Brave New World

Image edit by Jeremiah Tolbert

Mixing my SF metaphors here, but boy is this one right royal clusterfuck.

Not that I am surprised. I called it for Leave when the referendum was announced because I know that Rupert Murdoch rarely loses an election in this country. I’ve been hoping that people would come to their senses, but given the way the campaigns were conducted there was never much chance of that.

Personally I should be OK for a while. The trans awareness training that I do will dry up as people realize that they don’t have to care any more. However, the majority of my income comes from the USA and therefore I’m getting a substantial pay rise.

I also have some cash from when my mum died, and if the property market collapses, which it may well do, I may be able to afford a home of my own. But that’s longer term, what little pension money I have is disappearing rapidly, and my personal situation could become very precarious before too long. I don’t see much point in planning for a future that I may not have.

However, I am trying not to worry too much, because there are lots of other people I’m worried about.

I’m worried about all of the people who will lose their jobs as foreign investors pull out, the value of the pound plummets and trade barriers start going up against whatever remains of the UK.

I’m worried for the people in Northern Ireland who face a return to sectarian violence because of economic collapse and disagreement over union with the south.

I’m worried for all of the EU nationals living here who face losing their jobs, their college courses, and perhaps even their families because marriage to a citizen no longer confers the right of residency here.

I’m worried for the LGBT+ people who are less well off than me and who face the repeal of equalities legislation.

And most of all I am worried for people of color living in the UK (many of whom were born here), because the economic situation is only going to get worse, and the angry people who voted Leave will be looking to someone to blame. You can be sure that Murdoch will be busy deflecting their attention towards people least able to defend themselves.

Posted in Current Affairs, Personal | 3 Comments

Heads Up North America – Jen Williams Incoming

The Copper Promise - Jen Williams
I have just had email from Angry Robot which, among other things, mentioned that they will be publishing a North American edition of Jen Williams’ The Copper Promise (book #1 in the Copper Cat series). I’ve not had the pleasure of reading these yet, but Jo Hall raves about them at every available opportunity. You can read her review of The Copper Promise here. All three books have been published in the UK, so if you get hooked you shouldn’t have to wait long for the other two. Why not give them a try?

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Juliet’s New Venture

I, and Wizard’s Tower, are pleased to note that Juliet E. McKenna will be teaching a creative writing course in Witney, Oxfordshire, this coming autumn. Obviously it is only of interest to people who can get to evening classes in that area, but I know it will be a great course and if it goes well perhaps Juliet will get more teaching gigs. Regardless, it will help her keep writing, which I think is very important.

Juliet writes about the venture here, and further details of the course are available from its website (which I may have had some involvement in creating).

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

The Europe Thing

Well, tomorrow (Thursday) we all get to vote. Then what?

Today The Guardian ran an article by a German music teacher who has made their home here for 18 years (look, singular they pronoun because the gender of the author isn’t specified). They worry if they will have to go back to Germany if the UK leaves the EU, and they worry that they might not want to stay anyway, because the atmosphere here has become so poisonous towards “foreigners”.

I’m afraid that my initial reaction to that article was to think that I have never felt welcome here. Sure I am a UK citizen, but every week something like this turns up in the newspapers reminding me that people like me are not popular with a large part of the UK public. I have plenty of friends here, but I am always worried that one day I’ll find a mob wanting to drive me out of my home, or that something like what happened with US immigration will happen to me here. In theory I have rights; in practice, who knows?

What rights I do have are mostly a result of rulings of the European courts. The UK and Irish governments both held out for as long as they could against allowing trans people legal gender recognition. The Leave people rail constantly against how the EU has “control” over British law, and how they want to be able to set their own laws free of European interference. What will that mean for me, and people like me, if Leave wins?

It is impossible to say for sure, but one of the leaders of the Leave campaign is Michael Gove, who happens to be the current boss of the Ministry of Justice. On his watch two trans women in prison have committed suicide and another, quite recently, was saved from a suicide attempt by prison staff. All three had been sent to male-only prisons. You will, I hope, forgive me for not having a lot of confidence in the future of my civil rights should Mr. Gove and his friends get to run the country.

Most people, of course, do not have my specific concerns. They are worried about the economy, about their standard of living. So much misinformation has been spread during the campaign that it is impossible to have a sensible discussion about the UK’s prospects as an independent country. Besides, economic forecasting is my job, I know how dodgy it can be. But one thing does seem clear to me: the Leave campaign is all about walls and ditches. It is an attitude of “I’m all right, Jack, and I will fight to protect what is mine.”

I can understand that people are worried, and want to hang on to what they have. I can also see that people have been very deliberately frightened by scare stories in the media. Personally, however, I have never been a fan of isolationism. I have, after all, lived in Australia and the USA as well as the UK. I have also spent a reasonable amount of time in others countries such as Finland, Canada, New Zealand, Croatia, Sweden, Denmark and France. I have briefly visited South Africa, India and Mexico, and I’ll be adding Spain to the list later this year. I have met lovely people wherever I have traveled.

The upshot of all this is that I have always believed that people of different countries, different cultures and different ethnic backgrounds can and should get along. Whatever problems we face on this small, watery rock adrift in the vastness of space, we are far better off facing them together than letting everything go to Hell and fighting over the scraps that remain.

The EU is far from perfect. Goddess knows I have uttered enough sweary words about their VAT laws over the past couple of years. But I also know that the VAT problem could have been much less serious had British officials been prepared to support and fight for micro businesses instead of taking every excuse to spread anti-EU sentiment.

We can, and should, do better than this. I’m not quite old enough to have lived through WWII, but my parents did, and a grew up with a strong impression of how awful that was. I did grow up under the shadow of Mutually Assured Destruction, and never did a political philosophy have a more appropriate acronym. I remember the sense of relief that everyone felt when the Berlin Wall came down, and I can’t quite believe how we have let all that hope and good will go to waste.

My choice tomorrow is pretty clear. I can vote to stay in a political institution that has promised to protect my civil rights, or I can vote for people who are threatening to take them away. That, as they say, is a no-brainer. That aside, it seems to me that the choice tomorrow is between sticking together in the hope that we can build a better world, or building a bunker in which we hope to hide from a world that is too terrifying to be part of. Again, I know which choice I would make.

When all else has been loosed on the world, Pandora, there is always hope. She will stay with you. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Posted in Current Affairs, Personal | 4 Comments

For Fans of Frankenstein

A while back S.J. Chambers wrote a series of essays about Mary Shelley and Frankenstein, based on her travels through Europe in search of Shelley’s old haunts. The raw essays are available on Weird Fiction Review but, in honor of the 200th anniversary of that famous night in the Villa Diodati, Chambers is publishing a limited edition annotated and illustrated chapbook of the essays. More information about the book, and buy links, are available here.

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The Trans People Cis People Don’t See

One of the things that Berkeley and I do at the start of our trans awareness sessions is a little quiz about trans issues. Partly it is just a mixer, but also we want to get the class thinking about how little they actually know about trans people and their lives. It helps put people in the mood to learn more.

One of the questions we ask is, “Name a famous trans person in the media”. When we ask for the answers we have taken to saying, “and we want someone other than Caitlyn Jenner”, because otherwise she’s all we get. After Cait, the most common name we get is Kellie Maloney. Sometimes we’ll get a few others, but those two are by far the most common choices. The class always has to be prompted to think of a trans man, and often they can’t do so. To date, no one has come up with Paris Lees, despite the fact that she’s been on the BBC’s Question Time once or twice and is a regular columnist in national newspapers.

I’m not trying to get a Paris here. I think she does a great job. But people don’t notice her, and I have been wondering why. Obviously with the guys, the media tends to ignore them, and therefore the public won’t know about them. But Paris has a pretty good media platform. She’s also young, pretty, articulate and outspoken. Why don’t people notice her?

My theory here is that Paris doesn’t fit cis people’s view of what a trans person is. That is, they don’t have a “before” narrative for her. In the public imagination, a trans person is someone who was successful in life as a man, and is now known as a woman. It is the apparent magical transformation that sticks in the mind. The public doesn’t see Paris as a trans person, they see her as a young woman.

A possible exception to this is Laverne Cox, who also doesn’t have a “before” narrative. However, I note that her character in Orange is the New Black does have such a narrative, and even a part played by Laverne’s twin brother.

The problem we have here is that, when cis people think of trans people, it is a stereotype that comes to mind. The media, of course, does everything it can to reinforce that stereotype. Somehow we need to break this narrative, and that’s not going to be easy.

Posted in Gender, Journalism | 2 Comments


Happy Summer Solstice, everyone. Here’s hoping that it stopped raining for you at some point during the day.

Posted in Pagan, Weather | 2 Comments

Job Done

Game won, group topped, into the knockout stage. Quite remarkable, all things considered.

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Introducing Adela Breton

Yesterday’s history conference was held in the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (yes, of course Bath has such a thing). On the ground floor of the building there was a remarkable exhibition celebrating the life and work of a 19th Century Bath archaeologist and artist, Adela Breton. Ms. Breton spent much of her life in Mexico painting Aztec and Maya cities. As with most other pioneering women scientists, her work has been largely forgotten.

Breton’s faithful recording of the ancient cities have proved invaluable to archaeologists, but the most amazing thing she did was produce recreations of the decorative friezes on the buildings, in full color. Note that this is not a case of an artist fancifully colorizing an ancient artifact, this is an archaeologist painstakingly examining a site for evidence of pigments, and recreating the art as it would have looked when the site was inhabited.

Here’s a frieze from the Temple of the Jaguars at Chichén Itzá as it looks now.


And here is Breton’s recreation.


My favorite piece from the exhibition is this amazing image of a bat demon. The Maya apparently associated bats with the underworld, because they live in caves.


The exhibition in Bath will continue to October 1st, so do pop in if you happen to be in town. Bristol Museum will be doing something soon too.

Posted in Art, Feminism, History | Leave a comment

Pauline Boty and Feminism’s Sex Problem

I spent yesterday in Bath at the annual conference of the The West of England & South Wales Women’s History Network. There were many interesting papers. I was rather sad that the one about women in the Mabinogion didn’t happen, but I very much enjoyed the one about women in Pop Art.

You may recall that a couple of years ago I wrote about a BBC documentary on the women of Pop Art. One of the women whose work starred in that show was Pauline Boty. Yesterday I was privileged to hear a talk about Boty by Sue Tate who is probably the world expert on her, or at the very least has written the book.

Boty rose to fame in the 1960s. She was young, blonde, very pretty, intelligent, feminist, and apparently very fond of men. Therein lies a problem, because she worked in Pop Art, a field that is pretty much synonymous with sexual objectification of women. How is an artist like Boty, who thinks that women should be allowed to enjoy sex, to situate herself within a field that is all about men’s sexual exploitation of women? That was basically the subject of Sue’s talk.

Of course in the 1970s feminism tried to solve the problem by retreating from sex. Women were supposed to become sexless, wearing shapeless clothes that disguised bodily shape, cutting their hair short, not wearing make-up or bras, and becoming “political lesbians”. Boty, who sadly died very young of cancer, would have hated that. Lots of other women must have too, because it didn’t last.

After the talk I stuck my hand up and asked Sue for her opinion on Beyoncé. I was pleased to see that I had nailed the topic. The debate around Bey’s work is much the same as that around Boty’s: how is an attractive, sexy woman supposed to be a feminist, if she uses her sexiness in her art?

And of course it isn’t limited to them. Madonna was mentioned briefly, and from my own field I would single out Justina Robson as someone who centers female sexuality in her work and is looked down upon because of it.

I don’t think that it is a debate that is going to go away, if only because which side feminists take tends to depend on how fond they are of sex, and in particular sex with men. I am, of course, obliged to stick my hand up and declare a preference there. However, I don’t think that women can be truly emancipated until they are allowed to have pride in and control over their sexuality.

Oh, and BBC, next time you want to do a documentary about women in Pop Art, get Sue to front it.

Posted in Art, Feminism, History | Leave a comment

And On A Happier Note

The annual conference of the National LGBT Police Network will be taking place at the Guildhall in London on July 15th. I got the schedule through last night, so I guess it is now official that I am one of the guest speakers. The theme of the conference this year is religion. My friend, Surat Shaan Knan will be speaking too. My talk will be all about trans people and religion through the ages.

One of the things that is much better now than in 1978 when that Tom Robinson song was first released is that there are now LGBT+ groups in police forces around the country, and they are actively working for a more understanding and integrated society.

Posted in Conventions, Gender, Personal | Leave a comment

This, On Repeat, All Day

I get that people are angry, but they are not angry in a vacuum.

They are angry because their standard of living is falling, their jobs are disappearing, and their rents are skyrocketing.

They are angry because their social security benefits are being cut and they are fed a constant diet of newspaper articles and TV programs suggesting that other people are gaming the system.

They are angry because they are constantly being told that everything wrong in the world is the fault of other poor people who happen to look different, behave differently, or speak a different language, when they should be angry that social inequality is increasing at a rapid rate.

They are angry because the media will let any lie, no matter how outrageous and hateful, slide by unchallenged if it causes controversy and increases the traffic count on their websites.

Sure people’s freedom is at stake. It is at stake from people who want to take away their civil rights, take away their social security net, and put them on zero hour contracts; and who hope to distract people from these things by endless scaremongering about immigrants.

Stand up, people. It is time to take our country back from Rupert Murdoch and his minions.

Posted in Current Affairs, Journalism, Music | 1 Comment

Hidden Youth Kickstarter

Some of you may remember the fabulous Long Hidden anthology produced by the Crossed Genres team a while back. Well now they have a new project on the go, also highlighting characters from the margins of history. Hidden Youth will do what Long Hidden did, but for the YA market with all of the protagonists of the stories being under 18 years of age.

The book already has 22 stories lined up, and there are no listed stretch goals, so don’t get your pens out. The money they are raising is primarily to pay the writers professional rates, to pay the fabulous Julie Dillon who has once again produced a superb cover, and to pay for interior illustrations. You can back the project here. Buy a book, why don’t you?

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Vigil Media Update

The BBC did make the vigil their top story again in the late evening news. There was an interview with the Elected Mayor, Marvin Rees, and while he’s not LGBT+ himself he’s not white so at least we got a bit of diversity in that way.

Made In Bristol also led with the story on their evening news (thanks Ellie!). Their only interview was with Daryn, so decent representation there.

Radio Bristol were at the event doing live video streaming. You can watch the first hour of the event here (sorry, it doesn’t seem to be available outside of Facebook). Sadly they ran into battery problems after an hour, so they missed most of the LGBT+ speakers. Thanks for trying, Caz.

Bristol 24/7 has a report on the event. It looks like their reporter left after the choir performance and missed most of the LGBT+ speakers.

The Bristol Post has a number of reports of the event, including one that proves that some people will pick any excuse not to mourn dead LGBT+ people. They also included this photo of the BGEN contingent.

Photo by Emma Lidiard

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

Bristol Stands With Orlando

Bristol Vigil - photo by Coin Moody
Photo by Colin Moody

We got an excellent crowd at the vigil in Bristol this evening. I’m pretty sure it was over 1000. In fact we got so many people that the event rather outgrew the organization. The sound system that we’d been able to get hold of simply wasn’t powerful enough to reach the whole crowd. That’s one of the problems of trying to arrange things in a tearing hurry.

What we did have was great civic support: from the mayors (elected and Lord), the police, the Church of England and local Muslim leaders. That’s both good and bad. It is good to know we have the support, but of course it meant that most of the early speeches were made by people who have no connection to the LGBT+ community. Daryn Carter, the Director of Bristol Pride, was the only community member in the first round of speeches.

The media also turned out in force. We were the top story on the early evening edition of Points West (that’s only on iPlayer until tomorrow evening). I’m expecting more coverage in the late evening news. I think ITV were there too, as were the community TV station, Made in Bristol. Luckily for you, none of this will cover my part. The media were only interested in the great and good, in white gay men, and in Muslim clerics. Their knew what narrative they wanted to push.

The fine people of Shout Out Radio were also there, and are planning to broadcast much of the material in their show on Thursday. You can listen to that online, and on a podcast after the show.

So what did I say? Fortunately it is all written down because I needed top give the sign language interpreter some idea of what I was going to say. I may have deviated slightly in the delivery, but this is more or less what I said:

The atrocity in Orlando is unusual because of the number of people killed in one go. But homophobic, biphobic and transphobic murders are not rare. Every year over 200 trans people are murdered just because of who they are. The majority of victims every year are Latina women. It is therefore particularly disturbing that the attack on the Pulse club should have taken place on Latin night. Our thoughts are with Latinx LGBT+ people everywhere.

Our thoughts are also with Muslim LGBT+ people who are facing an additional dose of hatred because of this incident.

But I want to talk about religion more generally. Over the past couple of days I have seen young trans people talking on social media about how they have been disowned by their families, and how religion has been used as an excuse for abandoning them. I have also heard Christian preachers in the USA calling for violence against trans women who dare to use public toilets. It doesn’t have to be like that.

Last week on my show on Ujima Radio I interviewed a Jewish Trans Man, Surat Shaan Knan, who heads a project called Twilight People that highlights the lives of trans people of faith. The project is funded by Liberal Judiaism as well as by the Heritage Lottery Fund. There are Muslim, Christian and Pagan trans people involved in the project as well as Jews.

Things have got better, of course. In the 1950s life was much more difficult for trans people than it is now. The pioneering trans people, Michael Dillon and Roberta Cowell, both have Bristol connections. Dillon lived here, and began his transition here, during the second world war. Cowell didn’t live here, but she did visit Bristol because she and Dillon had a friend in the city, a man of the cloth who saw in them people in special need of God’s love because of the difficulties they faced in their lives. That man was Arthur Russell Millbourn. He was Canon of Bristol Cathedral.

It is great to see Christian and Muslim church leaders here today. I hope that faith leaders all over Bristol will follow Canon Millbourn’s example and embrace the LGBT+ people within their communities.

God is love. It’s man that kills.

I had a number of things in mind when writing this. First I wanted to emphasize that Orlando was an attack, not just on LGBT+ people, but specifically an attack on Latinx LGBT+ people, a group that already bears an unfair proportion of the violence against our community. Second I wanted to acknowledge that, although the attack did not target Muslim LGBT+ people, they have suffered disproportionately because of it, in particular from many people who claim to be supporting the LGBT+ community.

Mostly, however, that speech was for two young trans friends of mine — one Muslim and one Jewish — whose tweets over the past two days have been particularly heartbreaking. I wanted to make it clear to the religious leaders in attendance that it is not enough to offer sympathy; it is not enough to open their doors only when a tragedy happens. They need to reach out to LGBT+ people and set and example to their congregations, many of whom are still full of hate for us.

It isn’t hard. All you have to do is open your heart to God’s love. She’s waiting for you.

Thanks are due to Alex Raikes, Daryn Carter, Leighton Deburca and Berkeley Wilde for their hard work in making the vigil happen. Thanks also to the lovely people of BGEN who brought the flowers and placards from their Bath vigil last night to pretty up our event. Special thanks to Des and Heather of BristolCon and their fabulously stylish friend for looking after my stuff while I was on stage, and to Lexi for looking after my trans flag.

FYI, you can see Bristol Cathedral through the trees to the right of the photo above. Nothing like centering your narrative in the landscape.

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

Orlando Vigils

Bristol vigilThe lovely folks from BEGN staged a vigil for Orlando in Bath last night. I couldn’t be there because of the Fringe event, but I will be at the Bristol vigil on College Green tonight. Full details are available from the Bristol Pride website, including the fact that I’m giving a speech. Don’t worry, it will be very short. The instructions say 2 minutes max. Putting my flash writing skills to work.

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Registration for PopSex 2016 Open

The blurb says:

The second annual Sex and Sexualities in Popular Culture: Feminist Perspectives symposium is returning to the Bristol Watershed in September 2016. Following an exciting inaugural symposium in 2015, this year’s event will continue our tradition of offering a safe, inclusive space for postgraduate students and creative practitioners to meet peers, share work and learn from each other.

For full details, and to book a place, see here.

I’ll be giving a talk. I haven’t quite settled on a title yet, but it will be something to do with trans women as sex objects in the media.

Posted in Academic, Conventions, Feminism, Gender | Leave a comment

February Fringe (and June tomorrow)

Tomorrow sees the June meeting of BristolCon Fringe, so it is about time I got more audio online. Here, therefore, is February. Well, some of it.

As you may recall, in February I was absurdly busy with LGBT History Month. As a result of this I was very tired at the Fringe meeting. This led to my messing up the recording of the first session. Huge apologies to Will Macmillan Jones for this. He is in the Q&A, and I’ll have more from him available soon.

However, we do have a reading from the fabulous Gareth L. Powell. No monkeys this time, and consequently a considerable reduction in the swearing quotient. Instead Gareth treated us to the opening two chapters of a new space opera novel. There’s no firm information on when or where it will be published yet, but I think that after listening to it you will be keen to get hold of the whole book just like I am.

Because I knew that I had messed up recording Will I asked him for a bit of poetry at the beginning of the Q&A. I knew he’d deliver on that. I asked Gareth about poetry because he has a character in the story who is a not very good but very successful poet. I do not accept any responsibility for the results.

We didn’t get any recordings of the March event, mainly because I was in Canada, so the next batch of material I will have for you will be from the open mic event in April. March was Pete Sutton and Myfanwy Rodman, both of whom also read at the open mic (and Myfanwy’s story was brilliant). Will also read at the open mic, so you’ll get to hear all of the people who we missed. Of course the open mic also includes me.

As for June, that will feature Justin Newland and Stephanie Burgis. Justin will be familiar to you as one of our regular question askers. Stephanie is the author of the Kat Stephenson trilogy for younger readers, and more recently of Smoke and Mirrors. Given that the new book has a eunuch as a main character, you can be sure I will have a question or two to ask. If you can be in Bristol tomorrow night, the event will be at the Shakespeare Tavern on Prince Street and will start around 7:30pm. I hope to see some of you there.

Posted in Podcasts, Readings | Leave a comment

Versailles Done Right

In addition to the Lucy Worsley & Helen Castor documentary, the BBC is running a series of (very) short (5 minute) history shows to accompany each episode of Versailles. Inside Versailles is presented by Professor Kate Williams and Greg Jenner and seeks to throw some actual historical light on whatever nonsense the latest episode of the drama has served up. The first episode, which is about Louis XIV’s mistresses, is a bit breathless. However, episode 2 features my friend Kit Heyam talking about Philippe, gender and sexuality.

Given that Kit talks about being trans in his Twitter bio, I don’t think I need to worry about outing him. I am fairly confident in saying that this is the first time that a trans historian has been allowed to talk about gender non-conformity in history on British TV. That’s an amazing thing. Needless to say, Kit does a far better job than Lucy Worsley in addressing the issue of Philippe’s proclivities.

Shame you didn’t get a chance to talk about de Choisy, Kit. But then I rather expect what you did say was cut massively. Well done on not giving the producer anything horrible to use.

By the way, if anyone is interested in some of the historical arguments surrounding historical interpretation of past identities there is an excellent overview today on the Notches blog.

Posted in Gender, History, TV | Leave a comment

The #TransLit Twitter Chat Storified

A few days ago Gabby Bellot and Oliver Bendorf hosted a Twitter chat for trans writers. Contributors included Keffy, Suzanne van Rooyen, CN Lester, Vee from The Gay YA and Fox Benwell, along with a whole load of folks I don’t know. The chat has now been storified and is available here.

Posted in Gender, Writing | Leave a comment