BristolCon Fringe – Emma & Pete Newman

Planetfall - Emma Newman

I have another set of BristolCon Fringe podcasts uploaded for you. Both readings are from forthcoming books, so this is an ideal opportunity to try before you buy.

First up we have Pete Newman reading from The Vagrant, forthcoming in the UK from Harper Voyager on April 23rd. Pete will be at Forbidden Planet in London on the 23rd, and in Bristol on the 30th. In the blub on Podbean I described the book as “science-fictional-post-demon-apocalypse” which pretty much sums it up. It certainly sounds very interesting.

Emma’s reading is from Planetfall, which is due out in the USA from Ace/Roc in November. It has an amazing cover (see above), which is even more amazing after you have heard Emma talk about it. I’m really excited about the book too. The chapters that Emma read totally got me hooked. Do I need to rant about the fact that Emma doesn’t have a UK publisher for it? You know the script by now, don’t you: “woman writing science fiction, no one in the UK will buy it”. *sigh*

Finally we have the Q&A, which focuses mainly on the issue of having two writers in the house. Do they kill each other? In fiction, in podcasts, or in real life? Honestly, people, would you marry a writer, knowing how neurotic they are?

I should add that Emma has recently had a recurrence of the health problems that plagued her last year. Further surgery will be required. Thankfully the NHS will cover the costs, but Emma’s earning ability will be seriously curtailed. This might be a very good time to support the Tea & Jeopardy podcast via Patreon. It is a very silly thing, and therefore needs to be continued.

Posted in Books, Podcasts, Readings | Leave a comment

Much Better Trans Actress News

So yeah, as per yesterday, mostly Hollywood is pretty crap when it comes to trans characters. But what if one of the directors happens to be a trans woman herself.

Yesterday Netflix set a date of Friday June 5th for the Premier of Sense8, a new SF TV series from Lana & Andy Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski. The cast list looks every bit as diverse as that for Jupiter Ascending: Naveen Andrews, Daryl Hannah, Brian J. Smith, Tuppence Middleton, Aml Ameen, Freema Agyeman, Tena Desae, Doona Bae, Max Riemelt, Alfonso Herrera, Erendira Ibarra, Jamie Clayton, Miguel Silvestri and Terrence Mann.

Daryl Hannah needs no introduction. You should all remember Freema Agyeman as Martha Jones in Doctor Who. Tuppence Middleton was in Jupiter Ascending, and Doonae Bae was in Cloud Atlas. But the name that jumps out to me is Jamie Clayton. I believe that she’s playing the part of a young trans blogger. Guess I need to sign up for Netflix, though doubtless there will be some stupid reason why the show is not available in the UK.

#TeamLana #GirlsLikeUs

Posted in Gender, Science Fiction, TV | Leave a comment

War of the Worlds: TNG

As some of you may know, I am a big fan of Jeff Wayne’s musical version of the HG Wells novel, The War of the Worlds. It was first released in 1978, and you can get an idea of its popularity by the fact that it is still going strong now. In 2006 Wayne created a stage show so that the work could be performed live, and in 2013 a performance at the O2 Arena in London was filmed. Last week I picked up a DVD of it, and having now watched it I am pleased to have done so.

Obviously the new version has a very different cast. The seemingly impossible job of replacing Richard Burton in the part of The Journalist has fallen to Liam Neeson who does a remarkably good job. Obviously someone as high profile as Neeson isn’t going to be able to tour with a stage show, so his part appears on a giant screen. There’s a lot of green-screen work, which looks horribly amateurish compared to something like Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films, but does the job. Much more impressively, there are short sections in which Neeson appears on stage as a hologram, interacting with the live actors. That’s appropriately science-fictional.

Neeson doesn’t sing, of course. When he is required to do so his part is taken by Marti Pellow, formerly of Wet Wet Wet. Again it is a tough ask to take on songs originally recorded by Justin Hayward, but Pellow does OK. In any case I’ll forgive him a lot for the way he disposes of the idiot interviewer in one of the bonus features. Mr. Pellow is clearly a fan.

The original stage production saw Jason Donovan take the part of The Artilleryman, but for this production he has moved sideways and plays The Parson. He’s very good indeed. Kerry Ellis, who plays Beth, The Parson’s Wife, is a great singer but can’t match Donovan’s acting.

The part of The Artilleryman is taken by Ricky Wilson of the Kaiser Chiefs. He too turns in a superb performance. Wayne has got in a specialist rock front man, Will Stapleton of Jettblack, for the song, “Thunder Child”, and that works well too.

One of the most obvious things about the new version is that it has gone totally steampunk. The stage dressing, and even the outfits of the orchestra and band, are now all very clearly from an imagined version of Victorian England rather than the real thing. There is a little more material now that Wayne isn’t limited by the length of two vinyl albums, so the story is a little easier to follow, but you have to look for most of the new stuff.

From a musical point of view the best thing is the presence of Chris Spedding and Herbie Flowers (whom I believe were both on the original recording). However, my eye was caught by the woman playing harp and percussion. It turned out that she’s Julia Thornton, who has toured with Roxy Music and is part of The Metaphors, a band formed by Andy McKay and Phil Thompson. Cue squee from the aging Roxy fangirl. She also has good taste in corsets.

Strangely the albums appear to be only available as expensive imports in the USA, but the whole of the original version has been uploaded to YouTube if you want to look for it. Here’s a taster.

Posted in Music, Theatre | 5 Comments

Of Actors and Plots

Some of you may have seen a fair amount of discussion online about the decision to cast Eddie Redmayne in the part of the pioneering trans woman, Lili Elbe, for a forthcoming movie, The Danish Girl. Paris Lees does her best to cut through the binary thinking here.

So yeah, it’s not simple. Here are some thoughts.

Before we go any further I’d like to dispense with the excuse being put about that the part has to be played by a man because they didn’t have hormone therapy back then. Bollocks. Magnus Hirschfeld, the German doctor at whose clinic Elbe was a patient, pioneered the use of hormones for gender medicine. Obviously Lili would not have been treated in childhood to save her from going through male puberty, as can happen today, but I’m pretty sure she will have had access to estrogen.

Anyway: trans actor, male actor, female actor? I’m not too fussed. I suspect that Redmayne will do a pretty good job. I would like to see more trans people get high profile work in acting. In fact I’d like to see them get to play cis people, because if we have a world in which trans women can only play trans women, and cis women can only play cis women, that plays right into the hands of the TERFS who insist that trans and cis women are two radically different things that should never be confused with one another. Maybe we have to get a start by playing trans parts, but I want to see us move way beyond that.

What concerns me far more is what Hollywood will do with our story. I have read a lot of books written by cis people that include trans characters. In many cases these are essentially voyeuristic. That is, the books are there to “explain” trans people to a cis audience. Often they exist to reassure cis people who might be afraid of us, or who might fear that their lives might somehow be destroyed if a friend or family member came out as trans. Even when the books are written by people who are supportive and sympathetic, sometimes even when they are written by my friends, the book can go wrong because the person writing it doesn’t have the experience to get inside the head of the trans character.

How much worse is Hollywood going to be? I think we all know the answer to that. Just in case we didn’t, here’s Bethany Black explaining why she didn’t audition for the part:

So yeah, I would have loved for Saga Becker or Rebecca Root or someone like them to have gotten the part, but I suspect their reaction to the script might have been the same as Beth’s. What I want much more is for the film not to be awful. Could you manage that, Eddie, please?

Posted in Gender, Movies | Leave a comment

Trans History Update 2: An Ancient Greek Trans Man

My other update comes courtesy of a Twitter used called Snek who posted an extract from a work by Lucian of Samaosata. Lucian was a Greek writer who lived in what is modern day Turkey under the Roman Empire (2nd Century CE). He is probably best known to my readers as the author of True History, a work that is often cited as the first ever science fiction novel. It is certainly true that the book tells of voyages to other planets. However, Lucian was a satirist, and the book has more in common with Gulliver’s Travels than with the world of Verne and Wells. It is doubtful that Lucian intended it to be taken as serious scientific speculation.

While this might be Lucian’s most famous work, it is by no means his only one. Another book that he wrote is The Mimes of the Courtesans. This is a set of fictional reminiscences by hetairai — Greek high class sex workers — which again is a work of satire. The original English translation of the work was made in 1905 by HW & FG Fowler, who are more famous today for their magnificent book, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, which is still widely considered to be the ultimate English style guide. However, the Fowlers omitted several sections from their version, deeming them unsuitable for a modern audience. Snek quoted from a 1928 translation by someone only known as “ALH”. This includes the three missing sections, one of which is titled “The Lesbians”.

This short section features a conversation between a hetaira called Leaina and a young man called Clonarion. The lad has heard tell of a relationship between Leaina and a “wealthy lady from Lesbos” called Megilla. Leaina is somewhat embarrassed by the whole affair, but explains that Megilla prefers to be known as Megillos and identifies as a man. The story is called “The Lesbians” because Megillos and his wife, Demonassa, come from Lesbos, though Lucian would undoubtedly have been aware of Sappho and would have set the story there accordingly. However, reading the story, it is very clear that Megillos is someone whom we would identify as a trans man. You can read the whole thing here.

Obviously this is a work of fiction, not an historical report of an actual trans man. But it seems unlikely to me that Lucian would have come up with such a story had he not at least been aware of butch lesbians, and quite likely of trans men.

Posted in Gender, History, Science Fiction | 1 Comment

Trans History Update 1: Assyrian Eunuchs

I did a lot of research for my Trans History talk this year, but I’m already learning new things that I wish I had included. I’ll blog about some of the more spectacular ones here.

For this update I have to give thanks to my Out Stories colleague, Robert Howes, who spotted a Radio 4 documentary about eunuchs. Naturally I gave it a listen. Fairly inevitably, I was disappointed.

Before I get to that, however, I have learned something new about one of my favorite ancient civilizations, the Assyrian Empire. We know now that they had aqueducts long before the Romans came on the scene. The radio program, via Professor Karen Radner of UCL, revealed that a single dynasty controlled the empire for its entire thousand-year existence. In all of human history, only Denmark has managed a similar degree of political stability. (For the benefit of clueless conservatives, in Egypt and China dynasties came and went like confetti.) Doubtless this means that the Assyrian kings were particularly ruthless, but it is impressive all the same.

The other thing I learned about the Assyrians is that they were the first Western(ish) civilization (possibly the first in the world) to make significant use of eunuchs, which is why Prof. Radner was on the program.

The disappointing thing about the program is that it follows the fairly standard cis narrative that castration is a barbaric practice inflicted on unwilling boys and men by despotic rules and greedy parents. The idea that anyone might wish to be castrated is so alien to cis people that they always erase the possibility from their versions of history. The reading list provided for the program includes a book about hijras, but they were not mentioned during the broadcast because they don’t fit the narrative. Modern-day hijras undergo castration voluntarily, because they identify as either third-gender or female.

The program did include a few minutes mention of the Roman-era cult of Cybele, which used castrated, cross-dressing priests very similar to the hijras. However, the panel all professed to have no idea why such people existed, other than in connection with the myth of Attis, Cybele’s consort, who is said to have castrated himself.

All of the mention of Assyrian eunuchs involves their use as bureaucrats and warriors (traditions that were passed down through Islam to the Ottoman Empire). However, it is fairly certain that the cult of Cybele owes something to the worship of the Assyrian goddess, Ishtar, and before her Sumeria’s Inanna. It is possible that the ritual castration of Attis is a more mild version of the ritual death of Ishtar’s corn-god consort, Tammuz. So I suspect that worship of Ishtar might also have involved eunuch priests. If they were anything like Cybele’s Galli, they would have cross-dressed. And of they were anything like the hijras many of them would have identified as women.

Obviously I need to do a bit of digging here, because much of this is speculation, but if I can find evidence then I will have traced the written history of trans people back another 1500 years.

Posted in Gender, History | 3 Comments

History Month: It’s A Wrap

Phew, that’s over!

The end of February was very busy (hence the lack of bloggage). Following up on the panel at Bristol University, I was at Bath University on Thursday to give a repeat of my Trans History talk. It didn’t get quite the audience it should have done because the local UKIP parliamentary candidate was on campus at the same time and some of the students felt honor-bound to go along and represent, a decision that I wholeheartedly support. However, we did have several people attending from outside of the university, which was very pleasing.

On Friday I headed back to Bristol to give a trans awareness talk at Southmead Hospital. This was a repeat of an event I did last year. I’m pleased to report that the audience was bigger this time, and included some counselors and an actual doctor. Here’s hoping that I have done some good.

That evening Out Stories Bristol put on a talk by a friend of ours from Bristol University, Dr. Josie McLellan. The subject of the presentation was gay life in East Berlin prior to the unification. You can read a version of it at Academia.edu. The story of the Homosexuelle Interessengemeinschaft Berlin (HIB) is fascinating, in particular the way in which it operated very openly, on the grounds that the Stasi would find out about them anyway so they might as well not bother hiding.

From my point of view, the most interesting part of the story was that played by a trans woman, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf. She owned a large house with extensive grounds on the outskirts of Berlin. The HIB used to hold meetings and parties there, and Josie had film of them dancing (to Abba, naturally) at one. Von Mahlsdorf was something of an historian herself, running a museum at her property. Her collection included the bar from a Wiemar era gay club, which she re-assembled in her basement for the benefit of her gay friends.

The biography of von Mahlsdorf on Wikipedia suggests that she was even more remarkable. A teenager during WWII, she ended up killing her Nazi father in self-defense. I note also that her family has attempted to erase her trans identity since her death.

Yesterday I was in Bristol again for the final event of this year’s History Month. Of course that was all about launching Out Stories’ next project, so doubtless I’ll still have plenty to keep me busy. Also I have already started work on next year’s History Month events. You’ll hear more about that in due course.

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

Brief UBU Follow-Up

There’s a point I made at the debate at UBU last night that I’d like to spread a bit wider. When I was talking about lack of inclusion of PoC in LGBT activism, I tried this little test on the audience.

First I asked them if, present company excepted, they could name any prominent trans activist in the UK who was not white. I would have named Sabah, who is one of the leading figures behind Brighton Trans Pride, but no one in the audience had a suggestion.

Then I asked if anyone could name a prominent trans activist in the USA who was white. That was a little easier. They could have had Kate Bornstein, Jenny Boylan, Mara Keisling or Masen Davis, for example. However, these days most of the big name activists are black: Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Geena Rocero, Angelica Ross, Lourdes Hunter, Monica Roberts and so on.

When we complain about trans people getting murdered, it is overwhelmingly trans women of color that we are actually talking about. That makes the lack of TWOC in UK activism even more stark.

This is not their problem, it is ours.

Posted in Feminism, Gender | Leave a comment

On the Future of the LGBT+ Movement

Last night I was honored to be asked to be part of a panel at Bristol University Students’ Union (UBU) that was discussing the question: “What Next for the LGBT+ Movement Following the Passing of the Same Sex Marriage Act?”. This was part of a series of events under the general title of a “Festival of Liberation”. Ruth Pearce reported on last week’s intersectionality panel here.

My fellow panelists were as follows:

  • Daryn Carter, the Director of Bristol Pride;
  • Noorulann Shahid, the Black Rep on the NUS LGBT Committee and also the Campaigns & Activism Intern at UBU; and
  • Sorana Vieru, Postgraduate Education Officer at UBU.

The panel was chaired by Alice Phillips, the UBU Equality, Liberation and Access Officer. Fran Cowling, the LGBT Officer (Women’s Place), was unable to attend.

I may have introduced myself as, “an abusive and violent online mob that mercilessly persecutes New Statesman columnists”.

Alice started by asking us what we thought of the Same-Sex Marriage Act. The general opinion of the panel was that it was good that same-sex marriages could now happen, but the problem with the Act is that it is a Same-Sex Marriage Act, not a Marriage Equality Act. Specific issues that were raised included the complete lack of provisions for non-binary people, the Spousal Veto, and the lack of a civil partnership option for straight people.

We were then asked where we thought the LGBT+ movement should go next.

Daryn and I both mentioned the need for the movement to be fully inclusive of people of color. This is a difficult issue to address. I was delighted to have Noorulann on the panel, and the audience was far more diverse than I am used to seeing at LGBT events in Bristol. However, I totally understand that PoC will feel intimidated by all-white gatherings and may not want to attend them. Having things like UK Black Pride is good, but at some point we all need to start working together.

I’m particularly sensitive to the pressure that people like Noorulann will be under to somehow represent “their people” and drag their fellow PoC along to events. The category “non white” includes a vast array of different cultures, and one person can’t possibly be expected to speak for, or to, them all. Noorulann is a very impressive young activist, and I hope that they succeed in their campaign to get to head up the NUS LGBT team next year, but equally there is only so much that one person can do.

Anyway, the door is open. Daryn and I are happy to listen. Hopefully people will come forward and tell us what they need from us.

Related to this are issues of immigration and international policy. The way in which LGBT asylum seekers are treated by UK immigration officers is an absolute disgrace. I suspect we’ll need a change of government to do anything about that (and given the way that Labour are jumping on the anti-immigration bandwagon, a fairly major change of government). Also, while there are clear concerns about the way LGBT people are treated in other countries, we need to be very careful to not allow our concerns to become a cover for wars over resources, or to lead to a repeat of the colonialist nonsense that exported our (white European) phobias to other countries in the first place.

Lastly (I think) on general issues, we noted that austerity policies are particularly hard on LGBT youth, many of whom are made homeless by their families.

I’ve put the general issues first, because I don’t want people to think that the panel was totally about trans issues, but there was certainly a lot of it, and not just because there were two trans people on the panel. Daryn mentioned that he got into LGBT activism in Bristol in part because he found the local scene too trans-exclusionary at the time. And it was an absolute delight to hear Sorana, as a cis woman, talking about the need to oppose TERF ideology in academia (where apparently it is rife in some subject areas).

Noorulann mentioned that the NUS now has a policy to “smash” the Gender Recognition Act, which is fine by me as long as they don’t take away my birth certificate. Here’s the sort of things I want to see:

  • Official recognition of an Other category for gender, as is done to varying degrees in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Australia and Germany;
  • Official promotion of a gender-neutral pronoun (as has just happened in Sweden);
  • Revision of the Gender Recognition Act to allow for this third category (and doubtless a whole bunch of additional fixes);
  • The creation of proper Marriage Equality Act that is entirely gender-neutral; and
  • An end to surgical modification of intersex infants.

As far as I could see, the panel and the audience were OK with that.

We also briefly touched on the ongoing attempts to limit or ban treatment for trans people through the NHS. There may be more news on this next month. For now I simply note that the NHS is under very heavy pressure to cut costs, and one of the ways it is looking to do that is prioritize what services it provides. This will mean that there is no explicit “ban” on unpopular treatments, but there will never be sufficient budget for them to be provided.

I note in passing that after several years of investigations the General Medical Council has just decided that Dr. Richard Curtis has no case to answer and may continue to practice. I don’t suppose that this news will be deemed important enough to appear in The Guardian, though it was all over the trumped up charges when they were brought. Sadly I also expect that new trumped up charges will be laid against Dr. Curtis fairly soon, because that’s the way life is for anyone who dares to provide private medical services to trans people.

I also touched on the case of Chris Wilson, the Scottish trans man who was convicted for fraud for failing to disclose his trans status to sex partners. (Someone in the audience mentioned a similar case in Staines. It isn’t clear that Gemma Barker identified as trans in any way, though that may not have been any protection.) Both of these cases also involve sex with minors, which complicates matters considerably, but the idea that failure to disclose one’s trans status to a sexual partner is an act of criminal fraud is deeply disturbing, especially as it appears to negate the central principle of the Gender Recognition Act.

There were some interesting follow-on questions from Alice and the audience and I’d like to touch on a couple.

Firstly we were asked how we could get more young LGBT people involved in politics. It isn’t easy, unless they are directly affected by something. However, I think that the new vlog series that Fox & Lewis have been running on the My Genderation YouTube Channel is a wonderful thing. The young people making the vlogs don’t talk much about politics, but the fact that they are there, talking about their lives, and giving encouragement to others, is enormously powerful politically.

In discussions afterwards we were told that YouTube is a very important venue for reaching out to young people. I have an awful feeling that I need to overcome my horror of seeing myself on film.

Finally there was an interesting question about inclusivity and alphabet soup. There is no right answer here. I’ve used LGBT rather than QUILTBAG here because of the title of the panel. UBU uses LGBT+ rather than the widely misunderstood LGBT*, but as Noorulann noted those who get letters in QUILTBAG but not in LGBT can feel erased by the +. Even when you try, things can go wrong. Some people now use LGB & T as a means of trying to make it clear that T is not about sexuality, but Noorulann was under the impression it was an attempt to jettison the T. In some cases it depends who you are talking to. Daryn mentioned meeting a lot of people who didn’t know what LGBT meant. Some we need both and. We have to be as inclusive as possible, and recognize people’s identities, but equally we need to represent ourselves to the rest of the world, and avoid damaging internal squabbles. We’ll never get it right, but we can keep trying.

I’d like to end by thanking Alice and UBU for a fantastic event. Special thanks are due to Noorulann, Sorana and Daryn for being fabulous fellow panelists, and to the audience for listening to my ranting. Like Ruth, I have come away greatly encouraged about the future of feminism.

Posted in Feminism, Gender | 1 Comment

Safe Spaces

As a general rule I think that comparing the oppression that one minority group gets to that another minority group gets is a bad idea. I get very irritated by people who, when on the receiving end of prejudice, go on social media and complain, “that wouldn’t have happened if I was xxx”, because of course quite likely it would. However, in this particular case I think a comparison will help illuminate the issue. My apologies if anyone is offended by it.

Anyway, today’s fracas du jour on social media has been all about the vital importance of keeping those horrible trans women out of rape crisis centers, so that “real” women can feel safe in them. Here’s a little thought experiment for you.

Suppose you are running a rape crisis center. Two women have come in. Both have been raped, and both are deeply traumatized. One is white, and the other is black. The white woman says to you, “I don’t feel safe with that black woman here, black people scare me, please throw her out.” What do you do?

I don’t for a minute suggest that would not happen. Sadly there are parts of the world where I suspect it is all too plausible. However, hopefully you lot will all be as horrified by it as I am.

I’ve never been trained to run a rape crisis center, but this is the sort of thing I hope would happen. Firstly I have a deeply traumatized black woman whose day has just been made much worse by the behavior of the other woman, so I need to get her somewhere where she can be looked after without this unwanted drama. Hopefully I have more than one room I can use, and colleagues I can call on for help. Then there’s the white woman, who is behaving very badly, but is also deeply traumatized. She might be better when she’s calmed down a bit, and in any case it is our job to help women who have been raped, no matter how badly they behave. So we look after her as well. We try to make both women feel as safe, comfortable and supported as possible.

Now try this scenario. You are running a rape crisis center. Two women have come in. Both have been raped, and both are deeply traumatized. One is cis, and the other is trans. The cis woman says, “I don’t feel safe with that trans person here, he’s really a man and might attack me, please throw him out.” What do you do?

If your answer to that is, “throw the bastard out, how dare he come into a women-only space!” then I would be deeply worried about you. Nevertheless, you would have some support, both from prominent media feminists, and from the British Government.

Of course they never put the argument like that. It is always presented as the cis woman who has been raped, and the trans woman who might cause trouble by invading the women-only space. One woman is portrayed as the victim, the other is demonized. But really, why would the trans woman be coming to the rape crisis center if she hadn’t been raped too, and be equally in need of help and support?

As far as I can see, these “debates” have two main purposes. The first is to scare trans women by making it clear that if they were unlucky enough to be raped then there would be no help or support for them, they’d be on their own. The second is to reinforce the idea that trans women are dangerous sexual predators who are not safe to have around “real” women. I find both of these things despicable.

Posted in Feminism, Gender | 10 Comments

New In Stores – The Assassin’s Edge

The Assassin's Edge - Juliet E. McKenna

The latest release from Wizard’s Tower, The Assassin’s Edge by Juliet E. McKenna, is now available in the major online stores. Links here.

I’d like to say it is in our store too, but of course the VAT nonsense has put an end to that. I’d also like to say that, as we now have all five volumes of the Tales of Einarinn series available, we’ll be doing an omnibus edition. However, Amazon royalties are stupidly low on books priced over $9.99 so it is not economic for us to do so. If only we could sell through our own store…

Juliet will be blogging about the book eventually, but she’s busy bending the ears of the Great & Good at the moment so it won’t be for a few days.

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

Pattern Reproduction

This morning I saw this fine tweet on the excellent Media Diversified feed.

It reminded me that for the past week I’ve seen a torrent of white cis people explaining that something lots of trans people felt to be transphobic was in fact not transphobic at all, because they knew better than us.

Also this morning, I read this very fine article on sexism in academia. It contains the following: “We’re often told that women overreact, taking offence where none is meant.”

Oddly enough, over the past week, lots of cis people have been queuing up to tell trans people that they are overreacting, and taking offence where none is meant.

Does anyone see a pattern here?

Still, what do I know? I’m just part of an aggressive and violent online mob that needs to be put in its place by the media, right?

Posted in Feminism, Gender | Leave a comment

Attention Liverpool

On Monday March 23rd I will be giving a public lecture entitled, “Exploring Gender Fluidity Through Science Fiction and Fantasy” at Liverpool University. The event is sponsored by Flagship, the university’s LGBT lecture series, by the University Library (which has a fine special collection of SF&F works), and by the Science Fiction Foundation. To my astonishment, the talk is being introduced by the Vice Chancellor herself. (And she’s a professor of English, so I’d better be on my toes.) Details are as follows:

Date: Monday, March 23rd
Time: 5:30pm
Location: Lecture Theatre 6, Rendall Building, Cambridge Street, University of Liverpool

The flier for the event (PDF) is available here.

Update: To book a (free) place please go here. (Space may be limited.)

Like I said, it is a public event. I hope to see some of you there.

Posted in Gender, Science Fiction, Where's Cheryl? | Leave a comment

Some Basic Points

Elsewhere I am still seeing people concern-trolling about how unfairly the poor TERFS are being treated by the horrid trans people. Why, people keep asking, are trans folk not prepared to debate important issues? Well, here are a few things to think about, based on stuff I have read elsewhere.

First up, the acronym TERF stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. All of those words are important. The suggestion that its use attacks all feminists, or even all radical feminists, is clearly incorrect. Indeed, most trans activists identify as feminists, and many as radicals.

I am well aware of the claim that “TERF” is a term of abuse. However, it is a simple and factual statement of their political position. If there was a better word, I’d be happy to use it. However, the TERFs themselves prefer to be referred to as “feminists” or even just “women”, this being an attempt to infer that their position has far greater support than it has, and to encourage the sort of confusion I referred to above. Claiming that any word we come up with to describe them is a term of abuse is a tactic used to prevent us from addressing their claims.

I have a Gender Recognition Certificate. Under the Gender Recognition Act of 2004 this means that I have the right, in law, to be treated as a woman. My driving license, passport, and even birth certificate say that I am female. The central thesis of this law — that I and people like me are women — was described as the “extreme form” of trans ideology by the New Statesman last week. Hopefully you can understand why I get a little irritated by constant demands that I “debate” the idea that I am not “really” a woman, should be barred from female-only spaces, and should be forced to use male-only toilets if I need to pee when out in public.

By the way, props to Roz Kaveney for pointing out that these attempts to prevent trans women from using public toilets are very similar to the Victorian idea that by not providing public toilets for women they could be forced to stay at home and not participate in public life.

If your position is that an exception can be made for trans women like me, but not for others, then you need to define how this exception will work. Note, however, that the TERF position is that I am, and always will be, a man, and can never be allowed in women-only spaces. Germaine Greer’s position is that anyone with a Y chromosome is a man, no matter how weird their biology. This include people with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome who are female-bodied, assigned female at birth, raised as girls, identify as women, and in a few cases have even given birth.*

If your idea for how to control exceptions is “PENIS!!!”, what will you do about a 17-year-old who has been living as a girl since she was 5, has not and never will go through male puberty, but cannot legally have gender surgery until she turns 18?

Note also that in order to qualify for gender transition patients at Gender Identity Clinics generally have to spend at least 2 years living full time in their preferred gender role. That includes the use of gender-appropriate toilets.

Currently some 13,000 people have undergone transition under the care of British gender clinics (not all of whom will have had surgery). It is reasonable to assume that getting on for half of them identify as trans women. To date not one of them has been charged with sexual assault of a woman in a public bathroom. (It would have been all over the papers if one had.) Why would anyone say that all of them should be punished by being denied access to toilets, just in case one of them might commit an assault?

If your position is that heterosexual men might disguise themselves as trans women in order to sneak into women’s toilets and commit sexual assaults, why is your solution to that to ban actual trans women from toilets? If you were worried that rapists might disguise themselves as postmen in order to attack housewives, would your solution be to ban mail deliveries?

Why is it that trans men are never seen as a sexual threat (even when TERFS demand that they use women’s toilets)? Why are lesbians not a danger in women’s toilets, or gay men in men’s toilets? Why is it only ever trans women who are seen as potential sexual predators?

And finally, over 200 trans women are killed worldwide every year, just because they are trans. Almost always the killers are men. TERFs know this when they demand that trans women be forced to out themselves to strangers and enter a male-only space if they want to have a pee.

I don’t suppose any of that will put a stop to it. People will go on and on complaining, “why can’t you be reasonable, why can’t you just debate this point?” After all, people keep saying that we should debate the reality of evolution, and climate change, and the moon landings. But there comes a point when you have to say enough. The reality of gender identity issues, and the appropriateness of gender transition as a treatment, is recognized by the UN, by most democratic governments, and by the bulk of medical and scientific opinion. As this post on Skeptoid states, it is time for TERFism to be recognized as a form of denialism so that most of us can stop having these endless “debates”. Mostly they are just excuses for terrorizing trans women, and we need to stop enabling them.

By the way, on the subject of medical evidence, I note from Canadian news that Kenneth Zucker, the primary proponent of the sort of trans “cures” that Julie Bindel advocates, and which led to the suicide of Leelah Alcorn, has been put under a six-month independent review by his bosses.

Also the current evidence used by Zucker and his pals to claim that trans women are mentally ill is the condition of “autogynephlia”, a form of sexual fetish in which we are supposed to be in lust with our images of ourselves as women. I saw recently on the GIRES website that someone has done some proper science to test this condition by introducing a control. The research showed that, using the diagnostic criteria recommended by the inventor or autogynephlia, Ray Blanchard, 93% of cis women tested should be classified as suffering from this “mental illness”. Yet autogynephilia is still included in the current US directory of mental illnesses, and many countries still require that trans people be officially diagnosed as mentally ill before they can even change their names.

* There is a science fiction story to be written in which external incubation of babies becomes fashionable because Greer-like feminists have a horror of being “contaminated” by male cells should they male children. Every woman who has born a son has a bunch of Y-chromosome cells floating around in her body.

Posted in Current Affairs, Feminism, Gender, Science | 10 Comments

Yet More Science

Thanks to a recent repeat I was able to catch up on a 2013 BBC Horizon program. This was a fix-up show using archive footage from a number of early programs, and connected by a framing narrative provided by Alice Roberts. The subject of the program was Sex, and it is still available on iPlayer.

The first thing that struck me about the show is that Alice’s segments were clearly filmed in Cabot Circus in Bristol. Well, Alice did used to teach at Bristol University, but the idea of Bristol being the UK’s hub of knowledge about sex amused me. There was also some great archive footage of interviews with Alfred Kinsey and some of his subjects. But what interested me were the two segments on gender identity.

The first was from a show about the disastrous affair of Dr. John Money and David Reimer, which I presume you are all familiar with. What I hadn’t seen before were clips from a 2002 film featuring a trans man called Alex Toth. Alex had the dubious honor of being put through a battery of physical, psychological and medical tests before and after his testosterone treatment. The differences, even on the tests of his brain activity, were significant. Judging by the needs of program-making and the changes in Alex’s appearance in the “before” and “after” tests, I don’t think he can have been on testosterone for more than a year or two between them. Nevertheless there were major changes in his appearance, his physical skills, and the way in which his brain worked.

Nevertheless, our TERF friends continue to asset that trans women are “really” men, will always be so, and no amount of medical intervention can change that; and that “science” proves this. Maybe the hormone magic only works one way. Or maybe heads are firmly in the sand.

Posted in Gender, Science | 1 Comment

VATMOSS Twitter Storms Tomorrow

As you may have seen, Juliet McKenna got to go to Downing Street last week as part of a delegation taking the VAT campaign directly to the Prime Minster’s advisers. That’s serious progress.

The next step in the campaign happens on Monday, and will take the form of a couple of Twitter storms aimed at EU officials. Details can be found here. Your support, as always, is much appreciated.

Of course it does occur to me that if this was something being done on behalf of trans women then it would get spun as a violent attack on vulnerable politicians…

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

A Little Ancient History

BBC4 is currently running a short series of archaeology programmes called Digging for Britain. Fronted by Alice Roberts, it provides updates on a range of ongoing investigations around the country. I’ve just caught up with the West Country episode, and it contains something that may be of interest to fantasy writers.

The dig in question is at Ipplepen, a small village near Newton Abbot in Devon. It has been interesting for some time because it uncovered the remains of a Roman road. Previously it had been thought that Roman settlement ended at Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter), which was a large town and home to Legio Secunda Augusta, one of the four legions making up the British garrison. Discovering that a road had been built south-west from that town was a big surprise. No one yet knows where it goes, though my guess is that it connected to a port somewhere in Torbay.

There is definitely a large settlement at Ipplepen, and fragments of roof tile have been found suggesting Roman-style buildings as well as the pottery, jewelry and other evidence of Roman culture. However, the thing that it really exciting the archaeologists is the cemetery.

The Romans didn’t put cemeteries inside towns. Instead they buried people outside, often along the side of roads. Last year a number of graves were excavated, and when Danielle Wootton of Exeter University turned up to talk about the dig on Digging for Britain she had just received the first radio carbon dating results. One of the graves was dated at between 655 and 765 CE. For reference, the official end date of the Roman occupation of Britain is generally accepted to be 410 CE. So what we have here is a Romano-British settlement that was still flourishing some 250 to 350 years after the legions departed.

Let me repeat that. South-West of England, large Romano-British settlement, still flourishing 250-350 years after the legions departed. Obviously there is much archaeology yet to be done, and no one is officially speculating about anything. Fortunately for us, fiction is not required to abide by academic rules.

And yes, the dates for that burial do overlap with the life of Hild of Whitby.

Posted in History | 1 Comment

Launching The Ship

The Ship - Antonia HoneywellYesterday I made my way into Bristol to help out at an event organized by the Bristol Festival of Literature. It was the launch, at Foyles, of The Ship, a debut novel by Antonia Honeywell. Given that the book is clearly dystopian, my friend Pete Sutton asked me if I would be willing to host the event and interview Antonia. I am delighted to say that it all went very well. Antonia coped superbly with her first public author event, and we got a decent crowd who asked good questions. I have now written a review of The Ship, and you can read it here. The short version is that it is more allegory than science fiction, but very interesting all the same.

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Evil Exposed! Shock! Horror!

Secret Trans Cabal Volcano Lair


Throughout the past week British newspapers have been full or articles from prominent left-wing intellectuals explaining how a vicious and violent campaign of bullying and censorship by the “powerful trans lobby” has prevented them from expressing their views in public. Clearly that is horrific enough, but yesterday further news of the perfidy of trans people was revealed — by none other than The Pope.

Some of you may remember that Pope Ratty declared that trans people were a bigger threat to the planet than climate change. Not to be outdone, his successor, Pope Francis, has compared trans people to nuclear weapons.

Of course it is all true. We cannot tell a lie. The picture above shows technicians in the Secret Trans Cabal’s Volcano Lair preparing a Gender Bomb for launch. The exact contents of the bomb are still classified, but I do know that it will contain music videos from a forthcoming Beyoncé biopic starring Laverne Cox.

Further details of the Trans Cabal’s evil plans will be revealed next week in the New Statesman. In order to help you follow the story as it unfolds, here are some of the key members of the Cabal.

Maximum Leader Rozario KavenikovaMaximum Leader Rozario Kavenikova pictured at a recent military parade.

Ninja Sarah BrownSarah Brown prepares for another vicious character assassination of a prominent left-wing intellectual.

Christine Burns directsChristine Burns directs political campaigns from behind the scenes.

Vampire Paris LeesParis Lees prepares to seduce another BBC executive.

CN Lester bandCN Lester and their new thrash sonata band, Gendarok.

MeArtist’s impression of Cheryl Morgan in her younger days (circa 1800 BCE).

Posted in Gender, Weird | 7 Comments

Science! It Is Getting Everywhere

While I was having a go at the New Statesman over their lack of understanding of biology, people with far more knowledge of the subject than me were also beavering away on articles.

You have probably already seen this article in Nature, if only because John Scalzi blogged about it. Truly, biology is far more weird and wonderful than most of us can imagine.

I’d also recommend this follow-up piece by Vanessa Heggie in the Guardian (science pages, of course, where being nice to trans people is allowed). It points out, quite rightly, that all this is by no means new. One of the mentions goes to Anne Fausto-Sterling whose work was the basis for Melissa Scott’s novel, Shadow Man.

Something that was new to me from that article was the work of Keith L Moore who proposes a nine-axis definition of sexual identity, those components being external genital appearance, internal reproductive organs, structure of the gonads, endocrinologic sex, genetic sex, nuclear sex, chromosomal sex, psychological sex and social sex. I need to check out what some of those mean, but at a first glance it appears that trans women would count as female on only four out of nine, which would inevitably lead to people saying, “Less that half”! See, science proves you are not female!!!”

Then again, I am prepared to forgive Moore a lot for saying this:

Females have been declared ineligible for athletic competition for no other apparent reason than the presence of an extra chromosome…[these tests] cannot be used as indicators of ‘true sex’

Oh how Germaine Greer must hate him.

By the way, as Roz pointed out on Twitter yesterday, science is generally held by RadFems to be an Evil Patriarchal Plot (remember this?) except when it can be twisted to “prove” that trans women are men.

While I’m here, I’d also like to point you at a recent letter to the Guardian attacking Stonewall’s decision to support trans people. I’m often asked why some gay and lesbian people hate trans folk. This brings up some of the issues. In particular there’s this:

Pressure groups are usually single-issue institutions, and this is true of Stonewall and other gay and bisexual charities: the issue being the acceptance of same sex attraction as not being a disease of body nor an illness of the mind. This has been the central platform for the acceptance of all gay rights.

Transsexualism is defined as the disjunction between a mind of one sex and the body of another, a physical or a mental dysmorphia between gender and physical sex, requiring a cure – surgery. This is the opposite of everything that LGB groups, and feminist groups, have been fighting for…

The implication here, of course, is that trans people are sick, whereas same sex attraction is “normal”. And of course the writer claims that this is not a “transphobic” idea, presumably because he thinks it is a “fact”.

The main problem with this is that by no means all trans people either want or need medical intervention. Fighting for trans rights is first and foremost about the right to not have to conform to binary gender roles. That’s an issue that lots of LGB people ought to be able to get behind.

Secondly, what medical options are offered to trans people (by responsible doctors, not by Bindel and her pals) are not intended to stop people being trans, but are quite the opposite. I quite understand the fear that older LGB people have of “cures”, because the sorts of things they remember with horror are still done to trans people. However, there is a huge difference between medical treatment intended to support someone’s sense of self, and medical treatment intended to destroy that identity. I don’t think that support for trans people is the slippery slope that the letter writer fears it might be.

What we should be doing is not trying to claim that one group of people is “normal” while others are “sick”, but to move away from the stigmatization of people who require some medical intervention to get on with their lives happily.

Intersectionality, it is about understanding that other people’s oppression is just as real to them as yours is to you.

Posted in Feminism, Gender, Science | Leave a comment