Bad, bad artist! How do you deal with your idol being a “bad” person?

Bad, bad artist! How do you deal with your idol being a “bad” person?

The documentary “Leaving Neverland” highlights an age-old conundrum

I haven’t seen the documentary yet. So no comments on its merits, artistically or in terms of assignment of guilt. I am a staunch believer in our justice system and the basic tenant of “innocent until proven guilty”. This post isn’t about who said what or who did what, nor about Michael Jackson specifically. As a survivor of sexual assault as a child by a grown-up, I’m not sure I’ll ever watch it either. Some things need not be remembered needlessly. But the discussions that have followed in the wake of its screening around the globe have led me to think about the topic as such, and how we, as consumers of art, can deal with instances when an artist we enjoy/love/adore turns out to be less perfect than we would like them to be.

Through history, artists have always been human…

Stating the obvious first. Artists (writers, musicians, painters, sculptors, actors, filmmakers etc.) have always been humans. And as such, they’re all deeply flawed. Some even claim that it takes a highly flawed person to create great art. Wasn’t me, but I can see how that might be true. In order to create art that touches people emotionally, art that annoys, makes happy, saddens, etc., any artistic product must appeal to our emotions and in order to achieve that effect, whoever creates it, must be able to access deeply rooted feelings and emotions, good and bad.

A bust from the National Archaeological Museum in Naples depicts Julius Caesar, whose popularity skyrocketed after his conquest of Gaul, threatening the power of Rome’s nobility. Photograph by De Agostini

A bust from the National Archaeological Museum in Naples depicts Julius Caesar, whose popularity skyrocketed after his conquest of Gaul, threatening the power of Rome’s nobility.
Photograph by De Agostini

I remember reading the works of Julius Caesar in school, in the original Latin. He was a brilliant writer, his storytelling unique, yet as a statesman, he was also quite ruthless and brutal. Hardly the ideal human being, and I remember our teacher telling us that we had to see his stories as what they were: a victor’s account of historical events. Hardly objective. And there are many instances through the eons of artists we may treasure, but who fell short on the human front. Here are a couple of my favorites: Richard Wagner, one of my favorite classical composers, yet an asshole (pardon my French) as a human being, not to mention an Anti-Semite of the worst kind. Knut Hamsun, one of my favorite Norwegian writers, brilliant stories. He even won a Nobel Prize, but yeah, he was a staunch supporter of the Nazis and German occupation of Norway. Fast forward to someone like Woody Allen, and the many movies of his I adore, particularly “What you always wanted to know…” but on a human front? Yeah. Then there are Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, R Kelly, Kevin Spacey and countless others. And we’ve already mentioned the King of Pop whose musical legacy is astonishing, but who leaves many wondering: can I still listen to his music after these allegations?

Boycott or no boycott?

In the wake of the Jackson documentary, several radio stations have stopped playing his music. That is, of course, their prerogative. However, I’m not sure that is the right way to go because it derives us, the audience of the possibility to come to that determination on our own. If I am disgusted by the allegations, I should be able to come to that conclusion on my own and change the station or turn it off. However, if I want to continue to listen, I should be allowed to do so as well.

I don’t like it very much when other people make decisions on my behalf, but that’s just me. If I don’t want to attend a concert by an artist because they’ve been accused of something horrific, that should be my choice, and the same should be true for reading a book, listening to music, or watching a movie.

I have one caveat though: be open-minded, and educate yourself. Often enough it is very difficult to assess whether someone really is a bad person, or not. And posthumously? There is no defense possible, and in the case of Michael Jackson, there are no criminal convictions. Which isn’t to say he didn’t do it. Legally, though, and that is our common framework, he’s to be seen as innocent. And that is true for most artists, particularly deceased ones. They can no longer defend themselves, or explain their thoughts or why (or why not) they chose to do this or believe that.

My personal principles with regards to artists

I try to tackle this with a two-pronged approach: a) separate artist from the person and b) don’t be a putz! Educate yourself.

Richard Wagner in 1971

Richard Wagner in 1971

I will always love Wagner’s music, even though I know he was a racist and Anti-Semite. How do I reconcile the two? I have always maintained that the art, the work, is more important than the artist. It is separate from them and should be judged on its own merits. Allow me a short excursion into HR, where many organizations these days use anonymized resumes to make sure applicants have an equal opportunity. We know that hiring managers will sort people by name, gender, race etc. long before digging into the actual competencies of someone. Remove that information and they will be forced to view the actual competencies without knowing if it is a man/woman, someone white/black/Asian, etc. who’s behind a resume.

If you heard pieces from e.g. the Ring without knowing who wrote the score, would you deem it less valuable? As a writer, this is particularly important to me, as I find my works should be judged as they are, not based on who I am. Having studied literature in college, I know that we tend to look to the author’s life to explain this or that in their writing. I’ve always found this rather “offensive”, particularly since I’ve begun to write myself. Yes, I may find inspiration for my writing in my life (duh!) but the end result is never a reflection of me, never something that can be used as a basis for psychoanalysis of me and those near me. I’ve written about this in the past.

Educate yourself

It’s easier said than done not to be a putz when it comes to our darlings. We tend to see our idols through stars in our eyes. That is quite normal. And even if you feel that your idol has been falsely accused, and you feel strongly about that, which is fine as long as they have not been convicted in a court of law, educate yourself about the crime/behavior they have been accused of. Not the specific case, but learn about e.g. sexual assault, and how frequent it is, who the victims are, the perpetrators, circumstances it happens and the powerplay involved. Learn about child abuse, the causes, and who victims and predators normally are.

Let’s face it, you can’t really judge anyone unless you know a hell of a lot more about the alleged crime. Just because someone sings a lovely song, writes a great book or is an incredibly talented actor says absolutely nothing about their potential lives. Nothing.

My take?

I can listen to Michael Jackson, at least the songs I like and will continue to do so. However, if he were still alive, I’d not allow my son to spend time near him. Ever. Better to be safe than sorry. I can still watch a movie by Harvey Weinstein or Woody Allan, but I wouldn’t have coffee with them. I can still enjoy a novel by Knut Hamsun, but I’m mindful of his views expressed, and I look forward to “The Valkyries” at my opera house this fall, and to learning more about Wagner’s life and the despicable views held by him, his late wife Cosima and many in his family for generations, still infecting the Bayreuth festival every year.

That’s my take on it. What is yours?

Finally

We are three days away from the launch of my next book in the Golden One series, Deceit. And while I’m far from being a perfect human being, the worst I’ve done is getting speeding tickets and running a stop sign. LOL So don’t judge me too harshly. But more importantly, judge my books on their own merits, not by what you think of me, my views or my actions. You can learn more about Deceit right here, complete with purchase links to get your own copy.

International Women’s Day matters, not just to women, but men as well

International Women’s Day matters, not just to women, but men as well

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.

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.

Emotionally crippled

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.

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.

 

Pen International: turn your weapons into pens

Pen International: turn your weapons into pens

The mighty power of words

A few days ago, I was invited to join Pen Sweden, a club within Pen International. I was deeply honored to be considered for membership of such a prestigious organization. As a writer, my pen, my keyboard and the words they create are my way of changing society for the better. I have always held a deeply felt conviction that we must speak up. Speak up about injustice, speak up against prejudice, persecution, speak up against racism, homophobia, misogyny. Pen International takes all of our pens and turns it into a powerful force to be reckoned with.

I first heard of Pen…

I will never forget the first time I had heard of Pen International. Salman Rushdie published the Satanic Verses and as a result, some priests in Iran were in desperate need of a diaper change. To have, as they believed, Islam sullied on the day of their greatest triumph was considered blasphemy. Shortly after that, a fatwa was issued against Mr. Rushdie. Mr. Rushdie deserved, the claimed, death for his words. That was in 1989. I was twenty-two years old at the time, I was working as a banker in Zurich and had never heard of Mr. Rushdie before. Yet somehow I noted the strong and global reaction by the literary community and the strong condemnation of the fatwa by Pen International.

Around the world, authors and writers rushed (no pun) to his defense and that was the first time I heard about Pen International. I have held this organization in the highest regard ever since, for speaking up in the face of death threats, and I have followed their work from a respectful distance. This is particularly true considering how some authors and some literary organizations with power, e.g. the Swedish Academy, who awards the Nobel Prize for literature, acted. They refused to speak up which led to some of the members to leave the academy. The final “empty chair” wasn’t filled until late last year when the last of the “Rushdie” members was finally allowed to officially leave the academy and a replacement was voted in. Almost thirty years later.

There is a risk associated with speaking up

The logo on Pen InternationalTo speak your mind, to exercise our “freedom of speech” is not without risk. Maybe the Swedish Academy was afraid of what might happen if they spoke up. Terrorist regimes, like the one in Iran, do not shy away from using violence against dissidents, even abroad. Just last fall, Scandinavian police forces stopped a plot by the Iranian secret police to kill exiled Iranians in Denmark. 2018. Iran is not the only country that has little regard to our human rights: Saudi Arabia and Khashoggi, China and Gui Minhai, the Swedish author and publisher who was abducted in Thailand and taken to China against his will, Dawit Isaak, a Swedish journalist who’s been imprisoned without a trial in Ethiopia and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, the list is so much longer.

A few years ago, I spoke up against the human rights violations in Russia, particularly for the LGBT community on this blog. Suddenly, I noticed that I no longer had readers in Russia (even though I had many Russian readers in the past.) It seemed that my criticism of the Sochi Olympics and the horrific treatment of its queer citizens had scared the government there into blocking my blog from reaching Russia. As feeble as my pen may be, it had stung someone somewhere.

Things in our society are far from perfect, but…

Last night, my husband and I had a discussion with our godson about equality in Sweden, and while we may be frustrated with the lack of progress here and there, and rightly so, our life here is still infinitely better than that for many other people elsewhere. Personally, I see no conflict between working to improve things locally with speaking up for those who are infinitely worse off elsewhere.

  • In Sweden, we lament the lack of progress in fathers taking their six months of parental leave. In most countries of the world, the concept of paternity leave is completely foreign.
  • In Sweden, we are frustrated by the fact that we still haven’t had a female prime minister. In Saudi, women can’t even leave the house without the approval of a male.
  • In Sweden, we are frustrated about the red tape that queer families have to cut through to legalize their families and children. In fourteen countries, simply being queer incurs a death sentence and in another eighty or so, it will land you in prison. Marry? Children?
  • In Sweden, I may be frustrated by angry and pointless letters to the editor. In many other countries, such letters are inconceivable, dangerous.

I add my voice to the chorus

The work of Pen International and its national chapters is incredibly important. We speak up for those who have been silenced. We speak up for those who have no voice, and we are a constant reminder to those who oppress, discriminate and hate, that they are seen and recognized for who really they are and what they do. “Freedom of speech” is such a treasure and the very foundation of a free society. And never before has it been more threatened than before, by novel concepts such as AI, fake news. Coupled with state disinformation campaigns, blatant political lies they become a real threat to the fabric of our societies. I can only hope that my pen will continue to be an annoyment to those who deserve to be annoyed by it, as tiny as the sting may be.

Join me?

 

Is there–should there–be a statute of limitations for past mistakes?

Is there–should there–be a statute of limitations for past mistakes?

Does it make sense to judge past behavior using present norms?

I’m not thinking about murder or theft. I think these are crimes that have always been considered illegal and–more importantly–immoral. While there may be mitigating circumstances for judges and courts to consider, e.g. hunger or self-defense, the basic societal norm doesn’t change. However, what I would like to talk about today is different. It is behaviors, acts that are clearly considered inappropriate, illegal even, from our current, contemporary point of view, things that may have been looked at very differently “way back” when they happened.

The #MeToo movement has put the spotlight on a great many such behaviors by men over the past eighteen months. And I think it is important that we highlight such behavior and speak out against sexual assault, rape, but also behavior that may not necessarily be illegal, but inappropriate, e.g. touching someone without their explicit consent, to not accept a no for a no etc. Racism, how we treat the LGBTQ-community, women’s rights etc. are other areas of how our views on humanity have evolved, for the better.

The people’s tribunal is in session…

Every now and then a celebrity or politician is making headlines for things they did a long time ago. Sometimes we learn when that was, sometimes, it’s more obscure. Let me say this again, just to make it clear because the topic is so sensitive, this isn’t about illegal behavior then and now, but inappropriate behavior. Is it fair to judge someone for something they did in the past when societal norms were different? I would like to use examples, but the trouble with specific people is that it clouds the bigger picture, as you dive into specific circumstances. So I won’t.

A long while ago, I wrote a post about the many statues that commemorate the American Civil War and the controversy they cause today. My point then was that we must see those statues in the light of the historical context during which they were erected. And treat them accordingly. Use them to teach today’s population about history so that we may avoid making the same mistakes again. I think we should apply the same approach to our more personal, human mistakes as well.

…and there is no way to appeal

If a politician made a racist remark thirty years ago may not necessarily disqualify them from holding office today. What was the context of their behavior then? What has their track record shown since? And how did their society, the place where they lived at the time view that which we now consider racist? Or homophobic? Please understand, I’m not trying to condone the act per se, but I also believe in human fallacy and in our ability to learn, to forgive and second chances.

In our days, we are so very quick to judge, so very quick to draw far-reaching conclusions. Social media and commenting here and there make people’s tribunals so easy to reach a damning verdict, a verdict to which there is no appeal. And let’s face it, if we look within ourselves, haven’t we all done things we are less proud of? Things we might not even remember? This is all part of the human equation. As such, everyone deserves that forgiveness, the caution before judgment, not just those we like or those who are on our side of an argument. Who has the right to cast that first stone?

What is your take? Should past actions be viewed through current lenses or through the lens of what society looked like back then, which–once again–is no endorsement of the past? Comments are welcome. Let’s talk.

Hans M Hirschi

Let’s talk about aging without the clichés and preconceptions

Let’s talk about aging without the clichés and preconceptions

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.

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 and Battery Park, January 2019.

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

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.

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”.

Photographing author Hans M. Hirschi in Central Park, NYC. May 1, 2017.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
author

Gender identity: biology, sociology, predestination or choice?

Gender identity: biology, sociology, predestination or choice?

In politics and psychology, the war to explain sex and gender is hotter than ever. Why?

A few weeks ago I listened to a segment on our public broadcasting radio. They were interviewing a psychology professor who was vehemently defending biology as the defining factor to distinguish gender, men from women, male from female. Leading up to our election a couple of weeks ago, our conservative parties were ranting against “gender politics” and “norm critical” education in schools. Which made me remember my own studies of psychology and the lessons we’d been taught there, how our teachers painstakingly tried to explain the differences between biology, sociology and how we don’t really know how they interact with each other, what ultimately is the defining factor, except one. More about that later.

DNA, chromosomes, and hormones

I have yet to hear anyone argue that a newborn boy and a newborn girl are the same. They’re not. Obviously. Chromosomes decide what sex a child will have, even though Mother Nature has been known to surprise us with various varieties, children we consider intersex, kids with various chromosomal defects, for lack of a better word. We also know that the male hormone “testosterone” and the female hormone “estrogen” impact on how male or female a body appears. Boys with little testosterone will have less body hair and softer features, to exemplify.

So far so good. We also know that hormones will affect our mood, potentially even our personality. However, we also know that all of the above isn’t a given. It’s not a law of nature, like gravity, with no exception. In fact, that is where “nurture” comes in and starts to change things. There are plenty of experiments with how children are affected who are “raised” as the opposite from their birth sex, and there are – of course – our gender fluid and trans friends, not to mention intersexual people. Nature vs nurture. Who is more important?

Front cover of my new children’s book The Dragon Princess, which released September 20, 2018. Get your copy today!

Nature vs nurture. Why is it so important to some?

Seeing how people fight and argue in this debate you’d think it actually matters as if the future of humanity were at stake. But does it? And why? Looking at research and what little I know about nature vs nurture, my take is this: so what? Whether our gender is predetermined by DNA is really not important, because plenty of people live perfectly happy in bodies where their DNA and chromosomes do not match their gender. The opposite is–unfortunately–also true: people who are miserable in their bodies even though the chromosomes perfectly match how their bodies appear.

It’s probably not a big surprise that I believe in choice, that I believe that nurture is much more important than nature. Sure, nature provides us with different preconditions, but that’s it. It merely determines our position at the starting line of life. How well we manage to go through the parkour of life, that’s an entirely different question, where I believe nurture plays a role, and–most importantly–personal choices. These personal choices will, of course, be influenced by both natural predisposition and how we were nurtured.

In a perfect world, that would be it. People would be allowed to determine their own gender expression, whether it’s trans, gender fluid or even genderless/agender. Unfortunately, society complicates things, for a great many reasons.

Conservatives vs progressive

In politics, you’ll find resistance against “free” individual gender expression on the conservative side (on the famous GAL-TAN scale, which is different from the classic left-right scale, as many socialist countries also discriminate against gender expression) while progressive voices usually are much more open-minded.

In our western society where “liberalism” is the lodestar (sorry, couldn’t help it, and no, I’m not behind the infamous op-ed) people’s individual choices are at the center of the economy, and most conservatives want us to make our own choices. Yet oddly this is different. Boys are blue and girls are pink. As mentioned above, our conservative parties in the election fought a fierce battle in the recent election against gender politics, against a preschool where kids are given a choice and taught that it is okay for boys to play with dolls and for girls to play with tools.

Somewhere, there is this idealized picture that we have a pre-defined role closely associated with our sex, our gender and the expression thereof. If you dream of a society where women are the care-takers, child raisers, cooks, and homemakers, it may seem comfortable to find your explanations in biology. You can tell the frustrated women that they don’t really have a choice: “don’t blame me for inequality, blame Mother Nature. I’m sure she knows what she’s doing!” Take it a step further and replace Mother Nature with a deity and you have the perfect storm. And gender politics is evil, as it fights–like Don Quixote–against that which is predestined.

Choice, however, makes things much more complex. Suddenly, you have individuals who live in a soup of biological factors, social factors, and personal choices to be made. And gender politics are a tool to help them find themselves. Some boys will be more “masculine” in their gender expression, some will realize that they are really girls and will want their bodies to match that. The very same is true for girls. At the end of the day, we all find ourselves on a spectrum, from one-hundred percent masculinity to one-hundred percent femininity, where the vast majority is somewhere between the poles.

Nature is at the core of my coming fantasy series. A story for youths and teens primarily dealing with the big threats our planet is dealing with today. Coming November 15, 2018.

What are you, my friend?

Part of the conundrum is the value society attributes to the two poles. Like a battery, masculine is “+” and feminine is “-“, male attributes are desirable, feminine ones are not. That is the sad truth at the core of it all. Our entire world is seen through those lenses. A woman crying in a public hearing is weak, hysterical, a man doing the same is passionate, in touch with his emotions.

I’m a man, but I’m also gay, and thus very much associated with all the negative associations attributed to women. In Turkey, for instance, the word “gay” is exclusively used for bottoms (or receiving men), whereas a top is not. It’s the “female” role that defines who’s gay. A large part of my coming out process (which is a life-long thing btw) was focused on my gender identity/expression, to come to peace with that which makes me a man and that which might not. I have loads of traits which society might consider female and I have spent years trying to figure out whether I should “blame” nature or nurture for them. You know what? I don’t care why. It doesn’t make any difference to how I feel. It shouldn’t matter to anyone. The important thing is how we feel if it’s due to chromosomes, hormones or socialization is irrelevant, or it should be.

But what makes a difference is how I am perceived by others, how my choices are reflected in society. When people or groups keep insisting that my choices are wrong, even though they are just right for me, that’s hurtful. Do I care? At my age, I can barely care enough to lift a middle finger, but I understand that it is a HUGE issue for our young, our impressionable members of society. Our teens who define themselves not based on who they are, but based on their relationships with others. They are at the epicenter of the struggle. It is them we need to support.

On my mind…

I often write about stuff on my mind, big, small, important, inconsequential. And I love to debate. Grant you, it would be easier and more welcome to do so over a cup of coffee/tea, sitting in comfy chairs, but that will have to be another day. For now, feel free to comment and add your two cents, or three. What is your experience? Do you agree with the above or do you have a different view?

Here’s the thing. If only we keep talking, across the great divide of diverging views, we can bring them closer to each other. Yelling, screaming and tweeting will not. So feel free to add your comments. Have a wonderful week.

Hans