T.J. Masters
Passionately Writing. Writing Passion.

Community? What Community?

I first encountered the m/m community of readers, writers, publishers etc. a little over four years ago. I was enthralled by the fact that everyone was so warm and welcoming. Writers who, on the face of it were competitors, appeared to be the best of buddies and generally supportive of each other. It was a bit of a culture shock to discover that the majority of the community were women, both readers and writers. I welcomed the inclusivity of it all and I am happy to say that I have made some wonderful friends in the group.

Recent events have tarnished that point of view. We have endured dramas coming along one after another: catfishing, women writers, male writers, book piracy, LGBTQI rights, trolling and back-stabbing. At present the community sucks. I sometimes wonder how we have the hypocrisy to call ourselves a community at all.

We are supposed to be a community of writers and readers brought together by creativity and craft. I love the fact that social media has closed the distance, allowing our readers to interact with us, but expectations need to be managed. Writers need to write and we all have our own styles, our own values and beliefs and they should not be held to ransom or publicly trashed by readers who have a different set of beliefs or expectations. In my experience it is not uncommon to read a book that does not grab me in the way that others might. I do however, appreciate that there will be other readers out there who may love it. I simply close the book, chalk it up to experience and seek another author who may be writing what I want to read.

Even in our little community there are as many different styles of writer as there are readers picking up their books. We don’t have to love each other’s work but the least we can do is respect it and appreciate our shared endeavour. Surely the idea of a community is that a group of disparate individuals can come together in mutual respect and support for each other regardless of individual styles or circumstances? When you are aspiring or struggling, you need the group. When you are successful, the group needs you.

The biggest issues appear to be those outside the realms of the craft. The world in general has been brainwashed to accept dumbed down politics which includes bigotry, intolerance, bullying and the cult of personality. Our small world reflects that and I fear that the actions of a minority will tear apart all that is good about our community.

Wow, I hear you say. Tim is turning into the classic grumpy old man. Well yes, I may be, but somebody needs to stick their head above the parapet. I do not rant without reason and I am driven by two principles. Firstly I believe in the famous words of Edmund Burke:

‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’

I cannot stand by and do nothing while our community destroys itself. Secondly, and to support that stance, I turn to the words of the poet Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night. Old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’

So forgive me while I rage!

The m/m genre is being hijacked by sexual politics. In our rush to highlight and to defend the rights of each sub-group, we are losing sight of the real goal of equality. There can be no place for homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, ageism or any of the other prejudices which we see every day, even in our own community! In a misguided attempt at defending their own particular in-group, I fear that some of us end up expressing the kinds of prejudiced views we are surely trying to stamp out.

 As a gay man I have spent the last 45 years struggling against homophobia, misunderstanding, bullying and even physical attacks, but always with the same goal in mind: equal rights. Not equal rights as a gay man, but equal rights as a human being. There is a fundamental difference here. I am not a man who identifies as gay. That suggests some choice in the matter. I am a gay man who identifies as human. I just want to be equal.

It is my belief that in our struggle to be identified under one letter of the alphabet or another, we actually compartmentalise ourselves and fragment our power. Of course that causes a problem for our allies. It’s quite clear that bigotry is alive and kicking in our community just as it is in the world at large. If you wish to be part of a community then you must respect the whole community.  An ally of one part of the group must be an ally of all. The goal for all must be equality for all. Equal human rights. We cannot pick and choose which flavours we like from the sweetie jar, or which are our favourite letters of the alphabet. By definition, the politics of equality must be about global equality.

And by the way, respect for the rights of others needs to start with respect for ourselves. Anyone who posts licentious images of men’s sexual organs or of men having sex together is no ally of gay men! We may write about such things in the context of a story but the posting of graphic images is insulting to the imagination of our readers and offensive to a great many gay men. You would not tolerate such sexualising of women so when did it become okay to do it to us? The same goes for anyone who delivers salacious accounts of their own sexual activities. Where is your self respect? It used to be said that those who boasted of their sexual encounters probably weren’t getting any, while those who were getting it didn’t have the time to talk about it.

Our community has a unique opportunity to be a beacon of excellence for equality and creativity. Of course we should discuss the politics but that needs to be done in a climate of mutual respect and understanding. There is always a place for debate and discourse in civilised society when empathy and understanding replace aggression and offensive language. Maybe we need a mission statement or a manifesto and if anyone has any ideas along those lines I would love to hear from you. In the meantime, lets play nicely. Lets be open to tolerance and inclusion. It’s time to grow up kids! Let’s show the world how it’s done.

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Two

The Work of Christmas

The poem When the song of the angels is stilled has long been a favourite of mine for this time of year. It was written by Howard Thurman (1899 – 1981) who was an influential African-American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader. It’s from The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations published in 1985.  Looking back on this year, these words have never been more apt, never been so needed.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

The verses have been set to music by the American composer Elizabeth Alexander and you can find many recordings of it on YouTube

 

Twelve Days of Christmas: One

A Very Special Birthday.

No not the one you thought I was going to talk about today! This is a different kind of birthday and one that is very personal to me. As we grow and mature (well some of us like to think that we have) family changes and friends come and go but we all cling to a few constants in our lives. One of mine came into my life sixty years ago today and has been with me ever since. Meet Ted.

I was just 6 months old when this bear was bought for my first Christmas. He was a naked bear originally, coated in a thick pelt of strawberry blond fur – which explains a lot regarding later interests! He also has one of those amazing inserts in his belly which allowed him to produce a really butch growl when he was tipped back or forth. In time the growl faded and the fur was mostly shed. In order to spare his blushes my Mum knitted the jumper and trousers that he wears to this day.

Ted was my comforter through childhood, my buddy and sharer of secrets throughout school and university years. He still sits in our bedroom and although I shudder to think of the things he may have witnessed throughout our 60 years together, he has never rejected me, never let me down. Happy 60th Birthday Ted and merry 60th Christmas.

 

Advent Calendar: Day Twenty Three

In my dim and distant teaching past we briefly had a young lad in our school nursery who grew into a fine young man of great talent. Whether it was playing football, modelling or sharing his great musical talents, Tyler Rix carved out a name for himself and continues to impress all who have come to know him. Tyler recently recorded this cover for Christmas and introduces it with his own words:

“Less than a month until Christmas!! Thought I’d record a little something for you guys to listen to whilst wrapping those presents & snuggling up by the tree. Big up Nick Beecroft on guitar. Photo by Francesca Trampleasure. Please share, like & subscribe for more videos..”

You really should listen and look Tyler up on YouTube and on his website: http://www.tylerrixofficial.com

For a quick catch up with Tyler here is an interview from a couple of years ago.

Advent Calendar: Day Nineteen

The Advent/Christmas wreath.

 

 

Wreaths can be seen in many different settings and contexts. During the season of Advent wreaths can be found on tables or the heads of maidens. These become the base for candles which are lit one by one on each Advent Sunday.

 

On St Lucy’s Day candle bearing wreaths form crowns on the heads of girls re-imagining the saint. Once the wreath is mounted on a door it becomes known as a Christmas wreath and comes in all variety of size or design.

Traditionally a wreath is an assortment of flowers, leaves, fruits, twigs, moss or various materials that are woven together to resemble a ring. Wreaths have a good deal of history and symbolism associated with them. They are usually made from evergreens and symbolize strength since evergreens last even throughout the harshest winters. Of course these days many Christmas wreaths are also made from artificial materials.

 

Advent Calendar: Day Eighteen

The Jolabokaflod.

In Iceland there exists a wonderful Christmas tradition, which which binds literary and holiday pleasures into a single marvelous event on Christmas Eve.

The majority of books in Iceland are sold between September and December in preparation for Christmas. Icelanders give books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spend the night reading, even taking the book to bed to continue the joy. This custom has become deeply embedded in the culture and the buying season is known as the Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood,”

At this time of year, most households receive an free annual catalogue of newly published books called the Bokatidindi. This is one free catalogue that everyone scrutinises while they choose which ones they want to buy.

The small Nordic island, with it’s population of only 329,000 people, is extraordinarily literary. The country has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world. Icelanders love to read and write and one in ten of them will publish a book.

The book in Iceland is such an enormous gift that you always pass on a physical book rather than an e-book since there is more value placed on physical, paper books than in many other countries. The global publishing industry runs on the pattern of a few people buying lots of books. In Iceland however the pattern is one of the majority of people buying several books each year.

For those of us who love books and reading, this sounds like a wonderful tradition that ought to be more widely known and embraced. Could there be any more peaceful way to relax after all the days of preparation than to curl up with a good book and a comforting drink while all around you are doing exactly the same.