Clothes Off for Feminism

Today I went into Bristol to see my friend Tamsin Clarke of the Popelei Theatre Company. As well as doing great theatre, Tamsin hosts a feminist podcast that addresses body issues. Because bodies are such an issue for women there’s a lot to talk about. Tamsin came up with the idea of recording the interviews with her and the interviewee both naked, presumably because that way all of the body issues are out in the open.

This is not a problem for me. I spend a lot of time in Finland and am therefore very used to sitting in a sauna with a bunch of other women, totally naked, chatting about all and sundry. The big difference was that this was not a general chat, but an interview about my body, which is inevitably an intreview about being trans.

The podcast won’t be out for a few weeks yet, and when it does come out it may well have a content warning because there is discussion of surgery. There’s also discussion of sex, and there’s swearing. It is not a radio thing.

Goodness only knows what the trans-exclusionary mob will make of all this. There’s me “penetrating” a feminist podcast. And not only that, but doing it in a woman’s home (Tamsin lives on a boat currently moored in Bristol) and doing it naked. Doubtless I will be accused of forcing myself on poor Tamsin, and of waving my political willy* in her face. So before there are comments let me state categorically that I was invited to be on the podcast. Also Tamsin and I spent an hour or so on Monday talking through it and making sure that we were both comfortable with what we were going to do.

Anyway, that’s another thing I have now done that I never thought I would ever do. And before anyone asks, I am so not doing a naked interview on TV. Not unless someone offers me enough money to buy immigration to the USA.

* A Political Willy is one that doesn’t actually exist except in the minds of people whose political phliosophy holds that anyone with a Y chromosome is forever male, in possession of a penis, and a violent rapist.

Posted in Feminism, Podcasts | Leave a comment

Not One Fringe, But Two

BristolCon Fringe events are apparently like London buses: you wait all month for one, and then two come along at once.

Tomorrow, instead of watching the Royal Wedding or FA Cup Final, the better people of Bristol will be at the Hatchett to see Joanne Hall, Peter Newman, Lucy Hounsom, Brian McClellan and Micha Yongo. This is a joint even with our good friends Books on the Hill. Full details here.

And on Monday we’ll be back at the Gryphon for the monthly reading. For May we have our old friend Kevlin Henney, and newcomer Heather Child. Heather is a new addition to the Bristol area’s stellar line-up of speculative fiction writers with a debut novel, Everything About You, available from Orbit.

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Trans History and Activism

On Tuesday night I was in London participating in a panel on trans history and activism. It was part of a series run by a group called History Acts who bring together activists in various fields and historians who study those fields. I’d originally been approached to be an historian, but they got some actual academic historians for that. However, one of the activists had to cancel, and I was able to step into that role instead.

The historians were all people I knew: Kit Heyam, Catherine Baker and Clare Tebbutt. They all have some sort of queer connection. In fact almost everyone who does trans history well is queer in some way. This, we were told, made the event somewhat unusual for History Acts, in that the historians and activists were very much of the same mind.

The other activist was Morgan M Page who does this podcast and is all-round awesome. She and I take very different approaches, in that I do serious academic history and harrange academics, whereas she takes the history to a much more general audience.

It was a good event, and lots of us got to hang out afterwards, but the most interesting thing I got from it was another great lead from Clare. Several years ago I heard her speak about the work of Lennox Broster who worked with a lot of intersex patients in the 1930s. Assigning the sex of an intersex baby is often difficult, and Broster’s patients generally came to him complaining that they had been wrongly assigned. As he was an expert in such conditions, he could help them change their legal gender.

Broster’s work tended to get reported in the newspapers as cases of people who had “changed sex”. The coverage was sensationalised, but generally supportive of the patients and presented as a scientific miracle. But these were not the only patients that came forward.

On Tuesday Clare talked about the work of a sexologist called Norman Haire. In 1948 he published a book called Everyday Sex Problems. Chapter 2 is all about “changing sex”. Haire details some of the types of cases that Broster worked with, but goes on to add that other are other patients who approach doctors but do not have the same symptoms. Haire notes that no actual change of sex takes place in the case of intersex patients. They simply have their legal sex re-classified. He goes on to say:

It is important to stress this fact, because quite a number of people […] read such sensational articles and apply to surgeons to change their sex for them. From what they have read, they firmly believe that such a change is possible, and it is often difficult to convince them that they are mistaken.

I have recently had requests from four such patients, and they were bitterly disappointed when I told them that no doctor in the world could bring about the change of sex they so desired.”

Haire seems unaware of the work of Magnus Hirschfeld, and the more recent work of Harold Gillies and Michael Dillon. Dillon’s book, Self, in which he describes treatment that he had actually experienced, was published in 1946, but even then was hard to get hold of. However, Haire’s testimony shows that there were people whom we would now class as transsexuals in Britain in the 1940s in much greater numbers than we previously knew. And they existed despite the fact that the gender reassignments that had been carried out before then did not receive wide publicity.

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Åcon Happened

I have spent the weekend at one of my favorite conventions: Åcon, which is held in Mariehamn in the Åland islands, half way between Finland and Sweden. The weather was magnificent, and as far as I can see a good time was had by all.

Because of the location, Åcon is a perfect meeting place for Finnish and Swedish fandom. The ferry service from Turku to Stockholm stops off at Mariehamn roughly half way along the route. So the convention is always international. However, perhaps thanks to the Helsinki Worldcon, this year was more international than most. We had fans from Norway, Denmark, The Czech Republic, Poland and Wales (me), plus a Guest of Honour from Cornwall and her husband who is (I think) English. And to cap it all we had Eurovision on the Saturday night.

Wales and Cornwall do not yet have their own Eurovision entries. We shall have to work on this. They are bound to be better than anything the BBC can come up with.

Emma Newman was fabulous, as she always is, and the convention got two writer guests in one because Pete is excellent value as well. The large stacks of their books all sold out so obviously they impressed the convention members.

I got to do two panels. The first was on novellas and featured Pete, Johan Jönsson, and Václav Pata. In it we roundly disagreed with just about everything in the panel description, and everything that Gary and Jonathan had said about novellas in the last Coode Street. Nevertheless we appeared to agree that we all liked reading novellas. Mostly I think we agreed that weird things happen in publising because publisher are weird. Václav made a good case for prefering novellas to novels because he’s a screenwriter and they are much easier to convert to a script.

My other panel was on audio and featured Emma and new Danish pal Sanna Bo. Emma terrified us by explaining just how much work, and how many skills, are required to narrate an audiobook. After that we mostly talked about making podcasts, which is so much less complicated. Of course Emma and Pete use a lot more technical tricks in making Tea & Jeopardy than most people use on podcasts, but that’s them, insanely talented people that they are. I explained about Ofcom rules for live radio, which led to some epic swearing because we can do so on convention panels without getting fined.

I believe that the panels were all recorded, so there may be podcasts of the discussion available at some point. Emma and I will have earned “explicit” tags.

Åcon has a lot of game-show type programming in the evening. Fia Karlsson ran The Match Game. Much to my surprise, she had not heard of Kevin doing so at Worldcons. Clearly the game appeals to fannish people.

I decided to pass on the chocolate tasting this year because I have a lot to do and needed time in my room, but Emma and Pete were suitably awed by Mercedes and her top quality wares. One of the problems with Åland is that there is just too much good food to be eaten.

There’s no news of the guest for next year yet, but Åcon will be happening again. As it is tied to the Ascension Day holiday it moves around in the calendar and next year will be right at the end of May. Hopefully I can make it.

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Introducing History Acts

I’ll be back from Finland late on the 14th, but am staying over an extra day because on the 15th there’s a very interesting event happening in town.

History Acts is an organisation that aims to develop links between historians and activists. It is a joint project of Birkbeck and Queen Mary colleges. The next meeting will focus on trans history, and there is a stellar panel including Kit Heyam, Catherine Baker, Morgan M. Page and Clare Tebbutt. Kit and Catherine are good friends whth whom I have collaborated before, and Clare has done some great research on trans lives in the UK in the 1930s. I’m very much looking forward to this. Hopefully I will see some of you there.

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Åland Bound

Tomorrow I will starting my journey to the Åland Islands for this year’s Åcon. I’m staying over in London tomorrow night as I have an early flight from Heathrow to Helsinki on Wednesday. Then, ridiculously early on Thursday, it is off to Tukru and the ferry to Mariehamn. Thankfully I’m not driving. I will doubtless activate my cat genes and sleep on the road.

This year’s Åcon Guest of Honour is Emma Newman, and the convention gets two writers for the price of one as Pete will be going too. It should be an excellent weekend.

And for those of you who are wondering about that little accent mark above the A, the name of the convention is pronounced (more or less) Awecon. Because it is awesome, obviously.

Posted in Conventions, Finland | 3 Comments

Green Men Can Fly

I don’t have a lot of time for doing Wizard’s Tower work right now, but I’m delighted to say that The Green Man’s Heir doesn’t seem to need my help. Copies are fair flying off the shelves. The latest rave review to appear is by Paul Weimer over at Skiffy & Fanty. And yesterday on Twitter the master of contemporary fantasy, Charles de Lint, described it as, “one of my favourite books so far this year”. Purchase links can be found here.

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I spent Friday in Glastonbury where my boss at The Diversity Trust, Berkeley Wilde, was celebrating his handfasting to his partner, Duncan. They have been legally married for a few months, but being pagans it was important to them to have a proper handfasting ceremony at a significant time of the year. I was delighted to be asked to attend the ceremony.

This is actually the first time I have been to a formal handfasting. That’s partly because I haven’t been to a wedding for any sort in decades, and partly because I am a very independent neo-pagan and not part of any official group. However, I was very impressed with the ceremony and pleasantly surprised at how well I could fit it to my own rituals.

A great time was had by all, and I surprised myself by surviving the vegan banquet without eating any of the herbivores. Cat genes can be a pain at times.

Obviously no wedding is complete without a picture of the happy couple, so here they are.

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A Diana Wynne Jones Confernce in Bristol

Cathy Butler and Farah Mendlesohn will be running an academic conference dedicated to the work of Diana Wynne Jones next year in Bristol. The dates of 9-11 August have been chosen deliberately to allow people to attend both this conference and Worldcon in Dublin the following weekend. With the Eurocon in Belfast a week later I guess I need to take the whole of August 2019 as vacation.

For those not in the know, Bristol is a short hop across the sea from Dublin with frequent flights from the local airport. Or you can take the train to Holyhead and take the ferry.

Farah has been running a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the deposit on the venue. That funded in less than a day, though there are still a few things left and there may be new rewards later, and you can still help out by ordering the ebook of the conference papers.

The conference will be at the Watershed. I’m not sure whether this means that there will be movies as well, but IMHO Watershed would be silly not to cash in on having a whole pile of DWJ experts on hand.

I haven’t told Jodi yet, but it makes a lot of sense to hold a BristolCon Fringe event on the 12th. That gives people a day to be tourists in Bristol and an additional SF event before heading to Ireland. We might event get an overseas reader or two, depending on who is in town.

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May the 4th


Please sign your name on the dotted line

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Yesterday on Ujima – Sculpture, Gender Stereotypes & Dirty Computer

Yesterday’s show was a bit thrown together due to my being in Oxford the night before, but I think I managed to make it work. That’s thanks in part to two great guests, and in part to the inimitable Janelle Monae.

My first guest was Harriet Aston who is a fellow member of a feminist SF discussion group based in Bristol. She’s a sculptor working mainly in industrial paper. She makes large figures that don’t yet move, but with enough magic might be persuaded to do so. We talked about how people view sculpture as compared to paintings, about theatre and the Greek Chorus, and about Harriet’s upcoming show at Centrespace. And because we are geeks we also talked about Catherynne M. Valente’s Space Opera, which is just as wonderful as everyone says it is.

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

In part two my guest was Natalie from TIGER (Teaching Individuals Gender Equality & Respect), a wonderful Bristol-based organisation that goes into schools and colleges teaching about gender stereotypes and how to resist them. TIGER has been running an art project with local young people that is going to be exhibited at Easton Community Centre for a month from the 19th. I will be one of the speakers at the launch event on the 18th. Natalie and I spent quite a bit of time talking about toxic masculinity and the need for a men’s movement to combat it. Obviously we also talked about those silly Trans Exclusionary people (who are neither Radical nor Feminist).

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

The music for the show came entirely from Janelle Monae. I played the whole of (the clean version of) her new album, Dirty Computer. I make no apologies for that, it is all wonderful.

Posted in Art, Feminism, Gender, Radio, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

V.E. Schwab’s Tolkien Lecture

Last night I was in Oxford to attend the J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature. This year’s lecture was given by V.E. (Victoria) Schwab. She’s not a writer that I am hugely familiar with, but she’s clearly hugely popular given how quickly the lecture filled up. I’m pleased to say that she provided a rousing defense of the need for diversity in fantasy literature. Also anyone with whom I can squee about the wonderfullness of K. Arsenault Rivera’s The Tiger’s Daughter is OK by me.

Of course many of you were unable to attend the lecture. But the folks at Pembroke College have been amazingly efficient and a video is now available online. It went up earlier today and I see that it already has almost 2000 views. That’s seriously impressive. If you’d like to watch, here it is.

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Airship 2 Deadline Extended

This is the point at which I should be reminding you that you need to get your submissions for Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion 2 in by the end of the month. However, Jo & Roz are currently in the throes of moving house and they have told me that they won’t be able to look at anything for a couple of weeks. Consequently I am extending the deadline to May 14th.

Full submission details here.

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Fringe Happened

I have been ridiculously busy of late so I am very behind on writing about things. I’m making a start on catching up. The first thing you need to know about is that the latest BristolCon Fringe event was a big success.

Most of the credit for that should, of course, go to our two readers, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Emma Newman. They are both very high profile and we got the expected crowd as a result.

Adrian began proceedings with a reading from his novel, Dogs of War. This is a story of bioengineered animal soldiers, led by Rex who is trying hard to be a Good Dog but gets sent on a covert mission without Master (the humans want plausible deniability) and has to lead the troop himself. One of the other characters in the troop is a swarm of bees. As you can imagine, it is very weird, but also highly amusing.

Emma read from her newly released novel, Before Mars, which is set in the Planetfall universe and takes place at roughly the same time as After Atlas. It takes place in a small base on Mars, and among other things it addresses themes of post-natal depression and paranoia. Ever cheerful, our Em. It also discusses how you deal with an AI that is potentially hostile to you but runs everything on the base where you live. I have just finshed reading it and, as usual, it is very good.

People have been asking me about the podcasts. We have made recordings, but I don’t have the time to edit them. I will upload them as and when someone else has the time to do the work.

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Thanks Guys, But No Thanks

I spend a fair amount of time watching the TERF nonsense than goes on on social media without actually getting involved. It pays to know what your opponents are up to. There is a pattern to how this stuff goes.

The TERFs, of course, make a point of being inflamatory and offensive whenever possible. They want to provoke a reaction, hopefully an angry one that they can later claim is violent.

When trans people and cis women oppose them they generally react with harrassment, mobbing anyone who dares to speak out. Cis women, they will often accuse of being trans. They make disparaging remarks about these women’s appearance as if this somehow proves that they are “really men”.

But sooner or later some cis man will gallantly leap to the defence of his friends. It is great to see, and I’m very grateful, but it is not always helpful. Because as soon as this happens the tone of the TERFs changes. They suddenly switch to a narrative of, “Help, help! We are being oppressed! How dare men tell us who is allowed to call themselves a woman?”

You see, the long term objective of all of this is to cast the disagreement, not as something between trans people and a small but vociferous minority of cis women, but rather one primarily between women and men. On their side they want people to think that they have all women, and some men (you know, good, feminist men like Donald Trump and Mike Pence); and on the other side they want you to think there are mainly just Bad Men.

The point is that this argument looks much better if they can point to actual cis men who are opposing them. That allows them to talk endlessly about how their opponents are “men”, without them having to make themselves look ridiculous by having to give the likes of me as examples of such “men”. They have actual men that they can point to instead.

So I’m afraid that this is a fight where the brunt of the work has to be borne by cis women. There are many other things cis men can go and do, like refusing to be on manels and calling out their misogynist mates. And of course we are very happy to have support behind the scenes. But as far as the public fight goes, cis guys, please stay out of it where possible.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gender | Comments Off on Thanks Guys, But No Thanks

Another Trans Award Winner

Recently I was feeling very positive about the large number of trans people who are finalists for the Hugos this year. But that’s not the only area in which trans writers are achieving success. Last weekend the winners of the Kitchies were announced. In the Golden Tentacle (debut) category I spotted two trans people that I know. And one of them won!

Congratulations, then, to Alex Acks who is not only the person who provides the best live commentary from the WSFS Business meteing, but can now call themself an award winning author. Hunger Makes the Wolf is a fun book. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.

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Talking Trans to Healthwatch

Yesterday, after having to deal with a plumbing disaster in the kitchen (which for me mainly involved phoning the plumber and panicking while she did the work) I headed off to Weston-super-Mare where the Diversity Trust trans health report was due to get its public launch.

This is something that we have been working on for some time now. The core of the research was an online survey that drew responses from 225 trans and/or non-binary identified people from around the South West. The results are unsurprising to anyone who has any knowledge of the day-to-day realities of being trans. You can read the report and/or executive summary here.

The good thing about this is that Healthwatch have a key role in the health service in the UK. In a world of increasingly commerical GP practices, it is the job of Healthwatch to remind them that they are providing a public service, not just making money for the senior management. If the various local Healthwatch bodies that commissioned the report take our recommendations on board, they may be able to drive through some changes that will improve the way GPs treat trans patients.

Of course some of these changes need to be made at a national level. We’ve talked to most of the local Healthwatch bodies in our region, but it would be good to coordinate. If anyone out there working in trans health has also talked to their local Healthwatch I would love to swap notes.

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Cheese Tasting: Fourme D’Ambert

On Friday I was in Bath shopping. I needed cheese and the Paxton & Whitfield shop is just across the road from Mr. B’s. I was actually looking for something like a Camembert or Brie, and ended up with an Oxford Isis, but while I was there they guys in the shop did some upselling.

The cheese they had me try was Fourme D’Ambert. It is a French blue, softer than a Stilton, and less sharp than Roquefort. I was impressed. And pleased to find out that it is a cheese whose history may stretch all the way back to the 8th Century. More details here.

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Virginia in the News

I managed to miss a lot of local news while I was in Canada. One thing I missed was that Bristol 24/7 did a feature on Virginia Bergin and her Tiptree win. You can find it here.

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Forthcoming Event – The Groove Within Us

On the evening of Tuesday April 24th I will be appearing as part of a event called The Groove Within Us at the Southbank Club in Bristol. This is the first of what is intended to be a series of events which mix social awareness with music. The concept is as follows:

The Groove Within Us is a night designed to Educate, Amplify and Celebrate diversity within our society.

Each night will be centred around a certain theme related to current social issues. Our panel will consist of people from as many walks of life as we can manage. The first part of the talk will be a chance for the panel to raise issues that they feel need greater awareness in the community. After that there will be a chance to submit questions for the panel to answer on the given topic.

During the break there will be a chance to network and talk to representatives from various charities and community projects.

After the talk we will celebrate diversity with a party hosted by our fantastic live band. The Groove Within Us House Band will play soul and funk tunes to get everyone dancing into the night.

For this first event the topic for discussion is Transgender Visibility, hence my being asked to be on the panel.

The Facebook event is here, and tickets for the event are available here. I should note that people will not be paying to see me. They are paying to see the band, fronted by the fabulous Ruth Royall. But if a few people turn up in time to listen to the panel as well I shall be very pleased.

Posted in Gender, Where's Cheryl? | Comments Off on Forthcoming Event – The Groove Within Us