Contrary to popular belief you’re not as old as you feel…
How often have I heard that sentence: “you’re only as old as you feel…” Bullcrap! You’re as old as you’re perceived, that is the sad truth. While it is true that the way we perceive our own age changes imperceptively, we do age before our inner eye. A blessing I guess. Who’d want to be a toddler all life? I also believe that our own view of our age, and how we are perceived by others, are interacting. People who “behave” old are perceived as being older. Our looks also have an impact on how we’re perceived: people who look after themselves, dress smartly and youthful are perceived as younger as those who do not. So far so easy.
Age is but a number, my ass!
However, sometimes we are judged merely by our date of birth. A long time ago (over a decade in fact), Swedish telco giant Ericsson offered everyone older than 1968 a severance package. They were considered “too old” to contribute positively to the company’s future. And oftentimes, it’s said that people above the age of fifty are too old to be considered for a job. And too expensive, I guess. So let’s dispense with this notion that we control our aging, because we don’t, not fully anyway. Yes, there are things we can do, but at some point, you realize that you’re no longer young, but old. How exactly does that happen and is it a bad thing?
Always too young, suddenly too old. How did that happen?
I was the youngest to ever apply and train to be a civil protection ‘soldier’ at the age of sixteen. I was the youngest candidate ever (at the time) to run for public office in my hometown. All my life I did things that people my age had not done before, always fighting this perception that I was too young. I remember the feeling, the frustration of not being taken seriously, that somehow my views were not worth as much due to the date on my birth certificate.
Years pass and suddenly things feel different. Suddenly I’m too old for e.g. politics. I’m too old to hold a job. My views are considered outdated and old, and I’m bombarded with a gazillion memes making that point: if you remember what a VHS tape or a cassette is, you’re practically three feet under. Why thank you.
So what changed?
I’m not denying my age. I’m not denying that some days, getting out of bed is a painful exercise. Yet at the same time, my body is in better shape than it has been since 1985. I look at my face and I see the changes, but compared to people ten, fifteen years my junior I still look pretty good. I feel great.
And part of that greatness is due to the changes in my head. Albert Einstein once said: “the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know!” I second that motion entirely, and I wish people my age had been able to tell me, when I was young, why they dismissed my views. First of all, I don’t dismiss the views of the young. Ever. Because I remember how frustrating it was back when I wasn’t taken seriously. I would never do that to anyone else. It’s so disrespectful. But I also know things today that I didn’t know back then. Life experience, more factual knowledge (I/we know so much more than we knew in the eighties), and I think I’ve become a ‘tad’ more patient. I’m not as pushy, impatient than I was in my twenties.
Unfortunately, when I was a child and until I was about thirty-ish, even afterward, the older generations simply didn’t take us seriously. Whatever the younger generations had to bring to the table wasn’t worth considering. Often times we weren’t even listened to. Exceptions existed of course, but they were exactly that, exceptions. Strangely, those are people I still admire to this day.
Experience, wisdom (?) is a blessing
Back then, people didn’t explain why they didn’t value our views, or why they believed/knew differently. At least nothing beyond a “you’re too young to understand…” and yeah, that is not helpful, as we were well aware of how old we were. I try very hard not to make that same mistake when I meet younger people. Their view of the world is shaped by their perception, their unique untainted view of youth. That is an important view. Age affords me knowledge of how slow change can be, how important compromise is, how reality works. Youth provides insights into the desperate need for change, and the desperation that “waiting” will always lead to lost opportunities, to loss. Period.
While I enjoy knowing so much more than a younger counterpart, I also find it important to impart to them the reasons why I know this, not to just disregard their views. I find particularly discussions about our planet, the environment and changes to our climate interesting. We currently have an interesting debate in our city, about a new train tunnel to connect and circumvent our terminus station. There is a lot of opposition against the tunnel. Some just don’t believe in public transport, some (in certain suburbs) don’t see the need, as they are nowhere near a railway. However, I’ve noted in recent months that some of the opposition is age-related, with older people opposing the project because “the city would be a mess for years”. I even had one person argue “I won’t be around to use it…”
If I’m old, this person is practically ancient. How sad is it that we begin to look at say five years of chaos in a city and disregard the decades and decades of a better future this will provide for us? That makes me sad.
Have things changed? Or is it a generational rather than an age thing?
When I see my generation (born in the fifties and sixties) argue against progress, because it takes too long or isn’t immediately visible, I wonder: are younger generations more apt at seeing the bigger picture than we are? Are we so obsessed with quarterly results, “me me me” and instant gratification that we can’t view beyond the tip of our noses? Is it my generation that’s off track rather than us just getting older?
I honestly don’t know. I am very happy with the place where I am at, mentally, even physically. To be able to reflect, to have the experience I have, having seen what I have, done what I have, affords me great luxury in terms of analyzing the world. Grant you, I wish I had more working collagen in my skin to keep it from sagging, but hey, there’s a price for everything… But it worries me to see that so many in my generation have lost that precious gift of seeing the bigger picture, the grand scheme of things. Short term gains more important than long-term future. Need I mention #Brexit as a prime example of this, both in the arguments leading up to that disastrous vote and in politicians’ actions in the two years since.
What is your take? Let’s discuss… Meanwhile, I have to go back and finish a book. Have a great week.
My first children’s book, a book about love, available today
I had to redesign my website the other day, specifically the book-page. I don’t even remember off hand how many books I’ve released since my first in July 2013. Let me go check: nineteen. Today marks my twentieth release. Wow. Twelve novels, two non-fiction, one short story collection, and three anthologies. Today, I embark into new territory: children’s books. With the release of The Dragon Princess, I give you a book, unlike anything I’ve written before. To write for children is radically different than writing for adults.
Love is love and dragons are evil or are they really? The Dragon Princess is a story about love and how it holds the power to transform even the coldest of hearts. A classic bedtime story for children of all ages.
My son and I.
When my son was little, my husband and I were actively looking for books. Reading had been important to me when I was a child, and we wanted Sascha to be read to and to read by himself, too. We began to buy books, we were gifted lots of books and his bookshelf is well filled. But there are, at this stage, only two books that portray rainbow families and diverse love. Our son is five years old and he is starting to understand the differences between moms and dads. To him, having two dads is totally okay. It’s just the natural state for him, but just this morning he asked me if his mother was still alive. I know that he is trying to make sense of things, subconsciously. Ever now and then he’ll ask a question, and we’ve talked about this repeatedly.
Sometimes, it helps to have children’s books to help parents explain things. That was my starting point when I began to write about Valerius and Evander, the heroes in the book, two years ago. I wanted to create a series of children’s books where I could explore LGBT themes for kids, on a level they would understand.
Easier said than done
First, I wrote a text that encompassed sixteen scenes. I wanted to try and tell a classic fairytale. There are a lot of kids who love dragons and the struggle between good and evil. It needs to be a relatively simple plot, with clear-cut roles. And it needs to end well. Writing the first draft took a couple of hours, but I wasn’t happy with it. I don’t think I’ve ever edited and rewritten a text as many times as I’ve worked on The Dragon Princess. Sometimes I would edit the text several times in a day, then let it simmer for months. All in all, it took me over two years from the first draft to a final manuscript.
One of the amazing illustrations by Felicity Swan in the Dragon Princess.
When you write for small children, pictures, illustrations are a given. Kids like to read along, and when they can’t read, the pictures is where they ‘read’. They see the words in the picture, and as you read, they try to find those words in the illustration. My son is beginning to read for real, and it’s only now, at the age of five that he’s showing interest in the letters for the first time, asking me things like: “does this mean…?” pointing at the words on the page. In Felicity Swan, I was lucky to find a great illustrator to work with.
A new genre, new audience, a new approach
Yeah, how do you market a children’s book? I live in a country where marketing toward children is strictly forbidden and frowned upon. I have always been a genre hopper. Maybe it’s the Gemini in me that always sees new and shiny objects everywhere. From romantic love stories to gruesome books about child abuse, discrimination against first nations to debilitating dementia, I’ve covered new topics in every book.
To me, branching out into children’s book was a small step. Difficult, but small. The biggest challenge for me is to find my audience. We’ll see how that goes. For now, my take is simple, hoping that my existing audience buys the book for the children around them, from their own offspring to grandchildren, bonus kids, nieces, nephews etc.
Front cover of my coming children’s book The Dragon Princess, releasing September 20, 2018
A great big thank you to my publisher…
It’s no secret that I am very happy with my publisher. They’re a small house, but they treat every book as a gem in its own right. I felt that The Dragon Princess was handled even more carefully than my adult writing. Working with me and the illustrator, they put in a ton of time to make sure the book would be as perfect as humanly possible.
There is so much work going into even something as seemingly trivial as a forty-page kids book, from web pages, publishing, paginating, layout, proofing, editing, to making sure it’s available on release day on every single of the dozens of sites (and distribution) that sell books.
Beaten Track Publishing has that little extra love for children’s books. As an author, having my work treated that way makes my heart skip a beat. Thank you! Have a look at their catalog of children’s books.
Valerius and Evander are now yours to treasure, I hope you enjoy their first adventure in The Dragon Princess!
Hans M Hirschi
Meet Felicity Swan, the illustrator who made it possible
Writing a children’s book has been my dream ever since my son was born. I just wanted to add something to his life that we as rainbow parents are hard-pressed to find. Our son already owns a good hundred books, and some of them are positively archaic, with moms by the stove and handy dads. Horrifying! He also owns two books out of a hundred where rainbow families or being LGBT are mentioned. One is And Tango Makes Three (of course!), the other one is Marlon Bundo (the good version.) I began writing The Dragon Princess a couple of years ago (!) when we only had the book about Tango, and I’m finally able to get it out. This week. Thursday. To make it possible, I needed a great illustrator. Dozens applied for the job, I finally decided to work with Felicity Swan. You’ll understand why. Let’s get to know this amazing artist. I sent her a few questions, and she’s generously answered those for us:
Q: Who is Felicity Swan in her own words?
I’m a freelance writer and artist. I draw comics, illustrations, and write books.
Q: What is one thing you would like the world to remember you for?
When someone closes a book I’ve written, I want them to feel a connection to it. Whether its hopeful or feeling like they’re not alone in their struggles or even feel understood in some way. I hope they feel the same way I do when I read my favorite books.
Q: What got you into illustrating?
I’ve always been drawing from the time I could hold a pencil. I started taking it seriously after I got my associates degree and realized university life wasn’t for me. I wanted to find what made me happy, not what I thought others expected of me. I was good at writing and drawing, so I pursued those instead.
Q: What inspires you? Do you have any specific “style”?
When it comes to style, it depends on the work and the tone I’m going for. I don’t believe in being tied to any one style, but it’s all about effectively communicating with your audience. I’m influenced by a variety of artists: Art Spiegleman, Aaron Alexovich, Jason Brubaker, Hiayao Miyazaki, Yun Koga, and a variety of independent artists.
Front cover of my coming children’s book The Dragon Princess, releasing September 20, 2018
“First time I’ve collaborated on an illustrated book”
Q: One of the reasons why I absolutely fell for your style is the multi-faceted it is. I remember when you first sent me your sketches and how there was so much depth, so many layers or what I would call sub-text, but I guess it would be better to refer to just layers. How do you go about when you work with e.g. an author?
This is the first time I’ve collaborated on an illustrated book. When it comes to commissions and this collaboration, I’m usually given an idea of what someone wants – either a description or a set of images to work with. From there, I do my best to capture what the client wants, either through what they’ve unconsciously strung together through the images provided or from what I can get from their descriptions. For your writing, I was really drawn in by your use of contrasts in your descriptions – hot vs cold, young vs old, small vs large. So I used that as a base for everything – from colors to silhouettes. The parents have sharper edges than Valarius and Evander, both who have softer and sleeker designs. I wanted to have a contrast in warm vibrant colors for the protagonists and cold, darker colors for those affected by the curse.
“Ideas come from everywhere”
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the process you work with, from idea to sketch to final rendering?
My ideas come from everywhere, to be honest – dreams, a simple idea, a “what if” thought, or even just a certain image or the way items are placed together. Heck, me misinterpreting a scene cut out of a show or game can lead to a cool story. Lately, I’ve been recycling old ideas in order to help flesh out new stories. When it comes to my comics, I’ll have a few ideas, I’ll write a summary, a few outlines, and then start the sketching phase where I start piecing things together or clearing up ideas and figuring out what I want the style to be. Some comics, I’ve had to leave off to the side and allow the idea to mature because I couldn’t think of an ending or I didn’t like the middle. Then I work on thumbnails (small mock-ups) of the pages, then I put my nose to the grindstone. Its a similar process for illustrations.
Q: Do you work exclusively with a computer or do you also illustrate on physical materials, e.g. paper, canvas?
I work mainly on my computer. When it comes to sketching or making “ugly sketches” I work on physical paper. My main medium is dry mediums. Thankfully, I was able to purchase a display tablet this time and my output has almost doubled.
One of the amazing illustrations by Felicity Swan in the Dragon Princess.
Q: Toward the very end of our collaboration, you mentioned that you were visually impaired, which – if possible – increased my admiration for your work. Does your impairment influence your artistic expression, the work-flow?
All my life, I’ve had going blind hanging over my head. I’ve also had horrible depth perception and ocular migraines (lights and colors over my vision; not painful aside from eye strain). I think my first encounter with near-retinal detachment at the age of ten was a real wake up call for me and I started really pursuing writing.
“Four surgeries to prevent blindness in my right eye”
Before you commissioned me, I’d had four surgeries to prevent blindness in my right eye. There’s a cataract over that eye now and I’ll have surgery number five in the near future. It’s likely that, in ten years, I’ll lose that eye due to scar tissue. So, yes, it does influence my artistic expression – I feel a pressure to hurry and tell my stories. Not only that, but my near-nearsightedness makes seeing things far away difficult, so backgrounds and landscapes are tough for me. And having one eye to look through has done a number on my ocular migraines and made it harder to read books with normal sized text. I haven’t noticed too much of a difference with my drawing, though.
“It was about the shooting of Abraham Lincoln…”
Q: Was this your first project to work on a children’s book? If so, what is the takeaway for you? Did you learn something?
When I was a child, I drew a picture book called “Pikachu Goes to the Moon” haha! I wrote and drew a children’s historical fiction book when I was in junior high/middle school as an assignment for history class. It was about the shooting of Abraham Lincoln from the perspective of an orphan who overhears the shooter’s plans and tries to stop the shooting. Ever since my family has been telling me I should do more children’s books in the historical fiction genre. Once I’m done with the work I’m currently doing, I might look into it. Who knows?
Q: What is next for you? Any projects you can/wish to mention?
I have a long form comic called Final Break and I’m doing short comics on the side when I’m not doing commissions.
Q: Where/how can people find you?
Find me on social media:
Instagram / Twitter
Here’s a hub for all my links to my works, as well as my portfolio:
Feel free to feed my cat and help with cataract surgery:
Patreon (monthly subscription)
Ko-Fi (tip jar)
The Dragon Princess in what might become the “Valerius and Evander” series is published by Beaten Track Publishing and releases this week on Thursday. It is available as an ebook and on paperback from all your regular sources, including Amazon. Check it out, and read it with your kids, grandkids, nephews, nieces etc.
Here are the sales links:
Social media is still ‘da shit’, but I’m so over it…
I just listened to a podcast, a show I listen to regularly (and have appeared on, myself), and the guest talked about Instagram and social media, and how posting Instagram images with his significant other garners him a ton of extra likes. I can sympathize. I recognize myself in that. And I wanted to talk to you all about it. I’m an author. My passion is storytelling and as a writer, I tend to primarily use my words to pen them down. The whole process of selling, marketing and self-promotion does not come easily to me. I just don’t like to talk about myself. I don’t like to see myself on pictures, yet I realize that in order to succeed, I must.
When a new book of mine hits the bookstores, I love to see it featured in magazines, I like to see it reviewed, and I certainly don’t mind seeing it reach the #1 or #2 spots on charts around the world. There’s no author who honestly doesn’t appreciate their books being a success. What I don’t understand is that it takes me to make them successful. What’s wrong with the characters in my stories? Their relationships, the trials they face, the storyline? Why does my smile have to be the deal breaker for buyers, readers? And to go back to the first paragraph and that podcast, it’s not just the artist themselves, it’s their family, too. We are expected to also include our children, our partners, our pets and our homes, our vacation spots and dinner recipes when we post on Facebook etc. I really struggle with that. And I’ll get back to that topic in a minute.
Why I quit Twitter
I quit Twitter this summer, retiring for the second time (after 2010) from the platform. I no longer saw the value of it. It’s become a megaphone to yell out our messages, but no one’s there to listen. Your ranking on Twitter is determined by how well you follow back, but we all know that after a 1,000 follower threshold you’re done. You can’t really follow your stream anymore. It simply becomes unworkable. I had about 8K followers and followed about half that number myself. I never even looked at my stream, and I can only assume the same was true for most of my followers. Most posts are generated by bots who dish out ready-made stories, aka “valuable content” on our behalf, on a regular basis. Where’s the “social” in bots spewing out automated content into the vastness of the Interwebs? Huh? I quit, and I save time and money, but most importantly, I don’t think I’ve sold fewer books because of it.
My schizophrenic relationship with Facebook
I have almost two-thousand “friends” on Facebook. Needless to say that most are not my friends, not even acquaintances, because I don’t know most of them. When I, reluctantly, joined Facebook to help organize my husband’s 30th birthday party (long story), I quickly garnered my first thirty friends. I was excited. They seemed to be waiting for me. Those evil algorithms had me on the hook. Almost a decade later I have unliked all pages (and keep unliking things I liked, such as “classical music” also turned pages by Facebook since then) and I have left most groups, as Facebook turns all of those things into advertising hooks. The sad part is how stupid those algorithms really work. Just because I like a post or a page doesn’t mean I like the “phenomenon”, but to advertisers, it certainly seems that way, and they can push their adverts much more precisely. Those fools! Profit does Facebook, but not the advertiser, not unless their approach truly is “spray and pray!”
When strangers send me a friend request I usually accept, unless it obviously is a fake account or someone who’s only interested in me for a visa or my money. How am I to know who reads my books or not. It’s not as if they send you a message explaining why they’re friending me. I once asked a guy from the Philippines why he friended me and he said: “Facebook suggested it” #facepalm Is that what it’s come to? A stupid algorithm telling us who we would be friends with?
No choice really!
When you have as many people on your list as I do (and I’m far from the 5K limit), and you follow all of them, your stream becomes unmanageable, worthless. So I automatically unfollow people I don’t know. But even then, there’s no guarantee that I actually see stuff from my ‘real’ friends, or from people I know. Because Facebook’s almighty algorithms deem your friendship dead if you haven’t liked or interacted with someone for a while. Little do they know about personal human relationships… My best friends and I can go months, years even without talking, only to resume where we left off the last time. Facebook was supposed to make it easier to stay in touch, but with the constant assault of worthless snippets of lolcats, recipes, memes and what not, our brains just can’t deal and we actually think less about people we’re not constantly in touch with then we used to before social media, simply because there’s a multitude of people constantly occupying our minds. People we don’t really care about, people we do not even consider to be friends. Why thank you, Zuckie!
Unfortunately, I don’t really have a choice. Sure, I can delete my Facebook account and lose touch with everyone close (and not so close), but I’d also lose touch with my only true marketing channel. Although, I wonder, how many of those 1,800+ people I have on my friends list on Facebook actually see my posts? 100? 200? Do the right people see them? I can’t tell.
Where to draw the line?
I’ve written about marketing on numerous occasions before on this blog. On how sex sells to social media trends over the years. I’ve always been wary of posting stuff to Facebook (while I still had a page there) that was personal. I know of authors who work closely with their partners, heck I know of partners whose names are unknown, they’re simply known as “xyz’s hubby” or “xyz’s boyfriend” which is quite sad really, at least IMHO. They play a persona, and I know for a fact that their real lives are quite different from what they show online. Different personalities, different relationship dynamics etc. But they know that their audience is voyeuristic and that they expect to peep into their lives, their kitchen and, yes, their bedroom.
I’ve always kept my family out of my work, as much as I could. I know people are interested, and I’ve resisted. Am I simply an old fool? Old school? A fossil who doesn’t get social media? But how social is it to pimp out my son to an audience when he has no say over the process? My husband has been very adamant that he has no interest in being pimped out to my readers, and he gets quite upset when complete strangers send him friend requests. The stalking really gets to him. I can’t blame him. I wouldn’t be too thrilled if his employees suddenly began to send me friend requests.
What can we do? What’s the solution?
Which brings me back to the podcast and the Instagram posts of a couple garnering more likes than the ones of a single person… Times are certainly changing. The question I’m facing is to what degree I’m willing to sacrifice my own privacy, my personal space, and integrity and go with the flow, to get those likes, catch those followers, make those book sales.
Feel free to comment. What is your take on social media in late August of 2018? Where are we heading? What’s the next big thing? I like to interact with my readers, I actually do, beats the heck out of simply being monitored in silence on Facebook. LOL, you can find me there as Hans M Hirschi if you’re so inclined, or here on Instagram, where I primarily look at pretty pictures of nature.
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