who are you?

I have played computer games for about twenty years now. I have slain countless monsters, armies, conquered empires, schemed and slaughtered the hell out of the pixels on my screen. In real life, I am glad my chicken comes pre-cut and pre-packaged in the supermarket, because I would be entirely incapable of murdering a chicken for food. My stomach kinda turns at the thought. Similarly, while plotting and conniving to overthrow a pixel empire is harmless, I am not capable of understanding how someone can do that in the real world – playing with the real lives of real people, deceiving them for selfish ends, hurting them and discounting them as numbers and statistics.

I am similarly unequipped to understand these mechanisms of hate. I do understand them on an intellectual level. I understand how propaganda works. I understand and recognize the fear mongering, the spark that is kept alive but in check until it is needed to start a fire. I see the long years of discourse geared towards identifying a group of “them” versus “us” which can later be used as a target toward which to direct all that pent up social energy. But I do not understand how it can work.

Two days ago, the government of my native country authorized violence against its people. It authorized teargas attacks and beatings. Police force did not intervene to single out and extract groups of agitators (whose purpose, motives or faction of interests I will not venture to assume here, that is a separate can of worms, though the tactics are well known). They waited until those groups achieved the levels of violence needed to authorize a full-force response. Against tens of thousands, including teens, women and elderly. Against any and all.

You would expect a massive outcry, and you’d be severely disappointed. It was more or less the same segment of population in the streets the next day. No shame, no remorse, no indignation strong enough to generate more than hot air. The same fetid discourse that was prepared for months or years took over the comments section in the media. Conspiracy theories about the occult forces attempting a coup and the vicious elements wanting to overthrow the legitimate government. The fact that a government is legitimate only as long as it has the consent of the governed, and the right of the governed to withdraw that consent if the government acts against their interest is conveniently forgotten.

The same anti-intellectualism that Asimov once decried in America has been running through the messages here for a long time. The new element was the hatred against emigrants. Emmigrants, not immigrants; all the extremist movements in Europe direct the blame towards foreigners in their country; as one of its poorest nations, Romania does not have enough foreigners, so in a perverse twist, all the negativity is directed towards nationals who have left.

They have been branded as prostitutes, as ass-wipers of the elderly and day laborers who are slaving away for “The West”, who have been bought and sent back to the country to overthrow the government. Even if all of them were all that (which they aren’t), I don’t get the virulent disdain for people who are doing honest and hard work (in most cases to aid their families left home) and I don’t get how you get from there to the out-of-this-world conspiracy theories. And yet, the hatred in the comments is sometimes so palpable that it hits you and takes your breath away, like a gale force hot wind.

When the Brexit vote came, a lot of foreigners in the UK mentioned that they have this general unease and feel unwelcome in the country that they have come to call home. Even if Germany is far from that, I still had an uneasy feeling when the far-right party scored way more than it should have at local elections and kept rearing its ugly head in parliaments and news outlets. This however that we are talking about now, this is the place I was born in. Where by human custom, I should always have a right to go and be. When everything and everyone else fails, that place should still have a right to call itself home, with all its implications of safety and welcome.

I am aware that a lot of those posters on social media are fake accounts. I am just wondering about the people who buy those stories, cause there must be some, to justify the logistics and the effort put into them. So who buys that? Who are the people for whom the seeds of hatred are sown and where they blossom? Almost a quarter of all Romanians live and work abroad. So in theory, just about anyone in the country has a family member, a relative, a neighbor, a friend who lives and works abroad. Who are you, who hate me and my friends? Who are you, who hate your own children and siblings and nieces and nephews? Who call them whores and slaves and have spittle flying at the corners of your mouth when you mention them? When you mention us?

Photography credit: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images

I stretched back and I hiccuped
And looked back on my busy day
Eleven hours in the tin pan
God, there’s got to be another way
Well, who are you? (who are you? who, who, who, who?)
Oh, who are you? (who are you? who, who, who, who?)
Come on and tell me, who are you? (who are you? who, who, who, who?)
Oh who the fuck are you? (who are you? who, who, who, who?)
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pride (in the name of love)

For some reason, the Christopher Street Day (the German version of the Pride Parades) takes place here in July. I have a feeling that it is also a lot more political, though it is certainly not lacking in color. Two years ago was the first time I had the occasion to witness the exuberant joy and cheer from the sidelines. Last year I sadly missed it, as it was on the precise day of my moving. This year I joined and marched along some 100 coworkers from the LGBT network of my employer, taking turns at carrying the banner that adapted the company motto to a message of affirmation and support.

It was certainly a different feeling. I did not get to “enjoy” the march like a show from the sideline, watching as trucks and cars and walkers carried their messages – cheeky, thoughtful, activist, humorous and kind – by in a rainbow swirl. What I did get to do was walk alongside others, through onlooker crowds 175000 strong. Signaling I am here, I stand and walk with all the others, for everyone’s right to love and be loved, to be safe, to be accepted, to be open and free to be who they are without hiding, to live and breathe and go through each day without double checking every word or action – things that many others have the luxury of taking for granted.

I carried the banner. I sang silly pop songs. I waved and smiled and laughed at people. I petted pups. I hugged everyone I saw with a Free Hugs sign. I sat down exhausted at the end with a silly grin on my face and some moistness in my eyes. Some of the folks I hugged were teens. Two of them had Free Hugs sign, but it turns out or seven or eight of them wanted to hug. They were wearing trans and ace and bi and rainbow flags around their shoulders. And I still find it amazing and wonderful that they can grow up in a time and a place where they have the resources to find out about themselves. That they can fill out a “I am…” sentence without thinking about how best to describe it or even better, how to dodge an answer, because it would be too awkward to explain or because the vocabulary is simply missing or because they have to fear the consequences. They can grow up knowing for certain that they are ok, they are not broken and there are others like them. I am finding some comfort in the thought that they probably do not even realize just how much that is worth. I am not wearing rose tinted glasses, I am well aware that while acceptance here is greater than in other parts of the world, there are a lot of less fortunate folks than the ones who cheered on Saturday who still struggle with who they are and how they are perceived. But I like to think that we are making progress.

In the name of love
What more in the name of love?
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i want to reach out and touch the flame

It seems like a lifetime ago that I first discovered music through the blessing that was at that point in my life MTV. In many ways, it *is* several lifetimes ago. Like it happened to another version of me. It was a cultural shock of sorts. It not only blasted at me the music and videos of some legendary artists. For many aspects, it was also the first contact I had with the way life was happening for teenagers that had not grown up behind the Iron Curtain. Accepting and embracing wildly different world views is not that hard at that age; but sometimes, the enormity of what I knew as daily life and what I glimpsed at (covered in the glamour charm of television as it was) still strikes me to this day. In a sense, even real things happening on tv retained that fiction aura for me; it was after all stuff that only happened to others, on tv.

One of the things that fell into that category were concerts. I watched live videos, and MTV Unplugged, and reports from Glastonbury and Roskilde and Rock am Ring. And somehow it always seemed surreal, that those are real people sitting in those audiences, close to their stars, and singing along all those songs I also knew by heart. And somehow, even back then, I realized that there is a profound gap between me and the kids my age I saw on the screen.

I have, in the past years, managed to somewhat bridge that gap. I have been to concerts and festivals and I have seen artists perform live whom I never thought I would ever get the chance to see other than on the screen or in magazines. Each time I dive into the adventure ravenously. Most of the times, it is an amazing experience, but it is always tinged – sometimes with nostalgia and sometimes with the sheer desperation of one who realizes that time cannot be turned back. However hard I try, I will not make up for all the lost time and will never be able to live through the experience with the wonderfully open mind I had when I was 15.

I will never be one of the kids on the screen and I am amazed at my bitterness for it. Sometimes though, I hold in my hands a concert ticket and the prospect of actually seeing the band who’s name is printed on it is so otherworldly and awe-inspiring that I have difficulties letting it sink in. I am still half not believing that tomorrow by this time, I will be stretching aching feet on a hotel bed in Berlin and I will have seen U2.

I want to run, I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside
I want to reach out and touch the flame
Where the streets have no name
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don’t bend; don’t break; baby, don’t back down

If I were to improve just one thing about myself… That is one of those uncomfortable self-assessment questions that I hate. Because in order to truly answer it, you must look in a really unpleasant mirror. Most of the times, I single out my willpower for the “needs urgent improvement” award. But now that I think of it, it is not really that. I can get my act together, if I find sufficient reason to do so. My real issue is that it’s just a bright blaze that burns out quickly. I am not a long distance runner. I want either immediate results or fun in the process. Without any of those, my willpower just hisses and sputters and dies out like a lit match in a bucket of water.

I am attempting to dangle the proverbial carrot in front of my own nose. I am patting myself on the back for the little steps and calmly trying to explain to myself the thousand other little steps needed for the journey make a difference. But I need results. I need to taste the little victories. Something abstract like “you are now one step closer to the goal” doesn’t cut it. And if it doesn’t feel like I am moving in any direction… lord, please let it be fun at least. Let me feel good about it. But nope… nothing on that side either.

Still, nothing left to do but soldier on. Good little marching ant. Eyes on the prize. Keep calm, don’t let things get to you.

You better stand tall when they’re calling you out. Don’t bend, don’t break, baby, don’t back down.

Well, either that, or cuddle up and take a nap. It’s been a nap-heavy time lately…

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