Even as a man, I’ve had plenty to learn from the #MeToo debate
***PLEASE NOTE – THIS POST CONTAINS GRAPHIC PORTRAYALS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL IMAGERY***
The #MeToo debate’s awoken some old memories: I was twenty-four years old when I was raped. I never reported him. What would’ve been the use of it? Who would’ve believed a young faggot? Who would’ve cared? The police would’ve sent me away, laughing at me. AIDS fucker! got what I deserved. It was on Ibiza, and it had been consensual at first. But my nos to certain things were ignored, and in the end, I was tossed on the street like a rag doll that no one wanted to play with anymore. I returned to my hotel, showered, cried myself to sleep and spent the next three months in agony until the test results from my first ever HIV test had come back. Color me lucky, at least with regards to that lethal disease, so many others back then were not.
This was me, back then. Young, naïve, innocent. My heart broke for these innocent kids in a home in Romania. I grew up fast, after that rape.
The gay #MeToo experience
As a gay man, I have many experiences I share with my sisters, women everywhere. Men taking chances, not taking no for an answer, or reinterpreting it into a “maybe, if I just keep going”. In the gay dating scene, sex, in one shape or form, has always been pre-understood in most interactions, be it when you meet people in parks, clubs, public restrooms or in recent years, online. It’s no surprise, shunned by society, reduced to sex monsters, predators, we had no other alternative. It’s all we had, and even the most fleeting touch by a complete stranger was like making love to someone you’d been with for years. Rare moments, cherished. It has always been an extremely tight rope to walk, a fine line. Many men crossed the lines repeatedly over the years, but there was no alternative, there was no other story, nothing really that could’ve shown us there was “another way”.
HIV/AIDS changed things…
HIV changed things, in many ways. I’ve always had this nagging thought that the only reason why we are allowed to get married, or “partnered” is because the powers to be wanted us to live safe, monogamous lives, as boring as the rest of them, not because we were like them. No, but to keep us out of the parks. And things did change, for the better, for many of us. I’ve lived in a very happy and stable relationship for many years now. Alex and I celebrate our seventeenth anniversary this year. We’ve also always kept our relationship open to meeting others. That was never a secret between us, nor to the outside. Many don’t get that. That is fine. I don’t understand cheating.
But when you’re out there, meeting people, as fleetingly (and rarely, I might add) as I do, you also submit to the rules of the game, and for gay men, the rules include sex talk very early on in the conversation. No surprise, it’s why you meet. People are very straightforward with their wishes, their dislikes and what not. They will also ask you for very intimate details as early as the first message you exchange. It’s part of the game. I never thought otherwise, until this year.
#MeToo opened my eyes
I’ve always had a lot of respect for my sisters and the shit they had to endure at the hands of (straight) men, and I’ve often felt sad when I was thrown under the bus as a “man”, even though I’d never even look at a woman “that way”… But while I was an ally, unequivocally so, I never felt I had meat in the game. Until the discussions started last spring about unsolicited dick pics being sent to women by men they barely knew. I talked to some close friends about that and joked, that “dick pics” where the calling card of most gay men, and had been, for as long as online dating was a thing.
I’ve sent them, I’ve received them. However, I never sent them unsolicited, that just was never my cup of tea. But as I began to think about it, and the countless shlongs I had to look at over the years, I began to realize that what I really wanted, was to see a man’s face, his eyes. That is what I’m interested in, not his dick. Why? It’s not what I will talk to, not what I will remember (most likely.)
And I began to feel grossed out, really disgusted when I thought back to the days in the past when that was a common occurrence.
An example: even in business…
The latest dick pic I’ve received, pixellated to keep your eyes safe. I never asked for it, and the man who sent it was obviously already ‘done’. Not sure what he wanted from me. To work with him?
A little over a year ago, I was sitting on a ferry, on my way to town. Suddenly I get an alert on Messenger. I use Facebook for work, a lot, and I had met this person through my writing. “Met” is probably an exaggeration. He had sent a friend request. He works as a supplier to us writers and publishers, so I accepted, just as I accept all friend requests. Could be a reader, right? It was 10:28 am my time, and I was on my way to town when I get his message. I look at it and instantly cringe, because, well, this (see left) is what he sent (pixellated to avoid you the worst). But you get the gist, right?
I have never used Facebook for dating, my profile is very non-sexual in nature, G-rated I’d say, with the exception of a four-letter word every now and then. No idea what gave him the impression that I would be impressed by that photo, or that I’d want it in the first place? It was confusing and I told him as much. There was talk about doing more when we’d meet in person. I’ll grant you that I didn’t tell him to take a hike in strong enough words. I did tell him though that it had been unsuitable given my situation (I had people sitting all around me.)
A realization of sorts…
It wasn’t until later when I compared notes with my friends that I realized that I had been forced into a discussion with a potential supplier (!) that I had no intention of ever having in real life. And that is the very hallmark of sexual harassment, isn’t it? You suddenly find yourself in a situation that you have to deal with, a situation you didn’t ask for, a situation you can’t help and where getting out of it can be a challenge. Impossible even. Much later, I met him in real life. It was a very awkward situation, because he never looked at me, didn’t even acknowledge me. All I kept seeing was the above image. I pity the women who have to do this every day.
What can we do about it all?
Don’t get me wrong, #MeToo is primarily about women’s plight, and that is as it should be. Gay men share similar experiences at the hands of other men, men who can be as powerful or feel as entitled as their straight counterparts. There are even Lesbian women acting that way, emulating the “male” way of doing things, and having gotten away with it for far too long. I’m glad that we have this conversation these days. I’m glad that women in more and more places find the strength to say #NoMore, #NoLonger.
Now that I’ve found the strength to say no more myself, not to acquiesce that sort of behavior anymore, I can more actively help my sisters and speak up about the grave injustice this afflicts on millions and millions of women every day. I intend to keep doing that. I’ve said it, time and time again: there can be no LGBT equality without equality of the sexes. I, too, stand to win from this.
Have I been a saint through all this?
We need to do this for our children, girls, boys, and others, to provide them with a better future, free of unwanted sexual attention or harassments. My son Sascha. Photo: private
Gods no. I wish. Have I made mistakes? Have I misbehaved? Probably. I don’t remember. I am sincere in this. There are no recollections in my memory. Normally, I remember my mistakes more than the good deeds, simply because the pain lingers. Had I fucked up so royally, I have a hunch I’d remember. Should anyone I’ve treated badly read this, here’s my sincere apology: I most certainly didn’t mean to. I shall not even try to explain it or excuse it. First of all, it’s impossible to explain that which you don’t remember, on the other hand, it’s of no use.
Where do we go from here?
We need to keep talking about this. It is a vicious circle, and only the victims can break it. This also means forgiving those who have wronged us. For several reasons. First of all, it strengthens us, it removes the stain of being a victim. There is far greater strength in forgiving than in hatred or revenge. Second of all, even the worst of offenders have been raised by men and women, and many have learned that it’s “okay” to behave that way, from both their fathers and their mothers. Men and women alike keep perpetrating these myths of a weak and a strong sex, of how a “proper man” and a “proper woman” must behave.
Forgive and teach others, help others how to be human, just human. But most importantly, to make sure we do not raise another generation of predators. The cycle must be broken now.
As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week and don’t be shy, chime in, share your experiences. Be respectful.
Korea is an interesting place to visit, particularly if you are interested in culture, colonial history, and geopolitical chess games
Having just returned from Korea, I’ve had the unusual opportunity to talk to Koreans, some young, some older, about the current tense situation between the two states on the peninsula. I talked to them about their views of a brighter future, without Donald’s bigger button or Jong-Un’s need for a nuclear arsenal.
As someone who’s been privileged to witness the extremely volatile and unexpectedly rapid German (re-)unification in 1989 and 1990 from up close, it was interesting to spend time to compare notes with my Korean counterparts on how they view the situation on the ground, mere fifty kilometers (thirty miles) from the border, or the DMZ, the demilitarized zone, as this heavily militarized (yeah, odd, right) area is called. Alex and I had traveled there during our last visit in 2012. We were able to visit the North Korean tunnels dug to infiltrate (and invade?) the South. We peeked through binoculars at the now-closed village of Kaesong, where North Korean labor produced goods for the Samsungs and LGs in the south. We also saw and shivered at the tall towers on both sides, proudly flying each country’s national flag. Eerie!
The entire border to North Korea is mined territory, literally. Violent incidents always a possibility.
A few weeks ago, a North Korean soldier fled to the south, bullets from his comrades accompanying him on his rabbit-like run across the border where he collapsed. Marked by malnutrition, riddled with worms and bullet holes, the man is expected to make a full recovery in a hospital in Seoul. We know little about life in the North, and even my friends in Seoul could shed little light, other than that there is a powerful elite who lives a very good life, while the rest… well, starve? We don’t really know.
Satellite images show that there is very little electric light at night in North Korea, almost nothing outside the capital of Pyongyang, and from the few accounts we have seen and read, the people north of the border live an existence that very much resembles that of pre-war Korea. But we can’t know for certain.
Korea is an interesting country. While originally Buddhist, Christianity has been playing a major role for over a century as primarily American missionaries have been very active on the peninsula. They still are, and many in the Korean diaspora are deeply religious evangelicals. In the south, that is still the case, and churches of different denominations from Roman Catholic to Mormon stand side-by-side with beautiful Buddhist temples (see photo.)
Colorfully lit prayer bags hanging from a tree in Seoul’s richest and biggest Buddhist temple.
Understanding the North…
As for the North, religion is frowned upon, as in all communist countries, although the Kim family is staging itself more in the tradition of the old Joseon Empire. God-like rulers, rather than simply chairmen of the ruling party. Jong-Un’s grandfather, Il-Sung, is still president, decades after his death. Only a god could really fill those shoes, right? So what if that all crumbled? What if the gods were killed? Or exiled? Japan, in 1945, might hold a clue to how it might affect a people…
When East Germany opened the wall, it was the wealthiest of the Warsaw pact countries. Despite the paper-maché cars with lawn-mower engines they were driving. They were Germans, after all: industrious, hard-working, with little sense of humor or appetite for “living the good life”. They saved their money in bank accounts for a better day, and the unification treaty sweetened (or at least didn’t sour) their dreams. The differences, after having been sundered and apart for forty years (1949-1989) were staggering, but still manageable. Yet only last year did East-Germans achieve full parity in their pensions, and the “Soli”, the extra tax levied to pay for the build-up of the East is still paid. Based on the discussions of the two major parties for a new government for Germany, that is not to change. Keep that in mind as we look at a unified Korea.
Korea was split in two, like Germany, at the end of the war, in an American controlled (taking over from colonial Japan) South and the Sino-Soviet controlled North. We are seventy plus years into that separation. Relations between the two neighbors, of one people, are as bad as ever, despite the current Olympia induced romance. It won’t last, or so my Korean friends tell me. South Korea, like Germany, is one of the wealthiest nations of the planet, having risen from the ashes of 1953 like Phoenix. Meanwhile, North Korea is worse off than ever before or so we are led to believe.
Seoul, the capital of South Korea is a hyper-modern city with more tall buildings than I could count…
Sentiments in the South…
Official doctrine in Seoul is still the dream of unification. That is portrayed in many museums, from the Korean War Memorial to the National Museum or the City Museum. It’s enshrined in the national curriculum and it is the current minister of unification who is handling negotiations with his North Korean counterpart about their Olympic tête-à-tête. However, word on the street is a different one. Seventy years is a long time. Few people from the era are still alive. Even fewer have living relatives on the other side (despite the South’s insistence on always putting family reunions on the table.) The younger generations of Koreans enjoy the fruit of their parents’ and grandparents’ hard labor. South Korea is a wealthy country with good social services, a new smartphone every season, great K-pop music and in terms of fashion. Seoul is definitely the Milan of the East. Rarely have I seen a people so tastefully dressed! Who would give that up? Risk having to sacrifice the latest Samsung gadget to help complete strangers hundreds of miles away?
Also, and I think this is even more important: the younger generations in Korea suffer from similar problems our young do in the West: difficulties finding jobs, a real-estate market out of control. I’ve been told horror stories of thousands of people applying for ten internships where eventually only eight would be hired permanently, of hiring processes lasting months with up to four different aptitude tests. Employers scorning applicants with mere bachelor degrees. Korea has an excellent educational system, but given the stress of staying on top of the pyramid, it is also driving many students to the brink of exhaustion. Kids studying from six am to eleven pm, and some even commit suicide because of it. Tell me, why would they wish to risk competition from millions of people asking even lower wages?
Seoul, after the Korean War. Large parts destroyed after the initial attacks by North Korea in 1950. Replaced by a modern metropolis. The process was not without pain.
What the future might hold
Having finally rid itself of the Shanti towns of the post-war era, why would Seoul risk the prospect of hundreds of thousands, millions even, migrant workers coming to town to find their fortune in the brightly lit capital of the South? The prospect of it all frightens the younger generations. Few of them will pay more than lip-service to reunification in public, and will flat out rule that prospect out, for the time being, instead referring to “potentially”, in a “distant future”. They are a smart people, and I agree with that assessment, given what little I (and everyone else) knows about the state of things in the North. Besides, I highly doubt that China is as gullible and naïve as Russia was with regards to the GDR. I doubt that China will allow American troops on its borders. They’re quite thankful for that buffer zone that North Korea puts in between American ground troops and mainland China. I think Beijing is humiliated enough by the mere existence of Taiwan and the Japanese alliance with the U.S.
Oddly, as we’ve recently marked the twenty-seventh anniversary of German reunification, we’ve also seen just how Russia still feels about the de-facto abandonment of promises made as part of the unification process, primarily not making Eastern European countries NATO members or stationing U.S. troops there. Today, there are NATO troops stationed both in the Baltics and Poland, right under Putin’s nose. Mind you, I understand the need for those, given Putin’s saber-rattling of late and his war on Ukraine, but all of this would not have happened (or would it?) if the GDR had remained a separate country. We’ll never know, but the Russians feel betrayed. I doubt that China will make the same mistake.
This is what the Korean emperor would see, should he ever leave his palace. The ancient rule that no building shall be taller than his palace, long gone. And as the city has moved on, so have the younger generations of South Korea, no longer desperately clinging to the concept of a unified peninsula, one Korea.
In less than four weeks, the Olympic torch will arrive in Pyeongchang and the Olympic games will begin with the Koreans entering the stadium together, once again marching under a unified Korean flag (a picture of the peninsula on white background, as most recently in 2010.) I doubt Jong-Un will be there, and I doubt the unified ladies’ hockey team will play for very long. Many fear that the current romance is a veil to allow the North Koreans to further/finish their armed nuclear missiles. They’ve played the South and their need for political gains before. They need to be re-elected, Jong-Un doesn’t. I don’t think they’ll be successful this time, not like they were in the nineties, during the last era of “sunshine policy” of President Kim.
Young South Korea is worldly, suave, ironic, and not as gullible as their elders were. I find that hopeful, even if it will make progress on the peninsula slow. Sometimes though, slow is better. It beats a Seoul once again ravaged by artillery batteries from the North. Do you have questions? Comments? My trip to Seoul was primarily to learn about locations and settings from my coming novel, but I couldn’t help but discuss the current political and geopolitical climate with the people I met. To them, my thanks and utmost gratitude for honest and meaningful debates.
As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great weekend.
Rainbow Advent Calendar
Merry Christmas to you all, whether you celebrate today, on Christmas Eve, or tomorrow morning, Christmas Day. You’ve just opened the last door of this year’s Rainbow Advent Calendar, and I’m happy and very proud to bring you the final story. And what could be more fitting than an homage to the master of all Christmas tales, Charles Dickens, and his “A Christmas Carol”. Our story comes with a twist, of course, and it may just be the first LGBT-themed one out there. Enjoy!
Paul’s Dickensian Christmas – A Short Story
“Who are you?” Paul offered weakly.
The old man who suddenly appeared before him was scary looking, with a big white beard, a severe expression on his face, and the strange, colorful robe he wore. And, as old as he appeared, his eyes were youthful and full of energy—intimidating yet strangely familiar. The man suddenly laughed heartily, as if he’d been asked the silliest question ever. “I’m God. Who else did you expect?”
“Am I dead?” Paul wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
“No, Paul, you’re not. You’re dreaming,” God responded, his voice paternal, patient, his eyes gleaming with mischief.
“So…I’m delusional. I’m dreaming about having a conversation with God—which is really quite upsetting, given I don’t even believe in you.” And as if he needed convincing himself, he added, repeating what he’d already said, “I’m an atheist, have been for most of my life.”
God laughed some more before raising his hand in an appeasing gesture. “This is a special dream, Paul. No, you’re not delusional, and quite frankly, I don’t blame you for not believing in me. Heck, given all the BS people say I demand they do, and all the horrors humanity commits in my name, I’m surprised any sane person still believes in me.”
“I don’t understand. If you really are God, why don’t you stop people?”
“Ah, the ten-thousand-dollar question, isn’t it?”
“Sorry, it’s been on my mind ever since I was a child. For all the misdeeds done to me, to others, I’ve questioned how anyone could really allow that—how evil done to any human being could be sanctioned by any deity, not just you. You do not, after all, have the monopoly on being a god to humanity.”
“Actually, that’s not entirely true. You see, I go by many names. You know me as the Christian ‘God,’ but I’m also known as YHWH, Allah, Brahma, Zeus, Oden, and a great many other names. Some worship me as the sun god, I’ve been worshipped as Gaia or Mother Earth through the ages of mankind. But it’s always good old me.”
“You’re Gaia? How’s that possible?” Before Paul’s eyes, God seemed to shape-shift into a dark-skinned, middle-aged woman with a full figure, standing before him in all her glorious nudity.
She laughed. “How’s this for you? Better?”
Paul shook his head in disbelief. “But…how…?”
“My dear child, you’re overthinking this. I am whatever you need me to be, whatever each human being wants me to be. If they feel the need to pray to a fertile woman, I can be Gaia, Mother Earth, Hera, Pallas Athena or Aphrodite, and if they need a man, I’ll be Allah or God or whatever. I’ve even been known to be a gender bender at times.”
“Are you real?” Paul was anything but convinced, doubting his own dream.
“It’s your dream… But seriously, Paul, I didn’t come here to debate theology with you. I am part of you, just as I am part of every other human being that has ever walked the earth, past, present, and future. Which is why I’m limited in what I can do. I am what you are, not more, not less. If humanity works together for the common good, I am omnipotent. I can achieve anything. Alternatively, I am powerless to interfere when you go to war, hurt each other.”
“Then why did you appear to me now?” Paul was seriously worried about God’s presence at this stage in his life—if he was real. At the age of fifty-five, he was what the lifestyle magazines dubbed the “new thirties”—a man in his best years, yet at the same time a man trapped by his upbringing, the wrongdoings of his parents, and the consequences thereof on his life, his lack of capacity for love, his commitment issues. A long list. Now he could add fear of death to the list. Why else would God appear in his dream?
“Am I dying?”
Again, God laughed heartily at the suggestion. “No, silly. Why would you be dying? You’re in good health, although you could finally get that lazy ass of yours out of your apartment and go to the gym. Working out a bit more wouldn’t do you any harm, and those non-existent abs aren’t really going to help you with the boys, not to mention your clogged arteries…”
“You know I’m gay?”
God shook his head. “Do you need this in writing, Paul? I’m inside your head. I am you, or at least part of you. So yeah, I know everything about you—probably things you haven’t even acknowledged yourself, at least not on a conscious level. Interesting though that you picked up on gay but let the clogged arteries go unnoticed. Interesting indeed… Can we get on with it now?”
“Get on with what?”
God rested his head in his palms. This was one tough client. “It’s your dream. You summoned me. Seems to me you have something on your mind…” He flashed Paul a smile and a wink that was more than obvious. Paul was relieved that it was only the two of them in the dream, or it might’ve been awkward. Was God flirting with him?
“Let me see if I’m getting this right. It’s my dream, I’ve summoned you, and you know everything about me—stands to reason you also know what’s on my mind, right? Why don’t you just tell me?”
“Excellent!” God exclaimed. “Now you’re talking. I’m actually here to talk to you about Christmas.”
“Twenty questions again? Yes, Christmas. Today is Christmas, remember? You know, the Christian holiday you observe, despite being an atheist? Tree, lights, presents, overeating, carol-singing, commercial overload?”
“I know what Christmas is, but I don’t understand. I like Christmas.”
“You do, yet there’s always a sadness in your eyes, particularly when you look back at a certain Christmas past, and it looms like a dark shadow to this day.”
“So now you’re Dickens?” Paul had an inkling where this might be heading, and he didn’t like it one bit.
“Let me remind you, Paul, that you’ve not always been a cynic. Until you were fifteen, you loved Christmas unreservedly—even after you’d found out that Santa Claus wasn’t the real deal. But that year, something happened, something that forever changed your views of Christmas.”
“I was outed by my parents and tossed out on the streets for good measure. That’s what happened. How’s that not going to affect a person’s view of Christmas? I can never celebrate without thinking back to that morning, and the events that took place.”
“Why don’t we have a look?”
Paul’s eyes widened with terror. “Do we have to?”
“Your dream, your Dickens reference. Come on, let’s go…”
God made a swooping gesture with his arms, and underneath them, the ground slowly dissolved and was gradually replaced by a familiar setting—a weird and ghostly scene from Suburbia, a house with typical seventies furniture, TV blaring in the background, Christmas tree in the corner of the living room, lots of colorful presents underneath it, and a family of four sitting on the couch.
“I believe that’s you, right there? The acne-ridden teenager with the bad hair?”
“What? You’re a style critic, too? Weren’t you supposed to be on my side?”
“I am you, and if I’m not mistaken, you are your biggest critic, are you not?” God sneered condescendingly, just about fed up with Paul’s constant nagging.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Let’s get on with the spiel. Do I have to watch this?”
God simply shrugged as the scene in front of them played out, just as it had played out in Paul’s mind hundreds of times since that fateful day back when he was a teen.
“Mom, Dad, is it okay if Jesse comes over later today?” Paul heard himself say from the couch in front of him, and the memory of what was to come cut painfully through him.
“No, son!” his dad replied forcefully. “Your mother and I don’t want you to see that boy again, ever.”
“But he’s my best friend.”
Paul’s mom cut in, “It’s for your own good. Did you not hear the sermon from the pastor last night at midnight mass? How he admonishes us to live without sin? There’s been talk about Jesse in church for some time now—rumors, serious allegations… We think it’s better if you stay as far away from that boy as you can.”
“What rumors, Mom?”
Paul’s dad raised his voice. “Trish, why don’t you go to your room for a minute? Your mother and I need to talk to Paul, alone.”
With an angry stare at her brother for inevitably delaying the presents waiting to be opened under the tree, Trish got up and stormed out of the room. Seconds later, Paul heard her bedroom door slam shut.
Paul tried again. “What rumors, Mom?”
She didn’t answer but stared pleadingly at her husband, who responded in her place. “Rumors, about aberrant behavior, things happening at the latest scout gathering, ugly things, abominable things, sin, mortal sin.” His dad pressed out the final syllables forcefully as if to convey their actual meaning, but Paul was lost.
“I don’t understand…”
“I’m relieved you don’t, son. Jesse is a homosexual, an abomination in the eyes of God, an evil monster sentenced to eternal damnation in the hottest fires of purgatory. I’m surprised his parents are still in town. I would’ve left. How they can face the Andersens every Sunday in church is beyond me.”
“What did he do?” Paul was utterly confused. He liked Jesse—liked him a lot actually, a feeling he thought was mutual. They’d even kissed and made out a couple of times, but what did Alex Andersen have to do with any of this.
It had made no sense to young Paul, and the pain from remembering the next few minutes in the Baker household was almost physical, particularly as he was seeing it now, staged by his very own “Ghost of Christmas Past,” for his personal viewing pleasure, or torture, as it were.
“He corrupted the boy. Did unspeakable things to him—things two men, two boys, should never even think about, let alone act upon. They were caught by their scoutmaster in a most compromising position, one I shall not dignify with mentioning out loud. Safe to say, you shall never see this abomination again. I will not have any homosexuals in this house. Ever. And that is final!”
“But I like him, he’s my best friend,” Paul offered defiantly.
“Nonsense. How would you even know what a best friend is?”
“We kissed…” Paul blurted out, blushing. He’d never thought about telling his parents about his feelings toward Jesse. It had seemed unnecessary somehow, an instinctive security barrier, keeping him from mentioning it. But asked about it, he wouldn’t, couldn’t lie. He’d been taught better. Lying was a sin. Sure, he’d been called names in school—faggot, gay, and so on—but he’d never connected the dots. Even the pastor’s sermons had never really made any sense to him, with regards to him. When the pastor had spoken of the sin of homosexuality, it had always seemed so theoretical, as if he’d spoken of much older men, and carnal things—things a fifteen-year-old did not understand, could not fathom. His feelings for Jesse were pure as snow, and the kisses they’d exchanged were pristine, innocent.
Not once had Paul understood the implication of his words, his emotions, not until he saw the horror on his mother’s face, the utter disgust on his father’s face. Not until they had coerced every last bit of information from him, not until his father had literally beaten it out of him, not until they’d forced him upstairs to get dressed, not until they’d thrown him out of the house, unceremoniously, wearing nothing but the clothes he’d just put on and with the few dollars he’d had in his wallet. Tossed out onto the street, in the middle of winter, in a small town in Northeast Indiana. Alone. On Christmas morning.
Paul watched the scene unfold before him, saw his young self being driven from his own home, his mother crying, his father yelling hysterically. He had never seen them again. Somehow, he’d survived that day, found shelter at another church in town—one more welcoming to Christopher’s Kind than his parents’ congregation. A kind soul had helped him move to Chicago, where he’d been placed in a home with other children his age, so he could finish school and get whatever education he could without money or parental support.
Paul had done well for himself. That he knew. He’d done better than to survive. He’d built himself a home, started a company in the suburbs of Chicago: express plumbing, services always needed, help always rendered. Paul’s company flourished, and he was in high demand. He had done well…except for his heart. He was lonely. He’d never trusted anyone again, unable to bring himself to place someone else in danger, or risk getting hurt himself.
“Have you seen enough?”
“Why did you show me this?”
“Because you always come here on Christmas. But I have a hunch that after today, you won’t have to, not anymore. Come on, we have two more places to visit.”
Paul wasn’t sure he wanted to. “More Dickens?”
“Yes, sir. Let’s go. Your parents await…”
“Why, yes! You get to see them how they are today…”
Paul hadn’t even known if they were still alive.
Underneath him, the world dissolved into a swirl of sand, and for a second, he seemed to float in absolute darkness before a new swirl of the grayish sand appeared and began to form an entirely different scenery than that of his childhood home. This room was dimly lit with yellow-brownish floor tiles, a hospital bed, sparse furnishings, yellowed curtains. Paul didn’t recognize the place, but it did remind him of a retirement or—more likely—a nursing home. A figure lay in the bed. Next to the bed, with their back toward Paul, sat another figure: slim, small, dressed in dark clothes. Crying.
“Come on.” God gestured, gently pushing Paul forward, toward the bed. “They can’t see you. This is still a dream, remember?”
“Who are they?” Paul whispered, still not quite believing that the two figures, the man in the bed and the woman by his side, couldn’t hear him.
“Don’t you recognize them?” God had an amused tone in his voice.
It dawned on Paul. “Mom? Dad?”
God nodded, nudging Paul to move even closer.
“What’s happening? Dad is barely breathing.”
“Your father will be dead before the night is over. Your mother is here to take her leave.”
“Where’s my sister?”
“No longer alive, I’m afraid. After you were forced from the house, your sister rebelled, against everyone and everything. She began to hang out with the wrong crowd, one thing led to the next…she died of a heroin overdose before she’d turned sixteen. Your parents lost both of their children to their god, their faith, and their own sense of moral superiority. They’ve been paying the price for over forty years. It’s too late for your father, but your mother can still be saved…” There was a knowing undertone to God’s voice.
“She looks so old, so small, so very fragile.”
“She’s suffered a lot. As you might remember from your previous experience, your mom wasn’t quite as orthodox as your dad. I doubt she would’ve tossed you on the streets had it been up to her. But she was brought up never to question her husband, and so she didn’t. Instead, she suffered silently, not only at the loss of you but that of her daughter as well. It broke her heart, but like I said, it’s not too late…”
“What do you mean?”
“What I mean is that your mother is still alive. You still have a chance to reconcile with her. Remember, you only have this one life. Make the most of it. Carpe diem and all that… Go see her, talk to her, make a fresh start.”
Paul was about to ask God about what he meant with this “one life” and all the lessons about an eternity at his side, but thought better of it. His mother looked up from the bed and stared right at him. She had cried a lot, her face pale and sunken. She must’ve been through a lot of pain in the years he hadn’t seen her. Her big brown eyes were barely recognizable, sad, murky, but she was still his mom.
“Are you sure she can’t see me? She’s staring right at me…”
“It’s your dream. Anything is possible… But no, she can’t, although she often thinks about you. She still lives in your hometown in Indiana, in the same house. It’s less than a four-hour drive to see her. What do you think?”
“I’m not sure. Do you really think she’ll want to see me?”
God smiled and beckoned. “I have one more place to show you…”
Once again the ground shifted beneath Paul, making way to the void as the yellow-brownish tiles, the walls, the furniture and everything else dissolved into that gray sand again, swirling and falling into the black abyss underneath Paul’s feet before re-coalescing into a completely different scene: a house, one he didn’t recognize. It was winter; there was a lot of snow on the ground, and a big Christmas tree was lit outside the house, along with other Holiday lights and decorations.
Standing on the sidewalk, Paul spotted a big, colorfully decorated Christmas tree through the front windows. “Whose house is this?”
God chuckled. “You still don’t get it, do you? We’ve been to your Christmas Past, your Christmas Present… What do you think this is?”
Paul shrugged. “Well, if this were Dickens, this would be my Christmas Future, but that would entail a graveyard and a lonely tombstone with my name on it. But this isn’t it, is it?”
God sighed. “You’re a tough cookie, a true skeptic. I figured the scary approach wouldn’t work with you, so let’s just call this…the promise of a Christmas Future…”
Paul looked up at the house. He noticed a character inside the house: a man his own age he didn’t know, and a dog running around the man’s feet.
“It’s a golden retriever. I love that breed. I’ve always wanted one. But living alone, working as much as I do, I just never felt it justified to get one. Who’s the guy?”
“You already know him…and you’ll meet him again…soon,” God said knowingly.
Just as Paul was about to respond, a car pulled up in the driveway. A man in his mid-fifties and an older woman exited the car. Paul became excited. “That’s Mom. What’s she doing here?”
God laughed. “Celebrating Christmas with her son and her future son-in-law, of course…”
Paul stared at the man who’d driven the car. “I’ve lost weight. I look older.”
“Always the critic. But yes, you’ll begin to work out and spend some time at the gym. Your dad’s heart disease and your mom telling you about it will be the final straw to break the camel’s back, to overcome your resistance—getting you to see your own GP, getting some straight talk about your own health—finally looking after yourself. Meeting Jesse again will also help.”
“Yes, Jesse, the one and only. Just like you, he had a horrible youth and ended up in the system, but in Indianapolis. Unlike you, he wasn’t quite so lucky. He did drugs, served time, and never really got a second chance. Mostly working stray day jobs, he never caught a break in life until he ended up in your hometown again, by chance.
“He met your mom at the nursing home where your dad was living out the last few weeks of his life. Jesse was working as a janitor, and he and your mom began to—or rather, will begin to—talk. One of life’s coincidences, really—that your mother is the one to bring Jesse back into your life. The rest, as they say, is history, or it will be, come next Christmas…”
Paul’s heart was racing, yet he remained skeptical. “Why are you showing me this? I thought I was supposed to do something different in order to change the outcome of Christmas Future? This makes no sense…”
“Paul, you really are one stubborn mule.” God tousled Paul’s hair. “You still have to do all the work, make all those changes, or you’ll wake up next year to a Christmas just like the one you’ve celebrated these past decades—in your apartment, alone, working Christmas Day rather than spending time with your family. Life, my friend, is not a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s what you make of it. Just remember, I am God, and I am right here, right inside you, part of you. Therefore, in some way, you are God, and your fate, your future, is yours to shape, if you work hard, spice it with a pinch of luck and sprinkle it with some Christmas magic.”
Around Paul, the scenery began to dissolve again, but rather than the sand coalescing into another scene, Paul woke up, and found himself where he’d fallen asleep a few hours earlier—in his own bed, in his own bedroom, in his apartment.
Paul turned on the lamp on his nightstand before getting out of bed to go to the bathroom. God was no longer there… if he’d ever been. Yet when Paul returned and saw his phone lying on the nightstand, he was immediately reminded of God’s advice, to call his mother. He picked up the phone and walked out to the kitchen to make coffee. He needed to think clearly. He wasn’t sure if his parents still had a landline, but chances were they did, and given that so little had changed, chances were they still had the same number they had when he was a boy.
Paul didn’t need to think about that number. There had been countless times throughout his life that he’d considered calling, mulling the pros and cons, but ultimately, he never did. Better to be safe than sorry.
He grabbed a cup from the cupboard and poured himself a fresh cup as the coffee maker had stopped spilling the last drops into the pot, and was now mostly sputtering air. He sat down at his kitchen table, picked up his phone and dialed the number to his parents’ landline from memory. After a couple of signals, someone picked up on the other end.
“Hello, who’s this?”
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND REMEMBER, CARPE DIEM!
I hope you enjoyed this short story. May it remind you of the true spirit of Christmas, that of love for your next. To read the other stories in this beautiful calendar, look here:
Rainbow Advent Calendar 2017
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If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. This is my last post of the year. My family and I are already on Madeira celebrating a well-deserved (?) vacation. From all of us to all of you, a very merry Christmas and a Happy, Successful & Peaceful New Year. May 2018 bring about positive change to our world. It is, after all, the only one we have…
Sex in fiction: the blog post with no definitive answers
Sex in fiction is a topic that is very much relevant for writers everywhere, particularly if you write about human beings. Maybe less so if you write technical manuals about packaging machines. Sex is a thing for humans, so much that we make a big deal when a monkey seems to be humping a deer, leading biologists to believe that this is the second instance, EVER, in the animal kingdom of interspecies sex. Yeah, we are, as a species, obsessed with sex, with ourselves, and animals. Needless to say, sex in fiction is a thing because fiction mirrors life. But…
As a writer of gay fiction, it’s even more difficult because my neighbors, the writers of m/m romance, are forced to include sex or face the wrath of their readers on sites like Facebook or GollumReads. The boundaries between romance and erotica are blurred, to say the least, and sexless romance doesn’t sell (a lot). Being gay also means that I have always been defined by my sexuality, not my personality or my emotional well-being. We are, after all, homosexuals, not homopersons or homoerotic. For a long time, sex was what defined us, and we defied society by making the most of that, having sex behind bushes, in public restrooms etc. Why? Well, we couldn’t have it in our marital bedrooms like the rest of them. Our history makes it challenging to voice an opinion about the sex-crazed romance industry, but not even rabbits fuck as much as the boys in some m/m books do, and us real-life gays? Let me just ask you this: are you married? How often have you had sex this year? Yeah, depending on who you are, the answer will be different, and the same is true for real life gay couples, which range from asexuals to “rabbits” and everything in between. As boring as it may sound, we’re just like you.
But to add a bit of “science” to it, a sex study conducted in the UK a few years ago, the largest one of its kind so far, showed that 42% of hetero couples had anal sex, which was more than the 39% of gay couples. I bet you didn’t see that one coming. Who knew that straight men were bigger fudge packers, more frequent chocolate pushers than their gay counterparts? Scary, huh?
So back to literature, and sex in fiction. What’s appropriate? What isn’t? My take has always been this: sex is totally okay, warranted even if it furthers the plot. Sometimes, the sexual act between two consenting adults strengthens their bond, which may be crucial for the development of their relationship. I have two great examples of that, one from Jonathan’s Hope, where Dan and Jon take their relationship to the next level when they have sex for the first time. After that, the sex moves off page, because it doesn’t serve that same purpose anymore. Another example is the washing scene in The Opera House, where Raphael and Micky get intimate for the first time, due to the need to wash Micky after his accident. The description of the sex is realistic and based on that specific situation (one character in several casts) because I feel that we as authors have a responsibility to fight stereotypes and misconceptions. This clashes of course with the “ideals” of romance, where fantasy and escapism rule, and where you can read books about such topics as male pregnancy, douche free anal sex, and “gay for you”, all things you’ll only ever see in fiction, not real life.
So when is sex in fiction inappropriate? I will answer this question with a question: when do you think that sex is inappropriate in real life? In my humble opinion, fiction should mirror reality as much as possible, even in fantasy. I come to think of two scenes in books that have left me stunned, disgusted even. In one, a grandfather, my age, is rushed to school by his love interest to pick up his grandson who’s been bullied. They return to the house with a badly traumatized child, leave him alone (!) in his room to fuck with each other downstairs… Yeah. The other scene that I just read the other day was about a man freezing to death on a park bench in the dead of winter, and as he’s dying there on that bench, he dreams of having sex… Yeah.
Here’s the really sad part, both stories were – otherwise – very good, really well written. But no, sex when you have children in distress (mothers, would you?), or when you’re dying is just completely inappropriate, and I have no flying fucks to give if this was romance or not. A litmus test: would a woman have sex in such a situation? Would a mother/grandmother leave her (grand-)child alone for a quick fuck with her love interest? Probably not even in erotica (because of kids & sex don’t really mix, do they?) Would a dying woman dream of a final fuck, or would she be so fucking cold that she’s no coherent to form any clear thought, which is why she ended up freezing to death on that park bench in the first place? I’m not sure how the reasoning goes, if it’s something along the lines “we all know women wouldn’t do it, so I can’t write it, but I don’t really know how gays do it, besides, we all know they’re sex-crazed rabbits, so I’ll get away with it?” That would be stereotyping, homophobic, and just awful. So I must assume it’s just ignorance (which is really bad when you write about something you haven’t researched) or laziness.
I am no prude, quite the contrary. Where most people are squeamish about using the f-word (fucking, yes), I don’t mind using it. I can openly talk about sex, and I’m not ashamed to say that I consider myself quite experienced, both in variety and numbers. Sex is a great thing, and I don’t mind reading about sex either, although I usually skip it, simply because most writers seem to have no clue what they’re writing about, and porn is a really, really bad source of information. If in doubt, watch porn depicting how you have sex, and see if it’s anything how you and your partner(s) go about it. Some of the mechanics may be right, because “human anatomy”, but everything else will feel off somehow. Trust me.
Sex is great, sex is liberating, and loads of fun, and reading about it or watching sex is totally okay. But writing sex requires that we think about where we insert sex scenes, how they make sense, and most importantly, how we depict our characters with love and respect. When you write about a minority (ethnic, religious, whatever), you have an even greater responsibility to be sensitive or you are contributing to reinforcing the negative stereotypes that are already out there.
If you like my reviews, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. The next issue is due next week. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great weekend and enjoy the fourth Advent week.
PS: Are you following the Rainbow Advent Calendar? If not, the stories are still up there for you to read, and new ones are published every day… My story will be published on Christmas Eve… 😉
I came to think of my own Christmas story last night, my husband and our first celebration together
A bit of a personal Christmas story today, all real, no fiction. We’re approaching the half-way point in the Rainbow Advent Calendar which I hope you’re following. I’ve already read some really cute and some quite unique stories. And plenty more to go. If you missed it, don’t worry, all the open doors stay open for you. You can go back and read anytime you like. My husband and I met in 2001, on 9/11 (it’s an important piece as you’ll see soon), and after that, things moved quickly. We had been talking online and on the phone ever since our first contact in April that year, but our first date was 9/11, in part because he lived three hours away from me.
Our official Christmas picture!
He moved in with me December 2 that same year. I’d spent the night up there in his apartment and on Sunday morning, we left it all, dumped the furniture (which was mostly old stuff anyway) and took what little belongings he owned, to my car and drove to Gothenburg. The lone exception was a bicycle, a gift from his parents we couldn’t fit. We’d be back for it later. I had known by then that Alex’s parents were quite homophobic but I wasn’t prepared for what I was in for. He’d also told me that Christmas had always been a dark period for him as he grew up, with his dad leaving for his mistress and/or both his parents drinking heavily. It was not a Holiday he looked forward to. For me, it had always been the opposite. I LOVE Christmas, and even when I was alone, I always had a tree. I was on a mission: I’d show Alex that Christmas was a time to enjoy, a beautiful time for family memories to be made, and yes for unconditional love.
I came to think of this last night, as our little family was enjoying a traditional Swedish Yule table, our Christmas version of the famous Smörgåsbord with delicacies ranging from herring to cold cuts, sausages, meatballs, ham, and fish, not to mention a great assortment of candies and desserts. It was one of the gelatine-pressed meat dishes that triggered my memories because back in 2001 I had bought food for a six-headed family and then some. I’d cooked the ham but most of the rest I’d bought in the story. I had, after all not spent that many years in Sweden and I wasn’t exactly an expert on Swedish cuisine.
Our tree this year.
So I bought “Sylta”, which is minced meats in a form surrounded by gelatine. Quite delicious, but yeah, I’d bought a big sized pack and it was more than too much… We sat down, as tradition bids after noon, to eat. We didn’t get far, as the phone kept ringing off the hook. Alex’s father had left his mother for Christmas, to spend it with one of his mistresses, up north instead. So he called Alex and expected him to be home with his mom, rather than spending time with a [insert colorful expletive] faggot… After fifteen or so calls, we put the phone on voicemail and after thirty plus calls, we pulled the cord. Finally, we’d get some peace and quiet… But by then, the magic was gone, and so were our appetites.
On Boxing Day, we fled the country. No, not because of Alex’s dad, but because that year was special. After 9/11, people stopped flying, for fear of ending up in a building, and in New York, hotels stood empty. We got a super cheap deal and were able to fly to New York on Swissair and stay at a four-star hotel for almost no money at all. We had a great few days in the Big Apple, visiting the various sights, even going to Ground Zero to pay our respect to the many victims we’d watched live. We had a great New Year’s Eve dinner near Times Square and celebrated the arrival of 2002 with a million New Yorkers chanting “Fuck Bin Ladin!”
On our way back to Europe, I was able to upgrade us to Business Class, a first for Alex. That was our first Christmas, and I’m happy to report that seventeen years later, we still celebrate Christmas, we’ve made some amazing memories along the way, traveling with my family around the world. Now that we have a child of our own, the Christmas tree is back, and I’m currently sitting right in front of it, watching TV with a bed-ridden kid. Things turned out alright for us, which is the one thing you never really find out in those romances. They just kind of leave you hanging after that first kiss, right? Well, sometimes, IRL really can rock. Today, 11/12 also happens to be our wedding anniversary. Alex and I got hitched today, thirteen years ago. Sixteen years as a couple, thirteen as spouses, certainly longer than the average marriage these days…
Have a great week, and now go on and read some more Christmas stories. I know I will. There’s one I’m not quite done yet. Remember, my own Christmas story is due On Christmas Eve… Don’t miss it.
If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. The next issue is due next week. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram.
PS: don’t forget to check back in on Friday, when I’ll be posting my release day review of Roe Horvat’s new book, a total must read, just like her last one…