Happy Solstice

Hare Solstice card - by Dru Marland

Here we go with another year’s Solstice card, which is avoiding wasting too many trees, not to mention time and money, on the greetings card business. Best wishes for today, and for any other seasonal festivals that you may have coming up.

This card is a picture called “The Uffington Hare” by local artist, Dru Marland. It is not, as yet, available as a card, but you can buy a print, and several other fine cards, from Dru’s Etsy shop. I am rather hoping that Dru will make a card of it, because I want to buy a few packs for sending to people who still do the paper card thing.

Hares are, of course, rather more symbolic of the spring equinox than of the winter solstice, but it is a lovely picture so you are getting it anyway.

The constellation of Lepus the Hare can be found between Rigel and Sirius, and therefore next to Canis Major and just below Orion.

The other major feature in the picture is the Uffington White Horse which is a genuine Bronze Age monument (as opposed to some chalk cuts which are much more modern). It is in Oxfordshire, but has a Swindon postcode so it isn’t far from here.

Posted in Art, Pagan | 1 Comment

Museum of Inuit Art, Toronto

I had a little time to myself over last weekend in Toronto, so I took the opportunity to catch up with some culture. For this trip I visited the Museum of Inuit Art, which is in the Queen’s Quay building down by the lake shore. I was very impressed. There are some magnificent sculptures there. Several of them looked very much like they had come straight out of Mythago Wood, which was a strange experience, and I guess shows that Rob got the shamanistic element of the book very right.

One of the favorite subjects for sculptures is Sedna the Sea Goddess, who is a mermaid.

My two favorite artists from the museum are Bart Hanna Kappianaq, who has some beautiful pieces in arctic marble, and Abraham Anghik Ruben, who has a strong Nordic influence to his work.

Visitors were allowed to take photos as long as they did not use flash, so here are some things to whet your appetite.

Museum of Inuit Art, Toronto
Museum of Inuit Art, TorontoDec 14, 2014Photos: 27
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Year in Review on the Aqueduct

It being that time of year, my traditional Year in Review post is up at the Aqueduct Press blog. You can read it here. Hopefully it will make up a little for how little I have managed to review this year.

Posted in Books, Movies | Leave a comment

How TERFs See Us

Mentioning that horrible Woman’s Hour program in my Radio 4 post reminded me that Sarah Brown came across some really weird stuff online recently. It is a sort of pop-psychology test designed to tell whether you are a trans woman or not, but written by a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. It tells you a heck of a lot about how TERFs think, but very little about trans women.

There were a few questions I answered yes to; for example:

  • Do you spend a lot of time online? (TERFs do, it is where they do most of their harassment)
  • Do you want to be pretty? (Would have been nice, bit late now.)
  • Have you attended a male-only educational facility? (Not my fault, I hated it.)

There were a lot of questions that rather suggested that the author had read Triton and assumed that all trans women were like Bron:

  • Do women really “have it all”?
  • Are feminists whiney bitches?
  • Do women have no right to speak on the topic of gender?
  • Have you always known you were very angry for some reason and it was women’s fault somehow?
  • Tired of no one noticing what a Special Person you are?

There were also quite a few that clearly came from odd stereotypes of the sort of man the author thinks would claim to be a trans woman:

  • Have you been in the military?
  • Have you been in prison?
  • Do you own more than three firearms?

There were one to two that betrayed a general hatred of femininity:

  • Do you celebrate the cultural subordination rituals (“femininity”) that are forced onto females?
  • Do you have a phoenix or butterfly tattoo?

And finally there was some genuine WTFery:

  • Do you have a successful STEM career? (‘Cos that proves you are a man, right? Real women can’t do science.)
  • Long time Dungeons and Dragons shaman of undecided loyalty? Or whatever the fuck?
  • Are you an identical twin?

I’m sure that an actual psychologist could have a field day with it. You can find the whole list of questions here.

By the way, I did also click through and do that COGIATI test that Sarah mentions. I came out as only borderline trans, mainly because the test was stuffed full of gender-essentialist questions about how good you are at reading emotions (surely a learned skill), good navigation skills, and inability to do maths, all of which were assumed to be firm indicators of true femininity.

Posted in Gender, Weird | 2 Comments

Meanwhile, In Bristol – Enviroment & Race

My latest column for Bristol 24/7 is all about women in the environmental movement. In 2015 Bristol will be the European Green Capital, so you can expect to hear lots more green stuff from me through the year. This week’s article focuses on the fact that there are very many women doing important work in green organizations, but when it comes to public recognition, and especially to handing out money, it is suddenly white men to the fore.

One of the questions I asked in the piece, and I wish I’d had more space to go into detail (but hey, 500 word limit) was whether women are more predisposed to the message of the green movement. I based that solely on social conditioning: girls are raised to be cooperative and nurturing, boys to be competitive and self-reliant. However, I was interested to hear Stuart Lorimer say on the Radio 4 program about trans women that hormones do have a significant effect on how people interact with society.

Checking the Bristol 24/7 site today, I was delighted to see that David McLeod has won a victory of sorts in that the City Council’s education department has formally apologized for its insensitivity of hiring Gill Kelly and will be terminating her contract with them as soon as is feasible. I imagine that there is celebration all round at the Ujima studios today. Here’s hoping that the City Council takes race issues a little more seriously in future.

Posted in Current Affairs, Environment, Gender | Leave a comment

Radio 4 Does Trans

You can’t move for falling over trans-related programming on Radio 4 at the moment. This is rather heartwarming after the appalling Women’s Hour program earlier this year that basically gave a notorious TERF an opportunity to spread lies about trans people.

If you are after something light-hearted I can recommend Andrew O’Neill, a cross-dresser who was inspired to become a comedian after seeing Eddie Izzard perform. Mr. O’Neill, as with many cross-dressers, is unfortunately flippant about language, but he is very funny. Have a listen to this. He skewers the whole gender thing rather well.

There’s also a documentary and a play about raising trans children. I haven’t listened to either of these yet, and probably won’t listen to the play because my life has enough family drama as it is without having to listen to someone making it up.

What I found most interesting, however, was a pair of documentaries made with the collaboration of Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic. The first show centers on trans men, and the second on trans women. The contrasts between the two are significant. There’s much more talk about discrimination in the program about trans women. Also the idea that many trans men don’t opt for any genital surgery is glossed over with hardly a comment, whereas in the case of women genital surgery is presented as something essential.

The programs are very gender-normative and binary-focused, which is what I would expect from Charing Cross, but they were still more trans-friendly that I would have predicted. Obviously a lot of the old guard have moved on since I avoided Charing Cross like the plague, but hearing James Barrett saying positive things about trans people was a bit of a jaw dropper.

What came across clearly to me from the programs was that Charing Cross knows it is under threat. The current government is not trans-friendly, and the next one will be even less so. Budgets for GICs all across the country are under pressure, and at the same time GPs are increasingly trying to force all care of trans people back onto the GICs so that they don’t have to shoulder the costs (or interact with people that many of them still believe are selfish perverts who don’t deserve help). Someone at Charing Cross has worked out that in order to survive they are going to have to appeal to public sympathy for trans people, and they are going to have to work with us to do so. You find allies in the strangest of places.

Update: Adjoa Andoh puts her acting skills to magnificent use in the documentary about her trans son. Well worth a listen.

Posted in Gender, Radio | 2 Comments

Voter Supression Update

This is a follow-up to my post from Monday about the new UK voter registration system that will force trans people to out themselves is they want to vote.

Various people have taken an interest in this (thanks Talis), and I brought it to the attention of Bristol City Council who promised to take action on it. One of the things that has come up is that legally the government has no right to ask about name changes that happened more than a year ago. So what are they doing? Well the existing website has been fixed, but the government says they are planning to change the law so that they can demand information about name changes more than a year old.

So in addition to all of the VAT nonsense, I also have to write a letter to Nick Clegg. As if I didn’t have anything better to do than respond to constant government attacks on my personal safety and livelihood.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gender | 1 Comment

A Quick #VATMOSS Update (#EUVAT)

While I have been busy rushing back and fore across the Atlantic, Juliet McKenna and the other women involved in the VATMOSS campaign have been very busy.

On Tuesday there was another Twitter storm, which is where the #EUVAT hashtag comes from. There is a report on that here. The short version is that it was a big success, and that it very much got the attention of people in Brussels.

If this was a normal time of year, we might actually get some action before the new law is implemented. However, it is a time of year when many people won’t be in the office for a couple of weeks. Therefore the chances of anything happening in time are pretty much zero. However, the chances of getting something done early in the New Year are starting to look better. What we need now is to keep up the pressure on Brussels. To find out how to do that, go here.


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Once There Were Heroes

This is another post about a Kickstarter campaign. Kevin Rolfe is raising funds to produce a sourcebook for a superhero role-playing game whose title can’t be mentioned for legal reasons but which will be familiar to anyone who played RPGs back in the 1980s. Marc Gascoigne and I may have been involved in the production of some of the material to be included in it. I am not benefiting from this in any way, save for the pleasure of seeing it back in print. Obviously this is unlikely to appeal to you unless you are familiar with the game, but I’m throwing it out anyway because I know some of you are.

Posted in Comics, Gaming | 2 Comments

So Much For Voting, Then…

With a General Election due up in May of next year it seemed likely that the current UK government would follow the example of parts of the USA and try to prevent people who might disapprove of it from voting. They are starting small, on a group of people unlikely to get much sympathy from the media: trans folk.

As this Gay Star News article explains, registering to vote in the UK now involves either sending off a huge amount of paperwork, or using an online form that demands you reveal if you have ever changed your name. This is in direct contravention of the Gender Recognition Act, and is probably a violation of EU Human Rights legislation as well. I think I’m OK, in that I am already registered, so I shouldn’t be asked to go through the process again unless I move home. Other people won’t be so lucky.

I changed my name 20 years ago, and have had passports and a driving license issued in the new name. I even have a birth certificate in my new name. But apparently there is still doubt about my identity that can only be resolved by outing myself to whichever people happen to be responsible for the register of voters. Oh well, at least the form doesn’t ask for my “real name”.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gender | 2 Comments

Wonder Woman at the Merril

I have been lucky enough to be in Toronto when they had an author event on at the Merril Collection. This was Jill Lepore on tour with her new book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman. Naturally I went along. The event was packed, though aside from a few Merril staff there was no one I recognized. Lepore, it turns out, is an excellent speaker, and I’m sure I am going to enjoy reading her book. I should note that she is an historian, not a comics expert, and her main interest is in the life of William Marston, the man who created Wonder Woman. But he did have a very interesting life, and his work has a prominent place in the history of feminism.

Most of what Lepore had to say was about the early 20th Century. Marston died in 1947. However, Lepore did talk a bit about the late 60s and early 70s when Wonder Woman was adopted as an icon by parts the feminist movement of the time. This was of particular interest to me because I had been looking at what was happening in the comic at the time — specifically the horrendously homophobic #185. That issue makes much more sense when you know that Diana was being used by prominent feminists to promote their cause.

Nothing changes, of course. That issue of Wonder Woman was a key part of the talk on LGBT superheroes that I was giving last year. Another key element was the character of Alysia Yeoh, Barbara Gordon’s trans woman friend. Gail Simone deftly had Babs and Alysia sharing a house together before revealing that Alysia was trans, and then showed clearly that this was not an issue in any way. Gail has since left, and only a few issues later the new (all male) creative team has made a point of establishing that Barbara is horrified by trans people. I am so unsurprised.

Update: I see that Cameron Stewart has posted an apology about that Batgirl issue, which is progress. Also my apologies to Babs Tarr whose name didn’t come up when I looked up the creative team online. Thanks to @ariadnesisland for the tip-off.

Posted in Books, Comics, Feminism | 2 Comments

Doom, Gloom and #VATMOSS

While I’m busy with my day job in Canada, Juliet McKenna and her colleagues are beating their heads against the brick wall that is Whitehall. Juliet’s latest post is here, and in it she explains how HRMC found a solution for her problems. It involved sacking her existing publisher, who was clearly incompetent, and instead signing up with one of those outfits that will charge you £500 to make an ebook (which they probably do by automated conversion). I guess if you are making that amount of money off the gullible then you can afford all of the administrative nightmare that is VATMOSS.

The trouble, as Juliet makes clear, is that the people she is dealing with don’t have a clue. Not do they seem to think it is at all important.

If Wizard’s Tower were my means of making a living then I’d be a lot more sanguine about the whole thing, though if my net income from it was around £12k/yr (which is approximately what I earn from the day job) then the addition of at least £1k/year in dealing with VATMOSS would not be very welcome.

Our beloved government, however, thinks that a small business is one with 200 employees and an annual turnover of £30m. Single-person businesses, of which there are around 4.6 million in the UK, are barely on their radar. Many of those single businesses will have difficulty surviving VATMOSS.

However, the businesses that will really suffer and the countless (literally, as we have no idea how many there are, because no one has bothered to count them) businesses like Wizard’s Tower that don’t make enough money to support even one person full time. The annual turnover of Wizard’s Tower in my last annual accounts was around £5k, and the business made a loss that year because it bore most of the costs of Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion while enjoying little of the revenue from it. Add £1k of admin costs to that and you are in serious trouble.

The nice gentlemen in Whitehall don’t seem to think that this is a serious business. If you can’t even provide the livelihood for one employee, what right do you have to call yourself a business? Who cares if you go to the wall? From my point of view it would not matter than much, because I have such slim profit margins (thanks, Amazon, for competing with me). Other digital businesses might bring in their owners a few thousand a year. What does that pay for? It might mean the difference between being able to afford a holiday or not; it might mean nice Christmas presents for the grandchildren that you couldn’t afford on a state pension; it might mean not having to go on benefits because your job at Tesco doesn’t pay enough to cover the rent and feed the kids. Naturally all of this seems like something out of a Dickens novel to someone on a fat civil service salary. They don’t believe that it happens.

And then there’s the other thing. Most of the people involved in this campaign are women. Most of the people we are dealing with are not. We know that their understanding of ecommerce is woefully lacking. We haven’t even tried explaining the crowdfunding issue to them, because it would be like telling them we were cloning dodos for all they would believe such a thing were possible. But from their point of view it is a clear case of the little ladies not understanding technology, and if only they would stop nattering for a while and listen while someone mansplained the Internet to them, why then their problems would all go away.

Head. Desk. Repeat.

Posted in Current Affairs, Wizard's Tower | 13 Comments

And That’s How To Do Snow

It stopped snowing here last night. Temperatures overnight were below freezing, and stayed that way into the early morning when I had to get to the venue for the training course I am giving. I was expecting a nightmare of packed snow and black ice. Instead I found all of the sidewalks neatly cleared and gritted. Well done, Toronto. I’m impressed.

Having spent most of the day doing training, I am officially exhausted. How school teachers cope I do not know. I don’t even have the energy to read (and of course the TV is crap because it is Friday night). I may just go to bed. After all, it is 1:00am UK time.

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

Meanwhile, In Toronto

I am here. I won’t be online much, partly because I am busy, and partly because the roaming charges are horrendous. I have put my phone in airplane mode so that the apps on it can’t rack up massive bills without me doing anything.

There is snow. Lots of it. It started late last night and continued through most of today. Right now it is quite pretty. Tomorrow it will be EVIL. I hope they grit better than London.

I have dropped off a few copies of Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion at Bakka Phoenix books, so if you are in Toronto and would like a copy please do drop by before they sell out. I have come away with a bunch of new books by other people, including The Three Body Problem, which I am very much looking forward to.

This evening I am off to the Merril Collection to see Jill Lepore talk about her book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman.

I may get a cab.

Posted in Books, Comics, Weather, Where's Cheryl? | Leave a comment

Me at Tor

I should be in the air by now, but according to the good folks at Tor something I wrote will be going live on the Tor UK and Tor.com blogs around now. When I arrive in Toronto I am expected a welcoming party of gray caps with spore guns and fungal bombs trying to kill me.

Posted in Weird, Writing | Leave a comment

Lawyers Gone Crazy

I was checking Twitter on my way to Heathrow today when I stumbled upon the latest piece of excitement to hit my author friends. Apparently some large publishers are now demanding “non-compete” clauses in book contracts. Yes, that’s right, if you want to sign with them you have to agree not to write for anyone else in the meantime, not even under another name.

As far as I know, this doesn’t apply to individual short stories (the figure of under 35k was quoted), or to backlists, but I can imagine it applying to a collection of short fiction. So, for example, if Juliet or Lyda were to sell a new novel to a major publisher, they’d be told that they couldn’t put out a collection of short fiction with me. Even if it was in another universe. Even if the major publisher didn’t want to publish it.

The phrase “anti-competitive” may have flitted through my mind.

I’m sure this is nothing to do with the editors at the big publishing houses. They are sensible people who are doubtless just as outraged about this as their authors are. It is the corporate lawyers at the multi-national media companies who won those publishers trying it on. And if they get away with this they will doubtless want to claim ownership of all of the creative content next.

Oh well, it gives SFWA something constructive to do. As a publisher, I’m officially the enemy, but in this case I think they’ll be fighting on my side.

Posted in Publishing, Wizard's Tower | Leave a comment

Travel Warning

Tomorrow, if all goes well, I’ll be flying to Toronto. It is a business trip, and very much a flying visit. I’ll be in meetings much of Thursday-Saturday, and I’m flying back Sunday night. I will have a bit of free time, but not much. Part of that time needs to be spent visiting Bakka Phoenix Books, where amongst other things I will be dropping off some copies of Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion.

However, I won’t be entirely absent from the Internet while I am traveling, because if all goes according to plan I will have an article up on the Tor UK and Tor.com websites. Apologies in advance that I won’t have much time to respond to any comments.

Posted in Where's Cheryl? | Leave a comment

Le Guin Loves Finland

Today’s tweet stream wasn’t all rage-inducing. There were some very nice things too. Top of the list was this blog post by Ursula K. Le Guin in which she praises her Finnish publisher for getting the appearance of characters right on a book cover. Of course we all know that the Finns are wonderful, but it is lovely to have Ms. Le Guin on board too.

Do you need any more reasons to vote for Helsinki in 2017?

Posted in Books, Conventions, Finland | Leave a comment

Less of the Freak Show, Please

It is fairly rare that I get absolutely furious with someone on Twitter, but if I do it is almost always with the LGBT History Month account (@LGBTHM). They have a poor track record of insensitive posts about trans people. Today’s tweet was a classic:

Stunning Before And After Photos Depict The Journey Of Gender Confirmation Surgery

I don’t know what that says to you, but to me it screams loud and clear, “FREAK SHOW! COME AND GAWP!!!”

There was a link in that tweet to an article in the Huffington Post. This one. It is the sort of coverage of trans issues that makes me want to beat my head on my desk until it bleeds.

Ostensibly, of course, it is all very sensitive. The article talks about “respect”, “ambition” and “empowerment”. Practically it is all about click bait, and the aforementioned freak show.

It is entirely plausible, of course, that the people in those photos are proud of what they have done and empowered by it. I know that other trans people are very comfortable with “before” photos being displayed (and see the footnote about genderfluid people). But I tend to view such material with some suspicion when it is framed using a narrative written by the person making the pictures rather than the trans people themselves.

For example, think back to My Transsexual Summer. Most people agree that the series did great things for the trans community. It was certainly far less exploitative than most television about trans people. But the series was by no means a bed of roses for the stars. Check out this interview with Fox, in which he explains some of the awful things that were done to him by the production crew.

The people photographed for that HuffPo article are all from Cuba, which is not the most affluent place in the world. My first question on seeing the article was to ask how many of them posed for those pictures willingly, and how many did it because they were being offered a lot of money to do so.

Even if some people are willing to pose for such photos, however, it doesn’t mean that making them, and posting them in that way, is a sensible thing to do. The “before and after” photo is a staple of tabloid coverage of trans issues. They do that because of the freak show aspect of it, and also because it panders to transphobes by giving them an image of what the trans person “really” looks like. The “after” photo is seen, if not always presented, as a picture of a person in disguise.

Huffington Post knows this, and for all their weasel words about respect and empowerment, the headline makes it very clear that this is a freak show article.

Much of this comes back to issues I covered in the article I wrote for Holdfast recently. Cis people are fascinated by the transformation aspect of trans people. If they write about us, if they make films or photos of us, what they want to show is the change. That’s not treating us as people, it is treating us as objects for their entertainment. There’s far more to trans people than that, but who cares, right? The fact that we are ordinary people is not news, the fact that we can be presented as freaks is.

In any case, many trans people are deeply traumatised by images of themselves pre-transition. That’s what Gender Dysphoria means: you are distressed by your body. I understand that some people might be proud of their transition, but those people need to be aware that by encouraging “before and after” photos they are putting pressure on everyone else to do the same thing. The very first things most journalists ask for when doing a trans article are your “real” name and a photo of what you “really” look like. Except of course they’ll say your “former” name and a “before” photo, so it doesn’t sound quite as exploitative.

Don’t encourage them, please.

Even if all is well with that article, however, and all of the people pictured are delighted with what was done, nothing excuses the headline. “Stunning Before And After Photos”? That’s pure, exploitative click bait. That much at least should be obvious to anyone.

On Twitter, of course, we are limited to 140 characters. There may be a link as part of that, but by no means everyone who reads your tweet will click through. On Twitter, therefore, we have to be very careful about repeating click bait headlines. If you are going to link to a problematic article, using that article’s exceedingly problematic headline as your tweet is not wise.

Footnote: someone is going to read this as say that it is deeply offensive to genderfluid people. That’s not the intention. If an important part of your identity is your ability to manifest more than one type of gendered appearance, by all means go for it. But that HuffPo article was very specifically about people who had undergone gender confirmation surgery. I did consider using “transsexual” in place of “trans” to make this clear, but it’s not a very good word and I try to avoid it these days.

Posted in Gender, Journalism | Leave a comment

Some #VATMOSS Updates

First the good news. I have email from HMRC assuring me that I do not have to register for VAT provided that I sell exclusively through third party sites that collect VAT on my behalf. This means Amazon, Google Play, and probably a few others that I haven’t confirmed that yet.

What that also means is that I can’t sell direct, I can’t sell through non-compliant third party stores (such as Weightless), and I can’t use crowdfunding.

Us book publishers get off lightly. In other business areas the main sales platforms are non-compliant. I’m thinking in particular of Etsy (for crafters) and Bandcamp (for musicians).

And now the bad news. The petition has got past 10,000 signatures, which means that the government has had to make an official response. Sadly whichever policy wonk wrote this for Vince Cable is hopelessly out of the loop.

Essentially what the Cable response is doing is regurgitating the old HMRC line that we were getting a couple of weeks ago. As this blog post explains, that was based on consideration of what the government described as an SME (Small to Medium Enterprise). The official definition of this is, “the category of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is made up of enterprises which employ fewer than 250 persons and which have an annual turnover not exceeding 50 million euro, and/or an annual balance sheet total not exceeding 43 million euro”.

As you can imagine, most of the businesses in trouble over VATMOSS don’t make anywhere near that. Typically they are sole traderships (1 employee) and have turnovers not exceeding 50 thousand euro.

There are apparently 4.6 million such businesses in the UK at the moment, and while not all of them will sell digital products that’s still a huge number of businesses affected. A lot more than the 34,000 that HMRC estimated.

Anyway, I have to go on a business trip shortly, so I am leaving all of this in the capable hands of Juliet, and now also of Talis Kimberley, whom many of you will know from her music (yes, she is affected), but who is also now the Green Party’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for South Swindon. With any luck, by the time I get back they will have knocked a few heads together.

Posted in Current Affairs, Wizard's Tower | Leave a comment