When Heaven Strikes: the cover image is really foreboding of what’s inside…
Disclosures first. While I haven’t met Frederick personally, we are online acquaintances. The “pool” of gay fiction authors is, after all, quite small. For some time, I’ve wanted to read his book When Heaven Strikes, as I had heard a great deal of good things about it, just recently e.g. from my friend Tracy Willoughby. This week I finally got the chance to relax and read this book on my flight back from Madeira. I most certainly didn’t regret buying it.
The stunning cover of When Heaven Strikes
When Heaven Strikes starts with a scene that takes place in the past. Family at the beach and a storm approaching. Ominous, dangerous, lives are in danger…
The rest of the book reminds me a little bit of the film “Short Cuts“. We get to know an array of different characters, some more, some less. At some point, all those lives touch each other in one way or another, and the ominous storm depicted both on the cover and title plays a major role in the overall arc. I won’t give away any details, but at some point, I was also reminded of my own novel, Jonathan’s Hope, as the novel also deals with a topic that is addressed there. Frederick takes a very different approach than I did, and I found it very interesting to see how differently the same “conundrum” can be dealt with.
When Heaven Strikes tackles a couple of major topics with his book. One is that of gay relationships, of deserving happiness, and the challenges of our generation, the first one to really have access to marital bliss and boredom. Do we really deserve it? What makes someone marriage material, particularly if we’ve been led to believe we’re not. And what is love? Would you recognize it if you met love on the street? We have, after all, been led to believe by a lot of people that being gay isn’t about love, that we’re sexual predators, perverts, and sinners.
This points of course to the other major topic, that of faith. Religion is, particularly in the rural USA, a big deal. Having lived stateside myself and having many American friends, I know just what an enormous role churches play in people’s everyday lives. And recent political developments to the contrary, many congregations are extremely hateful of anything LGBT and have used the most recent election to prop up their failing dogmas. When Heaven Strikes plays out in the mid-west, the heartland of evangelism, of Baptist churches, and how it affects the lives of people. Frederick paints a beautiful picture, as scary as it may be at times, and he deals with faith very delicately. I quite enjoyed reading those aspects.
Frederick Eugene Feeley Jr., author of When Heaven Strikes
When Heaven Strikes is a beautifully written book. Frederick takes great care to describe landscapes and locales, to draw characters that are flesh and blood from page one. Whether it’s Anderson, Ted or even Jeff or Gary (***no spoilers, sorry***), two main and two side characters, all equally human. The way Frederick paints landscapes and sceneries is almost photographic and even though my own experiences of Iowa are limited, I had no trouble picturing both towns, landscapes or individual buildings etc.
What is When Heaven Strikes?
It’s a question us gay authors have to deal with, as our books swim (or drown) in the sea that is gay romance. There is certainly an aspect of romance in the story (which isn’t a bad thing) and a tad too much sex for my personal taste. But it certainly is no romance novel, even though I have a hunch that Frederick was subconsciously influenced by his surroundings when he wrote When Heaven Strikes, just as I was writing Jonathan’s Hope. You just can’t help it. When Heaven Strikes is great contemporary literature, social commentary and – maybe more importantly – a book that is a must read particularly if you are gay and troubled by your faith, or maybe lost faith altogether? When Heaven Strikes is available on e.g. Amazon as an e-book, paperback, and audiobook. I can’t wait to read Frederick’s coming novel, Closer, published by my publisher Beaten Track in March. You can pre-order it now.
As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Hope your start to 2018 was as good as mine… Have a good weekend.
I’ve met up with author M.D. Neu for a chat, about writing, his books and more…
I haven’t done an author interview for a while, but when Marvin and I got to chat about his books, I figured I wanted to learn more, and after having read his brand new novel The Calling, we sat down for a chat. Meet author M.D. Neu:
Author M.D. Neu
Who is M.D. Neu in his own words?
M.D. Neu is a writer, a husband and is driven to get the stories out of his head and into print. He also wants to tell stories about people and characters that he never saw growing up (everyday gay hero’s) and largely still doesn’t.
People like him; regular folks that happen to be gay, experience and feel other worlds and see into the future. When he’s not writing and working his day job he loves to travel and spend time with family and friends.
What is one thing you would like the world to remember you for?
That I told stories that everyone could relate to. That you could sit down and read one of my stories and see yourself in the leading role.
What got you into writing?
I started keeping a journal with I was a foreign exchange student in Germany. When I got back I continued to journal as it helped me process my internal coming out. It was a safe way for me to share my thoughts. From there it morphed into poetry and then into writing stories. It wasn’t something I ever thought I would consider doing for real, not until the last few years where somehow it became part of me and part of what I wanted.
The cover of The Calling
I guess I’ve always been creative, I’ve always been a talker, and I love telling stories so the three sort of pulled together and this is what that less than holy trinity turned into.
Are you a full-time author or do you have a day job as well, and if so, what do you do?
I work full time for a non-profit that works to end poverty and help those in need. It’s an amazing job and I have two incredible bosses. The best part of my day job is that typically when I leave for the day, I’m not carrying any of it with me. So, it frees me up for my writing. I’m very lucky in that regard.
I’ve just read your first novel, and I’ve read one of your shorter stories. Paranormal seems to be your “calling”. Why’s that?
Some of my favorite authors are paranormal and horror authors, Anne Rice and Stephen King top the list. Then I’ve always loved Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg. I loved the idea of things going bump in the night. It’s fun, but not in a “slasher-gasher” sort of way. I like a good jump scare but add in a little humor.
I try and write things that give me the chills but again not in a way that is going to gross people out. I want it to be fun and have humor to it as well. I also want it to feel real.
Some of the best ghost stories I’ve read have been ones that you never find out fully what happened or is happening kind of like Hitchcock’s The Birds or even Spielberg’s Poltergeist and now his Stranger Things.
I’m no expert in paranormal, quite the contrary. I do understand that there’s a lot of world-building going on, and I sense that even at the end of The Calling, you’re not quite done. I for one wonder where all the red wine comes from… Is that the appeal to you in paranormal or just a necessary evil?
It’s definitely part of the appeal. The Calling started off as a stand-alone story, my take on vampires and witches. I wanted to play around with how these mythical creatures could be around in our world today, especially with video cameras everywhere. As I plotted out the story and created the lore I found this rich world. There was a lot there. There was so much I wanted to explore and I knew I couldn’t cram it all into one book. So, assuming people are interested there will be a second book (hopefully). And I may even do some kind of prequel that focuses on Juliet.
You mention the Red wine, or as I simply refer to it, red. There is vampire magic involved, but as Victor mentions in the book, ‘nothing beats fresh.’
I will dive a bit more into the vampire side of things in book two. How they get their blood, how they can keep it fresh and I’ll even dive into more about their Keepers. I think I have some really cool fun stuff to share so I hope to get it all sorted.
You have taken vampires to a new level, displaying them in a new and interesting light. And the end of the book seems to open up for a lot more. Will we see a series or just a sequel?
Honestly, I only have a sequel planned, but as I mention I might do something with Juliet because I love her character and I find her really amazing and interesting. I’ve got pages of notes on her. We’ll just see what happens and how things go.
You have a unique author voice, and your writing is extremely captivating. You literally had me drawn into the story before it really started. Even as someone who doesn’t read a lot of paranormal, I was really wanting to get back to the book, finish it, despite being on vacation with my family… The plot you built is very elaborate, intricate and full of twists. I must assume you’re a plotter. How much planning went into this novel?
Yep, I’m a plotter. Once I have my general idea and I’m introduced to the main couple of characters I start planning out the story. I keep my eye on the end and I have to make sure I can get to that ending in a logical manner. When it came to The Calling outline I found that by chapter sixteen there was no way I was going to get everything I wanted into this book. So I broke the story in half. So, The Calling is technically only the first sixteen chapters of the original outline. Book two will focus on everything that comes after that.
Once I have the outline I start to flesh out each chapter. I love details and description so I find pictures of the places I want to use and do my best to describe what I see. I also use placed I’m familiar with so I can add things like scent and sound to the story. I build all that info into my outline as well.
When it comes to twists I work with the end in mind. I know where I want to end up and then I have to think about the most real way to get there. I try not to wave ‘oh look magic’ or ‘oh look science’ I want the reader to believe that it’s possible so trying to get those details right is also part of the outline.
If I’m doing an action scene or I have a big scene where a ton of characters are I try and map it out so I know where everyone is going. I work out what they are doing in the chapter (during the outline phase) so people aren’t floating around.
The Dark & the Light
The Light and the Dark, tell us about your reasoning behind creating two kinds of vampires. Will we ever see the Dark unleashed?
The Light and the Dark. Honestly, they gave me nothing but headaches. The problem I have with the Dark especially is that if I left them up to their own devices they couldn’t really exist, not now anyway. They would have been discovered and killed off by now. To unleash the Dark would be to put our world into chaos. People would literally be showing up drained of blood on a daily basis all over the world. It would be a mess.
I had to rein them in, which I think works well because we get Victor. He is brilliant. He knows how to play the game and not take any crap.
When it comes to the Dark unleashed, I see parts of that world today, around us.
I mention it a bit when I was talking about the planning. There are parts of the world that are not safe (for whatever reason) and the Dark in those areas use this to their advantage. We may see more of this in book 2.
The gay aspect is very subdued, and you really had me confused there for a while (no spoilers.) In the end, I found it refreshing and gratifying, I have to say. Was that a choice you made on purpose? It seems that way, given Duncan’s own words?
Yes, that was my intent from the start. First and foremost I want to tell stories that anyone can relate to. Duncan could be your brother, cousin, best-friend, the stranger you see every day on the street. That should be who Duncan is and that is what I was going for.
I’m not a big fan of labels. We forget that we are all human first. Nothing else really matters from there on. So, I wanted Duncan to point this out. In fact, I had a little back and forth with the publisher on this fact (not in a bad way, my publisher is amazing and I adore working with them).
One of the reasons why I love to read other people’s books is to marvel at the ingenuity, the creativity we have. “How the hell did they come up with this…” I’ve had quite some moments like that in The Calling, but also in the other story I read, The Reunion. Care to elaborate on your creative muse?
I don’t really know if I have a muse so much as I have this characters floating around in my brain that I listen to. How I write kind of happens this way. I may have a dream or think, ‘what if’ and then if something clicks suddenly I’ll have a character come forward and they will start telling me their story.
For The Calling, I wanted to tell a vampire story that could work in our society today. Vampires that could be real. When I started thinking about the how. This guy Duncan came forward and started telling me about himself and the story grew from there. I want people to read The Calling and think, wow that could actually happen. I kind of also wanted to write a vampire story that Anne Rice would enjoy (I know I know, but it’s true.).
The cover of The Reunion
With The Reunion was a whole different ballgame. Some friends and I were playing this game with this crazy characters and when the game ended I didn’t feel like the story was over so I wrote this 3,600-word ending. It was nothing special, but from that, the idea of The Reunion formed and materialized. I changed the characters around and made them fit the story I wanted to tell. I also wanted to play on what we think we know. One thing that always drives me nuts about movies and stories is we will follow a single character and by the end of the story we someone find out everything. The character either stumbles onto the truth, overhears something, finds the diary, has the big bad tell them everything, etc. I understand why screenwriters do it, they want the audience to feel stratified with the ending. Okay sure that is wonderful, but it’s not real. That is why I like Alfred Hitchcock, he didn’t always answer everything; the characters only knew what they knew and nothing more. So that is what I did with Teddy. We only know and see what he knows and sees.
We often see male main characters described as hunks with six packs and what not. Duncan seems ordinary, at least physically. Was that a choice made on purpose?
If you want to read about beautiful gay men or beautiful gay women I can give you a list of wonderful books to read. If you want to read a story about someone like you who has an amazing adventure then this is that story. Duncan is an average Joe, plain and simple. He’s just average in fact all my characters fall into the average category because I want them to be someone we can all relate to.
Finally, what can we expect and look forward from you in the future? Plug away…
I’m hoping to launch my Sci-Fi Series A New World this year. I have this wonderful short story about a Drag Queen and an angel that I hope will get picked up. I’m going to be working on Book two of The Calling and there are a ton of other ideas I have floating around.
I also post poetry on my website for folks to enjoy. I try and get a few new poems up one a month (or once every other month) depending on how busy I am. So really I’m just starting up, there is a ton of stuff heading out. So I hope people can just sit back and enjoy some good storytelling from me.
Thank you, Marvin, author M.D. Neu, for answering my questions. If you want to connect with him, you can do so here:
His books are available from his publisher Nine Star Press, from Amazon and your other favorite outlets. I’ll talk to you again on Friday when I have another great review for you, a book from another author friend of mine I recently read… See you then.
As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Hope your start to 2018 was as good as mine… Have a good week, and don’t forget to check back in on Friday for another book review.
PS: A word to blow my own horn. I finally received a Kirkus review for one of my books, Disease, and they’re quite gracious, calling it “a must-read for anyone in the throes of an ordeal involving Alzheimer’s disease” (Kirkus Reviews, 1/3/18) If you haven’t read it yet, there’s no time like now!
Are my panic posts about my inability to write in fact a sign that my subconscious is ready to talk?
I can’t say, but I DO know that I did write my post on Monday ending it with these words:
“I know the story will write itself. Which also means, that I’ll stop writing this blog post, now, to get ready for my day.”
I had barely published the post before a string of ideas emerged, little things, big ideas, and pieces began to fall into place. So weird. I got a better sense about Martin, who he is, what he’s done etc. A second character came onto the scene, and even though I don’t know if they will end up friends or more, they’re currently talking about their lives, and I’ve managed to also resolve a weird conflict with a third character who had been there from the beginning. I’m sure I’ll get more from him, but the question is how.
I have had a mini-release, yesterday. My short story about Clara. More below
The interesting thing about “Martin” or Opus XV is that I don’t know where the book will take me. I think it’s going to be a fairly light-hearted story about old age, the ups, and downs, but nothing angsty, certainly not the way Disease was. What topics can we expect being dealt with? Well, there’s gerontophilia, the love for the elderly, which is a sensitive and still very taboo topic. But for now, it’s still a fringe topic, and I’m not sure it’ll get a more prominent space. I’ve already seen the current #MeToo discussions wiggle its way into the story, in an interesting way, although I don’t see that going very far. HIV is there, a “must” given the age of the characters. But I think mostly, two things I look forward to: Martin will at some point travel back in “time” to see if the love of his life is still alive. Not sure how that will turn out. I don’t even know if he actually is alive still. And we’ll be able to see how the relationship between Martin and Eugene evolves: friend or lover? Maybe that is the topic of the book. I’m not sure. And all the practical things to consider once you’re that age… Interesting. Can’t wait to get back to writing, but I doubt it’ll be today. I have a busy day ahead of me with my son’s Lucia recital in school, shopping, a full weekend at my mother in law’s, checking out a new car (long story) etc.
Oh, before I forget: you are still following the Rainbow Advent Calendar? It’s worth reading a free story every day of the advent countdown… And mine’s due December 24th, on Christmas Eve. I’m really pleased with Paul’s story… Don’t miss it.
Also, my publisher and I have had a release this week, of an amazing anthology, called Never Too Late. Martin was inspired by the question of “LGBTQIA+ life after fifty”, and the stories in the anthology depict just that. I’m super proud of my own contribution, a short story about Clara, which loosely can be categorized as “genderqueer”. Here’s what two reviewers had to say about Clara:
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so moved by a story. It isn’t because the story is particularly sad. There’s some sadness in it, yes, but it is not tragic or depressing or even especially angsty. […] There are very few stories about non-binary characters. There are even fewer which are good. This one will forever have a special place in my heart because it felt so real. Right down to Clara’s presentation and sense of self, all the details were so perfect.”
“Hans Hirschi has written a story that is entertaining and touching, yes, but it’s also an excellent education in what being genderqueer/non-binary is like for Clara and others. It’s a story I’ll be recommending to anyone who tells me they don’t understand gender beyond male/female.”
Amazing reviews, and I’m glad I managed to get it right. I feel very strongly about the connection of gender identity, sexuality and gender roles. I invite you to read this amazing story and the anthology it is part of. Great authors, great stories!
If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. The next issue is due next week. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great weekend and enjoy the second advent.
PS: May I talk about Disease for just one last time? I just received another review this week, and the book has now received 36 five-star reviews on GoodReads, 27 five star reviews on Amazon and even the 3/4-star reviews are raving about the book. If you haven’t read it yet, give it a chance… You won’t regret it!
I moaned and my husband asked me why: tale of a homemaker
I’ve been a homemaker for almost five years. In fact, I quit my last full-time job four years and eleven months ago. Since then, I’ve been primarily using the house as a base of operations for my consulting, my teaching gigs, and writing books. With that home office advantage also comes the expectation that I should look after said home. From the get-go, we set out some rules: we’d outsource the coarse cleaning to an outside cleaner coming by every two weeks, but I’d do the daily maintenance around the house and the household.
Yeah, I bake and cook, like any good homemaker. The baking is fun, and it’s nice to see the happy face of your child. But I don’t have the time to do it often…
As we got going, we also expected our son, and I spent the first six months with him, followed by my husband. I was still at the house then, so we were basically both home, me writing and publishing, him doing the child thing. In the four years since, we’ve slipped into this comfortable routine of getting up in the morning, me getting our son ready for school, while he gets himself presentable for work. They leave the house at 7:05 am and don’t usually return until 5:30 to 6 pm. Once they’re out of the house, my routine begins, and it consists of your typical modern “authory” things: social media, blogging, writing, editing, reading & reviewing etc. Apart from that, I also try to make a buck or two from my consultancy and training firm. I’ll be honest: I’m not making much money. My husband is pretty much the sole breadwinner of our family, and therefore, the pressure on me to at least keep the house(-hold) in ship-shape is ever increasing, and my guilt with it. Don’t get me started about my dwindling 401K…
I also empty the dishwasher in the morning, put away the dishes, do laundry, fold clothes that weren’t folded after our (shared) Sunday washing day. I clean up after our son, I prepare and cook our evening meals, I run errands to the post office, downtown and to various malls (on public transport, since my husband uses our only car for work), and I feed our cats and keep their litter box tidy. Did I mention that I also take out the garbage and refill the compost container with a new bag every Wednesday after it’s been collected? I take in the mail daily and I’m our finance minister, meaning I pay our invoices and keep tabs on our credit card spending. I book all of our trips, stay in touch with our son’s school, I book electricians, carpenters, gardeners and others who need to do work in and around the house. I’m also the legal guardian of my mother-in-law and do all of her finances. A couple of times per week I hit the gym to keep my new and improved body in ship-shape.
The traditional image of a homemaker, a woman. Sadly, still a reality, and for the few men out there, invisibility is challenging.
Mind you, I am not complaining. I have a lot of freedom in what I do, when I do it, and how I do it. Writing is a dream come true! But I have to run after a gazillion little things without which our household would seize functioning.
Tonight, after dinner, my husband sat down in our reading corner to work some more. He’s a senior manager for the city of Gothenburg and yeah, he works a lot, often until 10 pm, several times per week. No, he’s not nearly paid enough for it. I remember, having once been an executive myself, I know the work hours of senior management. And I wonder, how did we do things back then? Not having a kid must’ve helped… Still, how did we manage?
Our son was tired and after I had gotten him to finish his dinner, he went to bed. Early. I brushed his teeth, combed his hair, helped him gargle with his mouthwash, spritzed cortisone spray up his nostrils as he’s been having difficulties with his nasal tract again, and saw him off to bed, with a fresh glass of water, and after having fluffed his comforter and pillow for him. After that, I had to empty the dishwasher from the afternoon post-baking load (see picture above. I’m trying out to create the perfect oatmeal cookie) and to put the dinner dishes in, clean the table and the kitchen countertops. You know, the usual post-dinner clean-up. At some point, looking at my husband sitting comfortably in his recliner, laptop in lap, working away, I must’ve moaned. He must’ve heard, and he asked what was wrong.
Well, my dear husband, nothing really. As the one who costs more than he brings home, I don’t have the privilege to complain, really. I work from dusk to bedtime, literally, as my jobs don’t have regular hours, maybe with the teaching exception, but even course preparations often require evening work. I miss having colleagues, people to go to lunch with every day, or brushing off every now and then, having coffee with a colleague or a meeting or two (I know, I know, who would’ve thought I’d ever say that…), but the only ones I’m usually talking to throughout the day are the cats. And the fish, on a bad day…
Yeah, almost. Although I never breastfed our son. This is, of course, the stereotype of a housewife, but there’s a lot of truth to it. We do have a lot to juggle, every day. Being a homemaker isn’t about watching daytime soaps…
Before long, and this is why I’ve stopped complaining a long time ago (apart from the not really being allowed to), is that our marital “chore split discussions” inevitably end up in “but do you really have to… [blog/be social/talk to readers every day/go to cons/do publicity interviews/review books or read this shit/ etc.]?” And I mostly shrug, because as a management consultant, I have that VERY same conversation (unpaid mind you) with my husband every other day, about these worthless and unproductive meetings he (has to) attend (which I question, nevertheless), tasks he finds meaningless (and which I recommend he divest, but he can’t/won’t) etc.
The big difference is this: I’ve been a corporate executive. I’ve lived in his world for many years. He’s never lived in mine. He doesn’t understand the complexity of being a self-employed consultant, or an indie author in today’s publishing flux, or how much fucking time I get to waste in phone queues with hospitals/suppliers/government agencies/etc. to fix things for us, our son, or his mother.
So yes, every now and then, I moan, simply because I wonder – silently of course – what it would be like to go back to a day job, contributing financially to our family again, and to have a looong discussion with my husband about how to redistribute the household chores equally between the two of us. And I wonder, silently of course, what it would be like, having to get up even earlier, for both of us to be ready in time for a 7:05 am departure, and to come home at 6 pm night after night, getting dinner started, rather than sitting down and eating. Would I still be able to write? Would I find the time? The energy?The inspiration?
I don’t know, but yeah, these questions, too, deserve a moan every now and then because I am aware of my contribution to running our family smoothly. No thank yous (usually), no pension funds/points, but at least I know my husband and my son can focus on their days.
Author Hans M. Hirschi, photographed by Alina Oswald in Central Park, NYC. May 1, 2017.
Me, I get to let out a moan every now and then, before it’s back to work for me, too, a 1,400+ word rant on my blog, a post dedicated to the world’s silent worker, who like me, isn’t paid, doesn’t get pension points and far too little gratitude and attention: the homemaker.
If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a good week.
Homemaker, father, author, consultant, teacher, former corporate (& future again?) executive
Labels and labeling aren’t helpful, at all, with one exception: to find yourself
“What are you, little one?”, “why can’t you be like everyone else?”, “it’s just a phase…”, “we need to see a doctor!” In this progression, many a conversation has been held around kitchen or dining room tables around the world, in many different languages. At some point, labels were used: “how can you know you’re [label]?” or “mom, dad, I’m [label]” etc. Over the years, I’ve had neverending discussions with people about our labels, who we are, what we are, and most importantly, why we are (or why we aren’t like the rest…)
Clara, my short story for the upcoming Beaten Track Anthology “Never Too Late“, is about someone who defies labels, too. Clara is, quite simply, “a Clara”…
Labels, I find, tend to get in the way of progress, of true equality. This isn’t primarily about being LGBT, or SAGA (sexual and gender acceptance), or about “masculine” and “feminine”, although the two are closely linked, particularly when it comes to our society, and our value system. Here’s why, and I’ll give you a couple of examples to show why labels are great if you need them to find yourself, but really, really suck, when it comes to shoehorning others.
When we fall in love, or when we’re horny (or sexually attracted to someone if you prefer), a great many things are in play, procreation rarely being the focal point, no matter what they say. We are lucky to be one of the many species on this planet to actually be able to have sex and relationships for pure joy. We should make the most of it. Whether the person we are together with is procreationally compatible with us is irrelevant in nine out of ten cases. We are also lucky to live in a day and age where procreation is no longer necessarily needed to keep our societies growing (a conservative mantra usually) since there are enough kids being born as it is.
I have several friends in my circles who at some point in their lives came to the realization (although this is a lengthy – life-long (?) – process rather than a one-time revelation) they weren’t as clear-cut “male” or “female” as everyone thought, least themselves. A few of them are married, and there are plenty of cases out there which have been dragged around the media. Most people would say that two men who are married are “gay”, right? You might stretch yourself to a compromise that it is entirely possible that one, or both, might be bi-sexual, but with the lingering doubt about “why didn’t they just marry a nice girl then?” (but let’s not be bi-phobic, shall we?) But would you consider it possible that two men are married where at least one of them is straight? Both even? Yet consider this:
Adam marries Eve, Eve realizes she’s really more Steve and transitions, with all the “bells and whistles”. Since Adam really loves Steve, they stay married. So, does that mean that Adam is now gay since clearly he’s married to a guy? Or, as those awful romance books will trope it, is he merely “gay 4U”? Or is Adam still straight? Was he ever straight? Is he pansexual? Here’s the thing: labeling Adam is none of our goddamn business. We shouldn’t even ask him. We should just be happy that there’s one marriage, one relationship, that pasts the test of time and doesn’t break over something as fundamental as a trans/queer coming out.
In the case of Steve, you might say it’s clear-cut since Steve goes from being a “woman” (although was he ever?) to being a “man”, but what about Josie, who considers themselves queer, floating freely between genders, one day feeling all male and butch, the next donning make-up and a nice girly dress. They aren’t “agender”, since clearly, they embrace sometimes very stereotypical gender representations, unlike Sasha, who absolutely hate everything about their born sex and thus assigned gender and consider themselves “agender”, meaning they are neither male nor female, although, to the naked eye of the observer, the way they dress and act, may at times appear very similar to Josie. And yes, there’s the mess with pronouns which gives more people headaches than necessary. Remember this with your “they/them” friends: in 99 out of 100 times when you’d have to use the “they/them”, they will not actually be in the room to hear it – and be offended – as you’d otherwise be using the pronoun “you” in addressing them. Therefore, no need to really worry. You’ll be fine. Just try to get it right. It’s intentionally getting it wrong which is the offensive gesture. What about Josie’s and Sasha’s spouses? What would you label them?
So why do we use labels in the first place? Quite simple: we are so used to the binary system or “male” & “female” and them being straight, that everything that falls outside those categories is confusing to most. Our brain has a built-in need to understand, to categorize, to box things neatly, and that’s where labels come in handy. Problem is that labels can cause offense and be hurtful. Just imagine how Donald Trump would react to being addressed as “Mrs. Trump”, or if you’d call the Queen of England “Mr. Windsor” or “His Majesty”… Imagine yourself, if you’re cis-gendered, being labeled the opposite by a complete stranger. It would certainly sting, and you’d ask yourself “why would they say that?”, “what’s wrong with my masculinity/femininity?”, “what clue could they have misinterpreted?” and depending on who you are, you might ponder for a long time about what signals to avoid sending henceforth. It’s how we tick. Not having a label makes us uncomfortable, and we’d rather shift then discomfort on the other, rather than dealing with it ourselves. Quite egotistical really!
Alok Vaid-Menon is an example of what I’m talking about. Alok defies labels, with the exception of their beautiful name. To learn more about them, their art and their views, listen to this great podcast. Photo: Alok Vaid-Menon
The “rest” of us are quite the same. As a father, I often get to hear that “well, you’re not a mother, you couldn’t know how this feels…” to which I could say a whole bunch of things, but it just exemplifies that we attribute so much content to a specific label, regardless of whether it is true, or not, or to what extent something holds true.
I’m not saying all women are as physically strong as men, but there are a significant number of women who are significantly stronger than a significant number of men. I’m not saying that all men are better at raising kids than women, but there are a significant number of men who are significantly better at raising kids than a significant number of women.
Now replace “physically strong” & “raising kids” with anything, and you’ll get my point. Labels just aren’t helpful. They just cement our prejudice. Labels are necessary though, for ourselves, as we try to learn who we are, ourselves. The minute you realize that you’re different, “abnormal”, a “freakosaurus”, that’s when labels can help you. Whether you’re a gay boy or girl slowly walking the path from straight to gay via bi (it happens kids) or whether they stay put at bi, whether you wake up one day to realize that the body bag you’re in doesn’t quite suit who you are, and you need help to find out where on the spectrum between the poles “male” and “female” you are at home, or whether you’re an eternal wanderer. If a label helps you to find yourself, and – more importantly – others like you, then great.
I’ve used labels to describe things here, too. If you go back over the text though, you’ll realize that the only label which really fits each of the individuals above, is the one we learn when we first meet them, their name: Adam, Steve, Josie, and Sasha. And they’re beautiful labels, individually tailored to fit each and every one of those amazing human beings. The rest? None of our business really, as long as they are kind, gentle members of society.
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“Boys will be boys”, right? Seems many of the tactics of straight men have also been used in the gay community…
Interesting days we live through, eh? I’m not even referring to the orange cheeto currently occupying the White House, although he is, of course, one of the worst offenders in terms of the whole #MeToo campaign, yet oddly, while male chauvinist pig after male chauvinist pig has been forced out of their jobs (too many to name), DOTUS himself seems to still hover unfazed, above it all. Strange times. Sexual harassment isn’t anything new of course, but the #MeToo campaign has grown into something much bigger, much larger, and it’s refreshing to see how so many millions of women around the world suddenly rise up and demand things to change for the better, at last, at long last.
From my personal vantage point, I look at this all with a certain amusement, because I don’t even get it, I don’t understand how any man would want to grab a woman by her genitals or shove his hands down her bra to give her a good squeeze. But that’s because I’m gay, and I’ve just not interested, and why would I squeeze goods I’m not interested in buying? That would be like squeezing avocados in a store just to see whether they were, in fact, ripe or not, even though you don’t like them. However, I do like men, and so it stands to reason that I might do what is done to women, but to other (gay) men? I’ll get back to that later.
The question warrants asking, because we’ve seen the stories told about other LGBT men, from disgraced Kevin Spacey to George Takei. And it made me wonder, because when “uncle George” talked about his own experiences with Howard Stern, and seemed to shrug off some allegations with “not remembering”, people were understandably upset. Yet don’t we all forget? Let me just say this with regards to my own experiences: I have met people I’ve apparently had sex with, many years later, and I had absolutely no recollection of it. That is, of course, embarrassing in that moment when you see that person again, but is just a symptom of what we think is important in our lives, and what isn’t. “What”, mind you, not necessarily “who”. Do I remember ever behaving inappropriately toward other men? In bars, discos or elsewhere? Honestly? I don’t remember. Is it possible? Sure, anything is possible. I am a flawed human being like the rest of them, but unless someone specifically was to jump-start my memories, I can’t remember anything. I don’t think it’s likely though, because of my own experiences as a victim of sexual assault, rape and my deep convictions with regards to that topic. What I do remember, however, are my own experiences as a young gay man, going out, and the constant groping and touching going on in gay bars. Someone recently wrote an excellent post about this on Facebook, in response to the allegations against George Takei, and I do remember all of this going on vividly. Yes, it may have been part of the male gay community, and it may have almost been a necessity to meet people a long time ago when our entire community was reduced to sex(uality). Does that mean we still have to do things this way? I asked some gay men around me, some my age, some older, some younger, about their own experiences, and these are some of their answers:
“Things were very different for gay men in the 80s. Being groped was a regular part of my life. If I didn’t like it, I’d tell the guy to back off, but I wouldn’t make a huge deal about it. There were exceptions, such as the story I’ve told about a man pulling me into a dark room and yanking my pants down. I had to literally fight him off, and that was scary.
But things are different now. Men can’t grab at each other like they used to. People have learned more about boundaries — which is a good thing.”
Someone else had this to say, and I can sympathize with him, not to mention that I felt the same when I felt like an ugly duckling:
“When I first went clubbing in […] as a student I would be grabbed and pinched and oogled all the time. It was just how it was in gay clubs then. It may be the same I don’t know I’ve not been clubbing recently.
To be honest, having struggled with who I’d fancy and getting my head around it being men, back then I took the grabbing & pinching as a compliment because it meant *someone* fancied me; even if I didn’t wanna go to bed with them it was an option I then had unlike before.”
Here’s a comment that I know many women will recognize:
“That was a part of gay culture I hated. Being groped, pinched, fondled without permission pissed me off. Being told what a cold bitch I was for rejecting these advances made it worse.”
I wish I knew for certain that things have changed. Someone very wise said on a podcast the other day that the LGBT community suffers from more alcohol and drug abuse, is more prone to mental illness than anyone else. Given our treatment by parents, schools, workplaces, and society at large, no surprise. Sadly, where alcohol and drugs go in, sense goes out, and people act stupidly. So I’m not as optimistic as the first commenter above. But it certainly seems necessary.
I remember being subjected to all of the above, and I know for a fact that there are three decades between the first and the second commentator, so if anything’s changed, it must’ve been very recently. Some aspects of gay history and culture are unique, and they’re mostly going away (from bathhouses to sex clubs), and our more open embracing of our sexuality, or sex drive to be more accurate, isn’t a bad thing per se. I quite like having sex myself, and I quite dislike monogamy and societal rules built around religious concepts and morality. They serve no one but to oppress. We are one of the few species on the planet that can actually have sex just for enjoyment, and enjoying ourselves, feeling good is not a bad thing (don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise), quite the contrary. Happy people are more likely to be good people, helpful and honest. Suppressing our sex drive, to hide behind veils of vows of monogamy etc. will only lead to people cheating and lying to each other, from the Groper in Chief to Roy Moore and all those other men who have been caught with their pants around their ankles. And where there’s a straight man, there’s usually also a woman. It takes two to tango. Women have sex drives, too.
Here’s the point though: to have a sex drive, to embrace it, have sex with multiple partners or to merely jerk off to a good porn flick or an erotic story is all fine, but to force your needs onto others just isn’t cool. As gay men, we can’t hide behind our “oppressed” label anymore. I hated being disrespected by older gay men in clubs when I was young, and I’d hate to do the same to the young men growing up today. Mind you, I haven’t been to a club in decades (which is why I have no clue what goes on these days), but I do meet other gay men all the time, at conventions, meetings, events. And I keep my distance, physically.
There is a “pecking order” in society. We all know that age, money, job, gender, sexuality, they all give you power over others, perceived or otherwise, depending on the culture of that society. Some use that to their advantage, which is wrong. That’s the only way I can say this. However, to get to the real root issue here, we must dig deeper. MUCH deeper. Yesterday, I was listening to a podcast I listen to regularly, a podcast I was on just two weeks ago, as a guest. The guest on Monday’s recording was Alok Vaid-Menon, a trans artist, and activist. Let me just say that his words summarize most beautifully the real issues we face in our cis-gender-centered world, and if you have a half hour, I highly recommend you listen to Alok with an open mind. I’ve written about feminism in the past, and how I believe that our fate (i.e. that of the LGBT community) depends on the success of feminism, first. Alok explains why, and I don’t remember just how many times I shouted “I totally agree” while walking my miles on the treadmill, listening to him. You can find the episode right here.
Once again, a long post. My apologies. But these are important days for all of us, no matter whether we cis-identify or not, and how we act based upon that in the world that surrounds us. What is your take on all this? I’m curious to hear from you, as always.
If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a good weekend.