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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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

Scientifically Illiterate, Medically Dangerous

The other major piece of anti-trans propaganda that appeared in the media recently is, of course, in the New Statesman. I am fast coming to the conclusion that Helen Lewis and her staff don’t just hate trans women, they want to cause us actual harm. First there was their trolling of Leelah Alcorn, and now this. Let me explain.

For the most part the article is a truly dreadful attempt at Oppression Olympics. It goes on and on about how evil, “McCarthyist” trans women are preventing feminists from saying, well, anything really. The most spectacular part of it is where it tries to insinuate that BlockBot, a tool developed by feminists on Twitter to protect themselves from GamerGate, is in fact a weapon invented by trans women to shut down feminist debate. (And here once again we see the accusation that by refusing to listen to the hate being directed at us we are somehow “censoring” our opponents.)

The reason I am interested in the article, however, is that it makes some specific scientific claims about trans women. (And by the way, you can always tell nonsense articles about trans people because they talk almost exclusively about trans women.) I’d like to take a look at these claims and see how they stand up.

The first thing I did on reading the article was to check the author to see if they had any scientific credentials. The byline is “Terry Macdonald”, which the article freely admits is a pseudonym. I’m guessing that this is an attempt to insinuate that writing about trans women is not safe, and the author has to remain anonymous for their own protection. Goodness only knows how long a New Statesman writer would survive in the shoes of Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn or Brianna Wu, who are actually risking their lives. But hey, trans women, the greatest threat to civilization the world has ever known and all that.

Or possibly, of course, it is some complicated shell game that will end with Sarah Ditum yelling, “See you misgendered me, you are a transphobe, I WIN!!!” Given that the situation is uncertain, I shall use gender-neutral pronouns for Macdonald.

Anyway, the point is that there is no evidence of scientific credentials. Nevertheless, scientific claims are made. In particular there is this:

The core of the ideology I’m referring to is the assertion that ‘trans women are women’. (We hear a lot less from and about trans men.) Exactly what this statement means depends on whether the speaker is using the word ‘women’ to refer to a social category or a biological one. In the first case there is a discussion to be had (though people may reasonably differ in their conclusions), but in the second case the assertion is patently false. Trans women are not, by definition, biological females. Yet in the most extreme version of the ideology, you cannot say that without being labelled a TERF.

I note in passing that there is a third meaning to the statement ‘trans women are women’, and that is a legal one. The good old Gender Recognition Act might have many flaws, but one thing that it has done is make thousands of trans women legally female. Macdonald conveniently ignores this. As to social categories, TERFS are all over how gender is a social construct, except when it applies to trans women, in which case their right to be socially female is suddenly questionable.

I also note that the reason we don’t hear a lot from trans men is that no one is devoting pages and pages of newsprint to preventing trans men from using men’s bathrooms. It is generally accepted that trans men are men.

The claim I want to look at, however, is this one about trans women not being “biological females”. What does it mean? Macdonald doesn’t say, so I am going to run through a bunch of possibilities to try to work out what this is all about.

The most obvious starting point is physical appearance. I often see people claiming that the breasts of trans women are “fake”, implying that they are the result of silicon implants. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can assure you that mine grew naturally, under the influence of estrogen, just like any other woman’s would. Some people also like to claim, because trans women have had their genitalia reconstructed, that our new genitalia are somehow made of dead flesh, and even that they smell of necrosis. The plastic surgeons are much better than that, I can assure you. Finally it is sometimes claimed that because we have our penises “cut off” we are incapable of enjoying sex, a comment so inaccurate that it tends to make me giggle uncontrollably.

How about internal organs, then? Well, trans women don’t have wombs or ovaries, but some cis women have to have them removed for medical reasons and that doesn’t stop them being women, does it? I think not.

One area in which trans women are often accused of being “biologically male” is sport. There is an assumption that a trans woman will have an unfair advantage over a “real” woman because of her “male” body. Well, as luck would have it, there are parts of the Guardian that do publish socially progressive articles about trans people. Their science and technology section can be quite good, but yesterday it was their sports section that stepped up to the plate by carrying an interview with Fallon Fox.

The article quotes Dr Eric Vilain, director of the Institute for Society and Genetics at UCLA, who helped the Association of Boxing Commissions write its transgender policy, and Dr Marci Bowers, an OB-GYN specialist and a leader in the field of transition-related surgeries. Both of them dismiss the idea that Fox has some sort of unnatural advantage over other female contestants. Dr Vilain is quoted as saying, “male to female transsexuals have significantly less muscle strength and bone density, and higher fat mass, than males”. Obviously there is a range of abilities, because not every woman is the same, but Bowers says of Fox, “There are taller women than her, there are bigger women than her, there are stronger women than her.”

The author of the article, Jos Truit, adds that, “transition could mean a hormonal disadvantage for Fox because of her low testosterone levels.” I’m highlighting that because what the experts say about Fox are not comments on her status as someone who has identified as female from an early age, but on her status as someone who has undergone gender surgery and hormone treatment. That’s important.

Hormones are hugely powerful chemicals responsible for all sorts of systems in the body. There’s a fascinating program about them currently available on iPlayer. Testosterone and estrogen are particularly important. Post-surgery, trans women no longer make testosterone naturally, but they can’t make estrogen either. Because of this, we are put on a lifetime prescription of what is essentially hormone replacement therapy. We are supposed to get regular blood tests too, because the doctors want to be sure that our estrogen levels are typical for adult women. It is a health issue, we are told.

Estrogen, of course, is what causes pre-pubescent girls to turn into adult women; and testosterone turns boys into men. But the hormones don’t suddenly stop working just because you have become an adult. That’s why trans women are able to grow breasts naturally. Estrogen treatment causes other effects as well, including the loss of muscle strength and bone density, and the gain in fat, reported by Dr Vilain.

The upshot of this is that if you were to take a blood sample from a trans woman, or check a whole bunch of characteristics such as those mentioned in connection with Fox, the results you got back would be typical of a woman, not of a man.

So where are we? Trans women appear to be “biologically female” from their external appearance and a whole battery of internal tests. Is there anything else we can look at? Well, Macdonald does admit that some research suggests that trans women have brains that look more like those of women than like those of men. This is fairly contentious stuff, and to be really safe researchers have to be very careful to ensure that what they are measuring is the pre-transition brain, not the brain that has been bathed in estrogen for decades. Up until yesterday I was not prepared to state that a biological basis for gender identity had been discovered.

Then this was published. It is a paper in an academic journal called Endocrine Practice, and it takes the form of a literature review, meaning that it looks at evidence from a wide range of studies. The conclusion of the paper is, “Although the mechanisms remain to determined, there is strong support from the literature that there is a biological basis for gender identity.”

Michael Dillon would be so happy. I don’t suppose that Macdonald has had a chance to read the paper yet, but I’d be interested to know what they make of it.

Finally, of course, we come to chromosomes. That’s the usual last resort of those who wish to “prove” that trans women are “really” men. Women have XX chromosomes, and men have XY, and all trans women are XY, right?

Well, no. Macdonald admits that intersex people exist, but doesn’t seem to know much about them. One of the better known intersex conditions is Klinefelter’s syndrome, which generally involves having XXY chromosomes, though the best known example, Caroline Cossey, has XXXY. The point about Klinefelter’s is that people with that condition are born looking male, and are assigned male at birth. Some of them identify as female, and like Cossey choose to go through gender surgery. They may identify as trans women — Cossey does. I’m interested to know how Macdonald would classify them. Are they “really men”, or do they get a pass because they are also intersex?

One of the most spectacular intersex conditions, however, is androgen insensitivity syndrome. People with this condition have XY chromosomes, but their bodies are unable to process androgens, which are male sex hormones. As a result their bodies develop looking female, and they are assigned female at birth. Their only significant difference from XX people is that they don’t normally have wombs or ovaries.

So if chromosomes trump everything, are people with AIS “biologically male”? Or do they get a pass and count as “biologically female” because they have AIS? And if so, how is a trans woman, whose body doesn’t process androgens because she can’t make them anymore, different?

I suspect that some mumbling about age might be happening in the New Statesman bunker (buried deep underground for fear of nuclear strikes by angry trans women) right now. And there we come to another interesting question: trans kids.

As I mention above, hormones are responsible for the massive changes that humans undergo at puberty. These days, trans kids are able to access treatments that allow them to go through puberty in their preferred gender. A young trans woman today will never have been through male puberty. She will have been through female puberty. How is she not “biologically female”?

But, but… Time for one last throw of the dice. Macdonald says,

Other arguments espoused by some trans activists are entirely lacking in scientific support, since they deny the existence of human sexual dimorphism.

Oh, right humans are a sexually dimorphic species, so males and females must be different. Paging Dr Bowers here:

“Sexual dimorphism refers to the amount of physical difference between the sexes,” Bowers explains. “The fact is, human beings actually differ very little in their sexual dimorphism, much less so than other species.”

That lack of difference is, of course, much less pronounced in children than in adults. And, you know, isn’t that one of the central tenets of feminism: that when it comes down to it men and women are not that different? Why, then, is it so important for some feminists to insist that trans women are, and can only ever be, men?

Basically, I suspect, it is all down to willies. It used to be that TERFs would claim that gender was a social construct, and that trans women were constructed male in childhood and could never change that. As trans girls began to transition at younger and younger ages, it eventually came down to, “but they had willies when they were born, and that makes them men!”

It is the same with the biology. Trans women can be as close as possible, biologically speaking, to cis women — certainly well within the natural range on most tests — and they can transition as young as possible, never going through male puberty. But eventually it will all come down to, “but they had willies when they were born!”

The main point I wanted to make here, though, is not that Macdonald’s argument is scientifically illiterate. I also want to note that it is medically dangerous.

One of the things that modern medical science is discovering is that the health of the body is very much dependent on what gender it is. And that’s not a question of chromosomes, or what gender it was assigned at birth, it is mostly down to hormones. For trans women to remain healthy, it is important for doctors to treat them, in most cases, as biologically female, because their bodies will react like those of other women. By encouraging people to think, against all scientific evidence, that trans women are biologically male, Macdonald and their friends are putting trans women’s health at risk.

Doubtless the argument in the New Statesman bunker is that the thing to do would be to ban gender medicine. Then all of the trans women would commit suicide and the problem would be solved in what they would regard as a humane and civilized manner. Thankfully much of the rest of the world doesn’t seem to share their views.

Posted in Gender, Health, Science | 1 Comment

Free Speech Becomes Newspeak

Issues of freedom of speech are all the rage in traditional and social media these days. As this is a political question, there is invariably a lot of subtext surrounding what is actually said. People say loudly that they are in favour of “free speech”, but what they mean by that can vary considerably, and it is wise to understand the issues before offering immediate support to such a call.

This particular post was prompted by a letter in The Observer on Saturday (it is dated Sunday, but it went online on Saturday morning) in which a posse of the great and good decried what they view as a creeping atmosphere of censorship in British universities. This in turn led to lots of people getting very angry on social media, and people getting very upset as a result.

Much of this involves the issue of “no-platforming”, by which student unions say that certain people whom they view as purveyors of hate speech and other objectionable views are not allowed to speak on union premises. This sort of thing has been common in student unions for decades — certainly since I was at university, which is so long ago that we called the study of dinosaurs agricultural economics. I am pretty sure that some of the people who signed that letter will have happily marched around their campuses chanting “no platform for racists and fascists”. The difference these days is that the people potentially being no-platformed are people with a track record of spreading hatred against trans people and sex workers.

It is worth noting that no-platforming is not censorship. It does not say that the people concerned have no right to their opinions, or to express those opinions, it simply says that they should not have the right to express those views on university premises. There are plenty of places where one can spread vile views about trans people and sex workers, the Guardian/Observer being one of them.

Also, of course, one’s access to platforms increases dramatically if one is white, middle-class, cisgendered, Oxbridge educated and so on. If you want to see how British society effectively no-platforms people of color I recommend that you follow @WritersOfColour on Twitter. They publish some really good articles.

Let’s now deal with the substance of the complaints. Sarah Brown has a comprehensive take-down of the various issues it raises here, but I’ll go through them briefly here.

The comedian, Kate Smurthwhaite, was not no-platformed. Her gig was cancelled because only 8 tickets had been sold.

Germaine Greer was not no-platformed at Cambridge. There was discussion between the Cambridge Union (which is a debating society, not the Student’s Union) and student feminists about whether she should be invited to speak. In the event she was. The students organized a rival event, which they have a perfect right to do. Greer used her platform to abuse trans people, which rather proves the point as to why the students didn’t want her to be invited in the first place.

Then there is Rupert Read, the Green Party candidate for Cambridge. He hasn’t been no-platformed either. What did happen is that a bunch of trans activists protested against his views, and some demanded that he be de-selected by the Greens. This happened because of views about trans people that he expressed publicly. I got told on Saturday night that these views were “not transphobic”, and yet what Read was effectively doing was calling for the repeal of the Gender Recognition Act.

The key point about the GRA is that it gives (some) trans people the right to be legally recognized in our preferred gender. Read’s position was that we should not have that right, and that “women” (a group he clearly felt not to include me) should have the right to exclude trans women from female-only spaces if they so wished, specifically bathrooms. How that can be construed as not transphobic is beyond me.

Support for trans people has long been a prominent feature of Green politics, and to see one of their candidates expressing firmly anti-trans views was very worrying. What happened with Read is that the leadership of the Greens took him aside and explained that what he was saying was against party policy. He has since apologized and retracted his remarks. If that is censorship, then so is all party politics. Suggesting, as the Observer letter does, that trans people should not be allowed to challenge political parties on their support for issues directly pertaining to us is very worrying and deeply undemocratic.

Of course there has long been a view amongst prominent left-wing activists that they have fulfilled their moral obligation to trans people by allowing us to dress as we please and have medical assistance to look the way we want. They will then insist that this doesn’t mean that trans women are “really” women, or that trans men exist, and that holding such views does not make them in any way transphobic. My opinion of such sophistry is not printable. We have not forgotten that the one piece of UK legislation that makes discrimination against trans people legal was authored by the Labour Party.

The only actual case of no-platforming I know of involving the people mentioned by the letter is a single incident in which Julie Bindel was banned from speaking at Sheffield University. This is hardly a tidal wave of totalitarianism, deserving of a mass letter to the national media.

Of course the Sheffield students are perfectly within their rights to deny Bindel a platform if they wish. Student politics is not a dictatorship, and if the actual student body disagrees they can vote the current leadership out. Nor has Bindel been prevented from holding a meeting elsewhere in Sheffield, or writing about the situation in national newspapers, who seem only to keen to pay her for her opinions, no matter how vile they are.

I don’t know why Sheffield decided to deny Bindel a platform, but I suspect that it is something to do with her support for “reparative therapy” for trans people — the sort of psychological bullying that caused Leelah Alcorn to take her own life. The letter, very disingenuously, says that none of the people no-platformed have ever advocated violence against trans people. The only one of those people that was actually no-platformed is someone who has indeed advocated grossly inhuman treatment of trans people. I understand that some of those mentioned advocate things that are deeply dangerous to sex workers as well.

To understand why the letter unleashed a Twitter storm you also have to understand the subtext that it contains, and why trans people will have seen it as saying much more than it actually did.

The point here is that trans activists are for the most part fed up of being asked to debate our right to exist, our right to be considered sane, our right not to be labelled “rapists” simply because we are trans women, and our right not to have to respond to accusations that we are can never be “real” women because our vaginas are too smelly (the Jeffreys position) or not smelly enough (the Greer position). Frankly we have better things to do with our lives.

Nevertheless, people do love a good bust-up. We don’t throw people to the lions any more, but we do what are known as “ambush debates”. What happens here is that you invite someone from a minority group along to talk about their experiences, and when they get there they discover that they will be expected to “debate” against someone who hates people like them, and that they will have to spend the entire “debate” responding to lies and insults from the professional hater.

Of course if you decline to be part of such a “debate” then the people organizing it will probably cancel, because they will be deprived of their entertainment. Trans people have discovered that if you use this tactic, and the event is indeed cancelled, then we will be accused of having “no-platformed” or “censored” the person lined up to insult us. This happened to Sarah Brown when she declined to be on a panel with Julie Bindel (something which turned into an appalling example of real world as well as online bullying of Sarah); and it happened to Paris Lees when she declined to be on a Newsnight “debate”.

So when someone says that they are against “no-platforming”, what trans people tend to hear is that they are in favor of having us put in metaphorical stocks while someone like Bindel or Greer throws insults at us. To the trans community, saying that you are against “no-platforming” comes across in the same way as saying that you are concerned about ethics in games journalism.

Next up there is the way that Twitter storms work. Soon after the whole thing blew up I was starting to hear stories that trans activists had unleashed a storm of hate messages against those who had signed the letter, and that this somehow proved what awful creatures trans people are.

It doesn’t work like that.

Twitter is an ideal vehicle for spontaneous mass protest by people normally denied a voice. You don’t have to organize a Twitter storm, and unless you have vastly more followers than any trans activist you probably can’t. They happen quite naturally, because lots of people have access. I have no idea who was the first person to tweet about that letter, but it is entirely likely that it was just the first trans person to look at the Guardian website that day. I heard about it from some young trans people I follow. They are not particularly activists, but they do get angry. One of them, I know, has been thrown out of her family home by her parents because she is trans. People like that get angry easily.

Once a storm gets going, of course, everyone joins in. I’m sure that a few trans activists will have said some fairly vile things. But our cause will have been adopted by people with a grudge against some of the people who signed the letter, by people doing it “for the lols”, and by sock-puppet accounts set up by the TERFS for the purpose of discrediting us. That’s the way that Twitter works.

In addition, prominent trans activists will have been targeted with abusive tweets. That too is part of the way Twitter works. But apparently that doesn’t matter, because it is only the feelings of white, middle-class media celebrities that are important.

The solution to all of this is not to blame the minority group that is seen to be sending abusive tweets, but to demand that Twitter become better at dealing with abuse. And in the meantime to use the “block” button.

Social media has made modern politics rather complicated to navigate. I can quite understand how some older people have difficulty with it. However, it is part of the way we live these days. If you want to carry on having a political voice, you have to understand it. And if you are going to sign up to a high profile statement that is deeply critical of a minority group, you have to understand what that statement is saying.

I don’t expect that everyone who signed that letter in the Observer will be aware of this subtlety, and indeed there has been some suggestion that what they were asked to sign is very different from what finally appeared in the paper. So hopefully some of them will be thinking, not just about how they have been abused online, but how they have been used, and why.

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


I am back from Manchester. I also have a cold. Given how badly I was sneezing on the train on the way south (deeply embarrassing, I can assure you) I elected to steer clear of the two Bristol events I was supposed to attend last night, and instead go straight home. I need to get myself fit again for the launch of Antonia Honeywell’s The Ship on Thursday night.

The one piece of good news from yesterday was the launch of Stonewall UK’s new trans inclusion policy. This looks to have been really well done, and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of it.

In the meantime, of course, the “feminist” lobby in the mainstream media has been busily stirring up hated against trans people. I may have a few things to say later today.

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

LGBT History Conference – Day 2

Something has gone very badly wrong with the UKIP weather forecast. It was raining in Manchester when I arrived on Friday. It is forecast to rain tomorrow. But for the entire weekend, when the gays have been celebrating their history in the city, it has not rained once. In fact today we had bright blue skies for a while. This is so unlike Manchester, especially in February. It must be am omen of something.

Of course I was inside for most of the day. The conference began with Stuart Milk, the nephew of the famous San Francisco politician, telling us what is actually going on with marriage equality in the USA at the moment. I had some idea, but I didn’t know quite how crazy things had got in Alabama. That will be… interesting.

Then we were into panels, and my paper. Thankfully I was not first up. That honor went to Alejandro Melero, a film studies scholar from Spain who talked to us about how censorship worked under the Franco regime. Franco was a bit nuts about teh gays. In fact one of his first acts after coming to power was to mandate that all army barracks should have three beds to a room rather than two, so that soldiers could not pair off. I guess they just had orgies instead.

Anyway, Alejandro showed that while an awful lot that was gay (and quite a bit that wasn’t but triggered the lurid imaginations of the priests) was censored, a fair amount was not. What interested me was that there were some very recognizable tropes. Alejandro told us about a gay cowboys film (complete with a poster of a man kissing a pistol), a lesbian vampires film, and even a transvestite killer film. Truly, there is nothing new in Hollywood.

Next up we had actual Latin grammar neepery as Kit Heyam took us through possible different translations of medieval accounts of the gayness or otherwise of King Edward II. Much of this hinged on how one understand the word “sodomy”, which we now take to mean male-male sex, but which in those times could mean any non-procreative sex. It is interesting how modern day scholars tend to mis-translate the Latin to make it more explicit that Edward had sex with Hugh Despenser.

Then there was me, and apparently I did not disgrace myself, which was a big relief. I have given presentations as literary conferences before now, but this was my first gig as an historian.

After a coffee break we had a presentation on trans history from Professor Stephen Whittle, OBE, one of the people responsible for getting the Gender Recognition Act before Parliament. To my relief, he made pretty much the same points that I did, though he used very different examples. He did bring up an Inuit tribe that recognizes nine genders. That I need to follow up on. Also we both had very different examples of how RadFems try to claim Billy Tipton as a lesbian, something I am sure would horrify him if he were still alive.

After lunch we had a group workshop about the use of archives, in which I unexpectedly found I had a lot to say because of the work that Out Stories Bristol has been doing with Bristol Records Office.

Then there was the final set of papers, which I think was my favorite session of the lot as it ranged all over Europe. It started with a group of Norwegians talking about a national archive of LGBT history that they are setting up. I sent them away with a request for evidence of gender variance in pre-Christian Scandinavia. I figured that if Loki could get away with it, and if Valhalla was full of women warriors, there must have been something interesting going on. Swedish and Danish readers, do feel free to chip in. (Icelanders, hold off for a moment, I have more for you.)

Next Jennifer Ingleheart talked to us about Romosexuality. Those Romans got up to all sorts of things, and had a particular obsession with giant penises. I rather wished that Tansy had been there. Jennifer has promised to dig out some stuff about Elagabalus for me, for which I cam very grateful.

Finally Marianna Muravyeva talked to us about LGBT history in Russia, of which there is, of course, rather a lot, even if Mr.Putin doesn’t want to admit it.

A bunch of us then went off to the pub and I had a long conversation with Marianna, mainly about fiction, but we did also get onto the subject of witchcraft. In the West we are used to it being women who are accused of this crime. In Russia, however, it was mainly men. Russian villages tended to have both a male and female witch. The woman was responsible for the health of the humans of the village, but the man was responsible for the health of the animals. And if there were problems with the horses or cows in the village then the authorities would prosecute the local male witch. Female witches were only prosecuted if someone died as a result of their treatment.

It turns out that there are very few countries in the world where the vast majority of witchcraft prosecutions are of men rather than women. Russia is one; Iceland is another. Why, Icelandic friends? What made you so different from the rest of Scandinavia?

I had a great time over the weekend, and am already wondering what I can do for a paper at next year’s conference. My thanks to Sue Saunders, Jeff Evans and the rest of the team for a really enjoyable and thought-provoking event.

I’ll get my paper up on once I have got home.

Posted in Gender, History | Leave a comment

New Airship Review

No Valentine’s cards managed to follow me to Manchester, but thanks to Jonathan Howard on Twitter I have found this review of Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion. I believe that this is the first time anyone has said anything nice about my fiction in a book review. Thank you, Mr. Gibb.

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

LGBT History Conference – Day 1

I’m just back from day 1 of the academic conference on LGBT History. It has a two-stream program so I won’t have seen everything, but here’s a quick report on what I did see.

The first two papers were ostensibly both about crime, but were actually very different. The first was from Robert Beachy, an American scholar who is an expert on LGBT life in early 20th Century Germany. His talk was all about how gay subcultures survived, or failed to, under Nazi rule. While clearly the Nazis were a disaster for queer people in general, especially after the death of Ernst Rohm, there were exceptions. Here are a few points of interest:

  • While thousands of gay men were sent to death camps, Gestapo records suggest that many were given second and even third chances to reform before receiving such a sentence;
  • A lesbian group continued to hold public meetings in Berlin up until 1940;
  • Cross-dressers could escape punishment if they could convince the authorities that they were not gay (and of interest here was that Magnus Hirschfeld, when his Institute of Sexology was operational, persuaded the Berlin police to issue special certificates to his patients giving them the right to cross-dress in public, presumably on the understanding that they were not homosexual).

The other paper, by Janet Weston, looked at medicalization of certain offenses by UK courts. This was essentially an extension of the Freudian idea that certain types of criminal behavior were the result of suppressed sexual urges, and the associated idea that certain types of sexual behavior were evidence of criminal insanity. This included things like Arson being classified as a sex crime, because it was assumed that arsonists gained sexual pleasure from their activities. What interested me most was that certain sex crimes were not regarded as medical in origin. Rapists, for example, were not deemed insane. The primary difference appeared to be that if your sexual activity was heterosexual and likely to result in procreation then it was not insane, but otherwise it was.

Next up was a general session featuring a presentation by Peter Scott-Presland who is writing a history of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. The first volume has just been published. Peter is more of a journalist than an historian and his presentation was spiced up with entertaining anecdotes such as letters to the papers from “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells”. I bought the book on the basis of his presentation.

After lunch I heard two papers (from Helen Smith and Jeff Evans) about gay culture in the North of England. There seems to be a distinct cultural difference between a more working class attitude to gay life in the North compared to a more middle class narrative in the South. It is interesting that even fairly recently Northern men engaging in male-male sex often don’t regard themselves as being “gay”, because being gay is some sort of soft, pretentious lifestyle, presumably only indulged in by Southerners. This attitude may also be because these men are not exclusively gay, but merely indulge in gay sex for excitement or when women are unavailable. Not that they would identify as bisexual either.

One audience question after that session notes that interest in gay sex appears to have decreased markedly since the gay liberation movement became prominent, apparently because people began to identify having male-male sex with being “gay”, which was not something they wanted to be associated with.

Finally we had a workshop with American scholar, Charles Upchurch, on the use of digitized archives of newspapers. Here we learned that journalists have endless euphemisms for gay sex. Searching for “sodomy” or “buggery” will get you hardly any hits, but a search for “indecent assault”, while it may turn up heterosexual crimes, will also find you lots of prosecutions for gay sex.

There’s a dinner tonight, at which we have been threatened with traditional Northern food. I am steeling myself for having to eat mushy peas. My paper is tomorrow morning, and will be followed by a general session on trans history featuring Stephen Whittle.

Posted in History | 1 Comment

Book Review – Karen Memory

I’m in Manchester, doing LGBT History, but I have nothing much to do tonight so I have settled into my hotel room and got a book review online. It is for Karen Memory, the new novel by Elizabeth Bear. Mostly I loved it. I do have some gripes about how the trans character was handled, but that won’t affect most readers. You can find the review here. Read it, then go buy the book.

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