Language

This is Blog 12 in my A-Z Blogseries:
Language

My boyfriend, G, and I share a love for language and linguistics.

It happens almost weekly that some odd expression, pronunciation or unusual word makes my ears perk up (and often it is something that I see is simultaneously happening in his mind, which is obviously a huge turn on).

We then tear the matter apart, googling the heck out of it (after we’ve agreed on the best search terms, which sometimes can be challenging enough).

The last word we dove into was “psychopath“, which I now know stems from the Greek words psykhe, meaning mind and the word pathos, meaning suffering.

So a psychopath is, in the purest sense of the word, somebody who has been diagnosed with suffering of the mind.

In modern times we envision a psychopath to be a manipulative charmer that spends his days fantasizing of all the ways he could make you disappear. We would say a psychopath is more often the cause of suffering than the victim of it, wouldn’t we? I suppose we have TV crime-series and horror stories to thank for that.

G and I debated on how much empathy a psychopath really would have. I decided that they actually could have some empathetic abilities in the sense that they recognize feelings and know how to respond to them convincingly. What they lack are soft feelings such as pity and compassion (making them perfect for politics or wall street).

Another word we tried to decipher was “discussion“. Not something you would normally need to look up the meaning of, right? We came to the conclusion however that our personal definitions were quite different, with his being much more negative than mine.

In his view, there is no such thing as a “good discussion”, given that there are always two (or more) people participating with opposed opinions and no real willingness to change that.

In my opinion a debate can be a tool to get closer to the truth and changing your mind about your argument is actually allowed.

This made me realize that being in (his definition of) a discussion is an experience he does not enjoy at all. Now that I know that, I can change the way I react to him when he mentions a discussion he’s had with this or that person.

These elaborate exploratory talks we have (often during breakfast) remind me of how important it is to check during conversations if we are actually talking about the same thing.

Even when your convo partner is using the same words as you are, you may be missing the point completely because you do not know the weight it has for the person across from you.

We are a species blessed with the ability to use language, in spoken form and also through gestures and posture. Putting a little effort into the way you communicate can make life so much easier!

Advertisements

Morituri te salutant

“Those who will die, salute you”, is what fighters in the gladiator pit supposedly said in ancient times, before fighting to the death in an arena full of bloodthirsty onlookers.

Athlete and silver medalist Marieke Vervoort could have greeted the crowd in the same fashion before her race last week. She is most certainly a fighter. Just like the gladiators of old she does not want to die. And just like them, it is likely she will die before her time. She is an athletic hero, named paralympian of the year in both 2012 and 2015. She also happens to have progressive myelopathy.

She has never made a secret of her feelings towards euthanasia. But when she declared the Rio Olympics would be her last, the interwebz exploded, convinced she was going to celebrate her silver medal on the 400m with a some super special suicide pill that she must have been saving for the occasion… or something radical like that…marieke-vervoort-euthanasia

Last Sunday she took some time at a press conference to explain what she meant and basically told the world to take a chill pill themselves.

She explained how she had indeed signed papers several years ago, giving her the possibility to end her life and that these were partly what had kept her going for so long. Make no mistake, this woman is not choosing the easy way out. She is already dealing with a degree of pain on a daily basis that you and I can’t even begin to fathom. She explained it as follows:

Yes, I have euthanasia paperwork ready. I’ve had them since 2008. Because I can tell you it’s really hard to deal with this disease en endure the pain. But this permission I have for the euthanasia process, which I have in writing and carry with me, gives me a sense of peace. It’s this feeling that helps me live. I can enjoy every moment I have now. But when the time comes that I have more bad days than good days, I will have my euthanasia papers ready. But that moment has not arrived yet.

So, when she said these would be her last olympics she was basically just announcing the end of her topsport career, not the end of her life.

She will continue living her life to the fullest, as she always has. She will continue facing her pain and her progressing paralysis head on, as she will all the hateful fools that feel they have a right to judge her.

As her disease creeps on, she may completely loose her sight (it has already deteriorated to 20% of her original vision) and her epilepsy attacks will become more frequent. The cramps in her body will keep her awake during the night and the wheelchair she sits in will no longer be powered by the muscles in her strong arms. She lives in constant fear, not knowing which part of her body will give in next.

She directed her strong plea for euthanasia at the people and politicians of Brazil and other countries where euthanasia is still a taboo and a crime above that.

I hope people don’t feel [euthanasia] is murder. Just being in the possession of these papers, which is something I obtained legally in my country, gives me tranquility. If I did not have this option I may have already committed suicide.

You don’t just beat your opponents, you beat the odds. You don’t just break your personal (and world) records, you break taboos.

Right on, Marieke. I salute you.

 

Growing up trans

Not only is this blogpost extremely long, it is also another one of those posts that is bound to offend some people. I considered changing it up to make sure I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings but there’s no point in being disingenuous. This blog is supposed to help me figure out what I feel and think about things and if the conclusion turns out to be that I am a horrible person then… well… I’ll have to deal with that another day…

So, the other day I saw Hanna. Hanna, the movie I mean. I had seen it before but sometimes you need to re-watch a movie to truly let it sink in.

The part that had seemed sort of irrelevant the first time and that really stuck out to me the second time was the role of Hanna’s friend, Sophie; a slightly annoying British girl racing through puberty with hormones flaring all over the place, both confused and intrigued by modern day concepts of gender and sexuality.

I remember sort of rolling my eyes at the stereotypical girl Sophie represented, which ironically is something she does constantly as well (rolling her eyes, I mean). She’s the kind of girl that wears ass-showing shorts with an air of cluelessness that makes it both endearing and incredibly dangerous at the same time. The wise-beyond-her-years kind of adolescent that claims independence while sitting on her father’s lap. The kind of girl that sees an interview with Miley and decides she’s “gender fluid” and wants to kiss a girl to taste her cherry chapstick.

For a second I was tempted to say it’s “a thing kids these days do”, but as I was typing it I realized that’s not really true at all. Adolescents have always experimented with their sexuality. Is it more frequent nowadays? Or more evident? Or is it just the fact that we have all these new words like bi-curious, gender fluid, gender queer, lipstick lesbian, etc and that glossy magazines like throwing them about randomly when discussing the red carpet outfits…?

It confuses me if the above is good or bad for the acceptance of homosexuality in mainstream society. On the one side it is great that LGBT issues are being dragged out of taboo-constricted closets. That we are having these talks out in the open is great and hopefully it will help us all to feel comfortable with each other’s preferences and  most of all: ourselves. However, if people start declaring themselves bi-curious as a display of their rebel heart and naughty spirit I’m afraid the Michelle Bachmanns of this world will have a field day.

These ultra-conservatives will raise their intolerant voices, quoting scriptures and handing out tea party sponsored leaflets for their delusional “counseling center” to cure you of your abomination. And sadly, they could use these hipster bi-curious kids to back up their claim that it is not natural nor something people are born with. Worse even, they would say is a condition you can be cured for and have proof to back that up.

I can imagine it must be frustrating for those still struggling with their coming out to see youngsters play around with the concept of sexuality and gender and go back and forth as they please. Gays and lesbians must have been told “it’s just a phase” by friends and family (and themselves) a thousand times before they dared come out for the fact that these feelings are here to stay. The fact that there are people running around all the time demonstrating that for them it is in fact just a playful phase that you can laugh about later on in life, isn’t doing much good for true LGBT-ers.

mirrorsm-264x300And then yesterday I saw this Frontline documentary called Growing up Trans, that in turn made me feel like a conservative bag of bones. It startled me especially when I heard myself yelling “but it’s just wrong!” at my TV screen. That’s the type of thing an ultra christian hillbilly would yell at a picketing, right?

The premise of the documentary is that it is becoming more and more accepted for people to come out for their transgenderism and not only that, but the possibilities to actually do something about it are also becoming more easily available. The documentary follows a bunch of kids varying in ages, the youngest being about nine. These kids have voiced their unhappiness with their bodies to their parents and have been supported in this in different ways and degrees.

The documentary presents us with the dilemma: These kids have found their voices and are clearly much happier if they can dress and act as the opposite gender. In a child’s body it hardly makes a difference. But as puberty sets in, these kids are disgusted by their bodies that are transitioning into what they feel is the wrong direction. So do you start giving them hormones at such an early age, so that they don’t need to go through the trauma of growing breasts or getting facial hair? Or do you wait for puberty to pass and then check again when they are adults to see if they still feel the same?

At some point an expert in adolescent medicine says:

The majority of children with gender dysphoria will not grow up to be transgender adolescents or adults. But I think the challenge is that we are not able to definitively predict for whom gender dysphoria will continue and for those that it may not continue.

She adds:

Early intervention does make a huge difference. Once some physical changes of puberty have occurred […] they are irreversible. So really starting puberty blocking medications as early as possible is really important for some people who are really experiencing distress.

We slowly get to know several kids and all seem to know very well what they want and don’t want. They all describe their changing bodies as horrifying and want the process stopped before they become the one thing they do no want to be.

gender eye.jpgWe are introduced to Kyle, aged thirteen, that is on meds; anti-depressants that is. He has dealt with the psychological consequences of feeling trapped in the wrong body and not being supported in this by his parents, most of all his father. Kyle is past the phase of puberty blocking and wants to go straight to the cross sex hormone therapy.

Kyle’s father really struggles with the decision he faces and that is when I surprised myself a little bit, when I felt I actually agreed with him for a great part. During a meeting with a doctor about the testosterone treatment, he hears what all the consequences are of going down this road. The upsides and the downsides. The perks and the risks.

After the doctor’s explanation Kyle admits he does wish he could have kids of his own some day, something that shows you the immensely difficult decisions you are asking a thirteen year old to make. Decisions it is hard to believe such a young human being could grasp the full scope of. That is why I totally got it when his father said:

Up till now it’s been things that were reversible: we change your name, we refer to you as he and him, sure fine. But at thirteen […] you need to think a little bit more about that. And those are things that your parents should be there for; to help you be as certain as you can when you make a decision that later in life could have a huge impact. So there’s a lot to think about.

Contrary to the other kids in the documentary Kyle is lucky enough to have a friend going through the same process, John. It is endearing to see them talk and philosophize about their parents and the effects their decisions and feelings have on them, fathers in particular.

John is very eloquent and comes across as smart and very sane. He tells us how he came out as lesbian at the age of seven and then as a transgender in his freshman year. John’s father is not going along with the transitioning process at all. He wants to support his kid and he wants him to be happy but he is incapable of seeing John as a boy. He refers to him as “G”, the first letter of his birth name and has not changed the pronouns to male yet.

The dynamics in this family are what got me all fired up and what made me want to write a blog about it. Just like John, his father comes across as someone who thinks before he speaks and is honest and clear about his feelings. He is also very religious and fears John is choosing the path of eternal suffering. He hopes and prays for his child to find his way back to “what is right”.

Despite me not being religious I do see that the underlying sentiment this father has is one of pure love and care for his kid, even though his wife questions this at some point. It was really heartbreaking to see. The stakes are so incredibly high here it just blows your mind.

Imagine John’s father worrying about the fate of his daughter’s soul. How do you make a decision if that is on the line? Imagine having to choose between your child’s eternal soul and his happiness on this earth.

At the same time John expressed feelings of extreme depression and besides suicidal thoughts even homicidal ones towards his family. At some point he even asked his mother to check him into a clinic so he would do no harm.

That was the last drop for her. Unlike her husband, John’s mother let go of her faith and the biblical teachings she grew up with to fully support her child and provide him with any possible means to find the way back to happiness. In turn, this created a void between her and her husband. Imagine having to chose between your child’s sanity on one side and your marriage on the other. Your love for your kid versus your love for the man you made that child with.

The contrast in John’s family couldn’t be bigger than with the family of Ariel; a kid that completely rubbed me the wrong way, no matter what gender or sexual orientation se has. The high “like” frequency in her sentences, the vocal fry, the neurotic body language, the Kardashiany tears-on-demand… just annoying. Don’t get me wrong, she has enough to be nervous and teary about and I do see her life hasn’t been easy, but she’s just chosen the wrong version of girl puberty to go through, if you ask me…

gender-sexuality.pngAnyhow… After seeing the heartbreaking struggles in John’s family and then switching over to this kid… I guess that’s when I started yelling at my TV… Ariel was going to get her hormone replacement therapy, despite being only thirteen (instead of the usually required minimum of 16). Her therapist felt she was ready. I don’t know this kid. I have never met her. I know I have no right to judge. But… still… just seeing her and hearing her with that all-over-the-place energy really made me feel she was not done with therapy yet.

(If you are curious to see just this part of the documentary to understand what I mean, go to this link and fast forward to minute 54, and watch about five minutes from there)

Actually no, maybe that’s not it… I don’t think she needs more therapy. She clearly knows exactly what to say and what it all means, in theory. But she sure as hell is not ready to make decisions about cutting off penises and growing breasts. Her idea of transitioning into a woman consisted of picking out pretty clothes, playing with make-up and finally growing up and marrying prince charming. She may not need more therapy but she definitely needs to grow up and experience a little bit more of life before being allowed to say yes to this…

And when I heard the therapist going along with her clear inability to grasp the true and real consequences of the hormone treatment…

ARGH, it’s just WRONG!wrong1

And by golly, I hate extremely long blogs and this one has definitely turned into one, even though I still feel I have not fully explained my point of view… So I’ll just leave it at this for now and maybe come back to it on another day…

Feel free to bite my head off in the comments below.

Righteousness with a vengeance

Newschannel Euronews has an item they show in between programs called “no comment“. It always shows images of some event but with no commentary. No translation. No explanation. Just images. For a couple of minutes you get to decide what is going on and if you think that’s OK or not. I always thought it was kind of cool. Perhaps it’s the closest you can get to objective journalism.

If the internet taught me anything though, it is that there is no such thing as “the truth”, nor is anybody ever completely impartial. The fact that the camera is pointing this way and not that can change the whole story. I try to be conscious of this fact when I read / watch any narrative.

This morning however, the internet gave me a shocker when I encountered the image seen below, among the likes of one of my FB friends. It really took me a while to process what I was seeing and reading and my initial reaction was anger. I asked the person who had liked the image (and he’s a family member, for crying out loud!) if he really believed this to be true. I asked him this, with the intention of deleting him from my account and from my life if he declared to my (cyber)face that he stood behind this statement.

FB Jews

I felt offended. Personally. I felt the legacy of my grandparents was being spat on and I couldn’t believe people were giving such a message a thumbs up. I felt it was unfair to hold me accountable for something that happened long before I was born. I felt it was wrong to put the Nazi horrors in the same sentence with what is happening in Palestine as if these things are somehow related. I hated the fact that I was being asked to disagree with Germans killing jews but to condone jews killing muslims (or vice versa for that matter).

Now that I’ve calmed down a bit I am trying to see if I can find the nuance in there somewhere, but I’m finding it quite difficult. All I can come up with is that I do understand that everyone has the right to defend themselves. My inner Ghandi however keeps popping out and poking at me with his walking stick and repeating his famous quote like a mantra:

eye_for_eye_500

UPDATE: Nuance found! I also decided to change the title of this blog and share a bit of the discussion I had on FB with the people that posted the controversial image.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, actually, and I still feel that the way this South African jewish organization formulated their message was way too strong., -and I can’t believe I am actually going to admit it,- BUT, I do understand where they were coming from now.

In their very elaborate response to my angry, slightly defensive rant, they asked me to bare two things in mind:

1. The Allies were fighting the German/Italian/Japanese Axis not because of what Hitler was doing to the Jews but because they were invading other countries.
2. The incredibly brave individuals who put their lives on the line to save Jews during the Holocaust were a minuscule minority.

I can’t deny any of this. It’s painful and it’s true.

The thing is, that I actually do believe that the world stood by and watched atrocities happen for way too long. Individuals breathed a sigh of relief as the horrors passed by their front doors (in other words, they were not jewish) and politicians dared not speak up and risk turning up on the losing end.

The world was stunned, like a deer in headlights. There was no protocol for this. No precedents or lessons learnt from previous occurrences that we could fall back on. We were slow to act. There must have been denial and heaps of mixed messages, making it so difficult to take a strong stand for the masses.

So yes, that surviving jews held grudges for the world’s passiveness: I get it… We didn’t step up until the Nazis started making life difficult for the rest of us, the non-jews. That’s offensive and no apology or compensation will ever mend those wounds.

But I don’t see us giving the Tutsi’s in Rwanda a free pass, nor have I heard them ask for one (or have they…? not even sure about that one, as the world cared even less about what happened to them than the jews’ ordeal and I haven’t really heard of them since)…

Another thing that has been bugging me is how this statement is not about the world not allowing jews to stand up for themselves. This whole image, without mentioning it ONCE, is actually about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I always struggle with political correctness here. Can you use Jew as a synonym for Israeli? I can imagine there are many jews that would disagree. Or non jews, for that matter. As a matter of fact, I know quite a few muslims that have no issues with jews or their faith, but do whole heartedly dislike Israelis. And then there are those referred to as zionists, who are the one’s that believe in and actually persue “the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland

So in that sense, the first sentence in the image above refers to jews, but the second one refers to Israeli’s and more specifically, the zionists who are trying to establish their so called homeland on somebody else’s homeland.

So my conclusion is, I get it, but I still don’t think it’s OK at all…. but feel free to disagree!

Ignorant inspiration

The other day I read a blog by Chelsea Fagan in Time about the unintentional hurtfulness that is sometimes caused by the inspirational quotes on traveling, freedom and making life choices. We all know them. I’ve probably liked and shared these images on Facebook on several occasions.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After reading Chelsea’s blog and thinking on it a bit, I totally get how these quotes that are meant to be encouraging and empowering are really hypocritical, elitist and insulting.

The point that Chelsea makes is that we westerners have become very much obsessed with “being happy” and “following our dreams” and not letting our lives to be dictated by material desire, career ambitions or what society (or our parents) expect of us. We are oh so mindful.

What we forget when we proclaim our freedom in that way, is that we implicitly label people who do not travel somewhere new every year as boring conformists, uninspired souls or cowards. In all honesty I still believe there are people being held back in pursuing their dreams by the dogmas they have adopted or been implanted with. I have seen people living with regrets and unfulfilled dreams because they are convinced “it is not meant to be” and this is often not true.

However…… I do realize now that being able to drop all your responsibilities and “just go” is an enormous luxury that not everybody can permit themselves to have. I have grown up knowing (albeit mostly sub-consciously) that if I were ever to get into serious trouble (financially or otherwise) someone would be there to help me. It has never been necessary, luckily, which isn’t even really my merit either. I have the great advantage of having been born in a wealthy European country and having a matching passport to go with it. Finding work has never really been an issue (all though I may have thought so at some point).

I can permit myself to take chances and be adventurous because failure is also an acceptable outcome. I know this is not the case for many people. Failure could mean falling (deeper) into poverty, or as Chelsea describes:

Encouraging that person to “not worry about money,” or to “drop everything and follow their dreams,” demonstrates only a profound misunderstanding about what “worrying” actually means. What the condescending traveler means by “not worrying” is “not making it a priority, or giving it too much weight in your life,” because on some level they imagine you are choosing an extra dollar over an all-important Experience. But the “worrying” that is actually going on is the knowledge that you have no choice but to make money your priority, because if you don’t earn it — or decide to spend thousands of it on a trip to Southeast Asia to find yourself — you could easily be out on the streets. Implying that this is in any way a one-or-the-other choice for millions of Americans is as naive as it is degrading.

Another conclusion that I have come to is that travelling is not some sort of holy ingredient to find ultimate happiness or fulfillment. Quotes like the ones seen above imply that people that do not travel are “only reading one page” of the book of life and are condemning themselves to live nothing but the lethal routine of life. I realize now that there are many people that are simply content with their life as it is, and they don’t just say this because they don’t have the nerve to book that flight. Travelling would not make them happier.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There are people whose world is big enough as it is and do not wish to expand it. Dealing with the surroundings they are familiar with is challenging enough. The idea of going out to explore new areas does not sound like an adventure but a nerve wracking experience. There are people that like their food prepared thew same way every day and have no urge at all to taste that odd looking fruit (let alone that insect).

Now it seems as if I am saying that everyone that does not travel has some sort of anxiety disorder, which isn’t my point. My point is that there are people that love to travel and people that don’t and they are both completely justified. Some enrich their lives with new smells and tastes. They learn new languages and meet people from different cultures. They come back with tons of pictures, dozens of new FB friends and a brutal tan. Good for them. Others enrich their lives with the comfort of a true home, with family and a loyal pack of friends. They learn to perfect their favorite meal and find pleasure in everyday life. How about the enjoyment of having sound roots and knowing where you stand in the bigger picture? How wonderful is it to build a place for yourself that gives comfort and happiness?

Some people don’t need to leave to be able to appreciate the joy of being home.