Sexual harassment or pick-up tactics? Groping in the gay community #LGBT #MeToo #feminism

Sexual harassment or pick-up tactics? Groping in the gay community #LGBT #MeToo #feminism

“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 TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a good weekend.

Hans

Are feminists inadvertedly becoming feminism’s biggest foes? #equality #LGBT #equal_rights

Are feminists inadvertedly becoming feminism’s biggest foes? #equality #LGBT #equal_rights

Fighting for equality is tiresome, fighting feminists is exhausting, yet I have no choice

The title of the post will probably be enough to rile feminists everywhere. That’s not really my intention. But I do admit the topic is a tad controversial. I’ve had an interesting online experience on Facebook the other day, and I just couldn’t get over my own reaction to it, nor how my friends handled it. So I figured the best way forward was to broaden the discussion, and see if indeed this is an issue or not. I think it is, even more so after this incident. I’ve always been a feminist, or at least for as long as I can remember. For very good reasons, so let me explain how and why first.

Male is the norm, female the deviation

The statement above alone is enough to get a feminist’s blood boiling, including my own. But simply because we hate a statement with every fiber of our being doesn’t make it any less true or valid. Yes, it’s “wrong” and awful that societies still see things this way, but it’s where we are:

  • Women make less money than man, no matter what profession
  • Traditionally “female” jobs (e.g. nursing) are paid less than comparable “male” jobs (e.g. engineering)
  • Medical research still has the “male” as the norm, despite wide-spread proof that women respond differently to medications than men
  • I could go on… and on, and on

These days, the #MeToo hashtag is shining a light on a different aspect of the plight of women around the globe, and I’ve yet to meet a single woman who hasn’t been able to use it. And it’s not just a western phenomenon, nor is this something we can blame “immigrants” or “refugees” for, as some white men try to do. It’s a male thing. Men asserting, exercising their power using sexual overtures and unwanted advances over women, and men. Yes, gay men can be swines, too, and even though cultural norms in the gay community are different, sexual harassment is still sexual harassment, as the recent revelations about Kevin Spacey show, even worse when the victim is a minor.

No, not drag, it’s a costume, big difference. Yet even this, being labeled a “queen” is a two-edged sort, it’s as much about ruling something as it is being a drama queen, a faggot, a poof. And while we in the gay community use this term on ourselves, to hear it from someone else is like the n-word. And remember, a queen, to this day, is never quite king.

As a gay man, I am acutely aware of this male norm thing, because being gay is all about being considered a traitor to my own gender, attributed all the characteristics society deems undesirable, or less worth: emotional, wimpy, femme, weak, submissive etc. Now I know that’s far from the truth for most gay men, not even the minority, but that’s the perception in society, which is what this is about. Perception, not reality. Because the gay men we see out there, the ones that everyone easily spots a mile away are the ones who fit the pattern.

Nobody bats an eyelash at the butch biker or garbage man because he “couldn’t be gay…” (too masculine, blah, blah, blah) Even in my own community, we discriminate against our own with BS labels such as “straight-acting” (and we all instinctively know what that means… sadly.) or asking for guys who aren’t effeminate. In Turkey, you’re not considered gay as long as you’re a top, because it’s the act of receiving which makes you a homosexual. #facepalm Do they even know that most gay couples never even have penetrative sex? Duh! But yeah, again, cultural norms. It’s the receiving, the submissive, perceived feminine aspect which is considered of a lesser value. In the broader LGBT community, there’s also this weird thing of gay men being “better” than lesbians or trans men being considered better than trans women. Makes you shake your head, but it’s all tied to the above: the male is valued higher at the stock exchange of life than the female.

No equality for me without gender equality

So why is feminism so important to me? Why do I fight so hard and incessantly for gender equality? Why am I being such a nag about women’s equal rights? I mean, I stand to lose, right? Being a man and all? To a degree, I might, although, I’m gay, remember, so I’m already at the bottom of the ladder… I firmly believe that we can’t even begin to dream of equality for the LGBT community as long as we see the male valued higher than the female. As long as me being a stay at home dad is seen as a bigger disappointment than a woman declining a promotion, as long as my nag for caring for others is valued less than a mathematical mind, as long as emotions are worth less than computations, as long as women aren’t allowed to vote everywhere on the planet, granted equal pay for equal work, naturally fill about half of every position available in parliaments, government etc., for as long as anything male is seen as better, I’ll keep struggling and fighting, and sometimes brushing even feminists against the grain. Because only when we no longer bat an eyelash at a boy’s decision to become a nurse or a girl’s decision to forego childbearing (to just take two examples of a million), that’s when we can talk about equality of the sexes, and that’s when we, the LGBT community have a shot at the same. Because when being gay, with all those “female” attributes we apparently exhibit, is no longer seen as less valuable, less desirable, we will already have become equals. There’s an interesting TED talk which discusses why straight families have gay kids, and it has to do with nurturing (a very female trait, a great human trait IMHO). Without realizing it, this champion of LGBT rights slapped a ginormous female sign on all our foreheads. I wear mine with pride, but society at large?

So what happened with that Facebook thing?

The new Kindle logo. I really like it, visually. I just wish they would’ve included a girl, too.

Last week, Amazon launched a rebranded app for the Kindle. A boy sitting under a tree, reading a book. A beautiful image, peaceful. Yet it rubbed me the wrong way. As an author, I know that eight out of ten readers are girls/women. And once again, they were left sidelined to the male dominant. I pointed out as much in my Facebook post, asking Amazon what they were thinking.

I got responses, though not from Amazon, but from my feminist friends:

  • How do you know it’s a boy?
  • I looked like that when I was a pre-teen…
  • Why do girls still have to wear long hair and skirts?
  • We need to encourage boys to read… (to just name a few)

Not a single man engaged in the discussion, interestingly. My first reaction was disbelief. Why don’t they see what I see? Why aren’t they as infuriated by this as I am? Then I realized it had to do with the fact that many of the people responding were not only emancipated women, but several also members of the LGBT community themselves, and used to bend gender on a daily basis. I’m glad they have reached a stage in their lives when they no longer see this as a problem. But to me, the problem is much larger (see above) and I got so upset that I began to take it out on my family, and needed a forceful reminder from my husband (thank you) to calm down. Yes, I am a drama queen at times. I get to say that, you don’t. I am really passionate about these things, and as tiny a detail, as this may seem, it’s just another piece to the grand puzzle of the world order of gender inequality, another reminder of how much work we still have to do.

I wonder: what if the image instead had been a girl under the tree, and a man had made a dismissive remark about it. How would they have reacted then?

Our son is constantly misgendered due to his longish hair. Mind you, we try hard to keep his options open should he at some point realize that he isn’t male. This isn’t about that though.

I think about little girls in Riyadh, dressed in pink by their moms before having to hide under the niqab or one of the girls I saw at that disgusting kids’ beauty pageant in Denver at the same hotel where GRL was hosted last week. Will they be able to see themselves in that boy under the tree? I bet you they won’t. And how do I know that a child in short hair, a t-shirt and jeans is indeed a boy and not a girl? Because that’s how society at large “paints” boys, not girls, it’s still pink for girls and blue for boys. Don’t believe me? Go to Costco or Walmart any day of the week.

My son is constantly misgendered as a girl due to his relatively long hair. To believe Amazon to be a feminist company that intentionally portrays a girl in a stereotypical boy look is criminally negligent to the feminist cause. Yes, I understand the question being asked, and NO, there is nothing wrong (of course) with a boy looking like a girl (or vice versa), OF COURSE NOT, duh. But that’s me, that’s feminism, that’s how the LGBT community sees the world, that’s NOT how society at large looks like. That’s NOT how most boys and girls are raised today. That’s not what they pick up in the schoolyard, that’s not what they see on TV shows, not what they hear from the current president of the United States. Sadly. And so, sadly, most boys will never see that logo, as they’ll probably never pick up a Kindle in the first place (so no encouragement), and girls seeing that logo will only be reminded of the lesser value of their sex attributed to them by society. As if such a reminder was needed.

Yes, boys need to be encouraged to read, but why, WHY does that require a boy under a tree to get there? An image they won’t even see unless the encouragement’s already paid off? Why can’t a boy get to the point where he sees himself reflected in a girl sitting under a tree reading? And before you turn tables on me, I know girls can already do that, because they’re doing it every day, 24×7. Just like I, as a gay man, have been force-fed straight relationships, romance, and dramas from my birth (it still didn’t help though, didn’t turn me). I UNDERSTAND what it means to be het, I really do. I had to work really hard to get to the point where being het was no longer the desired state. It took me ten to fifteen years to accept, for myself, that being gay is as good as being something, anything else on the sexuality spectrum. I read posts on Facebook where mothers complain about a lack of role models for their boys, now that SuperWoman (is still a woman), and the leads in the latest two StarWars movies are strong women. And I’m exploding with rage: Superman, Batman, the Flash, and just about every other fucking movie still has strong male leads. And why is it expected of girls to see themselves in male role models, but boys are somehow deemed incapable of seeing themselves in a female role model? HUH? Ladies, are you underestimating your boys? Just look to sports, where to this day it’s “soccer”, but “women’s soccer”, “tennis” and “ladies’ tennis”. And why, why do my feminist friends perpetrate such standards by playing the gender bender card, which is irrelevant to the vast majority of people, a card which loses its trump value the minute we get to the desired state of “male = female” in terms of value attribution. All of a sudden, genderqueer, trans, genderfluid, intersex, gay, bi, lesbian et al will have become variations on a scale ranging from valued (male) to valued (female), rather than what it is today, valued (male) to “less desired” (female), being less desired the more on the female side of the scale you are, where trans women are at the bottom of the scale, because they can’t even pull that (i.e. a feminine look) off properly, as if the Stepford wife look is all women have to be proud of… #facepalm It kills me when I see my friends hurt, and I’ve seen pain to last me a lifetime and then some.

So what’s wrong with a boy on the Kindle logo? Nothing really. Except for everything it says about our society, our planet and gender equality. Why not a boy and a girl sitting next to each other, both reading in harmony? I’m so tired of having to fight for this. I’m tired of having to constantly correct the horrible notions my son keeps shlepping home, wondering where he gets them from, which friends are “bad” for him, not because I would ever blame a four or five-year-old, but the parents and family members behind them, who indoctrinate their sons and daughters with such awful values. I’m tired of having to fight for people who don’t want to be fought for, for people who no longer see just how underprivileged they still are. I’m “fortunate”. I still get daily reminders of just how “worthless” I am to society, from the Kremlin, the White House to the slaughters of gay men in the Caucasus and Africa, the rounding up of my kind in Egypt or Indonesia, or the man being jailed in Dubai for accidentally touching a man’s ass with his hand in a crowded bar. I may be married, but just as easily as I got that right, it could be taken away again (as could be the case in the U.S. if the conservatives get their way on the Supreme Court). I may have a son, but society may decide at any given point that I’m not a good enough parent and take him away, just look at Russia. I can never truly relax, there are so many countries I can never visit because of the death penalty on my head, currently ten. I don’t need constant reminders of why I need to keep fighting, no matter how tired I am. I’m just sad that not all my sisters get the point or seem to have lost sight of the greater goal over their personal accomplishments (of which I’m proud of course).

Either that, or it’s me, which would be easier for everybody else, of course. LOL, I don’t know. I’m tired and while I don’t mind fighting the bad guys, being cut off at the ankles by your own hurts… So what’s your take? I’ve had time to process this and I’m ready to engage in serious debate. So feel free to comment below.

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 TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week.

Hans

A costume party and how it altered my life… #health #fitness #asmsg

A costume party and how it altered my life… #health #fitness #asmsg

The end is the start to something new…

It’s over… I don’t think I’ve quite grasped that fact yet. Yet as much as it may be a cliché, the end is always the beginning of something new, the undiscovered country, the future. And I for one am looking forward to it. I sit here at Denver’s airport, overlooking the Rocky Mountains towering tall in the distant background, colorful planes coming and going. I’m on my way to Tucson for a couple of days, to see my dear sister, having just taken leave from my tribe, my beloved crowd of readers and authors of GRL. Four intensive days, climaxing – as always – last night – with the annual costume party. And yes, that is over, too.

A costume party and a goal

A slow but steady increase in weight around my waist had me look like this in March of 2017. Not what you want to show off in public…

The road to Denver began in early March when we were finally able to register. Just days later I learned of the theme for the costume party, and after my exploit in 2015, the pressure on me to pull another queen out of my hat has been high, from attendees as well as myself. And it’s always a tricky endeavor, as last year proved. My emperor Hadrian, champion of marriage equality, as amazing as the costume was, fell flat after the theme of the party was morphed from “over the rainbow” to a more specific “The Wizard of Oz”. Yeah, no Roman emperors in the emerald city, but I had already invested so much money in the costume design that it was too late to morph it into a munchkin or another twister. Instead, everyone marveled at a naked Tin Man, amazingly performed by vocal artist Joel Leslie Froomkin, with the body paint applied by his equally artistic husband. Hat off…

When the organizers told me that this year’s theme would revolve around the Wild West, I had a flashback to last year and Joel’s costume, and I’ll be honest (as always) and admit that I had felt a tinge of envy at Joel’s beautifully sculpted body. Yes, and my friend Meghan Maslow confirmed as much in a discussion we had, if you want to show skin, you can’t do so in a flabby dad bod. Nobody wants to see that. There is a fine line between being sexy and being embarrassing. I agreed. Yet oddly, the “wild, wild west” had me think of a slutty cowboy (because just going in chaps wasn’t very original). I have never been ashamed of my body, and I had people cat-calling and whistling after me in France way back in 1983 when I dressed up as a prostitute (female, mind you) for a costume party thrown by my language school EF. I was named Miss EF St. Malo for that mini skirt and t-shirt, wearing my madame’s bra underneath it. No shoes, because we couldn’t find any my size. Madame was petite. I was sixteen at the time, and I had the body for it: hairless, slim and no visible muscles. I had never worked out in my life.

My personal trainer, coach and nutrition expert, Markus Jielin from STC Training in Sweden. I got really lucky with him, and his gentle way was exactly what I needed to push myself harder and harder to reach my goal.

So being un-dressed didn’t scare me. What did scare me was my body. I had let myself go over the past twenty-five years, increasing in weight from the 75 kg (165 lbs) at my 6’1” to almost 90 kb (195 lbs), note that my skeleton only weighs 3.7 kg (8.1 lbs). The slope had been gentle and slow, but steadily downward, and while I don’t remember my clothing sizes as a kid, my upper body had always been a medium, but my jeans sizes began to increase from a 31 to a 34 two years ago. And it was a tight fit. At my age, other complications arose: I have a herniated disk in my neck, which had been giving me trouble ever since it ruptured in 2012, and I have a shot disk in my lower back which had my sciatica in turmoil for the past three years. There were many a day when I could barely get out of bed, and when my physical therapists prescribed me exercises to strengthen my core to help steady my spine, I couldn’t do them because of the pain. Or I didn’t do them because I wasn’t in pain that day, the latter a huge mental problem, more than anything else. I was badly out of shape, and mentally nowhere near ready to tackle the lapses of twenty-five years. I started gaining weight shortly after my twenty-fifth birthday. So it’s been a long time building. To be able to show off my naked torso and a six pack was a dream, a crazy, really crazy dream, but somehow it rooted itself in my mind and I decided to try and do something about it. Nothing but a challenge for me to rise to. I contacted a local gym, five tram stops from our port and hired a personal trainer.

Markus from STC probably (no, most certainly) thought I was nuts, out of my mind, when we first met for our first work-out on March 20th this year. I mean who hires a personal trainer just to get undressed at a costume party in the states, right? But I guess he thought “his money to waste…” and we began to work. One of the first things we looked at was my nutrition. I don’t use the word “diet”, because we all know that dieting doesn’t work, because the second you stop, you’ll gain that weight right back, and then some. You have to change your nutrition permanently in order to achieve results. Markus suggested going slow, making tiny changes, one at a time, not to overdo it, in order not to lose faith in the process. He was spot on. I always thought I was eating healthy. No bad fats, no cheap processed food and yada, yada. However, I quickly noticed two things: there was too much fat in my food (still), way too much sugar and, worst of all, we simply ate too much, drank too much, the casual glass of wine pretty much every evening for instance. Empty calories…

“Remember, nutrition is 80% of your success, working out only 20%”

Progress was fast, and by June, my jeans felt super loose. I had already lost two inches around my waist. Now I’m back at my 31” jeans waist.

This is Markus’s mantra, and he (and all scientific research in the area) are of course right. But we did work out, once a week together, him showing me new exercises, pushing me to lift more weight, me alone, twice every week. I remember how frustrated I was, not remembering them, not knowing what to do, how to do it, but I began to spend many hours at the gym, every week, with three hours of weightlifting and two to three hours on the treadmill, walking off calories. Progress was swift. By the end of June, that excess flab I had built up in the past four to five years was mostly gone, my body fat count had dropped from 15.6% (which is pretty average in Sweden for men my age) to 10.7%, but I had also lost muscle tissue, even though I was feeling stronger.

We increased the tempo and made more nutritional changes, which also included to pretty much forego alcohol. We increased my protein intake to help build my muscle strength, and my first real mental challenge was the cruise and vacation this summer: all this amazing food, free drinks on the ship, and I could barely partake, because I realized that every mojito meant less food left to be eaten. I could not, I would not, exceed my daily calorie targets. It paid off. By the end of the summer, my body fat count was down to 9.9% and I began to see muscles in my upper body. As a former runner, I’ve always had muscular strength in my legs, and even though I’ve increased my leg press results from 350 lbs in March to 750 lbs (!) in September, it wasn’t a priority. My arms, chest and shoulders were (re herniated disk). At the beginning, I could barely do a bench press with the 20 kg (44 lbs) empty bar. These days I press 70 kg (154 lbs) and I’m sure I have room for improvement. To do a pull-up was a dream for me, but to lift that chin and the 89 kg of my body over the bar just was not in the cards. These days I can easily do ten, and one with 30 kg (66 lbs) attached to my body, totalling 244 lbs. More than any other of Markus’s clients, and by a fifty year-old? I’m proud of myself…

I don’t care about the costume party any more…

The slutty cowboy or “unique”, as I’ve called him last night… The end of the road, or?

Not entirely true, but as I learned about my body, my nutrition, and when I saw the changes in my physical appearance, I also began noticing the effects of it on my general health: I began to sleep better, my bathroom visits less complicated (no need for details), my mood improved, there was a ‘spring’ in my walk and my mood. It’s really hard to explain, but I began to feel happier, and proud of what I had achieved, the fact that I had achieved it. But I wasn’t quite there yet. Not for Denver, not for GRL, not for that six pack. For many men, body fat first gathers around the belly, and I quickly learned how hard it is to realize that “the first place you gain it will be the last place you lose it…” After the weigh-in in August, I realized that if I really wanted for people (and myself) to see the growing six pack, I needed to push myself even harder and decrease the fat content of my body even further.

Last Monday, the day before I flew to Denver, at my final weigh-in, I had it pushed all the way down to 6.4%, lower than Markus’s own, and he’s been working out regularly for decades, a former elite athlete. Mission accomplished. But that wasn’t important any more, as much as it was a mile stone worth celebrating. I am healthy as a horse, and while my sciatica still hurts regularly, it’s not debilitating. I’m not having trouble getting out of bed, I move freely. I am happy.

And as weird as this may sound, at the age of 50, I look better than I ever have in my entire life, sexy – if I may say so – not embarrassing, beach 2018, where art thou?. The six kilo that I’m heavier than I was when I was sixteen are all muscle, and these days, my t-shirts aren’t tight around the waist, they’re tight around the shoulders. An amazing feeling. I’m healthy (as certified by two doctors), I’m happy, and I’m stronger than ever before.

The statistics behind my physical change. We never did a weigh in at the start so those figures aren’t complete. I guess Markus didn’t really believe I would stick to it in the beginning… I’m surprised myself that I did. Then again not. I tend to rise to a challenge, particularly when people say “you can’t” or “you won’t”…

So when I finally got ready for the party last night, having duped people for over seven months, wearing a fake santa belly for the entire conference, I was ready to show off my new body. Oddly, I wasn’t excited though, or nervous. Had I not spent so much time, I might as well have just attending in jeans and a t-shirt. It was almost anti-climactic, because I had already reached my real goal. The goal that had begun to take over as I began to enjoy the endorphin kick of a good work-out, as I was able to walk and hike again without being out of breath after a half-hour, as I was able to admire myself in the mirror after the shower every morning…

I did dress up (or down), and I did go to the party. I did have a great time, and nobody recognized me, some not even after I’d removed the mask, which had been a sort of sub-goal of the whole process with the little white lies (of not even going to the party) and the santa belly I’d worn all week (which was hellish btw, killing my posture and impeding my mobility, which was an odd reminder of what it meant when I was carrying around the worthless weight of the 8.8 kg (19.4 lbs) fat I’ve lost.

The end of the road?

In order to maximize the “look” of my muscles, Markus set up a brutal body-builder competition regimen, something I don’t care to repeat, but yeah, one of those things you do for maximum results. I wasn’t allowed to work out the last three days before the costume party. I couldn’t abstain entirely, and did walk quite a bit, even sneaking into the gym at the hotel in the middle of the night for a walk on the treadmill. This morning, when I woke up, my body ached to work out and break out a sweat. 45′ in the gym did the trick. Some arms, legs and stomach exercises and a few minutes on the treadmill were exactly what the doctor prescribed. Weird, because I had never had that urge before. I do now, and I can’t wait to see Markus again and discuss new goals, to further strengthen my back, to alleviate my back pain some more, and to continue to work on my upper body strength and particularly my shoulders. But I’ll be honest and I can’t wait to actually drink the champagne on my flight home, not just sip it, and to drink a good glass of wine with a great dinner again, not that I’ve felt the urge to drink alcohol tbh. But to be able to…

I’ve changed my entire life-style to a healthier one, both for me and my family, and the only way to keep this body is to keep working out, because I know what happens when you stop, and I don’t want to lose that amazing feeling of feeling great.

How to read this post and what it isn’t…

This week I’ve also come to accept that I’ll never be able to repeat San Diego. Her Majesty is a GRL legend, and no other costume idea will ever top her accomplishment. What I did this year may be amazing for me on a personal level, but in terms of costume, it was nothing out of the ordinary. That is quite alright.

We talk a lot about fat shaming in my community and amongst my friends, and I do have friends society would consider “obese”, and who are called “fat”. Some even call themselves those words. There are a gazillion reasons why people’s bodies act and react differently to things. And we, as a society, tend to go for the physical look and judge a book by the cover. Trust me, as an author, I know that to be true. I didn’t talk to many people, and particularly avoided friends who feel self-conscious about their bodies. Progress for me, as hard as it was (in terms of labor), was easy. I have a lean physique, genetically, and I had the means, in terms of finance and time, to spend up to eight hours per week at the gym, slaving with weights, treadmills and bikes. Many do not. No blame, no finger pointing. We are all very different, and while it took a silly costume party to finally get my butt out of the house, someone else’s motivation may be different. I don’t want to hand out advice. Medical science knows exactly what can be done and how in order to achieve a healthier life-style. Yes, perseverance and hard-work, alongside lasting, permanent changes to your nutrition are at the core. No free lunch, no quick fixes. I need to remind myself that while I may have lost a lot of fat in my body, the fat cells remain, ever ready to be re-filled.

But as I enjoy my now regular breakfast with eggs, quark, fresh fruit and berries, I also realize and smile at the fact that eating well and healthy can actually mean to eat more, and tastier. I do hope that my journey might show that it’s never too late to aspire to change, that a 50-year old can have a ship-shape body, and if you do want to change, I hope you find the motivation, that first goal, you need to get started, as well as the help of someone like Markus to guide you professionally. I wish you the best of luck on those first baby steps (no leaps!) into your undiscovered country, your future. I see a lot of very old people at the gym, and I’ve met some amazing and strong people, whose much bigger muscles aren’t visible, so just because you have a roundish figure doesn’t mean you can’t be super healthy and strong. The two just aren’t totally correlated. Will I stay as lean as I am now? Probably for a while, but it’s not even healthy in the long run. There is a biological need for fat to e.g. grease joints, so I’ll try to gently increase to a more sustainable level, with Markus’s help. I’m not getting younger and over time, as my skeleton weakens and the clock ticks, my body will change naturally. I’ll need to adapt. And that is fine. The one thing I want to retain though is my happiness, and that spring in my walk. It’s made me a better person.

Denver, October 22nd, 2017

Hans M Hirschi
author and 7 month fitness convert

PS: I know that I’ve been consciously telling a ton of little white lies to a bunch of people over the past seven months, about me never working out, about not knowing what to do for the costume party, not going etc., culminating with the Santa belly this entire past week. If anyone has taken offense, please accept my sincere apologies. I never meant to hurt anyone, and I doubt I did, but these days you never know what people are hurt by, so better sorry and safe, to paraphrase the old saying. I’m not a liar, and it wasn’t easy to keep the charade alive for such a long time, particularly not around some of my closest friends.

When Nazis march through the streets of your city, you cannot sit idly by! #ASMSG #Gothenburg #LGBT

When Nazis march through the streets of your city, you cannot sit idly by! #ASMSG #Gothenburg #LGBT

This is how I’ll be consciously protesting the Nazi march through the streets of Gothenburg tomorrow

In our lives, it’s often difficult to discern good from evil. Life isn’t black and white, it’s mostly shades of gray. We all know that. However, there are some notable exceptions, and Nazis are one of them. You needn’t be a historian to understand that the genocide of more than six million Jews, Gays, Jehovah’s Witnesses & mentally disabled people was a defining moment for humanity, unparalleled in its industrial approach, its cold-hearted planning and faithful execution by the German Army and the various police forces of the era. It’s evil, pure and simple. The hatred against minorities, be it religious (e.g. Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses), ethnicity (Roma, Africans, Asians) or otherwise (disability, sexuality) is nothing new, and most certainly not a German problem. And the simple method of scapegoating is perpetrated again and again, in every country challenged by today’s complex world.

Gothenburg, my home town. Photo: Daniel Sjöström, CC

Sweden is, sadly, no exception. We’ve long prided ourselves for our open and welcoming society, and in recent decades, much like America has been in times past, we’ve welcomed immigrants to fill the jobs our own refused to do: clean toilets, look after the sick and elderly, janitorial services etc. On the other hand, our educational system is failing, after countless attempts by far too many politicians hellbent to leave a mark and fix a system that was geared toward graduating everyone “because they tried”.

We’ve had three (!) completely different grade systems in the 25 years I’ve lived in this country. Young Swedish males (they are primarily male) who fail school, don’t have much of a life to look forward to, they’ll find it difficult to find partners if they live in rural areas (because young women are more likely to get educated and more likely to move to university cities), jobs, and they often look to explanations outside of themselves. Racism (be it the socialist version we call Nazis or the conservative version that is fascism) provides all the easy answers. If only we didn’t have them, we‘d have plenty of jobs… If only they‘d assimilate, we wouldn’t have to rape to get women… Their sense of reality as warped as it can be.

This Saturday, the most active Nazi group in Sweden, The Nordic Resistance Movement, is going to conduct a march through the streets of Gothenburg, do demonstrate while the Gothenburg Book Fair, Sweden’s largest annual cultural event, takes place. Loads of international media on site, Yom Kippur on Saturday as icing on the cake, and thus plenty of opportunity for great press (according to the motto: “all press is good press!”) They’ve already conducted an impromptu march a couple of weeks ago, taking everybody by surprise, as they hadn’t sought approval for a march. According to Swedish law, you can demonstrate any time, anywhere in public, as long as you don’t disturb the peace. To seek approval only gives you first dibs to a specific time and place. The route of the demonstration is still disputed in courts, and the Nazis have claimed to ignore any official ruling. The Police have built make-shift lock-ups for hundreds of people underneath police HQ, and the extreme left have vouched to bus people to our fair city to stop the Nazis from marching. Violence begging for violence.

Gothenburg, an open, inviting and international city, built by immigrants for free global trade, from day one. Photo: Rob Sinclair, CC

Gothenburg is a vibrant city. Sweden’s second largest was built on clay soil and swamps by primarily Dutch, Scottish and German engineers after King Gustav II Adolf decided he needed a fortified city on the west coast to protect the nation against attacks from primarily neighboring rival Denmark in 1632 (we are now very close to our Danish neighbors, just saying.)

Today, greater Gothenburg is home to some 1.5 million people from over one hundred cultures. Our weather isn’t the fairest, but we have a vibrant cultural scene and my city, which was already once plagued by Nazis in the nineties (see my book Last Winter’s Snow), when even I was once attacked by VAM, raised itself above it all, and will host EuroPride 2018 together with Stockholm. It’s a diverse city, for sure, home to some very large global companies like Volvo Cars, AB Volvo, SKF, SCA, Essity, Mölnlycke Healthcare, AstraZeneca and many others, companies who all rely on experts from around the world, companies who are home in almost every corner of the world.

For weeks, I was determined to stand alongside the march, draped in a Swedish and a Rainbow flag, the symbol of universal love, to show those monsters that there is another story of Sweden, a story of Sweden where color plays no role, where love is universal. I was determined to not sit idly by when the symbol of our nation (our flag) is hijacked by a group of thugs and criminals (the majority of the leaders of NMR are convicted felons according to research by local newspaper GP.) They don’t scare me as an individual group, but I am of course concerned with the wider implications of the rise of “white power” across Europe and the United States. Have we already forgotten the sacrifices of our grandparents?

There are several demonstrations planned against the Nazi march, some by individuals on the extreme left who are just as unpalatable, re “only a dead bourgeois is a good bourgeois…”, “kill those capitalist swines!” No, I would never join any of those groups, but I was looking forward to my silent protest, as scared as I was that it might provoke the Nazis to physically attack me. Despite the largest police contingency planned since the fateful 2001 EU summit, it doesn’t take much to hurt someone. But, as you can see from my use of time, I was going to protest on site. But an article in today’s Metro changed my mind. The authors of that article are spot on: the Nazis want attention, they’re first class attention whores, which is why they’re doing this now, while the world is gathered here for the Book Fair. Instead, the authors propose that we actively turn our backs, not physically in situ, but by staying away from the streets they’ll be marching on. Remember the 1980s peace movement mantra: “what if there was a war but no one showed up?” Kind of the same thing. We should instead actively protest their idiocy by spending time with our families, our children, our friends, do loving things, and suck the oxygen away from those thugs. The city of Gothenburg has also begun to fly the rainbow flag across town, as a strong symbol for love and our city’s diversity. When I dropped off a guest in front of the fair grounds and saw it fly I almost cried. It is a potent symbol for love, universal love.

My grandparents. I miss them very much, and I am proud of their stance and accomplishments during the WWII Nazi plague. Photo: private

Allow me to share an anecdote from my own family. I have German ancestry. My great-grandfather on my mother’s side emigrated from Imperial Germany to Switzerland, where my grandpa was born in 1907. My grandpa was my childhood hero. He was the operator at one of my hometown’s theaters. I loved him and grandma to pieces, spending every childhood summer at their place in St.Gallen. Grandpa was no saint, far from it, but he did one thing right: he refused to join the Wehrmacht (Germany’s army) in 1938 when he was drafted. He and his entire family subsequently lost their citizenship and my mother was born stateless in 1941. My grandpa spent the entire war in camps, as free labor on Swiss farms, far away from his family who suffered enormously of famine and lack of pretty much everything. His brothers all joined the war effort. None returned alive, and there was considerable dissonance between my grandpa and his sisters because of his choice. Personally, I think it’s amazing that my grandpa had the balls to stand up to Hitler and give him the finger. Whether he did if because he was a coward (as some in the family have claimed) is irrelevant today. I have many German friends who live with the stigma of having a grandfather who served in that war and who may have participated in crimes against humanity. How do you deal with that?

He and his entire family subsequently lost their citizenship and my mother was born stateless in 1941. My grandpa spent the entire war in internment camps, providing free labor to Swiss farmers, far away from his family who suffered enormously from famine and lack of pretty much everything. His brothers all joined the war effort. None returned alive, and there was considerable dissonance between my grandpa and his sisters because of his choice. Personally, I think it’s amazing that my grandpa had the balls to stand up to Hitler and give him the finger. Whether he did if because he was a coward (as some in our family have claimed) is irrelevant today. I have many German friends who live with the stigma of having a grandfather who served in that war and who may have (willingly) participated in crimes against humanity. How do you deal with that?

The author of this post in Central Park, NYC. May 1, 2017. Photo: Alina Oswald.

I have to honor my grandpa for his choice, I have to honor my grandmother who worked tirelessly to shelter, clothe and feed her four children born during the war without any help from her husband, I have to honor my uncle and my aunts who suffered from the long-term effects of malnutrition their entire lives. The tragedy of WWII, and the horrors bestowed upon us by the Nazis linger.

I have a four-year old son. I have a responsibility to make sure that his friends at his international school, Nigerians, Somalis, Iranians, Indians, English etc. all have the same shot at a happy life, regardless of the color of their skin, their creed or who they might eventually end up falling in love with.

This Saturday, Gothenburg has a choice to make when the Nazi march through our city takes place. We let them, because it’s part of our system of free speech and freedom of assembly, but we don’t have to let them do so without showing how pitiful, small and insignificant they are. There are no two sides to this! Will you be with me? Will you stay away from the Nazi march through town, not ogle them, not demonstrate against them, most certainly not use violence against them, but spend time with your loved ones, and demonstrate (as in showing) that Gothenburg and indeed the world, can be a kind place, a loving place, a place where infinite diversity can peacefully co-exist in infinite combinations (to lightly adapt a Vulcan proverb).

Thank you and have a wonderful weekend.  If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans M Hirschi
author, husband & very proud father

Job applications: how to not provide feedback to job applicants #HR #EmployerBranding #hiring

Job applications: how to not provide feedback to job applicants #HR #EmployerBranding #hiring

Feedback: stay clear of false compliments, white lies, and set phrases

I’ve been on the hunt for a day job for some time now. With my disqualifications (age, immigrant, gay), not an easy task in a country as obsessed with young blonde people as Sweden. There’s a fear (so HR professionals have told me repeatedly) that immigrants just don’t blend into the Swedish “fika paus” (coffee break morning and afternoon) because they don’t understand the culture or the language. The fact that the “fika” is almost gone from Swedish workplaces is beside the point. Sadly the attitude survives. As a gay man, it’s almost impossible to know if you’re discriminated against because people these days know better than to say discriminatory things openly, but some employers are still disturbed by it, and as a married man with son, it’s hard to hide, lest I lie, and I just don’t lie. I once had a manager ask me (on our first business trip after his third beer) if it wasn’t disgusting “to take it up the ass”… Today I’d probably fire off a witty retort, but back then (twenty-one years ago) I just wanted to disappear into a hole in the ground, blushing all shades of crimson. But alas, not the topic of this post…

Age is a bigger problem. Sweden is extremely ageist. You can read job ads seeking managers with ten years experience from managing and still expect the candidate to hold an MBA and be between twenty-five to thirty years old. How that computes is above me, but it’s what you read, again and again. Not to mention that us old geezers are often considered too expensive. Why hire us when you can get a young moldable mind for less? There’s a certain logic to it. And there’s a reason we are more expensive. Experience is also a form of competence… What remains is this weird feeling that you miss out on great opportunities for all the wrong reasons, but you can’t prove it.

Anyway. I recently received feedback from a company where I had applied for a position, and it reminded me of what you shouldn’t write in a feedback message. Having worked in this field for some time, I’m still surprised to see senior managers make such colossal mistakes, lying through their teeth. Here’s a key paragraph from their message, and my interpretation what they “really” tried to say…

You have a super CV and a very broad experience. We need someone who can be very hands-on [apparently, in their view, I’m not] right out of the gates, understand the advanced technology [am I considered slow? dumb?] and work with “ordinary” tasks [ouch!] before we grow further. We believe that you are too “academically advanced” [this is just so wrong in so many ways, I don’t even know what to say…] for this position.

First of all, you should always, always provide feedback to applicants, whether they are called to an interview or not. Kudos for that. So many employers do not afford applicants this basic courtesy. It doesn’t make them more attractive, quite the contrary. Employer Branding is 99% about walking the talk and 1% about advertising the talk…

When it comes to actual feedback, personally, I believe that oral is better than written. That way you can avoid quotation marks… I mean, really? I remember the interview very well, and I know it wasn’t one of my best. Both my dad (skin cancer) and my MIL (blood clot) were admitted to the hospital that day, and I was preoccupied, worried. Things went downhill when I looked at my watch after one of the interviewers had been yawning for some time (it was a Friday afternoon) and I mistakenly thought it to be 4:45 pm rather than the actual 3:45.  New watch and I wasn’t accustomed to the face yet. I rushed the interview and didn’t realize my mistake until I was in my car in the parking lot at 4:20, not 5:20 pm like I thought… Yeah, that happened. Needless to say, I immediately apologized, without mentioning the half-asleep manager stressing me. Decorum! 😉

About ten minutes into the interview I learned that both managers interviewing me had come from the same company, and it was the tell-tale sign that they were looking for someone with a background like their own. When a high tech company hires its staff from the same high tech company, they’re likely “set” in their views on what the most important competencies are: engineering, and here in Gothenburg, Chalmers. Don’t fit that profile, go on, look elsewhere. I knew my chances were minimal. When it took three months to finally get feedback, I had long ago realized I’d lost. I’ve been in this game long enough…

BUT, while I realize that, you don’t have to insult people’s intelligence with quotation marks and thinly veiled insults. Clearly, that paragraph was just intended to let me down gently. And it makes me wonder how they view engineers. Aren’t they academically advanced? LOL Last I recall, they study as long as everyone else to get their master degrees.

Here are some recommendations if you respond to applicants:

  • Do it, do it as soon as you possibly can. To let people wait two to three months is rude. Not to respond at all is a disaster
  • Be courteous
  • Don’t lie. If you feel that what you want to say is “sensitive”, don’t say it.
  • While I appreciate the attempt to provide feedback, if that feedback is not in any way helpful or constructive, don’t. I would have omitted the entire paragraph above and just left it at “you have a very impressive CV, but ultimately we decided that another candidate was a better fit given where our organization is currently at” and then move on to the blah, blah about keeping them in mind and yada, yada. After all, these aren’t unintelligent people. It would’ve said the same without the hollow compliments and white lies.

I’m always amazed how organizations don’t consider the wider impact of their messaging. How do they think I will talk about their company to friends? My engineering friends (I don’t live in an author bubble 24×7)? Suppliers? Customers? You never know who people know…

What is your take on this? HR professionals? Let’s hear it! How do you coach your managers in how to write feedback letters? I don’t often write about my coaching/consulting career, but I still have it. LOL To learn more, head on over to my company site for further information. Feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a good week.

Thanks,

Hans

Society, get a grip on yourself… It’s not about “you” (all the time) #ASMSG #equality #diversity

Society, get a grip on yourself… It’s not about “you” (all the time) #ASMSG #equality #diversity

Is our time’s sense of entitlement at the root of the right-wing populist upswing we see?

It’s not about you, or me, at least not all the time, but it’s always about us, as a society and where we are heading. A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across an article about a professor of literature in the U.S. who was dismissed from his tenure for apparently having “hurt” transgender students’ feelings. Sadly, I can’t seem to find the article anymore, but in one of the four instances mentioned that led to his dismissal, the professor was discussing a scientific theory about a book which two students found offensive because it didn’t match their world view. Another case involved the lack of a trigger warning in a literary novel about a rape which was discussed in class. A couple of days ago, a local paper in Sweden published a debate article about how “milk is a symbol of white supremacy“… I’ll just leave this here for you to ponder upon.

Today’s post, as explosive as the topic may be, isn’t about the specific articles quoted above. It’s about a phenomenon that I find in our society today, a sort of extremism of the “I”, or entitlement if you will, that is spreading like a wildfire through our midst. A couple of additional examples (random and anecdotal):

  • There are people who feel that we should abolish gender pronouns. Period. Replace he, she, they, xe, s/he or whatever, with one gender neutral pronoun to be used for all of us. Now, I have absolutely no qualms calling people whatever they feel they are most comfortable with (and I beg for forgiveness if sometimes I slip back to a pronoun I may have used on them before), and I personally like to use the Swedish gender neutral pronoun in cases where the gender of the person in question is unknown (e.g. in job advertisements), but why take it to the extreme and force others to give up the pronoun they feel comfy with? Why do to others that which has (or may have) been done to you?
  • In Sweden, some cities have begun to replace certain “job titles” with new ones, which are supposed to be less “laden” with negative connotations, gender neutral etc. There are always different reasons for different words of course. One of the typical examples is the word for “handicapped”, which was replaced a few years back with “funktionshindrad” (“disabled”). However, apparently, that wasn’t good enough. Now they use the word “funktionsvariation” (“functional variation”), while at the same time reducing public support for the very people they try to linguistically “upgrade”. I understand the drive for the new word but don’t ostracize people for using an older version, because “handicapped” is still much better than the words I grew up with… Tell them instead why you’re suggesting the new one?
  • Veganism vs Omnivores. Yikes, what a nightmare this one is. But yeah, wouldn’t it be great if we, as a society, could reduce our dependence on animals as a food source? Particularly reducing the production of cheap meat, eggs, and dairy and move toward a more sustainable and species appropriate treatment of animals? To expect an entire population to go vegan overnight won’t accomplish this, but produce a huge backlash and pushback from the vast majority of omnivores amongst us.

I am who I am, and I expect people to accept me as such. Why can’t we grant each other that same courtesy? Photo: Alina Oswald

As a linguist, I’m acutely aware that language changes, evolves. However, it’s rarely a good idea to force change top down. It rarely works. When the new director for the Swedish medical board, Bror Rexed, announced to his staff in 1967, that he was going to use “du” (second person singular) in dealings with his staff, he was riding on a wave that had begun earlier. Sweden’s traditional honorific to that date had been “han/hon” (third person singular, or preferably a title). Within months, the entire country adopted the new way of talking, and it is a proud accomplishment of our egalitarian society to this day, although, in recent years, the service industry has begun using the German/French version of the second person plural instead, something I personally find strange, but that’s another post. But the du-reform is a linguistic exception. When Germany tried to “simplify” the use of German with the infamous Rechtschreibereform in the nineties, they failed miserably. You can’t have state ministers dictate how to spell mayo. People generally dislike the reform and to this date, over twenty years later, some of the biggest newspapers refuse to use it, and entire generations of German speakers feel disenfranchised because their spelling is “outdated”.

Sadly, these trends go deeper than just language, and I acknowledge that these government institutions, the researchers, and activists mean well. But, they overreach, and they scare some of the more conservative people. I can literally see my dad and his generation’s reaction to no longer being a man, but a person, to be addressed as “it” (or whatever pronoun of choice the know-its agree upon) rather than “he”. And I think this is exactly where the populists, the alt-right, and others, chime in and find feeding ground. They paint a rosy picture of a world where men were men and women were women, where men gave away women to other men at the altar, a world where men came home from work to a clean house and dinner on the table, wife, and kids eagerly waiting for them. A two-polar world, black & white. Simpler, easier to understand, comfortable, just the way we knew it when we were little (or from TV). A world without marriage equality, and no trans people. The world of Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Vladimir Putin and their likes.

These people don’t understand why we allow people to use whatever religious clothing they like here in the west, while we must adjust to strict local laws when we visit certain countries. They don’t understand how we can allow mosques, temples, and synagogues to be built in our western cities while other countries wouldn’t allow the same. And so they believe their own faith to be besieged and threatened, even though sharing is at the very core of the Christian faith they claim to uphold and defend (Jesus breaking the bread, holding the other cheek etc.)

We, as western societies are risking further division, if we don’t “chill out” for a bit, and allow the world around us to catch up. We’ve been caught up in a frenzy of “me, me, me” which – quite frankly – is scary. The Internet and modern communication devices certainly seem to be a part of the explanation, the seeming distance between the device and our next shutting down our inhibitions around human discourse, enabling us to lash out at others with the vilest commentary and language, words we would never use face to face. And because we get away with so much, it emboldens us and we push further, and before long, it’s all about me, me, me. My rights, my demands, my needs, regardless of your needs, your rights.

If I don’t feel like working today, that’s fine. Many employers see a significant increase in sick leave and “unexplained absence” during days of sunny weather in the summer, causing huge problems in e.g. care facilities. My husband tells me stories from his job that’ll make anyone gasp…

In this book, there is an entire chapter dedicated to change management, what works, what doesn’t and why. Have a look if you’re interested. Lots of other smart tips included, too.

So what can we do to improve things? Talk to each other, explain things. Use incremental steps, as hard as this may seem. Don’t ask for too much too quickly, and never ask others to change on your behalf. Now I understand this last one is tricky. I remember coming out (eons ago) and basically giving my parents an ultimatum in accepting me for who I was. They asked for time, and time they got. For a while, we barely spoke, but after a couple of years, they openly accepted my partner at the time, and later my husband. But still, to this day, at times, we argue, my dad and I, and he’ll never be the perfect “ally”. But I understand that I can’t change him. I had to learn to live with the discomfort of him disliking e.g. that small magnet of two men kissing on our fridge, and his fear of how it would affect my son’s sexuality. My take is simple: it’s none of his effing business what we put on our fridge door, our sexuality is not defined by pictures we see on the fridge when we grow up (or I’d be straight), and I have to accept that he probably won’t change his mind. Then again, he does, continuously, but at his pace. A few years ago he told me that “men can’t raise kids” and now he’s super proud of the job my husband and I do. People do change, but rarely under duress (unless it’s for their own benefit), there’s an entire chapter in my book Common Sense on that topic if you’re interested in reading more.

A society only works when most members work together. Every society can accept and live with a few outliers, but when too many forces pull in too many directions simultaneously, the very fabric of society begins to fail, and we can see tendencies of that in recent events like Brexit, the 2016 U.S. elections, Poland, India, Russia etc. Rapid change, pluralism, followed by that “collective” urge for the good old days, which incidentally, in that picture presented by the populist, never even existed, but that’s a different story. So chill, forgive, move on, talk to each other, rather than explode, condemn and scream. It’s not about you, at least not always, only sometimes.

What’s your take? Do you share this (mind you, completely unscientific) analysis of mine? Am I onto something? Am I missing a piece of the puzzle? I welcome your thoughts on the matter… 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 one due next week. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a good weekend.

Thanks,

Hans