Please note: make sure not to miss the main part of this post - the interview with NINA - an amazing transgender woman I had the privilege to spend an hour with this past fall. Blurb at the end of this post, but if you'd rather jump straight to the interview, click here!
In January of 2017, National Geographic’s cover page [and special issue] featured Gender. The issue also contained a piece called I am nine years old, about nine-year-olds of 2017, from all over the world, who share their thoughts on gender and gender identity.
In September of 2016, I graduated an all-female coding bootcamp. It was VERY EXCITING! Also, super scary. Before landing my first ever software engineering job, I conveniently (but not that surprisingly - after all, it's me we're talking about), suddenly developed an obsession with gender – transgender specifically – so, a lot of the hours that should have been 100% dedicated towards coding and applying for jobs were spent researching everything transgender-related. (I am happy to state that I did find a job that I love just a couple of months later, and while I’m one of very few female engineers in the company – and industry – there’s also something special and unique about exactly that.) So, why transgender? I’ve thought a lot about that, because people frequently ask, and I think the most accurate way to describe it is that I am fascinated by anything that feels unfamiliar or unimaginable to me.
NINE-YEAR OLD ANNIE & JO – we’re born the same year, and were both nine in 1991/92. Jo in Texas and Annie in Helsinki, but you can see the same 90s fashion in the clothes we’re wearing. Not knowing each other yet at that time, I find it pretty funny how much it looks like we would have been friends if we'd known each other back then.
Furthermore, Science Friday, one of my favorite podcasts, recently did an episode on the teenage brain. It brought up some interesting facts and misconceptions about why teenagers are the way they are, and what we perhaps can learn by being aware of the changes our brains go through during that time. In an ever more rapidly changing world, the ability to adapt is pretty important, and from what I’ve observed, a resistance to change can start to generate bitterness. My grandparents, now 96 and 93 years old respectively, are great role models for me, and a perfect example of how you don’t ever really have to grow up, in a traditional sense. Yet they were robbed of most of their youth due to the war that hit Finland throughout 1939-1945. I could bet on the fact that their overall youthful attitude to life has kept them in such good health to this old age. (After all – it does make sense that you remain younger longer if you simply feel young and think of yourself as young, doesn’t it?) Fear is all too often the enemy, whichever the fear may be – fear of embarrassing ourselves, fear of getting hurt, etc. – the older we get, the more “scary” situations we’ve been through, which leads to this growing collection of fears. Of course, the hope is that we’d be able to find a way to let go and stop being so afraid.
One final point before getting to the interview with Nina - I was fortunate enough to witness a total solar eclipse this past August. It was visible throughout the US, and I saw it with about 50,000 other people, at a big festival in Oregon. There was a strong Native American influence at the festival, and in a beautiful post by Delilah Friedler, she interviews Aztec ceremony leader Esmael Xiutecpatl, who states that, in his understanding, this eclipse brought with it a shift - a unification of masculine and feminine energies, where the sun represents the masculine and the moon the feminine, and water. This representation – the moon's entrance into the solar eclipse – is called atl-tlachinolli in the Aztec language, and translates into “water-fire”. Xiutecpatl says this is a time for energetic possibilities to transform ourselves, and by transforming ourselves, we transform our families, our communities, and the world. The feminine energy comes in and blocks the sun, illustrating that it’s time for us to get out of our heads, which is masculine – to be thinking; to do what we think is correct – and get in touch with the feminine, which is our heart-mind. I’ve had several intense personal experiences post-eclipse, and I’ve also spoken with many people who felt the same. I find it so fascinating. After all (for women), our menstrual cycles follow the moon, and as I’ve matured and gotten more tuned into my body, my cycles have also become more and more like clockwork.
In December of 2017, National Geographic’s cover featured The Real Jesus. Maybe that will become my next obsession (bring it on, 2018!!!).
I was honored to get the opportunity to interview the absolutely incredible Nina Cherubin, a transgender woman who in fact will be the first one to graduate the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC.
FINLAND. The country I am so grateful to have been born and raised in, celebrates 100 years of independence today. Its complicated history is still fresh in the memory of my generation, and in my personal opinion, a large part of our identity because of how recent certain events were. Quoting a recent article by the Huffington Post, Unrecognized Courage, "Given the enormous stakes for the country, Finland's behavior stands as an unparalleled act of principle. The U.S. Holocaust Museum would do well to memorialize the Finnish story, both to illustrate that in the real world moral choices are usually complicated, and to provide the public with an inspiring example of courage on a national scale."
What’s so special about Finland? A few noteworthy things:
(1) The nature. There are 187,888 lakes in Finland (the definition of lake being "a body of standing water larger than 500 square metres"), and Finland is also famous for having lots of beautiful forest land, 65% of total land area (link).
(2) The sauna and surrounding culture. Apparently, there are about 3 million saunas in Finland, and the sauna-culture is famous world-wide (link). I recently traveled to Portland, Oregon, and visited a beautiful sauna facility called Löyly (Finnish word for the wafts of steam that arise when you ladle water onto the hot rocks of the sauna “stove”; the kiuas) - the founder of Löyly fell in love with the Scandinavian sauna culture while traveling through Europe. She wanted to create a space in her home that is about community, health and relaxation. Finns shamelessly go in the sauna naked - unisex, amongst family and/or friends - and many also swim in the ocean year round along with this routine; some even roll in the snow between sauna sessions...
(3) Santa Claus is from Finland, obviously (read more here).
(4) Gender equality - a move towards gender equality was taken in Finland long before the country became independent. In the 1850s, Finnish women spoke about the importance of education for girls. Even the Finnish language does not distinguish between its gender pronouns! (Both are simply called “hän”. In Swedish, she is “hon” and he is “han”). Finland’s 11th president, Tarja Halonen is also female and served for 12 years (2000-2012), which is very significant. No wonder I felt completely unaware of gender inequality when I first moved to the US, and ever since, I’ve never stopped believing that I'm just as capable as any man, if not more! Why wouldn't I be, exactly...!?!?! This baffles me.
(5) The humor. Finns have a unique, off-beat and unexpected sense of humor. Check this out to get an idea. The "typical Finn" is also a huge introvert, and Finns are famously awkward in social situations, such as on the bus, or while waiting for the bus.
The good thing about this type of personality (at least if you ask me) is that there is very little room for bullshit, and Finns usually get straight to the point.
(6) On that note, work-life balance in Finland tends to be pretty good. A recent study by the Australian National University suggests that Finland "might be a good model where the majority of men and women both work full time, with lower average work hours and less gender gap.” (Link)
(7) And well, of course, the education system. This article explores it in more depth, but in my opinion one of the most noteworthy things is how equal the education is across the country. There are very few private schools, the public school education is excellent, and teacher is a generally respected profession (as it should be - hello!!?).
(8) The Midnight Sun is famous in all of Scandinavia; meaning that the sun barely sets at all in June-July, when also the Midsummer celebration happens. Read more here. This is, in my opinion, the best time to visit Finland, although the crayfish-party season in August/September is a good time as well (link).
(9) I almost forgot - the Moomins! If you're not familiar with them yet, I highly recommend getting to know them. Fast-track to something super cool I just found, which also enlightened me about the theme for our celebratory year - "Together". Go figure! :)
(10) To illustrate the final point which I also almost forgot - the wonderful, modest, and hard-working people. The badass women who usually wear the pants. Finnish people are REAL and loyal.
More reasons to visit Finland below - if you haven’t already. I wrote this post in a haste, so I know I've forgotten to mention a ton of things!
Language & heritage. The Finnish language is said to be one of the world’s most difficult. It’s classified as a Uralic, more specifically Finno-Ugrig language, and is only similar to Estonian, although it’s related to Hungarian. Finland is both geographically and linguistically isolated from other parts of Europe, and studies indicate that it is genetically isolated as well. There are two main theories of how the country’s population originally arrived in Finland - one suggests they came from Siberia only a few centuries AD, while the other one, based on more recent archeological findings, proposes that they in fact came much earlier from South-Eastern parts of Europe. We cannot know for sure, but what’s true is that language spreads and genetic expansions can occur independently, so both theories could hence be true. Personally I am a part of the Swedish speaking 5% minority population of Finland (you can read more here). Typically everyone in Finland will learn both languages in school, but there are separate schools for the Swedish speaking Finns, as we're called, and I attended those my whole life up until university, where the courses I took were mainly taught in English. Swedish is a completely different language to Finnish, and is classified as a North Germanic language (far easier to learn and a lot more similar to English!).
Too good to be true? Obviously I can’t make this post purely positive (Finland definitely has its downsides - let’s not forget that I’ve chosen not to live there…), so I tried to search the internet for something negative too. I’m pretty sure Finland ranks high in alcoholism, suicide, and depression rates. But instead I found this blog post, which made me laugh and miss Finland! Oh well, I’ll just have to leave the bad news for another day. Happy birthday Finland! <3
Did I mention Finnish women are badass? ;) Well, now you know. And yes, that's my badass ass on the right (circa 2006 in France).
Happy Vibes Project is, first and foremost, a space where I share my excitement and fascina-tion about being human. I have a tendency to fall into research rabbit holes on almost any topic from science & technology to film ma-king, philosophy, cultu-re, art ... and, of course, holistic health. Happi-ness only gets better when shared, so feel free to reach out if you have an interesting story or would like to con-tribute in any other way! <3