Where I come from, sex is something you have. That is, if you’re not ugly.*
Where I come from, we rarely opened a book, and when we did, we never imagined that it might be about us; about our thoughts and everyday longing.
Where I come from, the girls are brought up to be understanding, accommodating, compromising, pliant, and patient; they are brought up to be that sticky attachment which must watch and for all the world keep the family tight, while the boys preferably should not think too much about the consequences of their actions and definitely not let others take the piss out of them for being vulnerable, wet, timid, not-hard.
Where I come from, you’re a man if you’re not a woman.
Where I come from, femininity is confused with a lack of competence, of authority.
Where I come from, the vast majority of men grow up without having learned any constructive ways of dealing with their emotions. They suppress them and then explode in anger; suppression then explosive bursts of anger which often lead to violent escalations, debasements or other forms of attack to re-establish the hierarchy, repair the pride, put things in their place: Here it’s the ALPHA who decides.
Where I come from, the boys are left in the lurch. They grow up to be stunted, almost primitive people who can easily wind up hurting their loved ones. But of course, it’s not simply their fault either.
Where I come from, the nuances and perspectives and the ability to empathise did not exist inside a man’s head. Inside a man’s head there was mainly just a singular focus on proving their manhood (that is, their worth as a human being) by virtue of being the family breadwinner. It was especially concerned with worries involving money, status, honour, property, possession, height and bulk, efficiency, speed and intensity, measurable performance, pussy as what’s due and a broad-shoulderedness that swells up just below that man’s head. But of course, it’s not just their fault either.
Where I come from, there are an extremely high set of expectations of what it means to be a man. A real man. Such high expectations that men, in their effort to live up to them, are strongly averse to or even feel offended by other less masculine men who are not similarly concerned with convincing the big wide world of their potency.
My granddad beat up my dad. And my dad ended up committing suicide. One of my dad’s brothers moved to New Zealand. The other cut his hand off in a psychotic episode. My grandmother died of contempt. I don’t want this anymore! she would gesticulate, clawing up her fingers over the smallest things.
Not a single one of my stepfathers have ever asked about my biological father, let alone shown the slightest interest in my grief.
My first stepfather took advantage of—violated—my mother. What the man wants, he takes.
The richer or more overbearing he is physically, the more self-righteous he will become. All the more willing to accept inequality, the law of the jungle, the way of the world, the status quo. Just take a look at the research in the field.
The prince, the troll, the incel, the member of parliament, the accountant, the diehard football fan, the solicitor, the doctor, the estate agent, the porter, the family man, the boy next door, the mother-in-law’s dream.
I have also experienced my most recent stepfather as violent, both physically and mentally. I have experienced him to be categorically cruel, humiliating, threatening, spluttering, terrorising, road-raging, extremely quick to take offence. Nursing his victimhood. The family’s biggest baby by far. So big, that there was only room for the rest of us when his needs had been met.
I don’t care much for your lack of privileges if you primarily use them to cover up all of those you actually have.
And when they, the manly-men, thus fail to articulate their inner demons, self-hatred, inferiority, it is my experience that they drink.
Call up a good friend to talk things through? What the hell are you on about!? Nothing’s wrong with me, mate. Over my dead body! And yes, so it will be—over their dead bodies—given their over-representation in the suicide statistics.
In addition, I estimate that up to eight out of ten of the clients who come to my clinic on a daily basis have come to me after having been exposed to a narcissistic male partner, father or stepfather; one of the very same people who should, in fact, have sought help.
So That’s Where I Am Today
At first glance, I don’t give much for the “queerness” that springs from an apartment bought and paid for by your parents down by the lakes in central Copenhagen. Yes, I’m jealous. I also don’t have much time for “the courage to dress as you want,” when you’ve already come from a childhood where no one wanted to do you over. I don’t give much for the nail polish, and the attitude, and that nicely balanced nervous system when the self-esteem you ride on was grafted onto you by a pair of attentive, loving, and resourceful caregivers. If you’ve never been afraid of being assaulted in the street, bullied in primary school or at work, of course it’s so much easier to “stand up for yourself” and “show others who you really are” or “wave off what others might think” and “be proud.”
Yes, I envy you, of course.
But I also don’t give much for “the courage to pursue an artistic career” when both the network and the financial preconditions have already been stretched out to embrace you.
I care as little for those left-wingers who would shame me for not being “queer enough” as I care for the right wingers who would shame me for being queer at all.
I no longer recognise the schoolyard pecking orders. I don’t recognise those environments where a clique of select people decide from one day to the next what is “interesting to work with.” I neither recognise the extroversion nor the flamboyantly tousled hairstyles or the shiny shoes or the number of likes as “proof of clout.”
Populism is populism, whether it consists of selfies with open sandwiches or resting bitch face, taken on the top of a mountain, on the curb on a wet evening with an ethnically diverse friend group or home alone in bed.
Who is it who never makes mistakes?
Who is it who never makes mistakes and who is always capable of taking the moral high-ground?
Well, it is exactly the same cultural elite who have always sat comfortably on the throne. Their tricks are just slightly different today: refined, more subtle, with inverted signs, new political agendas, similar methods, equally exclusive.
Mutually exclusive. Categorical thinking.
And far, far, far harder to decipher for some than for others, which is probably the point.
As a rule, I give nothing for “queer by fashion.”
If you have never suffered from, for example, homophobia, over the course of your childhood and adolescence, please don’t adorn yourself with this hardship, with these narratives. I know we’re all in a competition for attention, and that competition promotes opportunism and cynicism, but honestly: you must reinvent yourself. You must at least reflect on and think about where you yourself come from, what you yourself are circumscribed by and by who—exactly like the rest of us have had to do.
I don’t give much for your lack of privileges if you primarily use them to cover up all of those you’ve actually got.
I do not give much for your lack of privileges if you primarily use them to cover up all those you’ve actually got.
What I miss, in other words, when dealing with sex and the body in literature, is class consciousness. The class consciousness.
* This text was originally delivered as a speech for LiteratureXchange, an international literature festival held in Aarhus, Denmark, and the Danish text was published by ATLAS. In the meantime, the author has expanded it. A translation of the revised piece will be published later on the translator’s site Everything Is Lemonade.
Born in Horsens, Denmark, in 1991, Glenn Bech was educated as a psychologist at Aarhus University (2017). He graduated from the influential Danish Writers’ School in 2019. In January 2021, Bech made his debut as a writer with the 552-page novel Farskibet, which has been described by critics as “a furiously beautiful debut,” “an overwhelming display of power,” and “a hugely ambitious battle script.” It won the Munch-Christensen Debutant Prize, the most important of its kind in Denmark. More recently Farskibet was awarded the Blixen prize for best novel. It is currently being translated into English. Aside from using his public renown to raise awareness about issues relating to the intersection of class and sexuality, Bech works as a counsellor in a therapeutic practice in Copenhagen.
Matthew Travers is a writer and translator who has work featured in 3:AM Magazine, Tripwire Journal, Asymptote, Firmament Magazine, and Overground Underground, among others. He has translated Yahya Hassan for Peter Bouscheljong’s BLACKOUT website and his review of Sean Bonney’s Our Death can be found in the final issue of Zarf Poetry. He is based in Aarhus, Denmark.