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”…
Gender equality is critical, not just to elevate women, but to free men as well
I always feel conflicted on this day. It’s such an important opportunity to talk about all the work we still have ahead of us, in terms of gender equality, women’s rights etc. all around the world. Just this morning I heard a story on the news about how a new right-wing party wants to tear up the current abortion legislation in Spain, turn back the dial some forty years. So sad, and so very sad that many women support these policies. No one should ever be allowed to make any kind of decision about your own body than the person themself. Alas, women’s bodies still seem to be the property of someone or something else.
My mother feeding me. 1967. Photo: private
It’s not about vaginas v penises, not really…
Gender equality isn’t really about our sexual organs or biology. Yes, undoubtedly, biology plays a role and has played a role in the past. Today though, it’s more about values. We have men with vaginas and women with penises (and people who do not fit on the binary scale), so we can forego the “biological” part, because unless you know the person in front of you is trans, you’ll treat them according to how you perceive them, not what they may or may not have between their legs, what hormonal levels they exhibit in a blood test or even how they perceive themselves…
The real difference is in how we value that which is considered “male” and that which is considered “female”. Sadly, female attributes are considered less valuable, less desirable, than male traits. As a gay man, someone who’s often been described with female attributes in order to be ridiculed, derided and diminished, I know a little bit about it. My community has made the most of this, taking these so-called undesirable traits, elevating and celebrating them. #Drag When we call each other “bitch!” it’s a compliment, not a slur. We’re fierce, strong!
Unfortunately, for society, this skewed value attribution is detrimental. Boys are still (sadly) raised to oppress whatever traits that might be considered female: show emotions, cry, care etc. Instead, they’re pushed to compete, struggle, fight and overcome adversity, to “be a man”. Mind you, these traits are not “bad” per se, but unless they are balanced by empathy and caring, they become dangerous. A man who fights and competes to advance is potentially dangerous if he doesn’t feel empathy for those around him or care for those he competes with. A woman, similarly, is a walking target for abuse if she doesn’t compete or fight for her place if all she does is feel empathy and make excuses.
Ying and Yang. Only together can male and female attributes form a complete human being, regardless of how we identify.
Male and female traits, in a way, are like Ying and Yang. Only together do they make us whole as human beings.
Equality isn’t women’s struggle. It’s a human struggle
I often look to my own parents to see how gender inequality can destroy lives and affect people across time and even generations. My mother was raised in a conservative Catholic home (they all were back in the 1940s.) When she got married, she’d advanced to a purchaser for a local clothing store and had a (potentially) rewarding professional career ahead of her. She had an amazing sense of fashion and was always dressed meticulously. My dad, a carpenter, wanted to move away and she gave it all up, for him (of course.) When they got married, my mother knew nothing (sic!) about sex. Nothing. Imagine the shock.
She raised me and my brother to be different than what my dad had been raised to be. Not that my father is a bad person. Quite the contrary. But just as my mom was a victim of societal expectations (and she played her role well), so was (is) my dad. He worked very hard, built a very successful business, providing for us, and became a person of great influence in town. We often jokingly refer to him as the “King of Samedan” because of that. Part of that image was also to be successful in sexual matters, and affairs with several women were the result, in part because my mom couldn’t due to her upbringing.
I don’t know when my mother first found out about those affairs. I recently learned they began in 1981, but the first ‘clash’ didn’t come until 1985/86 when I was in the US. I missed it all. I couldn’t miss how their relationship had changed when I came back though. But my mother wouldn’t leave him. Threaten? Yes. But a good woman doesn’t leave her man. It’s how she’d been raised and she was unable to break out of the expectations of what it meant to be a good wife, a good mother.
Grandfather and grandson feeding the birds together. Those two… Photo: private
When my mom died, five years ago, my dad was devastated, even though he’d continued to stay in touch with at least one of the women he’d had affairs with through those years. I know because both my brother and I got an offer to inseminate her Lesbian daughter just a couple of years before mom passed away… We both politely (not really) declined. My dad could not cope with being alone after her death, he’d burn the water on the stove… It didn’t take many months before he considered at least four (!) different women and we all joked about what he’d labeled “Beuteschema”, i.e. target audience, to translate it a little bit less offensive than the German term.
Fast forward and my dad is dating the “other woman” and they spend a lot of time together. He’s grown a lot as a person in the past few years and is a lot more open about his emotions, and he’s an amazing and loving grandfather. But there are still lies, there are still cover-ups, and there are still other women that I’m not supposed to know about. His male ego still needs to be stroked. He needs to feel that power rush of being valued by women. Mind you, it takes two to tango, and cheating isn’t a male thing, but I believe that men cheat for different reasons: for them it’s the fear or loneliness, of asserting their power, having something pretty by their side, being looked after, cared for, while women do it to be seen, valued, affirmed. Two sides of the same coin. Ying & Yang all over.
To break the cycle
Unfortunately, this behavior, the effects of the inequality my parents suffer from, also affects their children. Having been my mother’s confidant for decades, I am the living memory of my mother’s pain and the betrayals against her. Every time I see my father’s new woman, I remember all the countless times my mom cried and lamented at being cheated on. It makes family gatherings very difficult and had it not been for my son and his right to spend time with his grandfather, I have a hunch I would avoid the pain if possible. Alas…
Here’s to a better, brighter future, regardless of gender.
So how do you break the cycle? I’ll be honest, I see little hope for me to ever feel differently about what happened between my mom and dad. And I doubt my feelings toward the other woman will ever change. What I can do is try and make sure that I raise our son to be different, to help him be a true human, someone who competes and fights, someone who is truly whole and who doesn’t judge others based on their biology or gender attributes, but based on their heart and mind. It’s an uphill battle because society doesn’t change at the pace we’d like it to (quite the contrary.)
Countless times have we had to point out that “no, that’s not a girl/boy thing” when he came home to tell us about something at school.
I try very hard to break the cycle. I’m a faggot, I’m in touch with every feminine side there is, and I celebrate those traits, every day, just as I relish my masculine characteristics. I can wield a hammer as well as I can stir a pot with a spoon. Let’s all work toward this common goal. Not just today, as we wear purple to honor our sisters, but every day of the year. For all of humanity, women, men and nonbinary people alike.
I wish you all a most auspicious International Women’s Day 2019.
How do you explain this to a five-year-old..?
I recently began writing the second book in the series about Valerius and Evander. Let’s be honest, it’s only really a series if you have more than one book, so duh, given that we called it a series, I needed to continue writing about the two princes whose love story was at the core of book one. I see Valerius and Evander as a way to use to “tool” of a fairy-tale to tell young kids (as a bedtime story) about diversity. Reception of the first book was really great, from both parents, librarians and some of the kids themselves. My son loves it (which is the most important praise.)
The second book deals with becoming parents. A challenging topic for every grown-up. I mean there has to be a reason we invented the stork, right? We use it because we feel uncomfortable talking about sex with children. And because it is difficult to explain the whole eggs and sperm concept to children.
To be honest without overwhelming children (or bore parents)
At first, I had this idea to explain all the various ways in which a gay couple (Valerius and Evander) could become dads. I introduced a Lesbian couple to explain the womb and IVF and surrogacy and suddenly I felt lost. I can barely grasp these concepts myself, from a medical point of view, even though I’ve done it myself in real life and wrote a book (primarily for my grown-up son, but also for adults interested in surrogacy and IVF) about it. However, this is all so very difficult and complex that I finally ended up abandoning the concept. The two queens are still in the manuscript (for now), but they might yet be bumped, as their presence fills no real “need” purely from a storytelling aspect.
Writing for kids, particularly very young children is challenging. As an author, you want to make it fun and exciting while at the same time tell the story and convey whatever lesson the book is meant to tell. Children’s books tend to be a bit on the educational side, and whenever I talk to schools and libraries, it’s what they tell me: we need this or that, we have no books on this or that.
Front cover of my coming children’s book The Dragon Princess, releasing September 20, 2018
Focusing on the child, the story, rather than the procedure
What I ended up doing was just writing. I subject Valerius and Evander to a challenge, or two, and then help them figure it out. In this particular case, it’s an orphanage. In the realm of the fairy-tale it’s workable, even though in our modern day and age, most societies don’t have orphanages anymore. We use foster care instead. To use children in an orphanage allowed me to talk about the plight of children who most commonly end up in LGBT families: orphans or abandoned kids.
To talk about why some parents can’t raise their own kids isn’t easy, and this is the most difficult aspect of re-writing and editing right now. I have enough text to fill the book, but is it the right text? The right words? It’s about teaching the kids new words, but also help them understand societal phenomenons and to enable a discussion between parent/teacher and child when reading the story together. In a way, I have to go back to being a teacher and use pedagogy all over again. Fun, yet difficult because in my daytime career, I used to work with adults. The irony…
So what is Valerius and Evander 2 all about?
The story highlights the wish of our Princes to be parents, that which we label as involuntary childlessness. While recognized and part of the medical profession’s arsenal when it comes to het parents, for gay couples, this is still a territory mired with discrimination and–frankly–lack of understanding and deeply rooted homophobia. That’s where the book starts. Easy, right? It then moves on to show how children are a natural part of society and how they are literally everywhere: in towns, on meadows and even in the forest. To use animals helps to keep things grounded for the kids.
That’s when the orphanage comes in and gives the two princes something to sink their teeth into, but as they busy themselves with helping those kids, their own needs are put on the backburner, which, eventually, leads to the big conclusion of the story, and a chance encounter… To find out what that is, you’ll have to wait for the book to be released.
I still feel that I’m a long way from being done with this. The first book in the series took almost three years to be done. Oddly, it’s so easy to write down the story in a rough draft, but incredibly hard to rewrite, to make sure it’s understandable, relatable and on par with the level of understanding we can expect from a four-, five-, or six-year-old child. Once the text is finalized, edited and proofed, I’ll contact Felicity for the illustrations. That’s when the real magic happens…
Are you looking forward to it? Any other topics you would like to see Valerius and Evander to tackle?
Can we have a serious discussion about aging without reducing it to stupid expressions and hollow statements?
Aging. It happens to all of us, yet living in a society (Sweden) where youth is everything, growing older sometimes makes you feel at odds with how you see yourself, compared to how others see you. Aging is a thing, whether we accept it, or not. And it’s something we must deal with, one way or another. To grow older is neither good nor bad, it simply is, as inevitable as the earth spinning around the sun in the vastness of space. So why this post? I think a lot about aging, and no, I’m not “obsessed”, I think about a lot of things, twist them and turn them, look at them from various angles. I’ve also written about aging in more than one of my novels (e.g. Last Winter’s Snow, Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm or Jonathan’s Promise.)
Aging is more than “Seventy is the new Fifty”, “You’re only as old as you feel” or “Age is just a number”
The author at the age of eight.
No to all of the above. 🙂 With all due respect, but I can’t wait for the day when we finally dispense with repeating these stupid statements as if they were some Buddhist mantras. Society changes, norms change and people today act differently than they did ten, twenty, fifty years ago. Oddly, this only ever becomes a thing for the older generations. I’ve yet to year 3 is the new 7, even though there may be as much truth to that. But people obviously aren’t as obsessed with just how much more kids today know compared to what I did some forty-five years ago. And no, one isn’t as old as one feels, because there is always another side to that, how one is viewed by others. In this post, I would like to focus on aging from a couple of different angles. At this point, if you believe that I’m “obsessed” with age or if you think that I’m suffering from a mid-life crisis, then this might not be for you. Neither is true, but I acknowledge willingly that I have no desire to debate with a closed mind…
Speaking of a mid-life crisis. I did have a life crisis, but that was a long time ago. I was actually approaching my thirtieth birthday, and I recall feeling frustrated by that fact, no longer being in my twenties. After many months of feeling sorry for myself, I finally got to the point where I accepted the “inevitable” and enjoyed a great birthday and moved on.
Age is only a problem if you’re afraid to die
Author Hans Hirschi in Lower Manhattan, January 2019. Photo: Alina Oswald
This is one of my core beliefs. I think most people are afraid of the inevitable, death. And while we can’t change that outcome, we can at least pretend that it’s not happening yet. Strangely (I’ve just read another article about that), we seem to do little to stop us from aging prematurely and many of us let our general health lapse with crap diets, too much alcohol and sugar, and not enough exercise. And we’ve spent the past x-thousand years of human society to build elaborate religious systems (the extent of which is really mind-boggling if you think about it) creating fantasies around eternal lives and/or reincarnation. Simply because we cannot accept that life ends when we exhale our last breath. Now picture all the oppression, all the genocides, all the atrocities, the persecution and the hatred that follows in the footsteps of religion and you quickly realize that age and death are probably the biggest “thing” in human culture. So yes, we DO need to talk about it…
I never really counted how much time I spend contemplating aging or my death. I spend little time on the latter, as I can’t know when or how I’ll die. What I can think about is how I live my life, the kind of life I want to live. I also have very specific ideas on how I want my body to be disposed of after my death, something my husband and I discuss at times, to make sure we both understand each other’s final wishes. But ever since I realized that religion truly was “opium for the masses”, I’ve not had any issues with my own mortality. Therefore, aging is not an issue for me. Sure, I’d like to live to be very old (I’m a curious person), but only if I have my physical and mental health to allow me for a meaningful life. That view might change of course, as my aging puts new limitations on what I can do (physically) as the years progress. I no longer jump over fences as I used to and I do wake up every so often with my sciatica reminding me that I no longer have the spine of a teen.
There’s this weird dissonance between mind and body
I’d love to have that body back… Alas. I’d lose much of what I honestly value higher: experience, wisdom, knowledge
Sometimes I look in the mirror and I see my brother, or my dad, not me. This is weird and only lasts a fraction of a second before I recognize that the aging face staring back at me in surprise is, in fact, my own. Sometimes my behavior doesn’t reflect my exterior appearance. Just yesterday, we were on a walk and I was strutting along the path we were on, holding hands with my son (he’ll be six next month.) Some of the people we met were looking at me as if something was seriously wrong with me: “why does this old guy strut like a child?” I still love roller coasters, and the way I dress hasn’t changed much since I was twenty-five. I still prefer jeans and t-shirts/polos. But most importantly, I still ‘feel’ as if I were twenty-five. I don’t feel that I’m more than twice that age, and it goes without saying that this dissonance is growing bigger for every year.
At the same time, I can also readily admit that other parts of my mind do age. I am less tolerant of anti-social behavior (stupid expression, I know, but it’s the best I’ve got) such as feet on chairs, loud music on public transport, people walking on the wrong side of the street, etc. than when I was in my teens and twenties. I just wish everyone could behave properly. LOL I know, this does make me sound ancient…
What I don’t like about aging…
There are several aspects to growing older I don’t like:
- my physical limitations grow, my body decays
- the perception others have on what I can do, cannot do
- society’s views on my age cohort
The most annoying feature of growing older is, of course, my physical decay. When you get an x-ray done and the doctors tell you that your spine is “normal” for someone your age, waking up with back pains every day, my sciatica, how stiff I am compared to how I think I should be, how easily I seem to put on weight these days etc. Those are really annoying things. Oddly, I’m probably in better shape than I’ve ever been, working out regularly, with a diet healthier than ever before. Unfortunately, the sins of the first forty-nine years cannot be undone completely, and they are a constant reminder of not making them again. It’s also not very nice to see how my hair is getting grayer and grayer, or that my skin is beginning to sag. Then again, compared to others my age (or much younger), I can’t complain. Looking after yourself does wonders!
But much worse than my physical aging is how I am perceived by others. Finding a job at my age? Forget about it. I’m either over-qualified (HR code for “too old” and “too expensive”) or I don’t even hear back. It’s catch twenty-two: apply for a job you’re overqualified for but that you really should land and they’ll be right to claim you’re overqualified, apply for a job that might actually challenge you, and find one every year or so…and get no response. Sadly, for every year, this gets worse. I live in one of the worst societies when it comes to ageism. Here, things start to quickly go downhill as soon as you turn forty. At fifty plus, I might as well give up.
What I like about aging…
Horsing around with my son is still loads of fun. Despite the gray hairs… Photo: Alina Oswald
This is really the fun part. I love all the things I know, the experience I have, the countless things I’ve learned and the wisdom of knowing that I still don’t know shit. I’m also happy that I still remember what it was like to be young and to be dismissed because of that. I also remember vividly that I held very strong views of “I know everything!” when I was younger. Not sure when that changed, but I thought that I knew it all and that I was pretty much invincible until I was at least twenty-five.
It’s quite relaxing to acknowledge that I don’t know it all. Which is different from being right. I like being right at any age. LOL And as I grow older, it’s easier to admit when I’m wrong. There’s less ‘shame’, less sense of losing face associated with that. I am more relaxed about a great many things, simply because I’m not in the same hurry, I feel more patient (even though I still like to get things done quickly.)
Just the other day, a friend and I were talking about the eighties, the advent of PCs at work, fax machines and how slow work life was back then. You sent a letter and then you had to wait, two days, sometimes longer, for a reply. Bank contracts had to be typed up and mailed. No email, no fax stuff, no electronic signatures. It was a slower time, and the pace of life was different. Mind you, not better, not worse, but different. I find it a valuable experience to have in our world today. Just this weekend, I once again realized how fast our world is changing when our son failed to realize what live TV is. We hardly ever watch it, and when he had to go to the bathroom, he asked us to pause the program, in all seriousness. No can do. How do you teach such basic concepts such as time, when kids no longer have to be in front of their TV at a given time, every day, to watch their kids’ show? The way I had to at six pm every Saturday? They turn to Netflix or YouTube any time, pause, resume at their leisure. Not better, not worse, but vastly different.
When you forget…kids are there to remind us
Let’s face it: we all forget stuff. I do, too. I’m lucky though to have a child to remind me of things, from playing to just simply remembering the various stages of childhood. And I am in awe of today’s kids. They know so much, so very early in life. They learn so much. My son dives into learning with gusto. He’s strong-willed and very independent, in many ways the opposite of me, and I’d like to believe that I may take some credit for that. Where my parents were over-protective, I keep him on a much longer “leash”.
I love being out and about with my son because of his viewpoint, his perspective. He sees things so very differently. Sometimes funny, often wrong, but still, it reminds me of my own youth. But more importantly, the constant reminder that different perspectives complement each other. When I was a child or teen, my point of view didn’t matter. It was only the views of the older that mattered.
Today, the opposite seems to be the case. I wish we could see more balance. It pains me that we e.g. seem to forget the lessons of the great wars of the previous century. Let the older generations remind us of that, but maybe we need to let the younger generations tell the story? So that they capture the minds and hearts of the generations that need to heed the lessons?
What are your experiences? Thoughts? Let’s hear it… I for one will continue to ponder this for the rest of my life, as I learn new things, and maybe even unlearn some dear old habits that aren’t really helpful… Have a wonderful week.
Hans M Hirschi
Change may be inevitable in life, but how we tackle it defines our legacy to our children
A month from now, it’ll be five years since my mother passed away, suddenly, unexpectedly, but given her suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s, a blessing of sorts, particularly for my father, whose own life had been put on pause as Mom got sick. Five years is a long time. While my son met his grandmother a couple of times during the first few months of his life and we have a few treasured photos from those meetings, he has no memory of her. A couple of weeks ago, we were in Switzerland, on our annual visit to my hometown. My mother grew up there, so did my dad, my grandparents lived and died there, and I spent most of my summers there, and I moved there, the day after I graduated from high school. St. Gallen’s annual fall fair is a city tradition, and–of course–a family get-together, as aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends descend upon the city every year. You never know who you’re going to meet.
What am I to do with you? It was clear that Mom was no longer able to form a bond with her only grandson.
Yet things change, at times imperceptibly, at times almost like earthquakes, suddenly, shifting family tectonic plates. And you become aware of how fragile things like family really are, you’re reminded of our own mortality, aging and the depth of the human experience. As I grew up, my immediate family was always closer to my mother’s side than my father’s, for reasons I may not fully understand. Maybe my dad didn’t get along with his siblings, maybe my mother had a better relationship with hers. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my memory that suggests as much, because looking over old family pictures, they’re all there, every aunt, every uncle, with very few exceptions (one who disappeared into the Jehovah’s witnesses for three decades and never attended any family gatherings, and one who was intellectually challenged and just never really fit.)
Phase 1 – Child- and Young Adulthood
Growing up, I lost my first grandparent in 1981, the next in 1993, another in 1998 and finally, my grandma on Dad’s side in 2012. Some losses were profound, particularly my maternal grandparents, as we were very close, and they represented my childhood (summers.) Not to mention that I was an adult by then, realizing what it meant. Yet I was young enough that it didn’t really affect my own views on my own aging, my own mortality. I was in my twenties when most humans believe they’re invincible… I’ve also lost a cousin (to whom I had no relationship), an aunt and two uncles. But in absence of a really close relationship, they had no lasting impact on me.
That changed when Mom died. Suddenly I was one heartbeat away from being my family’s oldest, to be all alone. We often say that we grow up when we’re children, but is that really true? At fifty-one, am I really done growing up? I am glad in a way that it was my mother who left this plane of existence first because I’m so much more dependent on my dad (which btw wasn’t always the case.) Losing him will have a much more profound impact on my life. Yet even with him, the equilibrium of our relationship (and that of my brother) has been changing, subtly, for years. He relies on me for advice of the heart and soul, and on my brother for financial stuff. We talk almost daily and I’m not sure how I will handle the day when he’ll no longer pick up the phone. Luckily, we’re not there yet.
Phase X – You’re it, kid!
Not that there will be any question about it. I know I will. I know myself well enough that some sort of automation will take over and simply make sure that life goes on, functionally, even without Dad. But we’re not there yet. Oddly though, I was reminded of the fragile state of family a while ago, while we were in Switzerland. My dad has a new woman by his side. Well, new may not be the right term. They’ve known each other for a long time. They have a history. Enough said. Prior to coming to the family gathering, he’d visited her and while he had always made sure to organize dinners and gatherings with our local family and friends, this year, for the very first time, nothing. I can feel he’s drifting, away from his “old” family, to his woman’s family, her daughters and their kids. I get to hear stories about them, where I may have heard the latest gossip from his siblings and in-laws in the past.
It fell to me to organize things this year, and amidst it all, I remembered a question he’d asked me a long while ago: “would you mind if I weren’t there this year?” I had told him that his grandson would greatly miss him and he’d acquiesced, but in hindsight, I start to wonder. Is he ashamed of moving on with his life, of seeing the old in-laws? I may be wrong, it’s a sensitive topic. Five years, enough of a waiting time? And how do you deal with all that knowing there is ‘history’ and are former in-laws still, really family? Are fifty-six years as part of a family so easily erased by five years as a widower?
Adapting to the change. Not that I have much of a choice…
I’m growing up, and I begin to realize that it will be up to me from now on to keep in touch with my mother’s side of the family, my three aunts and their families. No one else will. No more natural gatherings at a grandparent’s round birthday. And to be honest, I am not really interested in funerals and seeing people there, as they are such sad occasions to catch up (although, naturally, it’s all we’ve got left) And so I put on my big boy pants and grow up, take charge. Not just for my own sake but that of my son, too. I want him to realized that he has family back in Switzerland. Living abroad, we don’t get to spend a lot of time back home, and those roots are meaningful, they explain a lot of things you’ll see in our house that you might not see elsewhere (from the odd cowbell to Swiss liquor and many dishes on our dinner table.) This is no migration post, but I truly feel that those of us who have “migrated” (stupid word, it used to be “emigrated”) to another culture have a responsibility not just to embrace the culture of our new home, but to retain a connection to the old, for our own benefit, to provide roots to our children, but also to foster amicable relationships between the two cultures, something that has become more and more important of late.
All the while I’ve contemplated and written this post, I have also had my own family to think about. The very own creation of my husband and I, the bond of two very different families. I have my own in-laws, and I remember how difficult it was to “break up” with my in-laws when my ex and I broke up. Losing the family was part of the more difficult things I had to do. Now, my husband is trying to keep alive the very same relationships, in some instances re-building them, after his parents had broken a lot of porcelain due to their alcohol addiction. Life, family, they are so complex, so intricately intertwined. There is so much to consider, so much to think about, and I realize that even at fifty-one, I’m still growing up, still learning new tricks, still finding it hard to let go, adapt to change, accept it, and move on.
The Jonathan Trilogy, is the saga of MY generation, a tale where even the worst background and the most hateful parents won’t keep you from finding love, success, start a dynasty! It’s about Hope come to life across four generations.
A constant topic in my writing as well…
Life, and family, have always been great sources of inspiration in my writing, and quite frequently, when I write, the big questions such as the one above, find their way into my books. Here are but a couple of examples:
- The Jonathan Trilogy: Not intended as such, but books two and three really are all about family, the “Hope” of the first book come to fruition. Probably the world’s first and only gay family saga…
- Family Ties: Focusing on the core family in a very dense format, this story is all about our core family, our relationship with our partners and our children.
- Spanish Bay: I think this is a great example of how we look after our own, how we step up to the plate, no matter what.
But families are at the core of many of my other books, and family members often play pivotal roles, that is also true for my coming fantasy series, in more ways than one. As always, your insightful comments are more than welcome. And before I let you go for the day, have a look at the YouTube trailer for the first book in The Golden One Series, Blooming. To learn more, click here. Join me on Facebook for further discussions about this topic, my books, my family, or whatever else is on your mind…
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: