The Thanksgiving Post

Hello, American friends, I miss you.

However, in the grand tradition of today’s festival, I am watching NFL on TV, and I am thinking about what I am thankful for.

The list is pretty short, because the latter part of this year has been spectacularly shit. I am, however, still alive, still healthy, and Kevin still loves me. I try to remember these things in amongst all of the family drama, fannish drama, VAT rule changes and other things that are keeping me awake at night.

Short term, however, I am particularly grateful for one thing: I have a copy of Guardians of the Galaxy on Blu Ray, and I am going to watch it tonight. It is, I suspect, pure escapism, but it is funny, and has a kick-ass sound track. It also has Rocket, and Groot. That’s just what I need right now.

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Ancillary Justice at Mr. B’s

Yesterday evening I attended a meeting of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club run by Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights. The book under discussion was Ann Leckie’s multi-award-winning Ancillary Justice. I had recommended it to the group months ago, but they chose to go with another of my choice’s — Sheri S. Tepper’s Grass — instead. Now, with all of those awards behind it, Ancillary Justice was back on the menu.

I’m delighted to report that everyone at the group was pleased that they had read the book. Some, inevitably, had had difficulty getting into it. The lack of information about characters’ gender is hard to get used to if you have grown up in a society that uses gendered pronouns. Most people who read the book, including me, start out by trying to guess what gender the characters are. Eventually most people relax into the story and stop doing that. The few bad reviews that the book has had appear to be have mostly been written by people who were unable to do that.

One thing that did interest me is that a few of the group, presumably quite subconsciously, constantly referred to the characters as “he”, despite everyone in the book being referred to as “she”. These people were all women. It just goes to show how deeply ingrained the default-to-masculine idea is.

The only major complaint raised was about The Gun (you’ll know what that means if you have read the book, and I’ll try not to give too much spoiler if you haven’t). Basically The Gun is a piece of alien technology so advanced that no one in the Radsch (the human space empire) can understand how it works. Most of us were OK with that, but for one person who likes his SF neatly explained it was an unwelcome intrusion of magical technology.

Ancillary Sword is now available, and I think most of the group are going to buy it and read it. However, before then we have the January meeting coming up, and the chosen book for that is Mythago Wood. I’m really looking forward to reading it again. And we’ll all be buying the brand new 30th anniversary edition, complete with Neil Gaiman’s new introduction.

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William Gibson at Toppings

Yesterday evening I headed into Bath to see William Gibson at Toppings. It was a very interesting evening, and I’m certainly looking forward to reading The Peripheral. Unfortunately it is also Locus Recommended Reading List season, and as anything by Bill is going to be on the list by default I really need to think diversity and read other books first.

Still, some of you will be interested to know what The Peripheral is like, so here as a few comments. The most important thing to note is that, unlike the Blue Ant series, this book is set in the future. The real future, not an unevenly distributed present. It includes smart phone systems that are embedded in the body, and distributed rather than being a single lump of tech. The other thing I got from the reading is that it is going to be quite funny. Here are a couple of quotes:

You’re a publicist, she’s a celebrity. That’s interspecies.

She smiled, displaying teeth whose placement might well have been decided by a committee.

Bill is still clearly very much interested in PR, but he appears to be taking a lighter and more sarcastic view of the whole thing, at least from the bits of the book I heard.

There was also a Q&A session. I asked him a follow-on question from the Start the Week show he did on Tuesday. He talked about how he expected that people from around the time of The Peripheral will look back on our era with as much disgust as we look back on the Victorians. Asking him what about us might seem so disgusting in the wake of the Ferguson verdict was, of course, a no-brainer, but I asked him anyway and he gave exactly the sort of answer I was hoping for. He said that, given much of what disgusts us about the Victorians are things they were very proud of, what will disgust future humanity about our era won’t just be things like destroying the environment, it will also be some of the things that we do that we think are wonderful.

On the subject of social media, Bill said he expected it to fade away as we become more connected, presumably because we’ll always be able to check in on what each other is doing, rather than needing a platform to do so. I’m less convinced about that, because the whole point of things like Facebook is to create a walled garden that users think is the entire internet. That people buy into this, despite the far greater risks, suggests that we’ll always be prey to such marketing ploys.

Another really interesting answer he gave was in response to a question about AIs. This is what he said:

Our idea of artificial intelligence may turn out to be like the flying cars of the 1940s

Science fiction authors, please take note.

Finally, Bill was asked if The Peripheral was going to be the first book of a trilogy. He said he hoped not, and in particular he hoped that it would not become one of those works of art whose value was diminished by its sequels. Yes, he was talking about The Matrix. Sorry Lana.

Posted in Books, Science Fiction | 2 Comments

Bristol Gets It Right On Rape

Anti-rape poster

You may have seen this poster before, because the campaign ran last year around this time too.

Full details in this report on Bristol 24/7. I’d just like to highlight the following:

Next year Bristol City Council will increase its funding for sexual abuse services from £75,000 to £115,000 from April 2015. Councillor Gus Hoyt, assistant mayor for public health said: “Research has shown that a large number of people wrongly feel that women bear some responsibility. This is a perception that must, must be challenged.

“Blaming the woman removes the responsibility away from where it always should be: the perpetrator.”

And yes, victim-blaming must stop. That applies to a whole range of different things. #BlackLivesMatter

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The VATman Cometh, Destroying Businesses

I’m a bit behind on this due to having been focusing on other things for the past few months, but I have just caught up on a change to VAT legislation that looks like being an absolute nightmare for anyone running a small press (and indeed anyone who sells digital products).

As you may know, the whole situation with VAT on ebooks is crazy. Although the rate for paper books is zero in the UK, the rate for ebooks is 20%. The avoid this, Amazon Europe has incorporated in Luxembourg, where the rate is only 3%. This gives them a significant advantage over UK-based rivals. Other large ebook platforms do the same thing.

The powers that be in Europe have, for some time, been trying to find a way to close this loophole. The obvious thing to do would be to have a common VAT rate across the EU, but of course there’s no way that individual countries will ever agree on what it should be. So instead they have created a bureaucratic nightmare.

From January 1st, the way that VAT is levied in Europe will change. Instead of companies having to charge VAT at their local rate, they have to charge VAT at the customer’s local rate. This is called the Place of Supply rule. This means that anyone selling digital products in Europe has to register for VAT in every country, charge VAT on each sale according to the local rate, and account for all of this on a quarterly basis.

Normally this would not matter too much, because it would only affect big companies. The UK has a healthy and very sensible turnover threshold below which you do not have to register for VAT. I have never bothered for my consultancy business. I’d probably save money doing it, as I’d be able to claim VAT back on purchases, but the time involved in filing VAT returns, and the near certainty of being investigated by VAT officers who won’t believe that my clients are primarily in the USA, make it not worth my while.

Except that the new rules coming in next year have a turnover threshold of zero for digital products. Yes, that’s right. If all you do is sell one ebook, or a few knitting patterns on Etsy, or a little app you made for fun, you are required to register for VAT and file VAT returns once a quarter. Even if the tax involved is only pennies.

Because I am coming to this rather late, I don’t have a good handle on all of the implications. For example, if you sell through Amazon, it may be that what you have is a Business-to-Business relationship with a Luxembourg company rather than a Business-to-Customer relationship with each person who buys your book. My little bookstore, however, would have to start charging VAT and accounting for where customers lived. I’m also pretty sure that a crowd-funding campaign would count as Business-to-Customer.

The implications for any small company selling digital products are so horrendous that the Head of Tax at the Institute of Chartered Accountants (England & Wales) has apparently suggested that small businesses stop selling in Europe to avoid all of this mess. Except, how can you? The digital world is global by nature. The better-written platforms, such as Amazon, will at least allow you to block sales via their EU-based sites. However, there’s nothing to stop someone in, say, Finland, buying one of my books via Amazon US, or Amazon UK. If they did, I may be legally obliged to account for that, and Amazon’s systems don’t give me enough information to do that.

Right now I am desperately trying to get some tax advice as to what I can and cannot do. However, because the vast majority of people affected by this are so small that they have never registered for VAT, and probably don’t make enough to afford an accountant, finding someone able to give good advice may be quite hard.

There is a petition on asking the Secretary of State for Business to provide some sort of threshold below which registration will not be required. Please sign. However, from what I have read I’m not convinced that he can do that without withdrawing from the system altogether.

There is also a plan for a Twitter campaign tomorrow morning (UK time) to try to make the government aware just how many small businesses are going to be wrecked by this legislation. Details are here. All support will be gratefully received. If you don’t have time to follow the link, please at least look out for anything containing the hashtags #VATMOSS and #VATMESS, and retweet like crazy.

Somehow I will find a way for Wizard’s Tower to stay in business in some form next year. But right now I have no idea how.

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

TDOR Video

The Lord Mayor of Bristol, the Rt. Hon. Councillor Alastair Watson raises the transgender flag outside City Hall to mark the Trans Day of Remembrance.

This is the first ever civic event in Bristol organized for trans people. The event was organized by the Rainbow Group, the City Council’s LGBT staff network.

I’m in the picture because I was doing audio recording for Shout Out Radio. The video was taken by Michelle Hine.

Also in shot is the Lady Mayoress, Mrs. Sarah Watson. In the background in the orange coat is Danielle Radice, the Leader of the Green Party on Bristol City Council.

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The TDOR Ceremony

The head table at TDOT 2014

Our TDOR Remembrance Ceremony took place last night. It was attended by 28 people, most of whom were trans, and at least three of whom were people of color. (I say “at least” because I don’t know how everyone identifies.) Inevitably it was a solemn affair, but we did also have a constructive discussion about progressing trans rights in Bristol afterwards.

Thanks are due to the Rainbow Group, the City Council’s LGBT staff network, who provided the money to hire the venue, and to Sarah and her colleagues from LGBT Bristol who provided the refreshments & flowers and did most of the work.

My apologies to Jamie and the rest of the Bristol University group for missing their event. Lots of people wanted to talk to me after the ceremony, and I needed to stay and listen to them.

The discussion, perhaps inevitably, focused primarily on health issues. There is a huge amount of anger amongst the UK trans community at how badly we are treated by the NHS, and how specialist gender services appear to be getting steadily worse. Sadly there is not a huge amount that the City Council, and bodies funded by it, can do about this. However, there are other things that can be moved forward, and hopefully I’ll have more news in a few weeks.

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Bristol 24/7 TDOR Coverage

One of the things I did yesterday while I was in Bristol was write an article about TDOR, and how Bristol compares to other cities as far as trans rights goes. That went live today in Bristol 24/7 as part of their coverage of the day. You can read the whole thing here. I may have somewhat put the boot in to celebrity media feminists.

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Flag in the Post

The flag raising party

The raising of the trans flag at City Hall has made it into the Bristol Post (I’m guessing only the website, but if there is a paper version I’d love a copy). The caption for that photo is: “Bristol City Council equalities officer Simon Nelson, Lady Mayoress of Bristol Sarah Watson, Lord Mayor of Bristol Councillor Alastair Watson, Martin Spellacey and Amy Mosley of Bristol City Council Rainbow Group, Bristol City Council employee Jessica Davidson and Cheryl Morgan of TransBristol” and the photo credit is Amy Jones, the Council press officer I have been working with.

I would have liked more trans people in the photo, but many of those who attended are naturally nervous of such things. My job in TransBristol, such as I have one (it being an anarchist collective), is to be the person who fronts up to the media so that other people don’t have to.

What I’m much more pleased about than the photo is that Amy and her colleagues used quite a bit of the material I sent them for the press release. The Lord Mayor then quoted me at the flag raising ceremony, and the Post used the same sentence:

By raising the transgender flag over City Hall on this important day, Bristol is sending a clear signal to the many trans people who live and work in the city that they are valued members of the community, with as much right to life, health and happiness as any other citizen.

Yeah, that.

By the way, a number of City Councillors attended the event. I don’t know them all by sight so I can’t give you names, but I did spot Daniella Radice, the leader of the local Green Party. Simon tells me that there was good support from Labour, and the only Tory to turn up was the Lord Mayor.

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TDOR in Progress in Bristol

Flag raising

Well that went very well. We had a large group of people at City Hall to witness the raising of the Transgender Flag. Many of them were trans. There were also lots of allies, including the Rainbow Group, the Council’s LGBT staff network, who had organized the event; Simon Nelson, who I had on the radio yesterday; Out Stories Bristol, witnessing the historic event; Bristol University LGBT+, who ran such an awesome trans awareness campaign on Twitter this week; Bristol Pride; and LGBT Bristol.

The flag was raised by the Lord Mayor of Bristol, the Rt. Hon. Councillor Alastair Watson (who is a Conservative).

Some of the very many people in attendance are pictured below.
Flag raising

I was interviewed by Edward from Made in Bristol TV. I have no idea when/if that will air, but it was great to have them there. I just wish we’d had someone more photogenic lined up to talk.

Also I have edited a clip from the Lord Mayor’s speech for broadcast on Shout Out tonight. My guess is that it will go in the news section at the front of the show. I’m pleased about that because the Council folks cribbed much of the speech from the press release material I had written for them.

This evening we have two remembrance ceremonies: one in the city, and one later at Bristol University. I am reading The List at the first one, and hope to attend the second. There will also be people from LGBT Bristol and the Council on hand to engage with the trans community and hopefully take forward some of the issues that Simon and I discussed yesterday.

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Trans Day of Remembrance 2014

TDOR 2014

While TDOR is still a very sad and solemn event, one of the benefits is that there is increasing media interest in it. That means slightly more favorable coverage of trans issues than we are used to. In yesterday’s Guardian there was an article giving the results of a mental health survey of British 16-24-year-olds. They found that 48% of those who identified as trans had attempted suicide, as compared to 6% of the general population. So young trans people are 8 times more likely to try to take their own lives than non-trans people of the same age.

Those numbers tally well with a 2012 survey of British trans people. In fact the number is exactly the same: 48%. That may strike you as odd. You would have thought that the percentage would go up as people got older. I’ve seen suggestions elsewhere, though I don’t have a source yet, that trans people are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide during the transition process than before or after. That is, while they are under the “care” of the NHS they become distinctly more likely to try to kill themselves. But there are two good reasons why the number doesn’t go up.

Firstly, a lot of trans people know that something is wrong very early on in life. Being a teenager is hard enough, without being trans. So if you are trans the likelihood is that your first suicide attempt will be when you are very young.

Secondly, these surveys only count attempted suicides. They don’t count the dead. So 48% of young trans people attempt suicide. And 48% of those who survive to be older attempt suicide.

As Paris Lees notes today, actual suicides are a reality for trans people. I want to talk about one she didn’t include.

Jacqueline Cowdrey from Worthing, Sussex, is on this year’s TDOR list. When her body was discovered, the police assumed that she must have been murdered because of the extent of her injuries. However, further investigation, and a coroner’s report, revealed that, yes, she had been very badly beaten, but she had made it home, and had then taken her own life.

No one knows why she did this, but there are two strong possibilities. Firstly she may well have wanted to get away from neighborhood bullies, but also she may have been afraid to get medical help for her injuries, on the assumption that this would only result in more bullying and humiliation. Because that happens, a lot.

The main point of TDOR is to raise awareness of the appalling body count in places like Brazil and Mexico. But if it can also help educate people in the UK and other supposedly civilized countries, and stop them treating trans people as badly as they do at the moment, that would be a very good thing.

Posted in Feminism, Gender | 1 Comment

Slow Living, TDOR and HIV on Ujima

Today’s Women’s Outlook started quietly enough. In the studio for the first half hour was Jo Keeling who, amongst other things, is the founder of Ernest Journal, a magazine dedicated to a slow and considered lifestyle, and made in a way consistent with that lifestyle. You’ve seen me talk about slow food here before, and this is a publishing version thereof. Unsurprisingly, Jo and I bonded very quickly.

After that things got much more serious. I was joined in the studio by Simon Nelson, the Equality Officer of the City Council. We discussed the Trans Day of Remembrance, and how the City Council can do more for its trans citizens. I’m hoping that a lot of good will come out of what Simon and I started today.

You can find the first hour of the show on Listen Again here.

That was me done for the day, but Paulette then took over and the second hour was given over to two guests from the Terrence Higgins Trust to talk about HIV. Paulette and Judeline bravely volunteered to get tested to prove that it is a) painless and b) very quick. I’m pleased to report that they are both free of HIV.

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

This week’s show has been a bit of a nightmare behind the scenes, as sometimes happens with live radio. I’d like to apologize particularly to Mike Allwood of BCP Expo who in the end didn’t make it onto the show. If you are in Bristol, Mike’s event is well worth checking out. Jo Hall will be there selling her books and mine.

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Dortmund Eurocon Bid Interview

Over on Europa SF there is an interview with Arno Behrend, the leader of the bid to bring Eurocon to Dortmund in 2017. I have long been of the opinion that European fandom needs to fully embrace large countries such as Germany, France and Spain. We have the Barcelona Eurocon on the schedule now for 2016. Here’s hoping that Germany gets a turn.

Oh, and you do know what Dortmund is famous for, don’t you? Right: beer.

Posted in Conventions | 12 Comments

Trans Awareness Interview

It being Trans Awareness Week, I figured this would be a good time to post the interview that I did on the Kizzy Morrell Show last month. It being live radio, it is not perfect. I’m particularly annoyed with myself for having failed to mention trans guys and non-binary people. I should be better than that. On the other hand, Kizzy, while knowing next to nothing about the subject, was wonderfully supportive, which always makes a huge difference.

Anyway, here’s the audio. See what you think.

Posted in Feminism, Gender, Radio | 2 Comments

New Writing

Last night (UK time) a new ebook appeared on the Twelfth Planet Press website. It is the Galactic Suburbia Scrapbook, which advertises itself as containing, “some of the highlights of 4 years and 100 episodes of Alex, Alisa and Tansy speaking to you from the Galactic Suburbs!” This is entirely true, however, it also contains various guest articles and pieces of feedback received by the show, and one of the guest articles is by me. The title of the article is, “Curse You, Tansy, I Bought Another One”, which probably gives you a good idea of what it is all about.

Naturally the book contains lots of other content, all of which is fabulous, so you can safely ignore the two pages of mine in it. All proceeds from the book go towards keeping Galactic Suburbia on air, which is a very fine cause. You can buy it here.

Also, my latest column for Bristol 24/7 has just gone live. It is about trolls. The boring kind, not the nice Nordic creatures.

Posted in Books, Feminism, Internet, Podcasts | Leave a comment

Music Video Before MTV

I woke up this morning to find Kate Elliott on Twitter saying that she was old because she remembered the early days of MTV.

Well, of course, some of us are SO OLD that we remember the days before MTV. But that doesn’t mean that music video didn’t exist. Kate’s post sent me down a rabbit hole of researching the history of the music video, hence this post. It will contain a lot of embeds so for the sake of those who scroll down my home page I’m putting them all behind a cut.

Continue reading

Posted in Movies, Music | 4 Comments

Coming Next Spring – New Justina

Glorious Angels - Justina Robson

This is a cover for something you can’t get yet. The Glorious Angels is the new science fiction novel from Justina Robson, which is due out next spring. I’m very excited. Hopefully a lot of you are too.

Posted in Art, Books | 1 Comment

Available Now – Roz’s Resurrections

Resurrections - Roz Kaveney

It is a fairly depressing day online: people’s parents dying, cats dying and so on. To cheer myself up I thought I’d post some nice book covers. This is one for a book you can get now, because it was launched on Wednesday. It is Resurrections, the third volume in Roz Kaveney’s Rhapsody of Blood series. I’m reading the book at the moment. Roz is a very, very naughty National Treasure. Then again, us Trans girls are all going to burn in Hell for All Eternity anyway, so we might as well have a bit of fun before we go.

Oh, and Roz, I think the world needs more details on centaur sex…

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A Brush With Celebrity

The Bath event was for a biography with Gareth Thomas, who is one of the UK’s most famous gay men. Obviously he’s not in the same league as Elton John and Ian McKellen, but for reasons that should become obvious he has a huge impact.

Gareth’s story is pretty much the same as any other LGBT person’s. It involves being lonely and desperate as a kid, being afraid to tell your friends and family the truth, and being afraid of what will happen if they find out. It involves suicide attempts. And eventually there is a coming out tale. What make’s Gareth’s story unique is that he had been captain of the Welsh national rugby team, and was still playing professionally when he came out to the public.

Well so what? Probably only my Kiwi friends an understand what this meant in Wales. For the rest of you, imagine if it has been Brett Farve (USA), Wayne Gretsky (Canada) or Adam Gilchrist (Australia). Thomas isn’t an actor or a pop star — the sort of career that gay men are supposed to have. He’s not an ice dancer, or even into something fairly non-contact like baseball. Yes, he was a top sportsman, but he was also an acknowledged leader, a national icon, and a player in a sport that is well known for the physical contact and bravery required of its players.

I could see the effect of that at work last night. We often talk about how out LGBT folks should stand up and be counted so as to be an example to others. I try to do that myself, but I’m not convinced that it makes much difference to the world. I rather suspect that a lot of people think it is just more shameless self-promotion on my part. It is also true that I’m too old, too ugly and too weird (science fiction, ewwww!) to be of any use in the mainstream media. For Gareth Thomas it is a very different matter. There wasn’t a huge crowd (though this was apparently his second event in Bath that day), but afterwards just about everyone who came to get his book signed wanted to talk to him about how much he had meant to them. I imagine that he gets that everywhere he goes. That’s amazing.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading the book. Also, having heard Gareth tell his story, I am even more proud of those teammate such as Stephen Jones and Martyn Williams who stood by him so loyally through a very difficult time. Welsh rugby: it is awesome.

Posted in Books, Feminism, Rugby | Leave a comment

Historical Fantasy at Foyles

La Belle Dame San Merci - Sir Frank Dicksee

After the radio show I managed to find Juliet in time for us to have lunch and see a bit of Bristol before the event. Juliet asked to see an art gallery, so I took her up Park Street to the City Museum and introduced her to the work of the Bristol School, in particular Rolinda Sharples. That gallery is something that Mary Robinette Kowal needs to visit, and it is full of contemporary paintings of people in 18th Century clothing.

The Bristol School stuff is OK, and does have a couple of over-the-top apocalyptic pieces reminiscent of John Martin (and which may pre-date him, I need to check). However, the stand-out piece in the collection is one of my favorite bits of Pre-Raphaelite art, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, by Sir Frank Dicksee. As this post is mainly about historical fantasy, I have chosen that to illustrate it. (Doesn’t look a bit like Nyx, though.)

We were spared further traffic chaos, and both Helen Hollick and Jack Wolf turned up at the store on time. Helen was resplendent in a pirate costume to advertise her current series of books. We had an excellent discussion. It hardly needed me there to moderate it. There was a decent crowd too. You never quite know with these things, but I think Foyles will have been pleased. We were delighted to see a bunch of the local steampunk group turn up in costume.

Juliet has written a blog post about the discussion here, and there’s no point in my re-hashing that. I did record it, but I haven’t listened to the recording yet and even if it is OK I have no idea when I’ll get the time to edit it. The other thing I took away from the event is that I really need to read Lucienne’s book, To The Fair Land, if only to see what she has made of that strange Terra Australis. I wonder if her characters find that large island where all of the inhabitants have two heads? (That’s an Australian joke, for which Tansy will probably kill me.)

I wish I had been able to hang around and talk to people, but I had an hour to get to an event in Bath, so I headed out immediately the panel was over. Thanks again to all for a great evening.

Posted in Art, Books, History | Leave a comment