Michel, My Favorite Fallen Angel is Yours to Enjoy!
Why Fallen Angel? The idea was first born in 2014 when we were discussing concepts for the novel about Haakon. Fallen Angels of Karnataka was born out of the idea to name the foundation that Mahender was already running, a foundation rescuing children from slavery in Bangalore (Bangaluru.) I’ve always considered children to be angels, and fallen angels would thus be children who died or who are sold into slavery. Sadly this is a reality for countless children in India, and without claiming to be a prophet, one of India’s most famous campaigners against child labor and slavery, Kailesh Satyarthi, was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize along with Malala Yousafzai. I might add that was AFTER my novel had been published that year. In a way, part of Mahender embodies Kailesh. Michel is also a fallen angel, and if you read the book, you will understand why.
The grieving angel from Wuppertal is also adorning one of our living room walls.
The cover for Michel
The hunt for Michel’s cover began last fall before I was finished with the manuscript. Based on the angel on the cover of Haakon’s novel, which is a grieving cherub from a graveyard in Brussels, I wanted an angel on the cover of Michel as well. My publisher and I decided early on to base the cover on the design for The Fallen Angels of Karnataka. We just needed an angel that reflected who Michel was. Several ideas were tossed around but I didn’t like any of them. I began a search and low and behold, “my” angel appeared on top of the search results. I don’t recall the exact search phrase, but I can still find the angel easily.
However, after researching for the photographer to try and secure the rights to the photographs, we learned that he was a conspiracy theorist and a big fan of people I personally dislike. Instead, I did further research into where the angel comes from and secured help from a local photographer to take pictures of the angel in the cemetery in Wuppertal, Germany. One of the photos was chosen for the cover, another ended up on the wall of our living room because we love the expression of the statue so much.
Based on the image, my publisher created the covers for all three versions of the book, and I love all three of them! The cover has been finalized for almost six months, which is an oddity for my work.
Michel is all yours now!
As a writer, we live very closely with our characters, for months on end. I’ve lived with Michel for over eight years, and ever since I wept after writing the following line, I’ve felt I need to redeem myself in his eyes:
“Michel’s head was starting to feel heavy on Haakon’s shoulder.
“Michel, do you mind?”
There was no response. Michel was no more.”
In The Fallen Angels of Karnataka, I had to move on. This was, after all, only page sixty-four of a book of almost 300 pages. But Michel never let go. Of all the characters who pass away in my books, he was undoubtedly my favorite one. I don’t say that lightly. It took me six years to come back and write his story. It took another two to finish it
Parting is such sweet sorrow
It’s never easy to publish a story, and I’m not just referring to imposter syndrome or failing sales. My characters come to me from the depths of my subconscious, and even though I can see parallels to people in the real world every now and then (Claude, a character in the novel, is partially based on someone I once knew in Brittany), Michel is the construct of countless experiences, people, emotions and I have no clue where he came from. Both he and Haakon are complete enigmas in terms of origins. But I feel very protective toward them, and releasing Michel’s story to a broad public is a scary prospect. What if people don’t like him? However, to be an author means letting go, putting on my big boy pants, and getting on with it. Shakespeare’s wise words do ring true!
Michel–Fallen Angel of Paris is available as a paperback, ebook, and audiobook starting today from bookstores, Amazon, and other online resellers. The audio version is narrated by my friend and amazing actor Michael Bakkensen.
I’m struggling for words, hence the above title. I just cannot express appropriately what I feel, still. Maybe it is still too raw, too fresh. Yesterday saw the conclusion of a project that I have been a part of for a long time, first as a translator of some official documents to accompany fundraising efforts and later, intrigued by the concept, having applied and having been accepted, as a participant. “To write for dance and to dance written text” seemed such an intriguing project for a novelist such as myself, especially in the context of the LGBTQ context it was founded on. I simply had to be a part of it and I guess the “powers to be” saw the passion in my application.
Three Swedish authors, three international authors, and the dance company Spinn
On September 19th, we kicked the project off over a cup of coffee. Little did I know how it would affect me. The final performance yesterday is still swirling around in my head, deeply affecting me emotionally. Hopefully, we’ll be able to meet up again this fall, post corona, for hugs and much needed personal thanks to everyone involved. It goes without saying that I am greatly indebted to the organizations that have funded this project, enabling me to spend time expanding my artistic horizon, returning to poetry after all these years.
In the following, rather than expressing how I feel, I would like the art to speak for itself. First, you have a video of the final performance yesterday, which included two works of me, a poem I wrote about four months ago, I feel love, everywhere, which I wrote off a clue from my writing buddy Claire Carter, based on two of her characters. Secondly, there’s the live improvisation that Claire, Rannhvi, Izabell, and I did, a conversation of poetry and dance toward the end. Following that, I have included the video that Izabell and I created inspired by Matt–More Than Words, and finally the actual poetry I wrote as a part of the process. Enjoy! 🙂 Maybe in small doses. It’s quite intense…
Live Performance from the Museum of World Culture, Gothenburg, May 28, 2020
Eyes open, wandering
Mouth open, drooling
Pain, constant pain
Muscle spasms, cramps
No way to speak
Moaning, groaning, wailing
Behind those eyes,
Is there a mind?
Thoughts, ideas, dreams?
My mind is full of thoughts, ideas, dreams
I dream of walking
Walking toward you, touching you
There is so much I want to say
So much I want to tell you
But I can’t
I am a prisoner inside my body
But I see you
And I love you
I am human
I am Matt
I am more than words
Other poetry I have written for the project
Cowering in the Dark
Cowering in the dark, alone
A chameleon, hiding in plain sight
At first, you can’t see it, the light
It cuts through cracks in the dark
Extending toward you, caressing you
Dare you reach out? Dare you touch it?
In time you step out from that dark
and as you spread your delicate wings
Your soul takes flight, at last.
I feel love, everywhere
So good, so good, so good
I feel the beat
I feel the heat
Pulsating, through me
Calling your name
I can’t see you
Bodies, all around me
Moving, moving, moving
dancing, grinding, sweating
Calling your name
I can see you
Dancing, dancing, dancing
Your face, your eyes, your smile
Calling your name
Turntables at my fingertips
Beats, beats, beats
Pulling you across the dance floor
Closer, closer, closer
You and me, together
I feel love, love, love
Glitter of the disco ball
Colors of the rainbow
Recorded for Improv Session, May 27, 2020 (This text is likely going to be re-written and edited for further use)
Flickering faces on a screen
Socially distanced togetherness
Quarantined in a closet with windows
I may talk to you, even see you,
But I can never reach you
Like a childhood nightmare long ago.
I watch your every move from afar
A distant voyeur
I see your hair
Those lovely eyes
And how you look at me
Through that screen in front of you
Can you see me?
Do you even care?
I watch you, I see you
As you swirl, twist, turn
But do you see me?
Distance, Closeness, Intimacy
How can we bridge the gap?
Will they ever let me out of the closet?
And when they do, will I dare?
Live Improv Session, May 28, 2020 (This text is likely going to be re-written and edited for further use)
Flickering faces on a screen
Socially distanced communion
Separated by PPE, glass or space
Quarantine be hallowed
Isolated in a closet with windows
I may talk to you, even see you, But I can never reach you
Like that childhood nightmare.
I see the glass, beyond it the sky, the sun
Oh, that look you give me,
I miss your touch
Your silky lips against mine
Your caresses, body against body
Dance for me baby, dance
I feel like I’m in an aquarium
Surrounded by glass, freedom beyond
Yet here I am, drowning in water
I want to shatter the glass, the fish tank
I dream of the beach, waves coming ashore
Lapping against the warm sand.
Can you see it?
I see your swirls, your elegant moves
Our electronic Togetherness
A dreamscape, a Tsunami of emotions Let us break out of the confinement Find a Secret pathway
I long to be with you again
Don’t deny me this one thing. HOPE
A great big thank you!
Finally, a great big thank you to The Region of West Sweden, The Nordic Culture Fund, and the City of Gothenburg for funding the project. How lucky am I to be able to get paid to do something that gives me so much joy? A big thank you to the Writers’ Center West Sweden (Hedvig & Kristín) for organizing it and allowing me to be a part of it, to Danskompaniet Spinn (Veera) for working with us on this, and helping us expand our horizons, to the dancers, particularly Rannvhi and Izabell, for working with Claire and me, to the other writers (Sara, Hilding & Elias) for all the discussions, the open dialogue, and your creativity, and last, not least, to Claire Carter, for putting up with me, and literally blowing up any preconceptions I had about poetry, dancing and expanding my mind and my creative courage like the big bang. Your thoughts on the influence of text and dance, the interdependence between the two, has been mindblowing and I can’t express just how much it has influenced me. The project that Izabell and I did about Matt had not been possible without that, and I doubt our improv session yesterday either. Thank you, all, from the bottom of my heart.
It’s been a week since we finished the Netflix hit mini-series Hollywood. It’s impossible to NOT include spoilers in this post, so be prepared or walk away. But while my instant reaction was enjoyment, after the end, especially after the final episode, I was left troubled. I found the final two episodes really disturbing. I turned to my collective brain on Facebook to ask them about their impression and I walked away even more confused. The almost unanimous feedback was “great. show”, “it’s revisionist”, “it shows how things could’ve been, should’ve been”, etc. I’ve been thinking about those comments for days now.
Medici, Borgias, the Crown paved the way for this…
I’ve watched a lot of historic TV shows, some mentioned above, and then some. Doing so, I always have my phone in hand to check things on Wikipedia: is this a real character/event? And as has always been the case with TV and movies, writers and directors take significant liberties when creating their shows. I also watched “Once upon a time…in Hollywood“, the Tarantino movie which takes the murder of Sharon Tate and changes it significantly. I enjoyed that movie, to a degree. And it wasn’t primarily the fact that Sharon Tate isn’t killed, but the violence of the movie in general. Typical Tarantino, I guess. Just not my cup of tea.
But “Hollywood” is different on a completely different level. While very loosely based on real events from the post-WWII period, and using several historical figures, including Rock Hudson and Henry Wilson, to just name two of the most infamous ones. It starts out by depicting the arrival of Hudson in Hollywood, and his character is portrayed as the gay man he was. So far so good. The same is true for Henry Wilson, in all the gory despicability of who he apparently was. It also showcases the racial differences and how extremely difficult it was for POC in those days. And while some individuals were able to see past that and regarded people as simply humans, that certainly wasn’t true for society at large. There are scenes with Queen Latifah and Michelle Krusiec that are gutwrenching to watch, yet based on the reality of those days.
Suddenly, everything is different
There is a scene where the gay black screenwriter walks up to the studio head to warn her that he’ll be holding hands with Rock Hudson on the red carpet. By that scene, the improbable movie had already become a smash hit at the box offices and been nominated for a lot of Oscars. She warns him of the consequences thereof, but he, as they say, persisted. From there, the scenes are stacked up and blacks, gays, and the improbable movie “Meg” walk away with Oscars and the mini-series ends with the promise of a romantic gay movie being made. Yes, amazing, isn’t it?
Yet totally unrealistic… That gay movie still hasn’t been shot. No, Simon’s not it either. And while it’s close, it shows that even in 2020 we are so far away from even being close to treating minorities similar to the white ruling classes of Hollywood. #hollywoodsowhite anyone?
Yes, things have changed for the better, but…
I don’t mind fantasy. I don’t mind things being portrayed in rosy colors. But please, don’t change history. Why? Stupid people, simply put. And there’s plenty of them, sadly. There are hundreds of millions of people around the world with no sense for historic accuracy/literacy who do not know how to use Wikipedia while watching historic dramas (I’ve seen the comments about e.g. the Medici or the Borgias on Facebook) and they’ll take this at face value. Don’t believe me? Five letters: T R U M P.
The man and his regime change history on the fly. Suddenly we’re facing “Obamagate” (even though there is NO such thing and never was), Russia is replaced by Ukraine, the Trump campaign by the Biden campaign (which had not begun yet) but I guess beating on Hillary got old. Without any care for facts, we have seen how the perception of the world is changing. One day 45 trumpets about a malaria medication being a promising cure from the White House pulpit, the next day, people are poisoned in Nigeria because they (lack of education) believed him and overdosed on that shit. I’m just waiting for the first idiot to publicly spout from the rooftops that gays and blacks have no reason to complain, that things have been so great for them as the show portrays. And don’t tell me people will not react like that because there are literally millions upon millions who are incapable of separating truth from fiction. Sometimes even educated people. The worst part is how this will affect the perception of things like #blacklivesmatter and the ongoing struggle of the LGBTQ and POC communities for equality if suddenly people think there’s no reason to complain.
It was one of the great reads of my youth, George Orwell’s novel 1984. I remember how they went back to change articles in The Times to better and accurately reflect changes to IngSoc dogma. It was Winston Smith’s job, after all. I doubt that Mr. Orwell would’ve been able to even imagine a time, in the not too distant future where the president of the world’s dominant nation would lie so often and so callously that facts had become a perishable good. He changes his views on the fly and there is no Winston Smith there to alter the facts and clean up the mess. He simply ignores it, labels yesterday’s facts as “fake news” and moves on lying. I have family members reading every word from the man’s lips.
This is why I am so disturbed by revisionist (what an awful word btw.) TV shows and movies. Do fantasy and sci-fi, by all means, but don’t change the past (unless you do so the way time travelers do, where it’s all in the open and stated as fiction and an alternative reality.) It’s simply too dangerous in our time and age. I’m not surprised though. It’s the perfect form of entertainment for the Trump age where nothing is real anymore. Not the news, not science, not facts, not even history. That makes me sad and worried for humanity.
Eleven months ago, today, I embarked on an incredible journey…
Just around the corner from here, shortly after I took this picture, Matt appeared to me for the first time. Taken March 28, 2019. Photo: private
Two months from now, the book will see the light of day. It’s funny to go back and look at the date a file was created. Thursday, March 28, 2019, at 15:46. I remember it well because the circumstances of Matt’s appearance in my life were unusual. He suddenly popped up as I was out and about walking across the island, as I did every Thursday back then. I vividly remember the spot, an area carved out by ice age glaciers just before you climb up a small hill, trees all around the path. After returning home from that walk, I began writing. A lot has happened since then, one of which is that I’ve barely blogged in recent months. My apologies. I’ve recently taken up a small consulting gig for an IT firm in town and I’m working more than 50% there, which takes two valuable days out of my schedule for writing. On the other hand, my bank account is looking more pleased than in a long time.
Matt: from hereon in
I finished the manuscript in January and have since been working on covers. it depicts a lighthouse in the fog, but unlike the white light of a regular lighthouse, the one on Matt’s cover is green, which is eventually how Matt will learn to communicate. With a green light, not a lighthouse. 😉 The next step on getting the book out include, of course, typesetting, editing, and proofing, but also the recording of the audio version. I can’t wait to hear the magic Vance will bring to this story.
To write about someone who’s “unlike” the author is always tricky. Last summer, I attended an LGBT event in the US where someone from the disability community quite vocally accused me of not knowing wtf I was doing because the back matter of my novel Spanish Bay used the word “wheelchair-bound” instead of “user” as the current nomenclature recommends. It was a harrowing experience because said person had neither read the book nor considered that the US isn’t the only place where people speak and use English. Don’t get me wrong. My publisher and I immediately updated the cover to reflect the updated language and I am well aware that language is a living matter that changes and evolves. And I am happy to learn about such changes. It wasn’t the message per se that shocked me, more how it was presented with the explicit accusation of not caring, of attention-seeking, of appropriation.
At the time I had already begun work on Matt, and I was deep in research about his capacity, physically, mentally and emotionally. Matt suffers from cerebral palsy and while I have close friends who live with this affliction, none of them are as impaired by it as Matt. My research had to go deeper and so I reached out to people in the field who work with people like Matt. While they may not have the same diagnosis, the effects of how their body responds are similar: lack of movement, lack of the ability to communicate freely. All the while writing and changing, with the fear of getting it wrong in the back of my mind.
We live in a day and age where minorities have more voice than ever before, which is a great thing. And unfortunately, some people tend to take (still) advantage of others, for personal gain, for political reasons or as the pun of a joke. When you write about a character for the sake of checking a box, I can understand that people might react. I sometimes feel the same when I watch movies or a TV show that highlights LGBTQ characters. Are they in there to tick off that box or do the creators genuinely wish to reflect the fact that we are everywhere in society? Not always easy to answer.
My characters pop up, out of the blue, but they obviously don’t do so without some sort of context. I have a very good friend to whom I speak almost daily, and as she is differently-abled herself, the topic of disabled characters in books comes up every now and then. I should probably write “the lack thereof”, as there are few books who showcase differently-abled characters in the main role. I was very proud of having written Spanish Bay, with the main character a wheelchair user (see, I learn), and I stand by my book, the story, and the cover. I guess Matt is born of the many conversations with Tracy, my upbringing around people with mental impairments (my mother’s best friend’s daughter, probably fifteen years my senior, was severely impaired, but that didn’t hinder us kids from playing together just fine.) As a father, I think it’s important to teach my son that the value of a living being is constant regardless of their physical appearance or mental capacity, whether we are talking about animals or human beings. At the core, I believe that this is what humanity is all about.
A fictional character, but
I have read many posts, comments, and reviews of books where people comment that the character “isn’t like me” and therefore cannot be realistic. Well, here’s my take on this: it doesn’t matter if a character isn’t like you, isn’t a mirror image of what you are like. That is true for many reasons. I don’t disavow Romeo and Juliet because they’re not like me (gay.) I don’t toss Harry Potter aside because he’s got dark hair where mine’s dark blonde. The problem is labeling books as being of a certain “kind”: this is a gay book (which kind of turns away straight readers) or this is a “disability book” as if it’s only meant to be read by people with disabilities. We have a tendency to box ourselves in so much that we expect to read fictional stories about ourselves rather than trusting various authors’ capacity to create stories that speak to the human condition.
I’m always saddened when people say “I can’t read your books, I’m not gay.” Well, my books are hopefully good enough to appeal to every kind of person interested in a certain topic, and hopefully, I’m a good enough author to bring people of different backgrounds closer to whomever, regardless. Empathy. That’s what this is all about. On the flip-side, labeling helps authors and publishers to market books. If you want to read about a gay character, you will find my books that way, even though the story may be about Alzheimer’s, or being of old age or, as in Matt’s case, being unable to communicate with your surroundings. But most importantly, if there is any message that spans across all my books, it’s that we are all human beings, regardless of who we are and the things we go through. You could say that I write about the human condition but from the point of view of a very specific subset of people.
Coming April 30, 2020
Matt-More Than Words is coming April 30 from my publisher, Beaten Track. And as with each and every one of my novels, I’m really looking forward to this one. It is an important story for a great many reasons, and I hope it will find a home in many readers’ hearts. Matt will also find another way to express himself. I am part of a write dance project and in May we’ll go on tour with our work. I am working on a poem about Matt, and together with an amazing dancer, we’ll perform a piece. I was intrigued by the challenge to put in words (poetry) Matt’s predicament of being unable to communicate, and almost more so about dancing the inability to move voluntarily. Izabell, an insanely talented dancer has taken early drafts of my poem and sent me a recording of an improv dance she’d created. Based on her dance, I went back and re-wrote the poem. We bounce off of each other to create a piece that hopefully will hold up and can be displayed to an audience here in West Sweden and Oslo, as we go on tour in May. Stay tuned, either here or on my Facebook page, for updates.
The world we live in is pretty depressing right now. Nationalism, tribalism is on the rise, social cohesion is in rapid decline, and all around us, conflicts escalate, wars increase and it seems that for every opinion uttered, two loud voices argue fiercely against, oftentimes regardless of the topic, just to spite.
Social cohesion is lost
When I was a child, there was a lot of social control. The society I grew up in exerted a huge amount of social control. One example I’ll always remember with shame was when I first bought a pair of torn jeans, paying good money for someone else tearing those pants apart in just the right places. It must’ve been either 1987 or 88. Wearing them for the first time in public, on my way home, an older woman on the trolley approached me and asked me if I couldn’t afford a whole pair of pants. That simple question is still haunting me, and it took decades before I wore torn jeans again. Social control at its worst, but social control also creates social cohesion, especially if it is used to make sure kids are safe (I had to yell at a kid the other day who jumped down on the tracks of our streetcar line as a car was approaching), etc. It feels we’ve stopped, be it telling people not to park in the wrong place, or whatever other transgressions (against laws!) people are committing. We simply look the other way and think that it’s not our problem. Thing is, our laws are our problem.
We simply need to differentiate between rules and legislation. If you believe it goes against your religion if a neighbor mowed the lawn on a Sunday, keep mum, as long as it’s legal. But if someone breaks the law and you see it, speak up. If you disagree with the law, speak up! Talk to your parliamentarian, raise your concerns, lobby for a change in your favor.
Societies drift apart
If you look at economical statistics over the past fifty years, it becomes obvious that the rich keep getting richer and the poor fall behind. The middle class is slowly disappearing, and it was the backbone of our western societies for decades. In the fifties, the average CEO would be paid about 20x what his workers were paid, in 2017 that number had risen to 361x. And that is simply insane. There is no reason for that. It’s not like the cost of living for the average CEO has risen more than that for their workers. I might argue the opposite, as tax burdens for the rich have been lowered all around the world.
There is a huge risk associated with societies drifting apart. The happiest societies are the ones with the least amount of economic inequality, while societies with a large economic inequality see effects on e.g. public health. And as we see societies drift apart, we also see tensions between generations (hashtags #okboomer #millinnials), between the “left” and the “right”, haves and have nots. Is there a breaking point? Are we heading toward a new 68-revolution? Or worse, a 1918-style revolution? Bolivia, Chile, Iraq, Lebanon are just a couple of examples where entire societies are in upheaval, and where traditional lines of conflict no longer seem to apply.
Are social media (at least partially) responsible?
I have a theory that our use of social media has sped up this process. As the algorithms turn our lives into virtual ghettos where the only people we talk to are the ones most like us, where we unfollow or block views we dislike, or worse, report them, we rarely need to second-guess our own views and convictions. So how are we to learn? How are we to evolve our own views if all we ever see or hear comes from within our own chosen echo chamber?
To believe (as I do) that this also exacerbates extremist views is not far-fetched. We tend to idolize those we follow (fiercely) and dismiss everyone else as a scam, a fraud. I see these tendencies all around me, and we forget that most people, even politicians simply want the best for their societies, even if we may disagree with their points of view. Things get personal, very quickly, and we refuse to see other arguments, other points of view. Unfortunately, I feel this is also influencing global politics and adds to the tribalism around us, as wedges are driving between entire peoples.
What can we do?
I think the most important thing is to keep an open mind, to educate ourselves. When I woke up this morning, to the news that Evo Morales resigned as president of Bolivia, I accepted that as a fact. Then I read Jeremy Corbyn’s reaction to it, basically calling it a military coup. Given Mr. Corbyn’s position, I was worried that there had indeed been a coup. Then I read a friend’s post on Facebook who said that he feared for something similar to be needed in the USA after the 2020 election, implying that Mr. Trump might not leave the White House even after a defeat. Someone else immediately and very angrily asked if he really wanted a right-wing military coup in the USA. Well, so far for disinformation and polarization.
I’ve since tried to make sense of this, and here are the facts: Evo Morales had been elected President for a fourth term recently, despite a referendum restricting presidents to TWO terms shortly after he’d won his third term. How he was able to even run for a fourth term? I don’t know. Mr. Morales was also accused of election fraud by international monitors. Public uprising ensued and it seems the military and police finally abandoned him yesterday, upon which he resigned. These are the facts we have. I don’t know nearly enough to make a statement about the military or police or who they support or not, whether they’re “right” or “left” (but ask yourself this: why did they support him for three terms?) It’s so simple to jump to conclusions. I reserve judgment until I know more. But it seems Mr. Morales love for democracy is limited. Why else stand against his own constitution and cheat to be re-elected?
What else can we do? Well, go vote! And resist the urge to protest vote. I know it’s enticing, to teach ‘them’ a lesson, but it might just backfire. Look at the US, and what Trump’s draining of the swamp has led to? Look at every nation where extremist parties have grown and come into power. Divisions increase, co-operation seizes. The American Congress, largely incapacitated, is a good example. Westminster another. But the list goes on and we see tendencies to this everywhere. Again, talk to your parliamentarians, tell them what you expect.
Here’s my wishlist:
We need to focus our public sector: less is more. Make sure infrastructure works. Invest in schools, social care, healthcare. Stop the divergence of the haves and have nots. Make sure people have jobs, meaningful things to do. Invest in security and safety so people feel safe. Work together to fight global warming, invest in commerce and global, open and free trade, but start to move away from constant growth. Find ways to improve the world, apart from simple economic growth.
I’m an optimist, I know, but I just can’t help it. As a father of a young child, I worry endlessly about the world I leave behind, the legacy we all leave to our kids and grandkids.
Most people are sexual beings, everybody is capable of love
An article in yesterday’s Guardian about a legal case in England caught my eye. A man, thirty-six years of age, on the autism spectrum, was given permission by a judge to pursue sexual and romantic relationships even though he cannot intellectually grasp the ever-important concept of consent. I do not envy any judge who has to look at conundrums lite this. And it is not made easier by the fact that we tend to confuse love and sex (even JB primarily wants to, and I quote “he desperately wants to find a girlfriend with whom he can develop and maintain a relationship.”) and while the two are related for most people, there is no automatism between the two. We can love without having sex and we can have sex without loving our partners.
The complexities of the issue
I’ve grappled with this question in the past and I remember writing a beautiful sex scene between Neil and Chris. Sadly, as this is a YA novel, it had to go (American Victorian morals, don’t blame me…)
When it comes to people with functional impairments (or variations if you prefer, the terminologies keep changing) it becomes even more difficult than it is with people who are “fully functional”. Consent, rape, abuse are daily news items between adults with no intellectual impairments. But when it comes to people who are intellectually challenged, two issues arise. You have the challenge above, that the person doesn’t understand the challenges involved, starting with consent. On the flip side, what about giving consent? We have very clear laws saying that children must, under all circumstances, be kept away from sex with adults because (I presume) we assume they do not understand consent and the potential harm of having sexual relations before their time. Different societies place the “age of consent” differently. It’s fifteen years here in Sweden but varies from “no age at all” to eighteen. There is no right answer, of course. But what about grown-ups who do not understand consent? What if JB ends up in a situation with someone who might consent to be with him and takes advantage of that? #mindboggling
The other side of this is even more difficult and I would beg for your indulgement if I say things that might be taboo, things some might find offensive even. Let’s talk about “market value” (a crass term) or “attractiveness”. We all know that there are things considered beautiful and things considered “not so beautiful” in our societies. There was a time when obesity was considered attractive. Judging from today’s catwalks, that is no longer the case. Now, having said that, I’m not going to discuss whether that is “right” or “wrong” (that would be a very different post) and I am well aware that what society at large feels is far from what you or I or anyone else may feel, believe. I think we can agree on this much. That our beauty ideals are warped may be another thing we might agree upon. In our age, disabilities, lack of limbs, tetraplegia, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, you name it, are not considered very attractive. And when you watch the weird TV shows about sexual deviations, you might have people who fall in love with cars and who ejaculate on the hood of their loved one, portrayed alongside people with a thing for amputees, gerontophiles, etc.
My current WIP
When I first read the article about JB, I immediately thought of the main protagonist of my current work in progress, Matt. Matt is afflicted with cerebral palsy. He doesn’t communicate as his condition is quite severe. The actual story is primarily about his journey to breaking down the walls and finding ways to communicate. A twenty-something male, Matt has no formal education. He’s gay and he’s in love with his personal assistant. You can see where this is going, and the challenges I’m facing. The book, the story isn’t about the two becoming a couple. It’s not that sort of novel. But Matt is a normal human being with desires, a sex drive and a healthy heart with great empathy. But to what degree does he ‘understand’ love, does he realize that the emotions raging through him, are love? How does someone who’s never had sex, who’s never had sex ed understand a sexual drive? Babies, toddlers, have erections, it doesn’t mean they are horny. It’s just a physical reaction. But Matt thinks, he feels, and when his assistant massages his sore and tight muscles, he feels great, and things happen in his body.
The questions I’m grappling with right now, and I have time to figure it out, is how to put it onto the page, or not. What do I leave to the readers, what issues do I raise to do Matt justice? He is a human being, an amazing person, and he deserves nothing but the best treatment by his author. I hope to be done by Christmas. This is an important debate, a very complex one and not one that has easy answers. I’ve already discussed this online, on Facebook and seen some very helpful comments. Wish to contribute here? You’re most welcome to.