#MondayBlogs: dead (or illegal) because of who I am, not what I do #LGBT #asmsg #resistance

#MondayBlogs: dead (or illegal) because of who I am, not what I do #LGBT #asmsg #resistance

Who you are is still more important than what you do, what you achieve!

But before we get started with today’s topic and just how deplorable it is that we still assign more value to who we are than what we do, I feel compelled to share this excerpt of Emma Lazarus’s poem The New Colossus, framing the importance of Lady Liberty guarding the doorway to the “new world”, the promised land, America:

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

– Emma Lazarus, 1883

Nothing symbolizes the promise of America like the Statue of Liberty, as she stands proudly in the harbor of New York. Yet never before has this promise been as threatened as it is now. Photo: Private

Yes, there is a connection to today, as we, the world outside the promised land, once the land of the brave and the free, are no longer certain that we may set foot on its soil. Mind you, to a degree, this is a first world problem, as many people never even dream of setting foot in America. There are also significant numbers of people who wouldn’t want to. Yet ever since the declaration of independence in 1776, American has been the promised land. More than paradise, America was the land of opportunity, of freedom, a land where what you do is more important than who you are. Rich or pauper, skilled or hard-working, anyone had equal opportunities, or so it seemed.

Sadly, we all realize that in reality, this was never the case. America was the promised land for primarily Europeans, and even there, differences were made. And as George Orwell so eloquently wrote in his Animal Farm, all animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others. Hence, Germans, English and Scandinavians were at the top of the pyramid, and if you had money, even more so. Italians, Spaniards, the Irish, not so much, contrary to popular belief when even a black president traces his roots back to Ireland… But far below came Asians, and the indigenous Peoples needn’t even apply. They were slaughtered or put behind bars, aka reservations. Africans were welcome, though more as machinery to fuel the progress of America. Not even seen as humans.

Today, the distinctions between Europeans is largely erased, but new frontiers have opened, while many of the old still remain. If you’re “red”, “yellow”, “brown” or “black”, you’re still not quite equal. To add insult to injury, another dimension is added: the Abrahamic faiths are divided amongst themselves, with primarily “Christians” kidnapping “Jews” against “Muslims”.

Traveling to America these days means that not only you’ll be judged by the color of your skin (which is of course no news to anyone), you’ll also be judged by your faith (or lack thereof, atheists are no more welcome than muslims in a true theocracy!), and your political convictions. It is a sad world we live in, no doubt. The other night, I had this strange dream about just how illegal I am, just based on who I am. There is nothing I can do about it, but just by virtue of my “genetic” makeup, I am either dead or illegal in so many places in the world.

As a gypsy, I may not be “dead”, but I am most certainly at risk for my life in many places in Europe. From Moldova in the east to the Adriatic Sea in the west, all across the Balkans, gypsies (Roma & Sinti) are persecuted, discriminated against and killed for literally no reason. Thanks to the breathing hole provided by the membership in the EU, many gypsies regularly travel to Northern Europe, where at least they are “safe” (there have been many reports of hate crimes here, too) and can beg for a living. I am proud of my gypsy heritage, even if it’s only 25% of my genetic makeup.

Born gay (yes, I was really, truly born that way), I am dead in eleven countries, were my husband and I ever end up on their soil: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Mauritania, and the United Arab Emirates. So no visits to Dubai for me any time soon, nor would I ever be able to fly Emirates or Etihad, no matter how good their service may be. Add to that list all the many countries (72 in 2016) where a visit of mine would end up with jail time. This also includes Bangladesh, where gay men recently were slaughtered, for lack of a better world, by extremists, even though the law only prescribes lifetime imprisonment… The irony!

As an atheist, there are even more countries where I am dead! A whooping thirteen countries would kill me if I ever ended up on their soil and they knew about my belief in science and humanism: Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. This kind of excludes any more trips to the Maldives for me… Sad! I rather liked that country.

This satirical cartoon is spreading virally. No wonder. There is still hope for America, as long as Lady Justice prevails…

Now, there is of course nothing that says that I’d end up dead merely for switching flights at Dubai Airport. At least not automatically. But, mind you, I do usually travel with my family, and so it would be hard to hide who we are. Sadly, the recent attempts by the new American regime to also allow its border patrols to check for people’s social media accounts, search our phones will increase the risk of being stopped at the border, at random. Not just because of who you are, but also because of what you believe. Freedom of speech may be a civil right for Americans, but it does not apply to foreigners, hasn’t since the Patriot Act came to be. But after the recent elections, the respect for other people’s convictions, the most basic democratic value, seems to have evaporated. We’ve already seen Canadians (the most peaceful of people in my humble opinion) stopped at the border, simply because they opposed the current regime.

I plan several trips to the U.S. this year, but will they let me in? I don’t know. We’ll see April 27th, when I board my flight to New York to attend this year’s Rainbow Book Fair. I do have a valid ESTA, but in the end, it will be up to the local immigration officer to let me in or not. I’ve never before had to worry about this. I have lived in the U.S., studied and worked in the U.S., I have family and loads of good friends all across the country, and it is no exaggeration when I say I love America. I love what America stood for, as so beautifully expressed in the original Pledge of Allegiance:

“…the Republic for which it stands, one nation, with liberty and justice, for all!”

Not some, for all! Seems America’s forgotting the most important two words of the entire pledge…

Have a good week, and let’s hope that Lady Justice will keep us safe!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

PS: Today we also celebrate the 100th national day of the Sami people. Still they are no closer to independence than they were 100 years ago. I wish my Sami friends and the people of Sápmi all the very best for the future. Another people oppressed because of who’re they’re born as…

America, quo vadis? #resist #LGBT #ASMSG #resistance

America, quo vadis? #resist #LGBT #ASMSG #resistance

Every morning brings new nightmares from Washington

I wake up every morning, and this week was no different, looking at the news. Lately that has been a painful thing to do. I’ve woken up to a country rapidly descending into chaos with presidential edicts and congressional action that makes me wonder about the priorities of the new regime:

  • Allow for companies to drill for oil and gas in national parks. This alone would have Teddy Roosevelt spin in his grave. He was Republican!
  • Draw a pipeline through sacred Indian lands, violating the only non-immigrants in America. And the XL one, well, oil is so yesterday, and what about all the lands destroyed in its path?
  • Allow for corporations to dump waste in streams. I’m like why? Is this the most important thing Congress has on their table?
  • The muslim ban. No one from the seven countries has killed any Americans on American soil. But oddly Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Afghanistan aren’t on the list. Besides the horror of singling out an entire religion like that, it also signals that for this regime, money is more important. Just look at where Trump has his business dealings…
  • gag orders for federal employees
  • the executive order to build a 15+ billion border wall against Mexico and having the U.S. tax payers foot the bill. I laugh at the so called proposals to let Mexico pay it, by levying taxes on imports. No, that’s Americans paying for the wall.
  • Not mentioning the 6 million Jews on Holocaust Memorial day. I mean yes, there were plenty of others killed, and those of us who belong to such minorities, Gay men, Gypsies or Jehovah’s Witnesses, we’ve fought for decades to be mentioned, too. But not mentioning the main group? Come on… I have no words.
  • According to a High School year book, the Trump’s nominee for the SCOTUS was chairman of a “Fascist Club”? Say again?
  • Yelling at the Australian PM and hanging up on him, making sure the Mexican President feels all warm and fuzzy (I’m sarcastic!), taking the British PM by the hand (I guess she must’ve been glad he didn’t take her by the pussy…)
  • On a state level, legislation is afoot that makes you chill to the bone. Just today I read that women in Arkansas now need the approval of their husbands or parents to undergo an abortion or their doctors could face a law suit! Really?
  • I could go on and on, and it’s only been two weeks.

And while Trump said on Monday that he wasn’t planning to withdraw President Obama’s 2014 protection against LGBT discrimination in Federal contracts, we now read that an order, to basically turn American into a Christian Iran is well underway. So he won’t have to rescind the Obama order, he’ll simply replace it with an order that will make life for the LGBT community and women in America a living hell. And how does that create jobs?

America, the new Iran?

When the Ayatollahs and mullahs overthrew the despot in Teheran, America was appalled. The theocracy replacing the old regime was seen as a sign of hope by many locals, but very soon the country disappeared under a veil of darkness, and the U.S. was its fiercest critic. Yet by enacting this so called “Freedom of Religion Act”, the U.S. would essentially be doing the same thing, putting Christian orthodoxy in front of the word of the law. America would no longer be a democracy, but a theocracy. Now I understand that for millions of Americans, this is a promise of a great future, but I doubt that most would enjoy living in a country like that.

And among all this, it seems the regime has lost sight of their most important promise: jobs. With the exception of the Keystone XL pipeline, I haven’t seen a single proposal creating jobs, not one. But every step taken so far, has been of great symbolic nature to small parts of his constituency. It shows the world and the American people how active their president is, and ruling by executive order, just how little he cares for the constitution. And Congress? I’ll take my fifth and leave it at that. But safe to say that whatever was a “go” last year is no longer valid this year in terms of how people act on Capitol Hill.

It’s hard to watch a country with institutions as proud and seemingly healthy whither away so quickly. Some look the other way, some are frozen stiff from the shock of it all, some applaud the change, particularly white fundamentalists and fascists, while some take up the fight and try to resist. For those of us who love America but live elsewhere, it’s hard to do anything. But we hurt and we feel frustrated, not to mention afraid. We’ve seen where this can lead, and how quickly it can happen. The repercussions for the world would be dire, because America is not just any country.

I have no hope to pass on today and I am fearful of what is to come, particularly the “Freedom of Religion” thing scares the living daylights out of me. These are dark hours, but resist we must, for our children’s sake. What else can we do? My American friends are calling their congressmen and -women to lobby them, demonstrations are organized, but it all won’t change the basic fact that neither the GOP nor the White House seem to care much about average John Doe, the ongoing dismantling of the Affordable Care Act shows as much. So what will work?

As always I welcome your ideas, suggestions and input. Particularly from those who felt that Trump was the “solution” to all of America’s problems. Do you still feel the same? And please be civil.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

Really meaningful and eye-catching title for SEO-bots goes here #MondayBlogs #amwriting #LGBT #amreading

Really meaningful and eye-catching title for SEO-bots goes here #MondayBlogs #amwriting #LGBT #amreading

And this is – of course – the space for the all encapsulating subtitle, very important for the SEO-grabbing search bots

Have you ever felt that you had so much to say, yet didn’t know how? So many topics to choose from, so much injustice around the world that fuels your anger? Yet while you’re all wound up about this and that, you also feel that the double-cold your battling is leaving you powerless and void of energy, You feel as if you’d much rather spend another day in bed, under the warm comforter, sleeping away illness, misery and the Trump presidency, all in one cure?

Sadly, life, which means getting up at six thirty in the morning to get your child out of bed and into clothes so he looks presentable at school doesn’t work that way, particularly not when he proudly wears those new pajamas you bought, in the style of a fire fighter uniform, complete with reflecting bands on arms and legs. It was a hard struggle and necessitated the need of a little white lie to coerce him into a pair of jeans and a sweat shirt. Afterwards, he ate some breakfast and I made my husband some coffee, while catching up on more misery in the news and online. More senseless death, more terrorism and this feeling of what is the world coming to?

When America Was Great Still…? Leave it to Beaver, CBS 1960, but where are the blacks, gays, natives, Latinos, etc? We existed alright, but our existence wasn’t recognized. As much as I loved watching this show, today it is a symbol of what we’ve overcome…

It feels to me as if we are in the middle of a huge cultural war, a war fought between the past and the future, a war between white privilege on one hand, with promises of a revival of the fifties post-war economic boom and seeming social peace and the modern world the other hand, a more “brown” world, where people of all color and creed live side by side. I totally understand that for some, it is a frightening concept. In Russia, the rich, who have always been rich, dream of a world that resembles that of the nineteen fifties Soviet Union, where everyone had a job, there was no unemployment and the rich and powerful ruled, just as the czars had before the revolution. The only difference was that the czar was not a Romanov, but an apparatchik. In Europe, leaders of the far left and far right also dream of a past that really didn’t exist, ever, except in childhood memories or stories from our parents and grandparents, happy vacation pictures. In America, the Trump regime dreams of June Cleaver at her stove and wants to bring back those “Happy Days“. Yet they weren’t as happy as Hollywood portrayed them. Why else did  we have so much terror back then? The IRA in England, the Red Brigades in Italy, the Baader-Meinhof Group in Germany? Why did we have so much social unrest? Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., or Malcolm X to name a few? Why did we have riots and an entire generation’s uproar against the world of June Cleaver? 1968!

Trump, Putin, Le Pen, there’s one in every country. Some smarter than others, some more successful than others, but they all dream of taking their countries back to a time and place that never really existed. Too many were excluded, to many were not part of the dream. Millions starving in Africa, exploited by the fast-growing west, millions in the middle-east barely getting by while the riches of their oil-rich soils ended up on tankers west-ward bound. Millions starving in China, India, while their governments tried to counter-effect the remnants of a colonial rule with different measures that left the people wanting. But June Cleaver’s smile was perfect, as was her hair and front yard.

I look at Happy Days or Leave it to Beaver and I wonder: where are the blacks, the Latinos, the Asians, the Arabs? Or the indigenous Peoples of America? The Gays and the Lesbians? If that is the society Trump wants, then I say good luck, because America will never be like that again, because it never was! The America of today is that of Rogue One, and although I haven’t had a chance to see it yet, the mere fact that the nazis are going bonkers over a colorful cast makes me hopeful for a better future, at least in Hollywood.

No, you’re not a MAN, No, you’re not a GAY man, and no, it was not a rumor; and by Jove I hope you have more respect for your husband Hector than you showed him by making him look like an imbecile who doesn’t even speak English… Oh yes, screen dumps exist for a reason (this post and others were later removed.)

I don’t know were our nations are heading. It seems that for now, we’re taking the proverbial step back, after taking two steps forward in the past fifty years of my life. 1968 was the promise of social change, of a better world, for everyone, including women’s rights in relationships. There will, I guess, always be a struggle between the past and the future, between “conservatives” and “progressives”. However, I am hopeful that given the way the world is developing, that we are going to win this struggle, too. The forceful reactions to the first days of the Trump regime are leaving me slightly optimistic. The rule of the white heterosexual man is over. Donald Trump may very well be the last of its kings.

In other matters. Last week I helped bring down a catfish, a woman who impersonated a man in order to sell books. Like I said last week, it is perfectly okay to use a pen name, even a pen name of a different gender. Others have done it before, out of choice or need. I mention Karen Blixen’s “Isak Dinesen” as an example. However, Mrs Perez went far beyond simply using a pen name. She pretended to be a man, she pretended to be a married gay man on top of that, faked a heart attack (!!) and spread hatred against women and minorities on her Facebook author page. Why she did that we’ll never know. There is a part of me that feels sorry for her, for her need to have to go to such lengths to earn a buck or two. I also believe that unconsciously, she tried to be found out. Why else would she leave bread crumbs from her alternate persona “Byron Rider” all the way to her home address in Pasadena, TX, where she resides with husband and daughter? All we had to do was follow the trail, from Rider’s Amazon page to her het profile of Cait Perez, to Ms Perez’s website, where she had listed her home address. Not the smartest con, but maybe a desperate cry for help?

Sadly, when such frauds are discovered, people are hurt. Fans who had purchased books and who had invested emotionally in the author (who turned out to be someone entirely different) were left wondering if there is anyone out there who is who they pretend/say they are. People who had been genuinely shocked by her feigned outrage and the ensuing “heart attack” were in shock (as some of the comments on my post last Friday show.) Unfortunately, the next step up is a witch hunt for others, and authors and artists who are on the fringes, thematically or in terms of their convictions, become victims of suspicion, and I’ve already seen more than one post and e-mail wondering about him or her. I have no doubt that there will be more Byrons out there. But let’s not turn this into the Spanish Inquisition. Like I said Friday, don’t trust everything you see, check your sources. But on the other hand, if we, as a society lose that basic trust in each other, we are only making things worse, and will ultimately aid those who stand to profit the most from distrust. This is particularly true for those of use who belong to a minority, or two.

So let’s not. Let’s keep faith in humanity.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Have a good week!

Hans

 

Trust is great, but these days, we must be cautious about what we believe! #asmsg #amreading #LGBT

Trust is great, but these days, we must be cautious about what we believe! #asmsg #amreading #LGBT

Thinking about the content of this post kept me awake last night

This post could be about three topics:

  • The continued development of the Trump regime (and the impact on the LGBT community)
  • How gullible some people are online
  • the special responsibility LGBT artists have toward our own

Oddly, all these topics are connected, and it all started with a question from a friend online about an author of gay romance. The question is valid: “How can you write gay romance and root for Trump?” Now I understand that a LOT of people voted for Trump, including gays, lesbians, trans people etc. Naturally, I respect their decision. I may not like it, and I’ve tried hard to understand it, but ultimately, I don’t get it, because I weigh my politicians differently.

I understand that many people believe, genuinely, that Trump would make America great again. And I understand that to many of them, the loss of industrial jobs, jobs that don’t require a college education, to Asia, or Latin America made America anything but great. There are a lot of people who lost to globalization. The blame falls on both parties, Democrats and Republicans alike, since both parties favor a globalized economy. So do I btw, but politicians failed to explain how globalization works and they failed to make sure to bring their domestic work force up to speed, to improve education etc.

When I look at a political movement, there are certain things that are important for me, and at the forefront are how they respect my and other minorities’ civil and human rights. All else is irrelevant at least at first. It is the litmus test for any politician in MHO. I understand, as difficult as it may be, that to others, priorities lie elsewhere. The gay man who’s been married to a woman all his life, who has kids and who’s never really known what it truly means to come out (when his parents were still alive and could’ve ostracized him), to be a pariah; to the super rich investor from California who’ll always float above the law by virtue of his fortune, log cabin republicans etc. I get that. But when I suddenly hear about a person who makes money off the back of my people, writing books about us, and still wholeheartedly supports a regime which vilifies us, with a VP who thinks we should “better resign from jobs with god-fearing Christian companies, before we have to force you out with legislation!”, party friends who have already sued to discriminate against married LGBT couples (Texas), to just name two examples, then my tolerance ends. Yes, and I say this emphatically: said author is more than welcome to hold any conviction they may have, and to vote according to their heart’s desire. However, it doesn’t mean that I or anyone else must share their conviction or buy their books.

Because how can I support someone who so openly and without reservation supports a person who threatens the lives of my friends and family, and who surrounds himself with men (and a very few women) who vehemently fight against women’s rights, who think that blacks and Latinos aren’t worth the same as whites, and who think that the LGBT community needs to put in its right place, a regime who in less than a week has trampled on the very constitution they hold dear, issuing gag orders, vilifying the free press, ordering the destruction of sacred indigenous lands, show no respect to our planet or the environment, to just name a select few… How could I? I can’t! And I won’t.

But it doesn’t end there. And this is where it gets difficult. Again, anyone may write anything and publish whatever they like. However, I also believe in honesty, transparency, because it builds trust. I do not wish to accuse anyone, but when that same person, this Trumpista, author of gay fiction lies about who they are, then I start to ask questions. Here are just a few:

  • Why would anyone use a photoshopped picture of Kevin Spacey (!) and claim it to be them? Why indeed…
  • Why use a picture from a scientific experiment as a second picture and accept compliments for being so “handsome”? And why don’t people react, because clearly the two profile pics look nothing alike? Are y’all blind?
  • How can an author publish thirteen (!) books in less than a month? (and nothing since?)
  • How can that same author, on their profile page on Amazon write a bio and mention that they also write F/M fiction, an author who’s published ten (!) books in less than a year, yet who does not have any Facebook presence? Even though their M/M counterpart publishes many times daily? Do they not want to sell their F/M books? Why not push them as vehemently as they push their M/M books? Or their Trump convictions?
  • How likely is it that one person writes twenty-three books in sixteen months? And why doesn’t the F/M author profile mention the M/M project (which at the time was a future endeavor?)

Why would anyone photoshop a picture of actor Kevin Spacey and pretend to be that person? Why?

Lots of questions, not a single answer that I can come up with that makes sense…

I am asking questions. Who knows. There may be perfectly good and logical answers to all of this.

I have my doubts. Why? Maybe it’s because I find it so difficult to reconcile being a Trumpista with being LGBT and claiming to support our cause when you voted for a guy whose closest people absolutely despise us (Pence), want to roll back marriage equality (Pence, Carson) or even put us in camps. Said author claims to be gay and married to a man (yet their profile says “Domestic Partnership”, which never even existed in the state where they claim to live, but that’s just another detail in a story that does not add up. There’s more, but I’ll leave that for now.)

My friend’s initial question hit a nerve. The author in question suddenly suffered (within minutes after posting an outraged post) a “heart attack”, a heart attack so severe that they were released from hospital care within less than a day… A question to medical staff: what heart attack gets you out of a hospital in less than twenty-four hours? None I presume, but I might be wrong… There were so out of it that they posted gibberish online yet magically managed to change their profile and background image? Who suffers a heart attack and worries about their Facebook profile? Just asking…

What does amaze me though is how gullible people are these days, how quickly they fall for almost anything said online, taking things for granted, not asking questions. Mind you. You can accuse me of being naïve, too, at times. I’ve fallen for some pretty bad people in my life. Maybe I’ve finally learned my lesson.

And the assumption of innocence is of course always to be treated with respect. Even said author is innocent until proven guilty of lying and deceiving. All I can prove is they they lied about using a fake photo as their own.

Maybe there are perfectly good explanations about why someone would lie so blatantly. Like I wrote on Monday, some authors are forced to use pseudonyms, are forced to be in the closet. I’ve been there, I used to lie to everyone I knew. I had a pretend girlfriend, I had pretend straight sex (and bragged about it) when I was a teen. I was an expert at lying. Before I came out. Why a proud and married gay man would need to fake his profile picture is above me. The other ‘allegations’ are merely questions, because something just doesn’t add up.

This has most certainly been a most interesting week, but not a good one. People are afraid, women, blacks, Hispanics, native Americans, hell, the whole planet is holding its breath, wondering what Trump and his people will do next. And this is just a reminder to Americans: they can do infinitely more damage abroad than they could ever dream of doing domestically. Just by signing the executive order to halt all aid to women abroad he’s threatening the lives of tens of thousands of women and children!

Why writing this post? Well, trust is great. However, with all the fake news, alternative facts, falsehoods and lies being spread on a daily basis, we have to be careful about whom we trust. This example, while possibly perfectly legitimate, shows that a certain degree of “doubt” is in place, and that we have to make sure to have alternative sources to things we see or hear. Things may not always be what they appear to be, and even honest people can be duped and spread false news online. Add to that the unpleasantness of working in an industry which has seen its fair share of frauds in the past year, fake authors, plagiarism and what not. To be careful about who we trust and what we believe is only sensitive. I’ve thought hard and long about whether or not I should write about it. Maybe I’m doing myself a disservice, by asking these questions of a fellow author. But these are extraordinary times. My people are hurting. We can’t risk to be duped.

What’s your take on all this? Do you have any answers?

Have a good weekend,

Hans

Political correctness & our being offended: are we seeing a backlash? #amwriting #asmsg #LGBT

Political correctness & our being offended: are we seeing a backlash? #amwriting #asmsg #LGBT

Is political correctness to blame, at least partially, for the rise of populism and demagogues?

This is not an easy topic, I know. To many, political correctness is a hallmark of sorts, something they are proud of, a beacon of light with regards to how we treat each other. Political correctness goes hand in hand with our increasing propensity for being offended. A word barely heard ten years ago, today people are offended about seemingly everything and anything. I’ve been thinking about the rise of populists, who often claim they call things by their real name, who speak candidly etc. Are they a product of all our efforts at political correctness? Are they a backlash of our society constantly being offended?

A sissy, a fairy, a faggot… I had many names growing up. Luckily, I don’t hear those as often any more.

When I grew up, you barely ever heard anyone being offended, we were frequently using denigrating words about a wide range of people. You know them all, I don’t think I need to repeat those here. Over time, we learned that the words carried a lot of negative meaning, and we began to replace them, with neutral terms. In terms of two of my own minority statuses, gypsies are usually addressed as Roma, and fags are now gays. At the same time, we also slowly began to let people know if they stepped across a line. We began to be offended when people used derogatory terms. So far so good. However, did people change their views to the degree we changed the terminology?

I wonder.

Because all over the world, we see politicians along the lines of the man who’s installed to the U.S. presidency today, to revert to a language and linguistic behavior, that reminds at least this writer of how things were back in the seventies. He’s far from the only one, of course. And a lot of people love what they hear, they enjoy listening to a man who “calls things for what they are”. Disabled are cripples once again, and the black community is once again hearing various n-words hurled at them. Coincidence?

These things aren’t always easy to detect, and it’s hard to find good examples, but even I saw an article the other day which had me wonder. A friend of mine posted a blog post to his wall where a group of people, heavily into golden showers, expressed their dismay at the reporting of Mr. Trump’s alleged golden shower in Moscow. They were offended. Why? Because people were making fun of Trump and golden showers in general. This had me stop dead in my tracks. Yes, I’ll readily admit that I haven’t read every last article on the topic. But in the ones that I read, the joke was squarely placed on Mr. Trump, not golden showers per se, or anyone else enjoying them. But let’s be honest: to the vast majority of people, golden showers are not something we engage in regularly. That is a simple factual statement. Some will certainly have shaken their heads at the story, many will have laughed. But did we laugh at Mr. Trump’s alleged “revenge” against the Obamas or did we laugh at golden showers per se?

I often stumble across statements that are sexist, homo- & or transphobic. I try not to be offended, and unless the statement is really course, I won’t call them out on it. Besides, often it’s less a question of “phobia”, but more a question of ignorance. Allow me to exemplify. The other day I noted a post from a blogger I often share on Triberr. He’d posted something about cooking and made a likening to women and their beauty, something along the lines of “a woman’s beauty is her most important asset”. I reached out to him and mentioned that a woman’s most important asset were her brain and heart. And that the same was true for men. I’m sure the writer had intended to compliment women on their beauty, but it was a sexist comment. But was it intentional? I don’t think so. I think that it’s just the way people think, the way they are raised, particularly in cultures where women are still considered to be second grade citizens.

Here’s the thing. If we are offended every time someone doesn’t follow our rules of political correctness, we achieve two things: a) some will think again, and might see the error of their ways, and how e.g. the n-word is a sign of how we really look at our black communities, or how faggot says a lot about how we look at what is “male” and how we view male homosexuality. BUT, b) some will not change their views. They’ll seethe and maybe change the words they use, afraid to be called out and ridiculed by the majority and c) a select few will continue unfazed to use every single pejorative they can come up with. I think they do so deliberately, some just to provoke, some because they really feel strongly about it.

Political correctness is a good thing, although we have to be careful not to overdo it. In my own country, we have a tendency to replace words with new ones to e.g. increase the status of a profession. Cleaning ladies are a thing of the past. They’re officially called “locale consultants” and there have been other suggestions to replace other traditional words for professions, e.g. “assistant nurses” were for a while supposed to be called “care consultants”. In the latter case, I believe it would’ve been better to improve the training of this critical group of professionals, rather than to merely re-label them. So far, nothing’s come to fruition though. And assistant nurses are still undervalued and underpaid.

When we look at populists and demagogues, they don’t shy away from “calling things by their name”. They break convention, they are rude, they are ‘frank’. And a lot of people who fall in categories b) and c) above cheer them on. Is this a backlash we see? Have we pushed the envelope too quickly? Too far?

I’ll be honest and admit that I do not have an answer. And I do not suggest it is the only answer to the rise of populism, quite the contrary. The economy and globalization are much more important factors. But does coarse and raw language make the groups losing out in our economy feel “liberated”, feel as if they are once again free to call things for what they are? Because let’s not forget, in order for us to be PC, we need a certain level of education, to understand why and how words can be harmful? Feel free to engage, comment, discuss. I look forward to your views.

Have a wonderful weekend.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

#Review: Yuri on Ice, my life’s first anime, and why I fell so hard for it… #YuriOnIce #LGBT #anime

#Review: Yuri on Ice, my life’s first anime, and why I fell so hard for it… #YuriOnIce #LGBT #anime

Yuri on Ice is a show about dreams, failure, love, humanity and figure skating

The poster for Yuri on Ice with all the main characters.

A week or so ago, I first came across an odd hashtag, #YuriOnIce on Facebook. Some of my friends had been following something and they were really excited. I ignored it for a week, seeing all these strange updates about how amazing it was, until my curiosity finally got the better of me yesterday, and I dove right in. Having binge watched all available ten episodes on Crunchyroll in one afternoon, I found myself unable to put words on what I had just experienced. It was almost incredible. 24 hours later, I was anxiously awaiting the next episode, showcasing the first half of the finals.

I think the only way for me to make sense of Yuri on Ice and put words on my feelings, is to methodologically go through what you can expect of this show. Please be aware that there are some spoilers in this review, so be aware of that. On the surface, Yuri on Ice is about a young man, Katsuki Yuri, a 23 year old Japanese figure skater. He’s good, but not exceptionally so. The series follows him as he goes from competition to competition, redeeming himself after a major defeat the year before. He is being coached by the world’s best – former – figure skater, Victor Nikiforov. I’ve watched the show in original Japanese with English subtitles, which adds another dimension, given the voice acting, but since my Japanese is really dismal, I probably lost more context than the subtitles (not always up to par: Sara becomes “Sala” and Pyongyang is apparently the capital of South Korea, but alas…)

The first episode sets the stage, although it doesn’t explain fully why Victor leaves the ice skating circus, as undefeated world and olympic champion to fly to Japan to coach Yuri. At least not on the surface. However, there are enough “hints” (some more subtle than others) to make you understand that Victor has fallen in love with Yuri.

Yeah, plenty of hints throughout the show of their true relationship. This shot also quite remarkably shows that Victor is the dominant and driving force in the relationship, though never in a negative or abusive way.

Now Japan isn’t Western Europe or the U.S. where two men falling in love, in figure skating no less, wouldn’t cause anyone to raise an eye brow. This is Japan, a country where porn is shot and distributed, but any body part is pixellated so much you really wonder why you’re watching it in the first place. Japan, the only place in the world where I ever felt like an alien from a different planet. It is a society very different than anything else I’ve ever encountered on earth. Naturally, their storytelling differs, too. And anime is an art form which combines cartoons and Japanese storytelling in ways we are not accustomed to.

Fangirling, embarrassment? Only anime can depict emotions so accurately from the character’s point of view.

It’s loud, it’s in your face, at times absurd, but if you stick with it, you’ll eventually understand the subtexts and the depth of emotion at play here. Victor and Yuri are both drawn beautifully, and one of the scenes from the first episode that had me cry (oh yes, I cried at least once in every episode) was when Yuri comes back home, after five years, to visit his family and hide from his ice rink debacle. He meets his old friend at the ice rink and shows her something he’s been working on. He copied Victor’s latest performance, move by move, and we all know that copying is the highest form of flattery. Two things: she records it on her phone, it goes viral within the skating community and Victor sees it and heads out to Japan. The way that scene is drawn, with us seeing Victor one second and Yuri the next really gets under your skin. It is so powerful, and the way the figure skating is drawn is so spectacularly well done, it really is impossible to describe with words. Just watch it!

Gay? Oh yes… There are plenty of scenes like this where Victor’s siren call rings out to Yuri, usually to the latter’s embarrassment. And don’t we all know the boy who thinks he’s the ugly duckling and just cannot fathom that someone loves him (needless to say that Yuri is quite handsome himself, but yeah, if you don’t see it yourself, you’ll never truly be it, right?)

Then there are scenes where strong emotions are handled, e.g. embarrassment, and the bodies of the protagonists become “cartoons within cartoons”. At first I didn’t understand why that was done, but eventually I understood, that we are seeing the distorted image from the character’s point of view. A very strong storytelling technique, and as absurd and weird as it may look, it actually makes you ‘feel’ the emotion all the better. It’s funny, because both Victor and Yuri are really beautiful people, as are most of the characters. I was stunned to see just how well the animators capture certain cultural characteristics, pre-conceptions, we have of people: JJ really does look Canadian, although I can’t point to what that is (square jaw maybe? But that’s hardly enough), Christophe and his coach look sooooo Swiss it’s painful, and naturally, the Russians look very Russian, etc. It’s uncanny, really. I don’t know how they do it, but we are talking about master drawing and artists with eyes for even the finest details. Not that the drawings or the anime as such is very detailed. No, but all the essentials aspects are included, and therefore, non-essentials are left aside.

Victor, a character study, including his embarrassed face (top right), which is so very different from his normal, beautiful (if I may say so), features. I’ll be honest and admit that I have a bit of a crush on him. Yeah, okay, not just a little… *blush* (picture me with his face, crimson red!)

So what about the love story. Well, Victor and Yuri do take their time, and I think it’s only in episode four that Victor asks Yuri if he’d like him to be his boyfriend for the first time. He’s strutting around naked in all his amazing glory in episode one already, totally safe for work btw, thanks to Japanese censorship laws (see above). One episode features their first kiss and in episode ten, Yuri buys them a set of rings which lead to the climax of the show so far, a sort of “engagement” announcement. Needless to say gays cannot get married, neither in Russia nor in Japan, and neither country recognizes marriages from elsewhere. My brother, who got married almost six years ago, was unable to obtain a visa for his husband when he began to work in Tokyo. Instead, Osvaldo had to get a “language” visa to move to Tokyo to be with his husband. Ridiculous in 2015, but that is Japan still. Very conservative.

Which brings me to another point of Yuri on Ice. The subtlety in which this love story is told. Yes, you could say it is a story about personal growth, or a story about figure skating, a story about redemption, and you’d be right. But more than anything else, Yuri on Ice is a love story, and that love is expressed through figure skating. When Victor choreographs two short programs, one for Yuri Plisetsky from Russia, a 15 year old genius ice skater, and one for “his” Yuri, the contrast between the two boys/men is described in a combination of music and moves that will leave you in tears. I promise. It takes a while, for both characters to find their message, and that is drawn and expressed so stunningly.

Yuri on Ice is a great love story, and a story of personal growth, second chances and one of my favorite sports, figure skating. The elegance of the sport, the combination of physical exertion and emotional expression combined into graceful movements has had me in its grip ever since I watched the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, and the Gold performance of the British team Torvill & Dean in Ice Dance to Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, to this day one of the most magnificent performances ever, and the only one to EVER get a 6.0 from all judges. Have you seen that? If not, here’s your chance:

Now mind you, back then, a lot of things were very different, this is, after almost 33 years ago. Rules have changed and Ice Dance is very different from figure skating. But they certainly changed ice skating forever. I’d hope for the better.

Now I’m no expert on figure skating, and I can’t see the difference between the various jumps. But from what I can gather from comments from those who know the difference, the drawings in Yuri on Ice are technically accurate and the general rules are also explained in the show, for the novices like myself, and how the competitions work etc.

I don’t know if I will continue to watch anime, but I have been able to lay yet another preconception to rest (never too old to learn), that cartoons are only for kids, and that anime is childish. Because Yuri on Ice proved me wrong, on all counts, and even at the most awkward moments, when girls fangirl over a skater or a skater is furious (particularly “Yurio”, the Russian kid), or even when Yuri’s weight issues are portrayed with his ass cheeks hanging out of his pants, literally, are drawn as caricatures, those are also the moments that capture the emotions felt by the character the best. Because isn’t that how we feel about our extra pounds, as if everybody else sees us as some big fat blob? And don’t we see our own faces completely distorted when we are embarrassed or angry? I know I do, and anime captures that in a way no other form of cartoon does, and in a way certainly no film could ever capture.

I can’t wait to see the next episode of Yuri on Ice, and if you haven’t seen it yet, head on out there, follow the hashtag #YuriOnIce and check it out. This is a cultural phenomenon of sorts, a positive one, and one I for one, won’t miss.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Have a great fourth Advent weekend! See you on Monday…

Hans

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