? Feel free to comment and discuss.
My first planned trilogy was the most gratifying adventure
The final installation of the Golden One will be out 9/19.
When I create a trailer for a book, it’s a sure sign that it’s almost time to release it.I’ve created (amateurish) book trailers ever since I released Jonathan’s Hope in 2013. Although only six years ago, it seems as if it’s been half a lifetime. Seventeen trailers so far, the latest one created yesterday. It’s a hobby, and while I’ve become better at the technical aspects of it, I’m still a writer, not a movie director.
I recently met a real-life Hollywood producer and I’ve been thinking about which of my stories is most cinematic. Sometimes, people ask me about who I’d like to play a certain role, an answer I routinely refuse to reply, for several reasons: a) I don’t want readers to replace the image of the character they have with some random actor’s face and b) that decision I leave in the capable hands of the movie makers. They know better who’s a good fit for that role. IF any of my books ever make it to the silver screen. Having said that, I keep coming back to Willem and Jason, as two stories that might be predestined. Both are epic tales and I believe they’d both make for great movies.
Jason’s story is almost over
When I first met Jason, he was a pup, your typical teenager. Yes, being relatively poor had left its marks on him, but he was still relatively carefree and naïve. When I proofed the book the other day, thirteen months after having embarked on his journey, Jason was a different person. Weighed by the enormous responsibility placed so squarely on his shoulders, but also wise. There is a scene that I find particularly interesting, between Hannah, the first person who discovered his power, and Jason, at his house. In my eyes, it’s a key scene for the entire book, and I won’t spoil it for you. But when you read it, pay close attention to it, the change it showcases within Jason. Quite profound.
One of the things that scared me, as a writer, the most was the revelation that “no Golden One has ever returned from their final mission.” To write about people long ago, who are dead regardless, is one thing. But to speak of a human being who’s alive, right now, and to know that their life will end at the end of the story, is always difficult. I’ve done it a couple of times now and it’s always a painful thing to do. The advantage of this story was that I had a year to prepare for it and once I got to it, the story flowed easily, and the end of Reckoning is exactly what I had hoped for. I know, I know, it’s ugly to praise oneself, but I’m really pleased with this one. LOL
What’s happening between now and September 19th?
The manuscript is still going through extensive proofing, and I will certainly read through it at least once more. But there are several pairs of eyes on the manuscript. The other day, I sent the manuscript to Vance Bastian, who’s my narrator. Books one and two are already out as audiobooks, and I hope to have the third one ready in time for the actual release of Reckoning on September 19.
Preorders for the books are already available. Unfortunately, there are no preorders available for the audiobook version.
What else is going on in my life?
I’m about to head out west, to Washington, DC, for OutWrite 2019, the annual writer conference in the U.S. capital. I’ve never been, but I hear good things. I have a reading on Saturday, themed “Revelations”, and I’ve chosen snippets from Disease, Willem of the Tafel and Blooming which I think might work well. Three very different stories and they’re all scenes that contain revelations of some sort.
If you’re anywhere near DC, it would be great to meet you. I’ll also be selling my books at the event, including Spanish Bay, with the all-new cover. See you in DC?
Yesterday, I got a message from my editor. It was simple:
Suddenly, it dawned on me that Debbie wasn’t just commenting on my lifestyle but also letting me know that she’d begun to edit the third and final book in the trilogy about Jason Mendez. I swallowed hard before being able to chat a bit about my eating habits pre and post-Reckoning. It’s funny how every time I end up in this situation, I end up being a nervous wreck.
My editor is the first person to read my stuff after I send it off to my publisher. And her judgment means everything to me. Not just that she could pull the plug on publishing it (“This is the biggest piece of shit I’ve read in a long time…”), but Debbie is a successful and acclaimed, award-winning author in her own right. For her to like my work means a lot. The coming weeks will be painful. The waiting game isn’t my forte. I want to talk to her about it, want to discuss why this was done that way or why the ending is the way it is and not done differently.
Writing a series is different than writing a stand-alone
The final installation of the Golden One will be out 9/19.
Reckoning is my twentieth full-length book. But it’s also book three in the series, and unlike some series which are held together loosely by a common theme (e.g. playing out in the same town), the Golden One is actually one story, spanning across more than two hundred and ten thousand words. When you write a book and you know that there will be a continuation of it, the ending of the first book will always be more “open” than if it had been a stand-alone. When Blooming (book 1) came out, I hadn’t even begun writing book three. I had no idea where the story would take Jason at the end of book 2, let alone how it might end.
Blooming starts off nice and easy with a challenge that creates the bond between Jason and his friends, a local environmental crisis they need to solve. Yet already in book one, we realize that this cannot possibly be the biggest thing that’s in store for our heroes. For the longest time, I was wondering who Jason’s nemesis would be. Given previous challenges that Golden Ones had faced, a dictator or powerful president seemed close at hand, yet I did want to stay clear of the pitfalls of politics. I had to find an enemy as powerful as Alexander the Great or the emperor of China of old but within a contemporary setting.
About half-way through book two, things began to clarify, but I still had no idea how the series would end. That didn’t become clear until I finally got to it. At the beginning of book three, I had two different endings in mind, and they both had merit. As my writing progressed and I got closer and closer to the end, one of the endings faded into the background and only one remained. It’s epic, logical and just what the book needs in terms of what the message is. I’m sure it will have readers glued to their chairs reading and thinking about it for a long time. In hindsight, the series ends the only way it could end, staying true to the premises and canon established in Blooming. I’m very pleased with it, if I may say so.
Every book should be better than the last
I think you can ask just about any author with a few books under their belt and they’ll confirm that they try hard to make sure that their next book is just a little bit better than the previous one. Whether it is a grammar lesson we’ve learned, or whether we’ve become better at doing research, or if it’s just an extra round of self-editing before we send it off to our publishers. We may also strive to improve our literary aspirations, challenge ourselves to write in a new genre, etc.
It’s a never-ending challenge, and for every grammatical improvement I make, I seem to find new ways to screw things up. Debbie always says something along the lines of “this is this book’s repeat error.” I blush, ashamed of having found yet another thing to get wrong. Hopefully, I don’t make old mistakes again and again. Rookie mistakes like changing voices mid-paragraph or simple errors like mixing up virtually with literally. I’ve literally fallen for that! Clichés, silly metaphors, etc. are other ways to screw up a manuscript to the editor’s red pen’s delight. Then there are other things which we tend to forget: inclusivity, diversity or why not challenging our own preconceptions? We may use characteristics that are offensive or racist and sometimes, this is particularly true for non-native speakers like me, we use expressions which may be innocent in one of the languages we speak but not in the one we use to write in. A great example is the Swedish ex-chairman of BP who used the expression of “small people” during a press conference in the White House. Not offensive in Swedish but very much so in the US, especially in the context he used it, to describe “normal, average working-class people.” So yeah, words do matter.
Time table for Reckoning
Every manuscript goes through a bunch of stages with the publisher. There are rounds of editing, a ping-pong game between editor and author, followed by proofreading by a number of people, including the editor and author, but also external sets of eyes who are better equipped at seeing the trees in the forest. The publisher also formats the books for printing and distribution across e-platforms and typesets it accordingly. Each publisher uses their own fonts, have their own layouts, etc. Then there’s the cover design. We already have the cover for the ebook, but the paperback cover has to wait until we know exactly how thick the spine is going to be and what the back matter will look like. It’s down to the mm.
Then there’s the narration of the audiobook. Not only does it take time, but it has to hold off until the manuscript is “stable” enough that we’re down to pure proofing changes. Vance Bastian, my narrator for the Golden One may not be hindered by a typo, but ACX may not appreciate it if he narrates “desert” only for us to later change it to “The Gobi” or whatever. Also, the final quality review of an audiobook is a bit of a black box, hit and miss, and takes up to fourteen working days. Depending on how weekends fall, or public holidays, you might be in for quite a wait. And they don’t allow for set publication days, at least not for us small niche players. So we try to do the math backward from the publication date of the actual book to try and make sure the audio version is available on a specific date. Not easy. But by September 19, 2019, the paperback and the ebook of Reckoning will be available for global distribution. The audiobook should be ready within a few days thereof.
Jason’s journey will be complete. And I can’t wait for you to read and enjoy it.
Words can be so hurtful, as they reveal what people believe, deep down
“He starts to look like a real boy…”
It was meant as a compliment. A new haircut, short in the back. I love my son’s hair, regardless whether it’s shorter or longer. I think he looks amazing in long hair. However, he’s only six years old and keeping long hair looking good requires more work than your average six-year-old is willing to put in. Plus his hair is dark, thick and hot in the summer. He eagerly accepted my suggestion to cut it shorter as we’re about to head out on a vacation to a warmer climate. The response above from a family member floored me. It was so hurtful. Is short hair really the trademark of a “real” boy, masculinity? And what did this family member think of Sascha before? That he was girly? Did they not respect my son’s choice? A gazillion questions running through my mind, none very pleasant.
Hair is fashion, at best
Manly? I’m sure he thought so…
The Vikings had long hair, men and women, so did many other peoples, including native Americans. Samurai kept their hair long, too, so did many other Asian cultures. Are Vikings unmanly? Samurai? #facepalm Even in Europe, long hair was a thing for men for the longest of times. Just look at the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. Picture Louis XIV of France with his wigs. Was he unmanly? No, of course not. There is nothing that says that a hairstyle would be indicative of one’s masculinity or how we fit into a gender.
Hair was even once considered so manly that Samson believed his masculine strength resided there. What a twat!
At fifty-two, I’ve had long hair, short hair, I’ve even colored my hair, but I’m still exactly the same person I’ve always been. Yet somehow, some people still believe that short hair is for boys and long hair is for girls. And they rejoice when a boy cuts his hair or a girl lets it grow out. No longer do they have to have their disgusting preconceptions challenged every time they see that person.
Sex, gender is a social construct
I strongly believe that sex and gender are social constructs. And I believe that most educated people will believe me with regards to gender. Sex? Not so much. And here’s the thing: if you’re born with a vagina, chances are you’re a woman. If you’re born with a penis, chances are you’re a man. However, nature is tricky and chromosomal anomalies, intersex, etc. exemplify this. Hormonal influences during the pregnancy will also affect the brain and how we come to identify, regardless of our genitals. That’s as far as nature goes. The rest is society. How we’re raised, the experiences we make, how we view our bodies, etc. However, the traits we attribute to “humans with vaginas” and “humans with penises” are entirely social constructs. And it is entirely society which attaches a value to a specific trait. The fact that vaginas are considered inferior to penises, for whatever reason. That’s beyond my comprehension, but it’s a fact nonetheless.
Therefore, every trait commonly associated with “vaginas” is considered of less value: long hair, be in touch with emotions, empathy, caring, you name it. And penis values are considered high value, e.g. short hair. No wonder my relative was so thrilled to see Sascha’s new haircut.
What about trans people, gender fluidity?
As a gay man, I had to accept that many of the traits I cherish are considered “feminine” and that I’m not only considered a traitor to my sex but also of less value than a straight man. Oh well. Lesbians are considered traitors to their sex because they refuse to let themselves be subjugated by men, hence a certain aura of “mystery” (=value) but also an almost unstoppable desire from straight men to subjugate them, break them. This incident in London is a great example of that.
Our trans siblings are those suffering the most. How dare one abdicate the genitals given to us by God? Yet even with trans people, society’s outlook differs. Trans men are considered a tad more valuable than trans women because at least they strive toward masculinity, want to be of more value. But trans women? Those traitors! To abandon the mighty penis! How dare they? The number of trans women murdered is among the highest in the world. They are a threat to straight men and there are a lot of feminists who do not accept them either. The absence of ovaries and the experience of “growing up oppressed” means that there are many women out there who refuse to accept trans women as sisters in their struggle for equality. They don’t realize that they’re doing ruling men’s bidding.
It goes without saying that gender fluid humans are enigmas. People generally don’t really know how to react to them, how to interpret them. Androgyny is sexy, we are mysteriously attracted to it, because they combine the best from both worlds, and that is somehow oddly attractive.
Is androgyny the key to the future?
I’ve always maintained that just like most people are bisexual (it’s a spectrum and very few people are stuck in the extremes) and the way younger generations are more open to being pansexual than strictly gay/straight is a sign that things are changing. The same is true for gender identity. While most of us are born with cis-genitalia our gender markers are very much on a spectrum, wildly combining “male” and “female” traits. And I would hope that someday we get to the point when those traits are valued equally, or at least valued how they help us build a successful society, not just the simplistic and ignorant “vagina < penis” formula. It’s just not helpful.
And who knows, we might even get to the point where gender reassignment surgeries and hormone treatments become less important as we can live and express ourselves the way we want to regardless of the physical traits of our genitalia and bodies. More gender fluidity for the people! This is not to say that some people won’t always feel the need to switch sexes, but the less important ‘sex’ is in a society, the lower the need to change, don’t you think?
We’re in this for the long haul…
My son comes home all the time with new things he’s heard in school, questions on his mind: “are boys better than girls?” only to state the next day that “girls are better than boys”. Statements like “girls can’t do this or that” or “boys can do whatever they want…” are tiring, but society is tirelessly at work to shape our children into the cis-minded drones we’ve been raised as. We take the debate every time, showing him that no, girls are just like boys, and they can both be whatever they set their minds to. I know of course that in reality, it’s more complicated but who am I to ruin a six-year-old’s life dreams? He’ll learn soon enough. He’s even come home a couple of times saying “I want to be a girl.” and I guess that’s fine, too. I have to walk my own talk and let him discover his body, his identity in his own pace. He’s only now discovering the differences between girls and boys. I wish they never would, that all of us could see each other as just “friends”. To get there requires us, parents, to pull the heavy duty, against all those who think that a boy in a short haircut is “real”…