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.
I’ve met up with author M.D. Neu for a chat, about writing, his books and more…
I haven’t done an author interview for a while, but when Marvin and I got to chat about his books, I figured I wanted to learn more, and after having read his brand new novel The Calling, we sat down for a chat. Meet author M.D. Neu:
Author M.D. Neu
Who is M.D. Neu in his own words?
M.D. Neu is a writer, a husband and is driven to get the stories out of his head and into print. He also wants to tell stories about people and characters that he never saw growing up (everyday gay hero’s) and largely still doesn’t.
People like him; regular folks that happen to be gay, experience and feel other worlds and see into the future. When he’s not writing and working his day job he loves to travel and spend time with family and friends.
What is one thing you would like the world to remember you for?
That I told stories that everyone could relate to. That you could sit down and read one of my stories and see yourself in the leading role.
What got you into writing?
I started keeping a journal with I was a foreign exchange student in Germany. When I got back I continued to journal as it helped me process my internal coming out. It was a safe way for me to share my thoughts. From there it morphed into poetry and then into writing stories. It wasn’t something I ever thought I would consider doing for real, not until the last few years where somehow it became part of me and part of what I wanted.
The cover of The Calling
I guess I’ve always been creative, I’ve always been a talker, and I love telling stories so the three sort of pulled together and this is what that less than holy trinity turned into.
Are you a full-time author or do you have a day job as well, and if so, what do you do?
I work full time for a non-profit that works to end poverty and help those in need. It’s an amazing job and I have two incredible bosses. The best part of my day job is that typically when I leave for the day, I’m not carrying any of it with me. So, it frees me up for my writing. I’m very lucky in that regard.
I’ve just read your first novel, and I’ve read one of your shorter stories. Paranormal seems to be your “calling”. Why’s that?
Some of my favorite authors are paranormal and horror authors, Anne Rice and Stephen King top the list. Then I’ve always loved Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg. I loved the idea of things going bump in the night. It’s fun, but not in a “slasher-gasher” sort of way. I like a good jump scare but add in a little humor.
I try and write things that give me the chills but again not in a way that is going to gross people out. I want it to be fun and have humor to it as well. I also want it to feel real.
Some of the best ghost stories I’ve read have been ones that you never find out fully what happened or is happening kind of like Hitchcock’s The Birds or even Spielberg’s Poltergeist and now his Stranger Things.
I’m no expert in paranormal, quite the contrary. I do understand that there’s a lot of world-building going on, and I sense that even at the end of The Calling, you’re not quite done. I for one wonder where all the red wine comes from… Is that the appeal to you in paranormal or just a necessary evil?
It’s definitely part of the appeal. The Calling started off as a stand-alone story, my take on vampires and witches. I wanted to play around with how these mythical creatures could be around in our world today, especially with video cameras everywhere. As I plotted out the story and created the lore I found this rich world. There was a lot there. There was so much I wanted to explore and I knew I couldn’t cram it all into one book. So, assuming people are interested there will be a second book (hopefully). And I may even do some kind of prequel that focuses on Juliet.
You mention the Red wine, or as I simply refer to it, red. There is vampire magic involved, but as Victor mentions in the book, ‘nothing beats fresh.’
I will dive a bit more into the vampire side of things in book two. How they get their blood, how they can keep it fresh and I’ll even dive into more about their Keepers. I think I have some really cool fun stuff to share so I hope to get it all sorted.
You have taken vampires to a new level, displaying them in a new and interesting light. And the end of the book seems to open up for a lot more. Will we see a series or just a sequel?
Honestly, I only have a sequel planned, but as I mention I might do something with Juliet because I love her character and I find her really amazing and interesting. I’ve got pages of notes on her. We’ll just see what happens and how things go.
You have a unique author voice, and your writing is extremely captivating. You literally had me drawn into the story before it really started. Even as someone who doesn’t read a lot of paranormal, I was really wanting to get back to the book, finish it, despite being on vacation with my family… The plot you built is very elaborate, intricate and full of twists. I must assume you’re a plotter. How much planning went into this novel?
Yep, I’m a plotter. Once I have my general idea and I’m introduced to the main couple of characters I start planning out the story. I keep my eye on the end and I have to make sure I can get to that ending in a logical manner. When it came to The Calling outline I found that by chapter sixteen there was no way I was going to get everything I wanted into this book. So I broke the story in half. So, The Calling is technically only the first sixteen chapters of the original outline. Book two will focus on everything that comes after that.
Once I have the outline I start to flesh out each chapter. I love details and description so I find pictures of the places I want to use and do my best to describe what I see. I also use placed I’m familiar with so I can add things like scent and sound to the story. I build all that info into my outline as well.
When it comes to twists I work with the end in mind. I know where I want to end up and then I have to think about the most real way to get there. I try not to wave ‘oh look magic’ or ‘oh look science’ I want the reader to believe that it’s possible so trying to get those details right is also part of the outline.
If I’m doing an action scene or I have a big scene where a ton of characters are I try and map it out so I know where everyone is going. I work out what they are doing in the chapter (during the outline phase) so people aren’t floating around.
The Dark & the Light
The Light and the Dark, tell us about your reasoning behind creating two kinds of vampires. Will we ever see the Dark unleashed?
The Light and the Dark. Honestly, they gave me nothing but headaches. The problem I have with the Dark especially is that if I left them up to their own devices they couldn’t really exist, not now anyway. They would have been discovered and killed off by now. To unleash the Dark would be to put our world into chaos. People would literally be showing up drained of blood on a daily basis all over the world. It would be a mess.
I had to rein them in, which I think works well because we get Victor. He is brilliant. He knows how to play the game and not take any crap.
When it comes to the Dark unleashed, I see parts of that world today, around us.
I mention it a bit when I was talking about the planning. There are parts of the world that are not safe (for whatever reason) and the Dark in those areas use this to their advantage. We may see more of this in book 2.
The gay aspect is very subdued, and you really had me confused there for a while (no spoilers.) In the end, I found it refreshing and gratifying, I have to say. Was that a choice you made on purpose? It seems that way, given Duncan’s own words?
Yes, that was my intent from the start. First and foremost I want to tell stories that anyone can relate to. Duncan could be your brother, cousin, best-friend, the stranger you see every day on the street. That should be who Duncan is and that is what I was going for.
I’m not a big fan of labels. We forget that we are all human first. Nothing else really matters from there on. So, I wanted Duncan to point this out. In fact, I had a little back and forth with the publisher on this fact (not in a bad way, my publisher is amazing and I adore working with them).
One of the reasons why I love to read other people’s books is to marvel at the ingenuity, the creativity we have. “How the hell did they come up with this…” I’ve had quite some moments like that in The Calling, but also in the other story I read, The Reunion. Care to elaborate on your creative muse?
I don’t really know if I have a muse so much as I have this characters floating around in my brain that I listen to. How I write kind of happens this way. I may have a dream or think, ‘what if’ and then if something clicks suddenly I’ll have a character come forward and they will start telling me their story.
For The Calling, I wanted to tell a vampire story that could work in our society today. Vampires that could be real. When I started thinking about the how. This guy Duncan came forward and started telling me about himself and the story grew from there. I want people to read The Calling and think, wow that could actually happen. I kind of also wanted to write a vampire story that Anne Rice would enjoy (I know I know, but it’s true.).
The cover of The Reunion
With The Reunion was a whole different ballgame. Some friends and I were playing this game with this crazy characters and when the game ended I didn’t feel like the story was over so I wrote this 3,600-word ending. It was nothing special, but from that, the idea of The Reunion formed and materialized. I changed the characters around and made them fit the story I wanted to tell. I also wanted to play on what we think we know. One thing that always drives me nuts about movies and stories is we will follow a single character and by the end of the story we someone find out everything. The character either stumbles onto the truth, overhears something, finds the diary, has the big bad tell them everything, etc. I understand why screenwriters do it, they want the audience to feel stratified with the ending. Okay sure that is wonderful, but it’s not real. That is why I like Alfred Hitchcock, he didn’t always answer everything; the characters only knew what they knew and nothing more. So that is what I did with Teddy. We only know and see what he knows and sees.
We often see male main characters described as hunks with six packs and what not. Duncan seems ordinary, at least physically. Was that a choice made on purpose?
If you want to read about beautiful gay men or beautiful gay women I can give you a list of wonderful books to read. If you want to read a story about someone like you who has an amazing adventure then this is that story. Duncan is an average Joe, plain and simple. He’s just average in fact all my characters fall into the average category because I want them to be someone we can all relate to.
Finally, what can we expect and look forward from you in the future? Plug away…
I’m hoping to launch my Sci-Fi Series A New World this year. I have this wonderful short story about a Drag Queen and an angel that I hope will get picked up. I’m going to be working on Book two of The Calling and there are a ton of other ideas I have floating around.
I also post poetry on my website for folks to enjoy. I try and get a few new poems up one a month (or once every other month) depending on how busy I am. So really I’m just starting up, there is a ton of stuff heading out. So I hope people can just sit back and enjoy some good storytelling from me.
Thank you, Marvin, author M.D. Neu, for answering my questions. If you want to connect with him, you can do so here:
His books are available from his publisher Nine Star Press, from Amazon and your other favorite outlets. I’ll talk to you again on Friday when I have another great review for you, a book from another author friend of mine I recently read… See you then.
As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Hope your start to 2018 was as good as mine… Have a good week, and don’t forget to check back in on Friday for another book review.
PS: A word to blow my own horn. I finally received a Kirkus review for one of my books, Disease, and they’re quite gracious, calling it “a must-read for anyone in the throes of an ordeal involving Alzheimer’s disease” (Kirkus Reviews, 1/3/18) If you haven’t read it yet, there’s no time like now!
Our Christmas tradition: for thirty-four years now, the Hirschi family has (mostly) foregone Christmas presents
…and much of the stress associated with the Holidays, I might add. Christmas is one of the most traditional holidays we have in the western world. It’s a time when families gather, presents are exchanged, food is eaten in copious amounts and stress is permeating every aspect of it. You read Facebook posts of stressed mothers who don’t bake (enough), people who are stressed because they don’t have a family to celebrate with and people who are stressed because they can’t seem to find the right gift. In 1983, my parents introduce da new Christmas tradition in our family: travel.
Christmas tradition premiere: we traveled back to where I had spent the summer and visited my amazing host family in St. Malo, Brittany. From left: my mother, me, my host mom (from behind) and my host dad.
It is a trip I’ll never forget. My brother (thirteen then) and I had spent the summer of 83 in France, studying French. He had been in Sète, in the South of France, while I had ended up in St. Malo, in Brittany (a stunningly beautiful place btw!)
That year, my parents suggested we leave the Engadine, St. Moritz and the glitz and glam of the world’s oldest winter sports resort town to do something else: a few days in Paris followed by a few days in St. Malo. I don’t recall why that suggestion came. Was it some sort of envy of our summer trip and the memories? Was it a health issue? My dad had been forced to take an emergency vacation in the fall of 82 to avoid an imminent heart attack (or so his doctors claimed.)
So it began…
We loved it so much that we did it again, in Sète, the next year. Me with my parents back in 1984.
In any case, we agreed that we – henceforth – would forego Christmas presents and that we’d spend that money on a trip instead. Neither my brother nor I argued the point. It was far too exciting to go places, and both he and I had loved every trip we’d taken abroad, usually in May, for spring break. We never looked back.
After St. Malo in 1983, we ended up in Sète in 1984, (I was in the U.S. in 1985/6), London in 1987 (where we watched the musical Chess), and after a while, we added sunshine and warmth to our trips. My parents live in a place that while sunny, it also sees snow every month of the year, and winters are painfully long (October to April.) At some point, we began to travel to Thailand and we’ve spent the past few years traveling to the Florida Keys (2013), the Caribbean (2014), Bali (2015), and the Caribbean (2016) again.
No tradition without exceptions…
Sometimes, traditions need to be broken to stay alive. In 2012, mom was too ravaged from her dementia to travel, and instead, we visited her. It was to be her final Christmas, celebrated the way we used to when I was a kid. If you’re interested in how we celebrated when I was a child? Read my Christmas Tale, a short story depicting this Swiss-style celebration.
This year, we split up, for the first time since my mom passed away. There have always been years where one or several parts of the family spent their vacations separately, and there have been years where we stayed home, for various reasons, partially because both my brother and I are married and we have partners and their respective families to consider as well. And there have been exceptions to the rule, as e.g. 2012, when my mother celebrated her final Christmas (which we obviously didn’t realize), but she was far gone in her dementia to travel. We’d still been to Thailand the year before, in 2011.
My brother and his husband decided early one to celebrate one year with his in-laws and one year with us. My husband’s family was never much to celebrate with (loooong story), so we never really had that conundrum. This year is “our” year and my dad is flying to Mexico to be with them, as my brother and his husband recently moved back to Mexico.
Alex and I decided not to join them. Instead, we’ve booked a small cottage on the island of Madeira for a quiet couple of weeks on that green paradise. Just the three of us. We haven’t had that in quite a while. The birth of our son also meant that we had to re-adjust our traditions a bit. Rather than completely foregoing Christmas, we don’t want Sascha to miss out, and so we celebrate with him, shlepping Christmas presents to the farthest corners of the world, and back…
Next year, Christmas 2018, we’ll fly to Cape Town for the Holidays… I can’t wait to visit Willem’s hometown.
Our son’s birth meant changes were necessary…
And we’ve kinda, sorta, given up on our no gifts Christmas tradition, at least a little bit. Every now and then, a small gift for Alex may find its way under the tree, and vice versa. It’s not so much an expectation, but rather a pleasant surprise. And it makes sense, particularly as Sascha is curious about what we’re up to, what Santa does etc.
We still travel though, and our son is an avid traveler, and believe it or not, we already know where we’re heading to next year: Cape Town. Personally, I can’t wait, because that city has been on my bucket list ever since I wrote Willem of the Tafel a couple of years ago.
How do you celebrate the Holidays?
Does your family (do you) have any special Christmas tradition? Something out of the ordinary? Let’s share! I can highly recommend traveling. It’s very soothing and you really do escape all the stress of cooking, Christmas shopping and what not. LOL
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…
“Boys will be boys”, right? Seems many of the tactics of straight men have also been used in the gay community…
Interesting days we live through, eh? I’m not even referring to the orange cheeto currently occupying the White House, although he is, of course, one of the worst offenders in terms of the whole #MeToo campaign, yet oddly, while male chauvinist pig after male chauvinist pig has been forced out of their jobs (too many to name), DOTUS himself seems to still hover unfazed, above it all. Strange times. Sexual harassment isn’t anything new of course, but the #MeToo campaign has grown into something much bigger, much larger, and it’s refreshing to see how so many millions of women around the world suddenly rise up and demand things to change for the better, at last, at long last.
From my personal vantage point, I look at this all with a certain amusement, because I don’t even get it, I don’t understand how any man would want to grab a woman by her genitals or shove his hands down her bra to give her a good squeeze. But that’s because I’m gay, and I’ve just not interested, and why would I squeeze goods I’m not interested in buying? That would be like squeezing avocados in a store just to see whether they were, in fact, ripe or not, even though you don’t like them. However, I do like men, and so it stands to reason that I might do what is done to women, but to other (gay) men? I’ll get back to that later.
The question warrants asking, because we’ve seen the stories told about other LGBT men, from disgraced Kevin Spacey to George Takei. And it made me wonder, because when “uncle George” talked about his own experiences with Howard Stern, and seemed to shrug off some allegations with “not remembering”, people were understandably upset. Yet don’t we all forget? Let me just say this with regards to my own experiences: I have met people I’ve apparently had sex with, many years later, and I had absolutely no recollection of it. That is, of course, embarrassing in that moment when you see that person again, but is just a symptom of what we think is important in our lives, and what isn’t. “What”, mind you, not necessarily “who”. Do I remember ever behaving inappropriately toward other men? In bars, discos or elsewhere? Honestly? I don’t remember. Is it possible? Sure, anything is possible. I am a flawed human being like the rest of them, but unless someone specifically was to jump-start my memories, I can’t remember anything. I don’t think it’s likely though, because of my own experiences as a victim of sexual assault, rape and my deep convictions with regards to that topic. What I do remember, however, are my own experiences as a young gay man, going out, and the constant groping and touching going on in gay bars. Someone recently wrote an excellent post about this on Facebook, in response to the allegations against George Takei, and I do remember all of this going on vividly. Yes, it may have been part of the male gay community, and it may have almost been a necessity to meet people a long time ago when our entire community was reduced to sex(uality). Does that mean we still have to do things this way? I asked some gay men around me, some my age, some older, some younger, about their own experiences, and these are some of their answers:
“Things were very different for gay men in the 80s. Being groped was a regular part of my life. If I didn’t like it, I’d tell the guy to back off, but I wouldn’t make a huge deal about it. There were exceptions, such as the story I’ve told about a man pulling me into a dark room and yanking my pants down. I had to literally fight him off, and that was scary.
But things are different now. Men can’t grab at each other like they used to. People have learned more about boundaries — which is a good thing.”
Someone else had this to say, and I can sympathize with him, not to mention that I felt the same when I felt like an ugly duckling:
“When I first went clubbing in […] as a student I would be grabbed and pinched and oogled all the time. It was just how it was in gay clubs then. It may be the same I don’t know I’ve not been clubbing recently.
To be honest, having struggled with who I’d fancy and getting my head around it being men, back then I took the grabbing & pinching as a compliment because it meant *someone* fancied me; even if I didn’t wanna go to bed with them it was an option I then had unlike before.”
Here’s a comment that I know many women will recognize:
“That was a part of gay culture I hated. Being groped, pinched, fondled without permission pissed me off. Being told what a cold bitch I was for rejecting these advances made it worse.”
I wish I knew for certain that things have changed. Someone very wise said on a podcast the other day that the LGBT community suffers from more alcohol and drug abuse, is more prone to mental illness than anyone else. Given our treatment by parents, schools, workplaces, and society at large, no surprise. Sadly, where alcohol and drugs go in, sense goes out, and people act stupidly. So I’m not as optimistic as the first commenter above. But it certainly seems necessary.
I remember being subjected to all of the above, and I know for a fact that there are three decades between the first and the second commentator, so if anything’s changed, it must’ve been very recently. Some aspects of gay history and culture are unique, and they’re mostly going away (from bathhouses to sex clubs), and our more open embracing of our sexuality, or sex drive to be more accurate, isn’t a bad thing per se. I quite like having sex myself, and I quite dislike monogamy and societal rules built around religious concepts and morality. They serve no one but to oppress. We are one of the few species on the planet that can actually have sex just for enjoyment, and enjoying ourselves, feeling good is not a bad thing (don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise), quite the contrary. Happy people are more likely to be good people, helpful and honest. Suppressing our sex drive, to hide behind veils of vows of monogamy etc. will only lead to people cheating and lying to each other, from the Groper in Chief to Roy Moore and all those other men who have been caught with their pants around their ankles. And where there’s a straight man, there’s usually also a woman. It takes two to tango. Women have sex drives, too.
Here’s the point though: to have a sex drive, to embrace it, have sex with multiple partners or to merely jerk off to a good porn flick or an erotic story is all fine, but to force your needs onto others just isn’t cool. As gay men, we can’t hide behind our “oppressed” label anymore. I hated being disrespected by older gay men in clubs when I was young, and I’d hate to do the same to the young men growing up today. Mind you, I haven’t been to a club in decades (which is why I have no clue what goes on these days), but I do meet other gay men all the time, at conventions, meetings, events. And I keep my distance, physically.
There is a “pecking order” in society. We all know that age, money, job, gender, sexuality, they all give you power over others, perceived or otherwise, depending on the culture of that society. Some use that to their advantage, which is wrong. That’s the only way I can say this. However, to get to the real root issue here, we must dig deeper. MUCH deeper. Yesterday, I was listening to a podcast I listen to regularly, a podcast I was on just two weeks ago, as a guest. The guest on Monday’s recording was Alok Vaid-Menon, a trans artist, and activist. Let me just say that his words summarize most beautifully the real issues we face in our cis-gender-centered world, and if you have a half hour, I highly recommend you listen to Alok with an open mind. I’ve written about feminism in the past, and how I believe that our fate (i.e. that of the LGBT community) depends on the success of feminism, first. Alok explains why, and I don’t remember just how many times I shouted “I totally agree” while walking my miles on the treadmill, listening to him. You can find the episode right here.
Once again, a long post. My apologies. But these are important days for all of us, no matter whether we cis-identify or not, and how we act based upon that in the world that surrounds us. What is your take on all this? I’m curious to hear from you, as always.
If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a good weekend.