That Was Trans*Code

Many of you will be familiar with the idea of hack days — where a bunch of programmers get together and throw together some interesting and innovative applications, or at least demos of what will be applications after a lot more work. These can be geared for any level of ability and interest, but one of the best uses of them is introducing disadvantaged people to programming. It turns out that IT is a good career for trans people, for the rather depressing reason that it is not a customer-facing job, so employers are less likely to say, “we are not prejudiced, but we have to worry about what our customers will think”. So a hack day is a good way of helping young trans folk get the skills they need to get jobs. Inevitably this sort of thing started in America, and I think we have Kortney Ryan Ziegler to thank for running the first one in Oakland.

Since then other events have happened in other cities, and in Chicago Angelica Ross has set up Trans Tech Social, which is a full-time training company aimed at helping young trans folk. Inevitably someone had to run one in London. Take a bow, please, Naomi Ceder. The UK’s first ever Trans*Code event too place this weekend. I was there.

Getting this to happen has involved Naomi and her colleagues in a lot of work. Profuse thanks are due in particular to GitHub who provided a lot of support, and to SalesForce and GoCardless who provided venues for the Friday night social and Saturday hack day respectively. The Python community (of whom Naomi is a well-known member) has also been very supportive, and having taken a look at it I’m pretty sure that if I were teaching young people to code these days I’d use Python.

There were a bunch of really great projects started today. I think I have the full list below, but apologies if I have forgotten anyone:

  • A mobile app to enable trans people to call for help from a support network if they get caught in a difficult social situation
  • A website allowing trans people to share their experiences of gender and transition, so as to show how varied those things are
  • A website for rating trans experiences with GPs and other health care providers
  • A tool for helping trans people to understand the results of blood tests for hormone levels
  • A web comic
  • A website for finding gender neutral toilets (based on OpenStreetMap)
  • A website to help trans people find a personal style that suits their often unconventional body shapes
  • A tool for analyzing attitudes towards trans people on Twitter

Obviously not all of these things will end up getting finished, and some, such as the doctor-rating thing, are partly duplicated by existing sites. But the creativity and skill shown by the participants was delightful. There are some really talented trans programmers out there.

I spent the day teaching myself new tricks. WordPress is in the process of developing an official REST/JSON API. That will mean nothing to many of you, but if you know what those acronyms mean you’ll recognize that all sorts of cool things can now be done. In particular you can build mobile apps than use WordPress as a content management system, but which have an interface not constrained by WordPress, and which can make use of the power of the mobile devices rather than just display a website.

OpenStreetMap has a REST API as well. In fact that toilet-finding app was based on it. I’ve been showing OpenStreetMap to Judith Clute, who does history walks, and she’s really impressed. I can envisage all sorts of useful applications, particularly if you can link a map location to a pile of additional data on a WordPress site.

Not that I really have time to do any of this, but software is fun. And software that helps young trans people is really valuable.

No religious wars in the comments, please.

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Dimension 6: Issue #4

This is going to be a busy weekend, but I’m popping by briefly because I’ve been asked to tell you that the latest issue of Dimension 6, the free Australian speculative fiction magazine, is now available. You can download it here.

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Launching Holdfast: Year 1

I’m just in from the launch of the Year 1 anthology for Holdfast Magazine. Lucy & Laurel have done a fine job with the book, which is a really beautiful object. I’d support something called Holdfast anyway, because I love the Suzy McKee Charnas novels, but I’m really impressed with what Lucy & Laurel have achieved.

The event took place in the basement of a pub between Tottenham Court Road and University College London. It sounded like there was a disco going on upstairs, but we had a sound system so hopefully everyone could hear. The evening was opened up by Stephanie Saulter who read a poem and a short extract from one of her (R)Evolution novels. Then came Chardine Taylor-Stone who read this letter to Octavia Butler from issue #4. There was me, and then there was Alice Sanders with a slightly updated version of this essay from issue #2 about the idiocy of shark movies.

Because I didn’t want to read just part of an essay, I asked Lucy & Laurel if I could read some flash fiction instead. They said yes, so I read something called “Goldilocks and the One Wolf”, which is sort of mythpunk, with Norse gods and gender-bending. It seemed to go down well.

Stephanie, who had been at last night’s BSFA meeting, introduced me to the work of Suniti Namjoshi. I need to go and buy some of her work.

Now I think sleep is in order. Or possibly reading more of Glorious Angels, because I’m enjoying it very much.

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Inverted World at Mr. B’s

This evening I was in Bath for the Mr. B’s SF Book Club. The chosen book for this month was Inverted World by Chris Priest. It got a mixed reception.

One of the more interesting things about the book club is that the members are by no means what people might think of as typical science fiction fans. In particular, if a book is all ideas and devoid of interesting characters then they will probably take against it. How times change.

Another thing that the group had trouble with was the cover blurb, which trumpets a supposed twist ending. Now of course the book has to have a big reveal. It is obvious that there must be a reason why the world of the book is so odd. That means that the explanation, when it comes, is hardly a surprise. Obviously the detail is probably unexpected, but the fact that it happens, and the true nature of the world, are pretty much telegraphed.

Priest, of course, has written many other books about twisted perceptions of the world since. I’m sure he’d be the first to say that he’s got better at it. Nevertheless, as Adam Roberts points out in his introduction to the SF Masterworks edition, the idea of a city moving on rails through a post-apocalyptic environment has been very influential down the years. And I’m still blown away by the audacity of trying to create a world like that.

For next month’s meeting the group will be reading Nick Harkaway’s The Gone Away World, a book that really does have a twist to it. I do hope that they like it. My slightly spoilerific review can be found here.

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Holdfast Anthology Launch

Tomorrow night in London the lovely people from Holdfast Magazine will be launching their first print anthology. The event will be at the College Arms in Store Street, not far from the British Museum. Details here.

According to Facebook some 76 people will be going, most of whom I don’t know which will be very interesting from an SF point of view. Part of the entertainment will be some short readings, and topping the bill (at least from my point of view) is the fabulous Stephanie Saulter.

As I have to be in London for Trans*Code I’m popping over a day early to attend this. Rather foolishly, Laurel & Lucy have asked me to read something too. So there will be a new piece of flash fiction, which I think classes as mythpunk. It will only last a few minutes. You can bring ear plugs.

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The Liverpool University SF Collection

Liverpool University is home to the only major collection of SF&F literature in the UK. The material came mainly from the Science Fiction Foundation, but a number of authors and fans have also donated material. Andy Sawyer, the librarian, gave me a tour of the stacks, and I got to hold the Hugo trophy that John Brunner won for Stand on Zanzibar.

This really is a very special resource, and I note that Andy and his colleagues are dependent on donations. They can’t just go out and buy things. Unfortunately keeping eBooks is complicated because of DRM nonsense (library policies tend to be driven by what the big publishers want them to do), but I’ll make sure that Andy gets a copy of every paper book that Wizard’s Tower produces. I think I also have copies of every BristolCon program book. And I’m going to take a look at my audio archives because there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to keep all of that stuff online forever.

Libraries. They are good things. Please support them.

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Bacon Beer

After the talk I went out for a few drinks with Leah Moore and John Reppion. Leah took me to a Mexican restaurant that had quite nice food but rather over the top decoration – masked wrestlers, movie posters showing people displaying Too Much Emotion, and so on. Leah decided that the correct term for such a place was Moxican. I suspect I shall make a lot of use of that word.

After that we ended up in the new Liverpool branch of Brew Dog. I noticed that they had some German smoked beer. This stuff. It smells just like smokey bacon crisps (that’s one of the weird British potato chip flavors, American friends), and it tastes of smoked meat too. It is perhaps not the best thing to drink on its own, but I got some because it was weird and I figured people would be interested. Doubtless the Germans drink it with smoked sausages. I find that it goes very well with pepperoni pizza.

Thanks to Leah & John for a lovely night out, and for impressing the University folks with the quality of my contacts.

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The Liverpool Talk

Well, as I said this morning, that was fun.

I had some idea of what to expect because the talk had been on Eventbrite, but the last figure I’d been given was 60, and for a free event a significant percentage of people who have booked don’t bother to turn up. As it turned out, we got over 100, and the number of those with blue or green hair was significant. It was a lovely audience.

As it turned out, I’d had quite a bit of competition. The Welsh National Poet, Gillian Clarke, was giving a lecture in the English department, so all of the Literature staff had to be there instead. And Owen Jones was signing his new book in Waterstones so lot of local lefties (and some Waterstones staff – sorry Glyn) had to be there.

But the Vice Chancellor came to see me. She gave a lovely speech about the importance of diversity. And we chatted afterwards about Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Suzy McKee Charnas.

The talk went fine, and we had some good questions at the end. Does anyone know of any academic studies done on the way that talking animals get gendered (cats = female, dogs = male, etc.)?

The talk was recorded (audio only, I’m not that cruel to you) by both me and the University, and I’ve left my copy of the recording with them. Hopefully there will be something online soon. In the meantime you can see the slide pack here.

The Flagship people, the LGBT staff group who put on the talk, seemed very happy to have got so many people, and especially the VC. Andy Sawyer and his colleagues at the Science Fiction Collection (of which more later) were happy to have an SF-related event. And from my point of view I was absolutely delighted that a major university asked a trans person to give a lecture on a trans-related subject. I know there were several people from the local trans community in the audience. I hope this helps them in some way.

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Thanks to Peter Wong for the tip-off.

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Thank You, Liverpool

Last night was great, particularly the response from the audience. Loads of people came up to me afterwards and said they’d be going out to buy books.

I’ll do a longer post later, with the slide pack, but I can’t do that right now because the Internet access here won’t let me FTP. For now I’d just like to thank the following:

  • Alan Greaves and the Flagship team for inviting me and organizing the event
  • Andy Sawyer, the University Library and the SF Foundation for sponsoring the event
  • The Vice Chancellor, Professor Beer, for her support and for understanding the importance of diversity
  • The 100+ people who turned up to listen to me ramble on
  • Leah Moore & John Reppion for looking after me so well in the evening
  • Brew Dog for opening a Liverpool bar and stocking the bacon-flavored beer

Audio recordings were made. Fingers crossed those will be available fairly soon.

Posted in Academic, Gender, Science Fiction | 1 Comment

Liverpool Reminder

On Monday I will be heading for Liverpool University to deliver a lecture, “Exploring Gender Fluidity Through Science Fiction and Fantasy”. Apparently they have 60 people booked in already, but there is still room if anyone else wants to come. The booking form is here.

Meanwhile, back to rehearsals.

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Introducing Acheron – Italian SF&F in English

Here’s a great project. Acheron Books is a new Italian company that exists to publish Italian SF&F as eBooks in English translation. You can find out more about them, and read some samples, at their website. There are seven books available, with more to be added soon. Their blog also highlights famous Italians who may be of interest to SF&F readers, such as astronaut Captain Samantha Cristoforetti. My thanks to Adriano Barone and his colleagues for starting such a useful company. I hope they do very well.

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Paul Cornell at BristolCon Fringe

Last night saw the March meeting of BristolCon fringe. The readers were Chris Cutting and Paul Cornell.

Chris is more an actor/director/playwright than an author, so I’m not sure how his piece will come over as a recording. Bristol residents might like to check out his play, Vitomori, which will be on at the Alma Theatre at the end of the month. It is described as “A satire on vampires and social media.”

Paul read a couple of chapters from the new Shadow Police novel, which he is currently working on. In the segment he read, Inspector Quill and his team are investigating the murder of a particularly famous ghost. I am so looking forward to this book, even though Paul has said categorically that the famous person who made an appearance in The Severed Streets will not be coming back for this one.

I should have that on audio, though I haven’t checked the recording yet. However, first up I must get on with editing last month’s material which features the excellent Stark Holborn, ably assisted by Jonathan L. Howard doing cowboy impressions.

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New Fafnir

The first 2015 issue of Fafnir, the Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research, is now available online. Some of the articles in this issue are in Finnish, but English-language readers may well be interested in an article titled “Your… Your Dog is Talking?”, which is about postdoggieism in Geoff Ryman’s Air.

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A Weird, Weird World

In my Twitter feed this morning was a link to a piece in Buzzfeed in which David Cameron is on film saying we need to do more on trans rights (and sort of agreeing with my comments about education being the key).

I’m not entirely sure from that clip that the Prime Minister knows what trans means, but at least he has been briefed to say positive things.

So we now live in a world in which the leader of the Conservatives is in favor of trans rights, but the New Statesman is allied to hard-line Republicans in opposing them. Bizarre.

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Launching the GlitterShip

Here’s another Kickstarter project that I have backed recently. GlitterShip is a science fiction and fantasy podcast series that will focus solely on stories with an LGBTQ theme. It will be produced by the very splendid Keffy Kehrli. The campaign has already funded, but it is very close to a stretch goal to run 4 episodes a month rather than 2, so it could do with a little boost.

Keffy is able to do this fairly much on the cheap because he’s planning to only run reprints. There is a stretch goal for original fiction, but that’s quite a way away so I’m not holding my breath. I hold out some small hope of one day being able to send him a story, though of course I first have to sell one to a print venue. Maybe the story I have submitted to this will get accepted.

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Castles in Spain Reminder

The Kickstarter campaign for Castles in Spain, the anthology of translated Spanish science fiction and fantasy has entered its final week. They are 94% funded, and have 4 days to go. I’m sure we can make that.

Also they put a new campaign update online today, which happens to be written by me. To find out what I had to say, click here.

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New B247 Column: The Bristol Pledge

My latest column for Bristol 24/7 is now online. It is all about the zero tolerance for gender-based violence pledge that Bristol announced for International Women’s Day. You can find the article here.

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Suffragettes Forever!

That’s not just a rallying cry, it is the title of a three-part documentary series on BBC2 fronted by Amanda Vickery. It is a great piece of history, because it reminds us that while the nature of liberation struggles might change, the tactics used by those in power, and by those fighting for their rights, don’t change much. I’ve just watched the final program, and as Vickery points out there’s no question that what the suffragettes did in Edwardian times would count as terrorism today. The heavy-handed and violent police suppression of demonstrations is also very familiar (though at least they don’t come at us on horses and armed with sabres as was the case with the Peterloo Massacre — and no, that wasn’t specifically a feminist protest, but scroll down that link and you’ll see that the soldiers deliberately targeted female protestors).

The final program featured a short clip from a 1959 interview with Nancy Astor, the first woman to win a seat in Parliament. The interviewer did the classic thing of asking her if it wasn’t true that women were temperamentally unsuited to a role in government. Her response was pure Joanna Russ. No, she noted, it is men who are temperamentally unsuited, because they are so weak-willed. With just a little flattery you can get them to do anything. All you have to do, she said, is smile sweetly and say, “tell me more about yourself.”

I may have punched the air at that point.

Something else I discovered from the program is that the feminist hatred of sex workers may date back to a book written by Christabel Pankhurst. In The Great Scourge and How to End It she argues that wives should avoid having sex with their husbands because men are forever going off with disease-ridden prostitutes and bringing their infections back home. I note that Christabel was also opposed to including working class women in the movement.

Of particular interest to me was he way in which the government tended to dismiss the suffragettes as mentally ill (“hysteria” being the usual diagnosis). It is so like the way that trans people’s concerns are dismissed these days.

Vickery makes it clear that while feminism has won many victories, the struggle for equality still has a long way to go. There are more men currently sitting in Parliament than the total number of women MPs who have ever got there. Vickery also makes mention of the online abuse directed at women. There is indeed much to be done.

Had I not had duties at Sofacon I might have been in Bristol for the Women’s Literature Festival. Then again, it is probably better that I wasn’t, because I would probably been thrown out as a dangerous rapist. They had a panel on women and journalism that was stuffed with TERF sympathizers. Obviously I’m only going by other people’s tweets, but the hypocrisy on display appears to have been jaw-dropping.

This from a woman who spends much of her time paying white, middle-class women to persecute trans women and deny them access to, well, everything, starting with bathrooms.

The only reason that most trans women get to tell their stories, you arrogant, self-righteous prig, is that they are stuck at home being unemployed, and because they are willing to write for no pay just to get the message out there.

To quote Amanda Vickery’s final line from the series, “It isn’t over”.

Too damn right it isn’t.

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Hardcore Rugby

Welsh flag
Today saw the latest round of Six Nations matches, headlined by the Wales-Ireland game. Having foolishly lost their opening game to England, Wales needed to beat the undefeated Irish in order to stay in with a chance of winning the championship. Short version, they did it, but it was a magnificent game.

Defense rarely gets the respect it deserves, but I think it is fair to say that defense won the match for Wales today. US readers may need reminding that in rugby the clock doesn’t stop when the ball-carrier is tackled. Your linemen have to get up there, secure the ball, and start a new down with no rest. Equally the opposition has to be ready for the next play, and above all not commit a penalty because is rugby that results in a turnover.

Well today the Wales defense withstood 28 consecutive downs inside their own red zone, before Ireland made a mistake. It was titanic.

So going into the final weekend we have England, Ireland and Wales all on three wins. None of them play each other. In the event of more than one team finishing on the same number of wins, the tie-breaker is points difference (points scored – points conceded). The current status is Eng 37, Ire 33, Wal 12. Ireland are the favorites because they play bottom-of-the-table Scotland. However, Wales have a chance of running up a big score against Italy. England have to play France, but they are the only one of the three with a home game. It should be a great weekend.

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