August Fringe Podcasts

Thanks to some magnificent work by Tom Parker we are rapidly getting caught up on the BristolCon Fringe podcasts. Right now we are limited more by our bandwidth limits on the Podbean account than anything else. We should be fully up to date in early April, which is good because the March reading last night was very good.

Our first reader for August was Jo Lindsay Walton. He treated us to a tale of time travel and that great conundrum of choronauts, the killing of Baby Hitler. Our heroes are a bunch of characters from what sounds like a Silicon Valley start-up. Or perhaps Seattle, because there is Starbucks.

Our second reader for August was Scott Lewis. He treated us to two story fragments. The first involves a hangover, fried breakfast, and airship maintenance. In the second an Anglo-Saxon missionary visits a part of the West Country that man was never meant to know.

The August Q&A developed into an interesting discussion regarding the various merits of description-driven fiction versus dialogue-driven fiction. We learned what Scott’s superpower is.

Posted in Podcasts, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

Belated Happy Equinox


Yesterday was a bit busy, so I didn’t get around to doing an Equinox post. Hopefully this makes up for it. The image is “Primavera” by Sandro Botticelli. Venus is central to the image, but the scene is stolen by Flora, the goddess of flowers.

Posted in Art, Pagan | 1 Comment

Powerful Women of the Classical World

Earlier today I noticed the British Museum tweet a link to this blog post by Mary Beard containing a list of powerful women of the classical world. I was surprisingly unimpressed. On the one hand, of course, Beard is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge and Classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement. She knows far more about this stuff than I do. On the other hand, I suspect that I know more about editing a newspaper than George Osborne does, so I’m going to have a go at being a Classics professor too. First up, here are the women Professor Beard picked.

  • Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons
  • A Vestal Virgin
  • Athena
  • Cleopatra
  • An anonymous Roman woman

I think that Penthesilea is an excellent pick. What caused my eyebrows to rise was Beard saying of the Amazons, “They were entirely mythical, of course.” There’s no known historical people that called themselves Amazons, but we have plenty of evidence from burials that women warriors were commonplace around the Black Sea — the area where the Greeks claimed that the Amazons lived. Herodotus says that descendants of the legendary Amazons lived in the area in his day, and the most likely suspects are a people known as the Sarmatians. One possible derivation of their name means, “ruled by women”, and they certainly had women warriors. An all female nation is, I think, entirely unlikely, but an all-female war band such as the one that Penthesilea led to the defense of Troy is entirely possible.

Of course if one is looking at the Trojan War one might have picked Clytemnestra who ruled Mycenae for 10 years while the men were away besieging Troy and who murdered her feckless husband, Agamemnon, when he returned home so that she could carry on doing so. Or there is Helen, who was so beautiful that no man could resist her. Both exercised tremendous power in their their ways. You could also pick Dido, the Queen of Carthage, who fell in love with Aeneas when he stopped in her city on his way to found Rome.

The Vestal Virgins certainly had an important role in Roman society, and being a Vestal must have been an attractive career prospect for a high class Roman girl. How much actual power they had, however, is open to question. Whenever things went bad for the Romans they were in the habit of accusing the Vestals of not being virginal enough and sacrificing them by burying them alive.

Roman women were somewhat downtrodden, though by no means as much as Athenian women. By the time of the empire, however, their lot had improved. Part of the reason for that was that the incessant warfare produced a lot of rich widows (Roman women could own property) with extensive business experience who could work their way around social restrictions. Tansy Rayner Roberts is far better placed to pick powerful women from the empire, having done her PhD on the subject, but I’m going to pick Livia Drusilla who, as wife of Augustus and mother of Tiberius exerted significant influence over the founding of imperial Rome.

I’m a big fan of Athena, but she is very much a Greek man’s view of the ideal woman, being divorced from all things feminine. She doesn’t even have a mother. If I was going to pick a goddess I might have gone for Artemis/Diana who made more use of her martial talents and was at least seen as sexual (not that I have anything against being asexual, but I am suspicious of virgin goddesses created by men).

The other option, of course, is Cybele who, despite being viewed as deeply suspect by the male rulers of both Greece and Rome, and not being part of the Olympian pantheon, managed to become hugely popular in both civilizations.

That brings us back to religion and Roman trans women. It is by no means certain exactly how Elagabalus identified, but Cassius Dio might have reported faithfully. If that was so then we can list Elagabalus as the only woman to have been emperor of Rome.

That’s hugely speculative, but there’s no doubt that the cult of Cybele, or Magna Mater as the Romans called her, was very important in Rome. Their main temple was on the Palatine hill, and her spring festival was a big deal. The Archigallus, the head of the order, was a trans woman and a very important person in Roman society.

Back with emperors for a moment, Beard says in her book, SPQR, that she deems the reign of Caracalla as the end of Rome. After that it becomes something very different and rather un-Roman. However, the empire did continue for a long time after that. In terms of powerful women, you should not be looking any further that the Empress Theodora of Byzantium.

Cleopatra is another good choice, but she’s by no means the only foreign queen to have worried the Romans. Boudica’s rebellion was brief and ineffectual, but Cartimandua was much smarter and more powerful. By negotiating with the Romans she kept her position as Queen of the Brigantes, one of the largest of the British tribes, for 18 years after the conquest.

Pride of place in Beard’s list should, however, have gone to Zenobia, the Queen of Palmyra. When her husband was assassinated in 270 she launched a war against Rome which built an empire covering central Turkey, Syria, the Levant, all of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Sadly the Romans eventually managed to beat her, but frankly she makes Boudica look like a rank amateur.

It is worth noting, by the way, that one of the most famous women during classical times was Semiramis, the legendary Queen of Assyria. Sadly she is only legendary, though Shammuramat did rule the Neo-Assyrian Empire as regent for five years. She was, however, a major bogeywoman in Roman history.

I do like the choice of an anonymous Roman woman. I’m a bit dubious about choosing one who is flashing her boobs on her tombstone. However, as Beard points out, the fact that she is portrayed as Venus shows that she was seem as a goddess by her family, and that’s good enough for me.

There are many other options, of course. There are women who, despite the misogyny of the time, managed to forge a career in male-dominated professions. The poet, Sappho, is the most famous, but you could also pick the Athenian doctor, Agnodice, or Hortensia who because a politician in the late republic. Constantine’s mother, Helena, is arguably the world’s first archaeologist. I’m sure that Professor Beard is well aware of all of these women.

Posted in Feminism, History | 4 Comments

Tiptree Juror

As per the announcement earlier this week, I am going to be on the jury for the Tiptree Award this year. That will mean a number of things. Firstly I will get a lot of books to read. As a result of that, I won’t have time to read a lot else besides what I get sent. But most importantly from your point of view I won’t be reviewing anything that I read with the Tiptree in mind. That means that there will be very few reviews in the coming year. And indeed I have refrained from writing reviews of what I have been reading recently because I have known this was going to happen for several weeks.

Why no reviews? Well it is all part of jury collective responsibility. If I were to write reviews of the books we were discussing that could be seen as a window onto our discussions. As the jury is fairly small, people might draw conclusions about the views of other jurors from what I said and the eventual results.

I have, of course, reviewed one book that is likely to be considered. That happened well before I was asked to be a juror. I happened to like it a lot, but there are other really good books around too so that may not mean much come the end of the year.

The other important thing is that we want your recommendations. Publishers and authors can’t submit works to the Tiptree jury. The only way we get to consider books (and stories) is if you, the public, recommend them to us. You can do so, and see a list of current recommendations, here. Please bear in mind when recommending works that they need to fulfill the requirements of the award in that they should, “explore or expand our notions of gender.”

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July Fringe Podcasts

Oh dear, we are behind, aren’t we. Guess whose fault that is? Yep, that would be the person who has been rushing around like an idiot for months on end.

Thankfully the new arrangements for Fringe include the fabulous Tom Parker learning how to do audio editing and processing the old recordings for me. Consequently we are looking to catch up on the podcasts, and can now bring you some tales of horror from last summer. For reasons as yet unexplained, both involved swimming in some way.

Our first Reader for July was Thomas David Parker himself. He treated us to a sweet tale of two lovers off for a day by a lake. Well, sort of. You all know what lives in lakes, don’t you. Things.

Our second reader for July as Tim Lebbon. There were no lakes in the novel fragment he read. Just a mostly dried out swimming pool. And Things. Lots of Things.

In the Q&A for July Tom revealed that he enjoys drowning his friends whereas Tim prefers biting their faces off. Charming fellows, aren’t they.

This is also a good time to remind you that the next Fringe event will be on Monday (March 20th). It will feature Paul Cornell reading from his shortly to be released novel, Chalk. Paul will be supported by local writer, Steph Minns. I should also remind you that we will be at our new venue of the Famous Royal Navy Volunteer (the Volley, as it is known locally). There’s plenty of room, and the beer is excellent. (I tried the Café Racer last month and it was very good.)

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Yesterday on Ujima – Radio Comedy, Allyship & Conferences

Yesterday’s show on Ujima seemed to go OK, despite much of it being thrown together at the last minute as a couple of people I’d wanted were not available. We did have some technical issues at the start, but Ben was able to sort that out and I think we were OK for most of the show.

First up was Olly Rose talking about their fabulous science fiction radio play series, Ray Gunn and Starburst. Season 2 should be dropping very soon now. If you haven’t listed to Season 1 yet, you can do so for free here.

At 12:30 I welcomed Camille Barton, whom I have been fortunate to be on programme with a couple of times recently. She was talking about her Collective Liberation Project, which is a really interesting attempt to do intersectionality in practice.

Along the way I got to plug tomorrow’s event at Ground & Burst where I will be talking about gender identity around the world, and Monday’s BristolCon Fringe event which will feature Paul Cornell and Steph Minns. And I gave a shout-out to the amazing Sound Industry conference that will be happening in Bristol at the end of the month.

You can listen to the first hour of the show here.

Regular guest Charlotte Gage of Bristol Women’s Voice and Bristol Zero Tolerance joined me at 13:00 to discuss a really interesting conference on male gender roles that is taking place on Friday of next week. I took the opportunity to mention a private member’s bill about giving people the right to ask for their taxes to be spent on peace initiatives rather than wars. The Taxes for Peace bill is sponsored by Ruth Cadbury MP, who also happens to be a good ally of the trans community. If you think your MP is likely to support it, please nag them before the 24th. Charlotte also talked about a new initiative to monitor street harassment that is going to be launching in April.

Finally on the show I welcomed Liz Andrews of WellBeans to talk about the Emotional Wellbeing in the Workplace conference which is being held in City Hall on Monday 27th. Thinking back to my time as an employee, it really is about time that businesses took this sort of thing seriously.

You can listen to the second hour of the show here.

The music for the show began with a tribute to Joni Sledge of Sister Sledge who sadly died this past weekend. After that all of the music was chosen to fit in with the Month of Revolution theme on Ujima. Here’s the playlist:

  • Sister Sledge – Thinking of You
  • Sister Sledge – Lost in Music
  • Tracy Chapman – Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution
  • Chic – Rebels We Are
  • Bob Marley – Revolution
  • Pretenders – Revolution
  • T. Rex – Children of the Revolution
  • Jamiroquai – Revolution 1993

I will definitely be back in the studio on April 12th. I may end up doing April 5th as well, though I have two other things I should be doing that morning.

Posted in Current Affairs, Feminism, Music, Radio, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

Tiptree – We Have A Winner

Email arriving overnight announcing the results of this year’s James Tiptree Jr. Award which, as most of you will know, rewards “works of science fiction or fantasy that explore and expand our understanding of gender and gender roles”.

The winner this year is When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore, and a very fine winner it is too. I reviewed it here. It is beautifully written, and managed to teach me something about trans history as well.

Given how young McLemore is, I’m sure that she’s going to go on to produce some fabulous books in the future and I’m very much looking forward to reading them. This one is very personal for her, so I don’t know that we’ll see anything more quite like it, but you never know.

As regular Tiptree watchers will know, the award also produced an Honor List of books that didn’t quite appeal to the jury as much as the winner, and a Long List of other recommended reads. This year’s Honor List looks like this:

  • Hwarhath Stories, Eleanor Arnason
  • Borderline, Mishell Baker
  • “Opals and Clay”, Nino Cipri
  • Will Do Magic for Small Change, Andrea Hairston
  • “The Night Bazaar for Women Becoming Reptiles”, Rachael K. Jones
  • Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire
  • Too Like the Lightning, Ada Palmer
  • The Core of the Sun, Johanna Sinisal
  • Everfair, Nisi Shawl

I’ve read several of those and found them all very interesting. A couple are on my Hugo ballot.

For more details about the winner and Honor List, and for the Long List (which also has some very good books on it), see the official Tiptree website.

Tucked away at the bottom of the press release is information about the jury. It says:

Each year, a panel of five jurors selects the Tiptree Award winner. The 2016 judges were Jeanne Gomoll (chair), Aimee Bahng, James Fox, Roxanne Samer, and Deb Taber.

Reading for 2017 will soon begin. The panel consists of Alexis Lothian (chair), E.J. Fischer, Kazue Harada, Cheryl Morgan, and Julia Starkey.

So I guess that’s official now. I shall have more to say about that in a day or two. For now I’m just saying a huge thank you to the Motherboard for this honor.

Posted in Awards, Gender, Science Fiction | 1 Comment

First Mother

Here’s a little bit of archaeology for you. The figurine pictured above was found at the Turkish site of Çatalhöyük. It dates back at least to 5700 BC. The site had been occupied from around 9000 BC, but the figurine was found in the upper layer.

The resemblance to images of Cybele seated on her lion throne is remarkable, but caution is advisable here. That image was only used for the goddess after Greek culture swept across Turkey. The original Phrygian goddess, while often shown with wild animals, including lions, was not depicted on a lion throne, or riding on a lion for that matter.

It is also worth noting that the cats in the Çatalhöyük figurine are leopards, not lions. Possibly that’s a result of access. If the neolithic people of the region didn’t see lions they would have picked leopards instead to represent feline majesty.

While Inanna/Ishtar and Cybele are more usually associated with lions, the connection of women with leopards has continued for thousands of years. The Amazons, whom the Greeks said lived around the Black Sea, were depicted on vases they were often shown wearing leopard print clothing, or perhaps actual leopard fur.

Which just goes to show that there is nothing new in fashion, and gives me an excuse to wear leopard print with pride.

Posted in Clothes, History | Leave a comment

Hugos – Final Week for Nominations

The deadline for submitting nominations for this year’s Hugo Awards is Friday (March 17th). If you haven’t done so already and are eligible, please do so. You know the mantra by now: the more of you that participate, the better chance we have of spoiling the Puppies’ selfish game.

If you need ideas, there is a very useful spreadsheet available here. Thanks to the Ladybusiness folks for doing that.

Finnish friends, please remember that you are eligible to nominate as well if you have memberships. Please don’t be like the Japanese in 2007 and assume that the Hugos are only for Americans.

Everybody else, please remember that Finns are eligible too. My main criticism of the Ladybusiness spreadsheet is that it has no Finns on it. I’d like to suggest a few.

Novel: The Core of the Sun, Johanna Sinisalo
Semiprozine: Tähtivaeltaja
Editor, Short Form: Toni Jerrman (Tähtivaeltaja)
Fan Writer: Tero Ykspetäjä
Fan Artist: Ninni Aalto

If people have other Finnish works/people they would like to recommend, please do so in comments. Other Nordic countries, please weigh in.

And if you want to nominate me, probably the best story I’ve had published this year is “On the Radio” from Holdfast Magazine (which you should totally nominate in Semiprozine).

Posted in Awards | 1 Comment

Talking Gender Diversity at Ground & Burst

My colleague Russell Thomas has asked me to participate in a series of lunchtime discussions that he is running at his Bristol cafe, Ground and Burst. I’m doing one this Friday (17th), the title of which will be Gender Identity around the World. Basically I’m going to be talking for a while about what I know about different cultural ideas about transness, and with any luck some people from other cultures will turn up to tell me what they know. I’m certainly hoping to learn a lot.

The discussion will be from 1:00pm to 1:45 at Ground & Burst, 138 Lower Ashley Rd, Easton, Bristol, BS5 0YL. There is a Facebook event here. And here’s Russell tweeting about his schedule.

Hopefully I will see one or two of you there.

Posted in Gender | Leave a comment

You Eat Ants?

As well all know from Disney’s Jungle Book, bears are famously omnivorous. Personally I tend to side with Bagheera over Baloo, but that’s feline solidarity for you. However, there are other creatures that eat ants. Australians, for example.

Thanks to the excellent cheese magazine, Culture, I have discovered Anthill, which is a chèvre coated in lemon myrtle leaves and ants. It achieved a top 16 placing in last year’s World Cheese Awards. Also it retails for a whopping AU$350/kilo (around US$270/kilo at current rates). My congratulations to Kris Lloyd of Woodside Cheese Wrights. Thankfully it is so expensive that I don’t feel the need to try it.

Posted in Australia, Food | Leave a comment

Interviewed in Fusion

Yesterday I happened to tweet that I couldn’t join in the Day Without A Woman strike because I had trans awareness training to do. Somewhat to my surprise, I was approached by a journalist and asked for more information. You can see the results of that here (scroll down).

Nice job Isha, thank you.

Posted in Feminism, Where's Cheryl? | Leave a comment

Wonder Woman V0.1

International Women’s Day is coming up tomorrow. I’ll be in Bristol doing training, then in Bath for their Reclaim the Night march, so I’m unlikely to get any blogging done. So I am doing something today instead.

We’ll hopefully see the Wonder Woman movie later this year (and fingers crossed DC won’t have butchered it the way they have done with other major releases recently). Diana first appeared in a comic in 1941, but she is not the first Amazon princess to have captivated America. The photo below is of a 24-year-old Kathryn Hepburn taking the part of Antiope in a stage play in New York in 1932. Antiope was a younger sister of Hippolyte and therefore Diana’s aunt. She famously was either kidnapped by or ran off with Theseus and became Queen of Athens. The play was a huge success and led to Hepburn being spotted by a Hollywood talent scout.

Posted in Comics, Feminism, History, Theatre | Leave a comment

Sexing The Past

Don’t blame me for that title, it is what the conference I spent the weekend at was called. It was, of course, the annual LGBT History academic conference. This year it took place in Liverpool. I had a great time, despite the ongoing disaster at Lime Street station which caused all sorts of transport issues (and despite the Liverpool rain).

Friday night saw the annual guest lecture, or rather two of them this year. I had seen Diana Souhami’s talk in Exeter, but it was just as good second time around. I was delighted to be able to hear a talk by Bisi Alimi, who has many important things to say about the legacy of colonialism, and says them incredibly eloquently.

For some reason best know to themselves, the conference decided to kick off one track with me talking about queer Romans. The audience wasn’t huge as there were two really good things on at the same time, but those who did listen to me seemed to enjoy what I had to say.

I was followed by Jonah Coman who gave a paper on the weird ways in which mediaeval mystics feminised Christ. The picture below is not the Eye of Sauron, it is Christ’s wound as a vulva. See here if you want to learn more.

Finally in that session we had a great paper from Richard Godbeer who, as well as having an awesome name, is an expert on early American colonists. Through him I learned about Thomas/Thomasine Hall, a genderfluid and probably intersex person who lived in Virgina. We know a lot about them because of a well documented court case in 1629.

The intersex theme continued into the next session where Blake Gutt showed how a mediaeval cleric tried to make sense of the existence of people who seemed to be neither male nor female. Then Kit Heyam treated us to an entertaining tour through mediaeval buggery law. The extreme reluctance of anyone to describe what sodomy or buggery actually was made it very difficult for courts to convict anyone. Kit also noted that pictures of Thomas Aquinas almost always show him looking very depressed. It’s not a good advert for theology.

The rest of the day was given over to panels telling harrowing stories of LGBT+ people in the military and LGBT+ asylum seekers. The British government did not come out of either panel looking good. In fact more accurately it ended up looking petty and vindictive.

I spent Saturday evening in a pub with Leah and Amber Moore and their mum. We were there primarily to listen to Marty O’Reilly, a very good guitarist from Santa Cruz. Leah tells me that the Caledonia puts on live gigs for free most nights. I am seriously impressed.

Of course when Leah and I get together mischief tends to happen. This time we ended up doing Google searches for weird pictures from mediaeval manuscripts, and I discovered the phenomenon of the Hairy Mary Magdalene. The short version is that in the 15th Century artists began to depict Mary Magdalene as covered in fur (apart from her boobs). Apparently the hairiness denoted her beastly (i.e. sexual) nature.

The following morning we had a panel about how we understand sexual and gender identities from past times. This was right up my street and I got to bore people about Foucault for a second time that weekend. The important point to remember is that heterosexuality is a 19th Century invention. Before that the idea that the world is divided into gays and straights would have seemed quite odd.

There was a session of papers by Nordic scholars, of which the most interesting was about attempts in 1984 by the Swedish government to persuade museums to pay more attention to LGBT+ issues.

After lunch there was supposed to be a panel on trans history by Stephen Whittle, but he couldn’t make it so I bullied Kit, Jonah and Blake into taking over the session. (They didn’t need that much bullying, to be honest.) It was a very good discussion, helped by some great audience participation. I’d love to do that again when we have had a bit of time to prepare.

Finally we had a museums and archaeology panel. Sarah Douglas has been doing some great work on gendering graves in Bronze Age Cyprus. Char Keenan has been equally busy filling Liverpool museums with queer content. And Lois Stone had some sage things to say about how archaeologists treat potentially trans burials.

I will entirely understand if much of this seems rather dull to you, but I love doing it and without it I would not be able to present fun public talks like the ones I have been doing in February. I was very pleased that we had at least six trans people attending this event. Hopefully next year there will be more. If you are a trans person with an academic interest in history, please do get in touch. As Blake said very eloquently on Sunday, and I said in my speech at Exeter, trans history is a political necessity in a time when people are actively trying to erase us from the historical record. This is important work.

Posted in Academic, Conventions, Gender, History | 1 Comment

Real Women, Fake Feminists

I’m way too busy to spend a lot of time deconstructing the latest furore over the realness or lack thereof of trans women. However, I did want to post part of the speech I made at the Women’s Equality Party event in Bristol a week ago. Here you go:

Related to that, I want to put an end to the nonsense idea that there is a right way to be a woman. When I started gender transition back in the 1990s, if I had turned up for a psychiatric appointment dressed like this* I would have been told to go home until I had learned to wear a dress like a proper woman. Trans women have fought long and hard against that sort of stereotyping, and you should too.

Women can be engineers, they can play rugby, they can cut their hair short, and they can wear blue. Being a woman, or a girl, is not about performance, and it is absolutely not about the toys you play with as a child. Far too much nonsense is talked about this in the media. That nonsense is harmful to all children, but it is particularly harmful to transgender children, and to children who don’t want to be forced into gender stereotypes but have no desire or need for gender transition. Putting an end to gender stereotyping is, I hope, a cause that we can all agree upon.

Sadly all too many female British media pundits are all too fond of defining what a “real woman” is. And it is not just the likes of me that they go after. One of the main reasons that I don’t listen to Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 is that whenever I have had to tune in (usually because they have been talking nonsense about science fiction and why it isn’t for women) they have had features intended to shame women in some way. Just like the women’s sections of mainstream newspapers, they are overly fond of telling women that everything they are doing is wrong, particularly mothering which it seems almost impossible to get right. If you took these people seriously you’d end up with the opinion that everything bad in the world is somehow the fault of bad mothers.

So I find it particularly galling to have a Woman’s Hour presenter wag her elegantly manicured finger at me and tell me that I know nothing about feminism. I might not be an expert, but I’m damn sure that feminism involves more than looking down your nose at other women and telling them that they are doing woman wrong.

* I was wearing trousers (by Monsoon), a t-shirt and a jacket (by Ann Taylor). According to ancient Greek historians trousers were invented by the Amazons so that they could ride horses more easily. Real men, the Greeks insisted, wore short skirts; with no underwear.

Posted in Feminism, Gender, Radio | 1 Comment

Angela Carter at the RWA

Pomps of the Subsoil - Leonora CarringtonYesterday afternoon, having a couple of hours to kill between radio work and the talk to the medical students, I finally got to see the Angela Carter exhibition at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol.

What, may you ask, is a writer doing having an exhibition in an art gallery? Well, there is a lot of material. Some of Carter’s books were lavishly illustrated as well as having great covers. Many artists have created works inspired by her writing (Fevvers is a favorite subject, as is Red Riding Hood). And Carter herself was an art lover so the exhibit also includes a number of works that she is known to have been fond of.

I thought it was a great exhibition. Indeed, there is one part of it that I’m not going to talk about because you really have to go and see it for yourself. The only slightly off note for me was the fact that there was no mention of The Passion of New Eve save for a listing of Carter’s works. Given the breadth of work available, I suspect this may have been a curatorial decision.

The exhibition website has a gallery showing many of the works on display. Some of them are much more impressive in reality than as web images. I particularly like “Hades II” by Anna Marie Pacheco and “Grandma’s Footsteps” by Angela Lizon. (Did I mention that most of the art is by women? Of course it is.) However, some of the best work isn’t in the gallery so I have found copies for you here.

The painting at the top is “Pomps of the Subsoil” by surrealist artist, Leonora Carrington. Given that she was a feminist and fond of themes of female sexuality, she’s an ideal person to have in an Angela Carter exhibition. But I am embarrassed to say that my favorite image is one by a man. It is “The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania” by Sir Joseph Noel Paton. In my defense I note that Carter was apparently very fond of it too.

The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania by Sir Joseph Noel Paton

Posted in Art | 1 Comment

Yesterday on Ujima – International Women’s Day

Yes, I know, International Women’s Day is actually on March 8th. However, Bristol Women’s Voice has a big event planned at M-Shed over this coming weekend, and I wanted to preview that. Here’s a look at yesterday’s show.

First up I was delighted to welcome Rina Vergano who, together with her colleague, Jane Flood, will be putting on a performance entitled Hags, Harpies and Harridans. Naturally we talked about witches, crones, social attitudes towards older women and so on. I wish I could be there to see Rina and Jane in action, but of course I’ll be in Liverpool talking about Romans.

We had a quick leap both forward and backward in time for the next segment. On IWD itself Bristol Museum will be hosting an event called Intrepid Women Travellers. My friend Jean Burnett, who is an expert on the lives of Victorian women adventurers, will be speaking about Maria Caroline Bolitho, who crossed the Himalayas on horseback. Jean came in to tell me about Bolitho, and to discuss so of the other women whose lives form part of the event. For your entry fee you will also get a private tour of the Adela Breton exhibition (now moved from Bath), which I highly recommend. Sadly I’ll be at a Reclaim the Night march in Bath that evening.

You can listen to the first hour of the show here.

For the second hour I was joined by Sian and Gabby from Bristol Women’s Voice. We discussed many of the other events that will be happening at M-Shed on Saturday. One of those is a workshop on self-confidence hosted by a new friend of mine, Angie Belcher. She’s a stand-up comedian, and she hosted the Women’s Equality Party event I spoke at left Saturday. I can assure you that she has no lack of self-confidence.

Sian also reported on a move by the Bristol Post to switch their Women of the Year awards ceremony from the Marriott City Centre because of the hotel’s hosting of an event with Floyd Mayweather, a former boxer who has been convicted of domestic violence and appears totally unrepentant. BWV has been campaigning against the Mayweather event, and I’m pleased to see them getting support.

This reminds me that someone in Brighton has decided to invite Germaine Greer to speak at an IWD event. Naturally there is a campaign against this too. Fox Fisher has a petition. You can sign it here.

Finally on the show I was delighted to welcome Jen Grove who, together with Jana Funke, has done superb work in organising LGBT History Month events in Exeter. Jen and Jana are part of an all-woman take-over of Phonic FM, one of Exeter’s community radio stations, on IWD. Jen was actually at Ujima so she could record an interview with me in one of our studios for this. I got my own back by dragging her onto my show.

One of the things we talked about was PHSE lessons, which are of course of interest to LGBT historians. Fortuitously yesterday happened to be the very day that the Government announced that they would make PHSE “compulsory”. Quite what this means is open to question. It sounds like religious fundamentalists will still be allowed to remove their children from such lessons, and as yet there is no guarantee that LGBT+ issues will be on the curriculum. However, kids desperately need these lessons, and far too many schools are currently providing nothing at all.

Yesterday evening I was part of an event about gender put on by Medsin, a nationwide group for medical students. I was delighted to find Natalie from T.I.G.E.R. on the programme with me. T.I.G.E.R. does great work in Bristol schools teaching kids about gender and relationships. Hopefully the new regulations will allow schools to make use of organisations such as theirs.

You can listen to the second half hour of the show here.

The playlist for yesterday’s show was as follows:

  • Santana – Black Magic Woman
  • Nina Simone – I Put A Spell on You
  • Bat for Lashes – Travelling Woman
  • Janelle Monae – Sally Ride
  • Aretha Franklin – Respect
  • Amy Winehouse – Our Day Will Come
  • Linda Ronstadt – Different Drum
  • Destiny’s Child – Survivor

Next week my colleague Miranda Congdon will be taking the helm and looking back on the history of Fem FM, a feminist radio station which operated in Bristol in the 1990s. My next show will be on March 15th.

Posted in Feminism, Music, Radio | Leave a comment

The CN Lester LGBTHM Lecture

One of the events in LGBT History Month that I am sad I was unable to attend is CN Lester’s lecture at Oxford University. Like me, CN takes a keen interest in trans history, and they have made a particular study of the later 19th and early 20th centuries. I’m expecting to learn a lot more when their book, Trans Like Me, comes out in May. In the meantime, however, their lecture throws a bit of light on some key issues, and demonstrates clearly how erasure of trans history by the mainstream media is hugely damaging to our cause.

I knew that the film, The Danish Girl, was bad, but I haven’t had a chance to look into the issues as thoroughly as I would like. CN has done the work, not just looking at Lili Elbe’s original supposed memoir, but finding out how that too was changed to appeal to a cis readership. By the time we have been through that, the novel that the film is based on, and the film itself, Lili’s life is all but unrecognizable.

If you want to learn more, you can watch the lecture here:

The short version is that there have always been trans people. There have always been:

“Those of them who […] have desired to be completely changed into women and gone on to mutilate their genital organs”

Not the most flattering of descriptions, but that was Philo of Alexandria. He died in 50 CE.

Posted in Gender, History | Leave a comment

Strange Horizons to Interview 100 African SF&F Writers

Now that’s the sort of press release I like to get. It makes a welcome change from all of the emails about new novels that are comparable to Dan Brown at his best or some similar nonsense.

Geoff Ryman has been doing great work with the African SF&F community over the past few years. In the process he has build up an amazing network, and now he’s going to build on that by introducing his new friends to us. On the Strange Horizons website he will be doing 100 (probably more but that’s a catchy number) interviews with great writers that most of us will probably never have heard of. For more details, see the official announcement here.

Posted in Science Fiction | Leave a comment

Brain Sex – Please Don’t

One of the issues that cropped up during this week’s insane event schedule is the issue of brain sex and the idea that being trans has been proved to be “real” because trans women have been found to have “female brains”. I do a lot of trans awareness training these days, and I never use arguments of this sort. I would be grateful if you could avoid them too.

At first sight it might seem that such ideas are helpful to the trans cause. Certainly you will see them bandied about by some trans activists on social media (I’m looking at you, India). I can totally understand the desire that trans people have to get some scientific justification for the way that they feel. I know that when I was first struggling with my identity I would have done anything for some sort of medical proof that I wasn’t crazy. I was devastated when I had a chromosome test and it came back as standard male. However, with time and experience I have come to understand that only four things are necessary to establish that being trans is a real thing:

  1. The fact that many people have lived trans lives many different countries at many different times throughout the history of mankind;
  2. The extreme distress experienced by trans people who cannot transition;
  3. The abject failure of attempts to use psychiatric techniques such as aversion therapy to cure people of being trans; and
  4. The thousands upon thousands of trans people living happy and fulfilled lives post-transition.

Brain sex arguments, on the other hand, are problematic in a number of ways. To start with, I have yet to see any study that I would be happy standing up and defending in front of a class as a cast iron proof. Proving science is (by design) very difficult. It is much easier, and much more effective, to use science to disprove the muddle-headed ideas about gender that are common in the media. We can provide circumstantial evidence of brain differences, but there is a lot of work to be done in accounting for sample sizes, possible other causes, and so on. To get a really solid proof we’d either have to do experiments on embryos, or do brain surgery on adult trans people, both of which have extreme ethical problems.

On the practical side, any attempt to bring brain sex into the discussion will immediately result in push-back from feminists, and with good reason. Ideas about differences between “male” and “female” brains have long been used as a justification for claiming that men are intellectually and morally superior to women. Personally I would be terrified of having to argue against Cordelia Fine because she’s ruthlessly effective at debunking this sort of thing. Also trans people have enough trouble with feminism as it is. The courses I run generally get very good feedback. Where I do get negative responses it is often from people who claim that I am “anti-feminist”, even when I had said in class that I’m a member for the Women’s Equality Party. Talking about brain sex would mean a whole lot more people would react negatively to my classes.

What I do say in classes is that the biology of gender is really, really complicated. It isn’t a simple matter of XX or XY chromosomes. All sorts of things go into the mix. And because that’s true, any brain sex studies that do turn up real evidence can only be a part of the story. They cannot, by themselves, explain everything about trans people. The suggested biological explanations I have seen for trans people only work for trans women, or only for trans women and trans men. All of them fall apart when faced by the existence of non-binary people.

The trouble with scientific “proofs” of why people are trans is that they will probably only cover a portion of the trans community. This can easily lead to new false binaries. Trans people’s identities will come to be judged on the basis of whether they have a particular medical condition, even if that condition only explains a small proportion of actual trans symptoms. Non-binary people in particular are concerned that medical tests for being trans would result in their being denied treatment. And of course this all feeds into the nonsense about who is a “true trans” and who isn’t.

Finally the idea that you can find evidence of someone’s trans nature in their brain is leading to people advocating brain surgery as a “cure” for being trans. People pushing this line will argue that because chromosomes cannot be changed (they are in every cell of the body) then trans people’s brains “must” be changed to “fix the problem”. I’m sure you can imagine how scary that is for trans people.

So please, let’s stay away from brain sex arguments. They are not needed, and they get us into all sorts of problems.

Posted in Gender, Science | 2 Comments