A Deeply Troubling Judgement

Last night and this morning my Twitter mentions have been full of outrage about a High Court judgement to remove a child from the care of their mother because of concerns that said child was being abused by being allowed to present as female. There’s news coverage here.

I’ve had a chance to look through the official judgement this morning. It doesn’t make for pretty reading. I have an awful lot of questions, some of which may be answered as more information comes to light.

To start with, this case seems to be part of an acrimonious dispute between the biological parents of the child who are now separated. The case seems to have revolved entirely around the question as to whether the father or mother was correct with regard to whether the child is a boy or a girl. A child’s welfare should never come down to taking sides in such a case.

I note also that there appears to have been zero consideration that both parents might be correct. There is good evidence these days that children can have strong cross-gender identification at a very early age. However, many children are ambivalent about their gender. Forcing them to choose one or the other can be just as harmful as forcing them to make the “wrong” choice between binary genders.

I am wondering where the expert testimony is. A “Consultant Clinical Psychologist” was employed to assess the child, but there is no suggestion that she is an expert in gender issues. The child is apparently a patient at the Tavistock gender clinic, but no one from the Tavi is mentioned as giving evidence. Mermaids have stated that they have been supporting the mother and child for over two years, but there is no mention of them being asked to give evidence.

I’m struck also by the way in which the mother’s attempts to protect her child have been used against her. When the child was bullied she tried to keep them away from the bullies, and was accused of isolating the child. When she tried to allow the child to start social life again in a new environment where the child was known only as a girl, which is standard practice for raising trans kids, this too was condemned by the judge on the grounds that someone might find out. He described it as:

an arrangement that was fraught with potential for real harm to J if his true gender was inadvertently discovered

I submit that in referring to the child’s “true gender” the judge is showing obvious bias.

What is most disturbing about this case, however, is the way in which the judge gives equal weight to the opinions of people who know nothing about trans issues to those of the mother and the various agencies attempting to help her. A local authority report is quoted as saying:

It is evident that some agencies do not have a full understanding of gender non conforming children and have therefore contacted Children’s Service, sometimes when they have not met [J].

The judge responds to this with:

The two remaining passages of the conclusion make very disheartening reading indeed. They combine both naivety and professional arrogance.

I can see no basis for this comment other than that he feels he knows the “true gender” of the child. There are lots of attempts to appeal to the views of other agencies, all of which have a lot of experience with children, but none that appear to have much awareness of trans issues.

As anyone who has worked with trans children will tell you, there is a vast amount of ignorance out there. Schools, health care professionals, government agencies and voluntary services of all sorts are full of people whose view of trans people have been shaped by reading tabloid newspapers. They will often “raise concerns” solely on the grounds that they don’t believe that being trans is a real thing, or in the case of schools because they are unwilling to deal with the complications that having trans pupils entails.

Much of this reminds me of when I was a kid. My brother had very severe dyslexia, and my mum spent a great deal of her time fighting against schools and other agencies. At the time she was accused of being taken in by a popular fad that everyone with any common sense knew wasn’t real. The same sort of thing happens to parents of trans children today.

It is deeply concerning that the judge has used this case to attack the social workers who attempted to support the child’s mother. This sort of thing could easily end their careers, and it will have a chilling effect on every similar case around the country. All it will take is for some transphobic doctor or school teacher to “raise concerns” that a child is being raised in an inappropriate way and social services will have to react for fear that they too will be accused of abetting “child abuse”.

There is a petition about the case here. I make no claims to knowing how the child should be raised, but I think it entirely wrong that such issues should be decided in court, and am horrified at many of the comments by the judge.

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Book Review – Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time

Love Beyond Body, Space, and TimeAs I noted earlier today, one of the panels I am on at BristolCon is about how small presses can publish books with much more diversity in them than those of mainstream publishers. We aren’t trapped by the need to find bestsellers so that we can continue to pay people’s salaries. If there was ever an example of such an effect in action it has to be Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time. No mainstream publisher is going to risk money on an anthology by and about LGBT people of Native North American descent.

And yet, here one is. And not only does it have some good stories in it, it also has some fascinating history as well. Beautiful cover too. If you want to know more, my review is here.

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Book Review – When The Moon Was Ours

When The Moon Was OursIt is a rare thing to read a book by a young author new to you and think, “wow, here’s a superstar in the making”. It is also a rare thing to read a book and think, “wow, this is a really good book about trans issues”. If you can say those two things about the same book, well, that’s pretty special.

I’m not entirely without reservations about When the Moon was Ours. The more YA I read, the more I come to think that real YA — books that YA fans would recognize as YA rather than books with teen characters that are written by adults for adults — is not for me. I’m much too old and cynical. Also I had quite enough teenage angst to last me a lifetime when I was a teenager. I don’t need any more of it now. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate writing craft, and there is plenty of that on show here.

If you would like to lean more about this book, my review is here.

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Bristol LitFest Reminder

The Bristol Festival of Literature is now underway. The first events took place last night. This is therefore a good opportunity to remind you of where I will be next week.

Tomorrow I’ll be popping into Bristol Museum to hear “Ancient Egyptian Storytelling”. A group of writers will be telling stories about Egypt in the Egyptian gallery of the museum. They will include Justin Newland, Piotr Świetlik and Amanda Huskisson, all of whom have read at BristolCon Fringe. It’s free and a 3:00pm start. Get there early, it may be busy than the museum expects.

On Monday I am chairing “Ageing in the LGBT Community” at Bristol University. That will feature Alan Clark talking about Rory’s Boys, his comedy novel set in a retirement home for gay men (something that may become a reality soon), and Dr. Jane Traies talking about her history book about the lives of older lesbians. With them will be Dr. Paul Willis of Bristol University, and my colleague Berkeley Wilde of the Diversity Trust, who will provide a local and practical view of the problem. There are (free) tickets available here.

Tuesday is my day for getting the day job done, and on Wednesday I’m doing a guest lecturer slot for a gender course at Bath Spa University. Then on Thursday morning I will be part of a panel discussing “Stories of Strong Women”. That is apparently sold out, but as it is a free event some people may not bother to turn up so if you have the time free you might drop by Arnos Vale and see if you can get in.

With me on the panel will be my good friend Lucienne Boyce. In the afternoon she and Mike Mason are running a workshop on writing historical fiction. I have signed up for this. So if you want to see me making an idiot of myself by trying to write, that should be some good entertainment. And you’ll learn a lot too. Tickets are £20 and are available here.

On Friday night and Saturday I will be at BristolCon. I’ll be reading at the Open Mic, and I’m on two panels: “SF&F On the Margins” will talk about using small presses to create diversity where mainstream publishing won’t go, while “It Takes A Village” is all about the journey of a book from idea to finished artifact. I will also, of course, be selling copies of Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom. Juliet will be on hand to sign your copy. And Pete Sutton will be selling Fantastically Horny which has my story, “Camelot Girls Gone Wild”, in it.

Sunday I start packing for Barcelona.

Of course there is lots of other good stuff going on. If you are in the Bristol area, do check out the Festival website for more information.

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Yesterday on Ujima – Bristol Festival of Literature

I was hosting the Women’s Outlook show on Ujima again yesterday. The entire show was devoted to the Bristol Festival of Literature, which starts today.

The first half hour was devoted to the panel that I am chairing on Monday 24th. This will be on ageing in the LGBT community. We have some excellent guests speakers. Full details here. In the studio with me was one of those speakers, Dr Paul Willis of Bristol University, who has done a lot of research on the issue.

At 12:30 I was joined by Pete Sutton and Gavin Watkins of the Festival of Literature. They talked through many of the events that will be taking place next week. At 13:00 Jo Hall joined us, which was a good excuse to talk about the panel I’m doing on Thursday 27th on Stories of Strong Women. That one is sold out, I understand. We also talked about BristolCon.

In the final half hour, Jo and I talked about her latest novel, The Summer Goddess, which I very much enjoyed reading.

You can listen to the first hour of the show here, and the second hour here.

The playlist for yesterdays show was as follows:

  • Old Folks Boogie – Little Feat
  • Emma-Jean – Amazing Rythym Aces
  • Dark Moon, High Tide – Afro Celt Sound System
  • Captain Dread – Dreadzone
  • Sun Goddess – Ramsey Lewis & Earth, Wind & Fire
  • Farewell, My Summer Love – Jackson 5
  • Thieves in the Temple – Prince
  • Big Cat – Afro Celt Sound System

My next show will be on November 16th when, if all goes according to plan, I will be talking to Rebecca Lloyd and Tade Thompson about their new books. There should also be more talk about pirates.

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Wales to Get a Gender Clinic

Some excellent news for trans people in Wales this week. Stonewall Cymru reports that the Welsh Assembly has put aside £1 million for two new services: a gender clinic and a service for people with eating disorders. Currently all Welsh trans people have to travel to the massively-subscribed Charing Cross clinic in London, which is a huge financial burden on then.

What isn’t clear is how the new service will work. If they put it in Cardiff that will be great for folks in South Wales, but probably little better for someone living in Llandudno. A little thought is required in this respect.

Sadly it probably won’t be of any help to people in Bristol, even though it is just over the bridge. As it is being paid for by the Welsh government you will probably have to be resident in Wales to use it.

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River Kingdom on Amazon

Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom
Those of you keen to get hold of a copy of the new Juliet McKenna book, Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom, can now find it available to pre-order on Amazon. The US page is here, the Canadian page is here, and the UK page is here. Doing something about Australian availability is on my list.

I was hoping to have a non-Amazon option, but sadly life appears to have got in the way of that.

Of course if you are going to be at BristolCon, Eurocon or Novacon you can get a copy direct from me, which is a win-win-win because you get the book cheaper and both Juliet and I get more of the money. BASFA members, I’ll be getting a box of them shipped to Kevin so you’ll be able to get it from him.

Ben Baldwin tells me that he’s happy to do signed A4 prints of his work at £10 a pop, presumably plus postage. That includes the four Aldabreshin Compass covers as well as River Kingdom. More details can be found at his website. We are talking to Sophie about prints of the map as well.

And because any excuse to re-post this is a good excuse, this is the art I’m talking about.

River Kingdom full cover

River Kingdom Map

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New Diversity Trust Newsletter

My colleagues at The Diversity Trust have produced their autumn newsletter. There’s not much about me in this one, you’ll be relieved to hear, but there is a lot of information about the work that we do in the field of mental health. I’m also really pleased to see us doing work in the field of clear and simple communication. You can find the newsletter here.

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Introducing Caribbean SF

Want more Caribbean science fiction and fantasy in your life? Now you can, because Tobias Buckell has created a wonderful portal site to showcase the region’s genre writers. You can go here, and find lots of lovely reading suggestions. And because the Caribbean is not a wholly English-speaking region, some of them are translations (I presume some from French and some from Spanish).

I think I have read 18 of the 25 novels listed on the site, and they are all good. I should read the others. In particular I hope to discover new Caribbean authors (and one day I want to see you on that list, Gabby Bellot).

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A Day in Cheltenham

I spent Friday in Cheltenham where the Festival of Literature is in full swing. The main reason that I went is because David Barnett (who should be familiar to you from his Guardian articles and the Gideon Smith books) was going to be there. He has a book coming out next year from Trapeze, a new imprint being launched by Orion. The fiction editor is Sam Eades, whom some of you may remember from her time as a publicist.

David’s book, Calling Major Tom, is not being marketed as science fiction, despite the fact that it involves a voyage to Mars. Nor is it being marketed as alternate history, despite the fact that it involves a British space program. It isn’t exactly being marketed as comedy, though it does appear to be very funny. Mainly it is about people. If you want to know more, I bagged an interview with David which I’m planning to use on Ujima nearer the publication date.

The other two Trapeze authors on show were Sarah J Naughton whose Tattertale is a move from YA into psychological thrillers, and Peter Dunne whose 50 Things is derived from a blog he wrote giving fatherly advice to his children.

They made for a very interesting bunch. Sarah is very much a “writing novels is my job” person who religiously produces 500 words a day. David is much more of a “journalism is my job and I’ll write fiction when the muse strikes” person; while Peter was all, “I wrote a blog, and to my surprise someone offered to publish it”.

Anyway, it was a fun day out. It was great to get to meet David at last, and lovely to catch up with Sam. It was also great to spend the day hanging out with book people.

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NSPCC Update

I’ve been very busy over the past few days and consequently have only commented on this on social media. However, as many of you will know, the NSPCC has cancelled the event. Victory!

The cancellation came for two reasons. Firstly Kellie Malloney withdrew from participation once it became clear that a) the trans community was very unhappy, and b) that Ditum was likely to use Maloney’s history of domestic violence to discredit her, and by implication all trans people, during the debate. Secondly the NSPCC discovered that all those warnings about a huge social media backlash that people had been giving them before they went public were actually correct. The petition only got to a little over 1500 signatures before they got cold feet.

I’m still quite annoyed with the NSPCC who seem to have done no due diligence with regard to this event. Their press office has kept on claiming that the “debate” would focus on “asking what society should be doing for trans children”. However, expecting Ditum to answer that with anything other than “stop them being trans” is rather like inviting Richard Dawkins to a debate on religion and expecting him not to mention atheism.

Doubtless we shall now see a lengthy article by Ditum in the New Statesman explaining how she has been viciously and violently censored by “men” and that she is unable to express her views in public anywhere.

The good folks at Mermaids were busy holding a conference on Friday and haven’t had much time to process this, but I expect them to do so in due course and a formal complain to the Charities Commission should be forthcoming. If nothing else, the NSPCC should mention this debacle in their annual report and explain what steps they will take to prevent anything like it from happening again.

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A Petition That Matters

We are sadly used to the mass media using “controversy” to sell their wares. The Trump phenomenon is the obvious end point of that, in that the more vile he becomes the more publicity the media gives him. It is quite another thing, however, when a supposed charity uses controversy around the people it is supposed to protect as a means of publicity. We are, of course, sadly used to tragedy porn on the TV, and in letters sent to us at Christmas. Those, however, normally only point out the very real suffering that the charities want us to take note of. They don’t target the victims.

Step forward now the NSPCC, whose motto is apparently, “Every childhood is worth fighting for”. They are planning to stage a public debate asking whether a particular group of children should be excluded from that mission. And the debate is so rigged that there can only be one conclusion: that trans kids do not deserve to be helped.

On one side of the “debate” is Sarah Ditum, someone with a long history of attempting to deny any treatment to trans people other than “conversion therapy”. On the other is Kellie Malloney, an elderly trans woman who has no experience of treating trans children but does have a history of domestic violence. There is no representation from Mermaids, or Gendered Intelligence, or any doctors with experience of working with trans children.

Conversion therapy is, of course, thoroughly discredited. It is illegal for LGB people in many places and illegal for trans people in Vermont. The main reason it has not been banned for trans people in other jurisdictions is that gender clinics fear that such legislation would be used by trans-haters to try to shut them down. Trans people often do need psychiatric help, and no one wants to have to risk letting a court decide what is the right sort of help. (See here for some discussion.)

Following the tragic suicide of Leelah Alcorn late in 2014 there was a petition in the USA asking for conversion therapy to be banned. It got over 120,000 signatures. The White House responded favorably.

Earlier this year the UK’s Professional Standards Authority was asked its opinion of conversion therapy for trans people. It responded that it didn’t know of anyone advertising such a service, but suggested that if they did they might be in breach of the Equality Act.

And yet the NSPCC is planning to give a platform to someone who advocates conversion therapy, and give her an inexperienced opponent to “debate” against.

The fact that suicide rates of trans youth are at horrific levels presumably means nothing to the NSPCC. As for Ditum, she defends herself by characterizing trans people who are suicidal as “manipulative abusers”.

There’s a lot that could be said about how trans kids are currently treated. This isn’t the place to do so. What I will say is that, regardless of what one thinks of current medical practice, it cannot be right for the NSPCC to make it a subject of public entertainment in this way. They are clearly looking to give Ditum an easy victory. Presumably they will then use that as a means to raise money, and possibly to campaign against treatment for trans kids.

Personally I hope that there will be a formal complaint to the Charities Commission. However, it isn’t my place to do that. What I can do is point you to this petition, which has gained around 100 signatures while I have been writing this post. I don’t seek to deny Ditum the right to air her vile and dangerous views about trans people. She does, after all, have a national media platform in The New Statesman where she airs them on a regular basis. I do, however, think it is utterly irresponsible of the NSPCC to exploit vulnerable children in this way, and I fear that the only thing that will dissuade them from doing so is if enough people sign that petition that they start to fear a drop in their income.

Please sign.

Posted in Gender | 1 Comment

Being Trans is not “Dressing Up”

There are a lot of interesting academic conferences around at the moment. More than I have the time and money to go to. One that I have been looking at with interest is the Fantastika Conference. It is, after all, named after a term coined by John Clute. Last year it clashed with Finncon, so I couldn’t go. This year, of course, there is no Finncon because of the Worldcon in Helsinki. Fantastika is at the start of July again. I’ve just taken a look at the Call for Papers and… oh dear, oh my.

The theme of the conference is “Performing Fantastika”, which is a good thing to do. Some of the things that they want papers on are perfectly sensible. For example:

  • theatrical or staged performances
  • performance in films and televisuals
  • audience performance of the text through cosplay or fan fiction
  • costuming, weapons, and other accoutrements to performance

Even “gender performativity” is an OK thing to talk about. After all, drag exists. But then we have these:

  • the gendered body or the transgendered body
  • disabled bodies

Look, I’m sorry. I’m sure it is all very fascinating for academics. But being trans is not a “performance”. Neither is being disabled. Suggesting that they are is a very good way to have the Internet fall on your head.

Try to do better, people, please?

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Book Review – The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt BoeIt is more than two years since I saw Kij Johnson give the Tolkien Memorial Lecture in Oxford. We’ve both been busy in that time, and one of the things Kij has done is write this lovely little novella. I’m pretty sure that she wrote it after her visit to Oxford, because the central character is a professor at a university in a fantasy world and the descriptions of her home in the first few chapters could easily be descriptions of Pembroke College.

Oxford, of course, is not Ulthar. There is doubtless a large feline population in the city, but the city does not belong the cats in the same way that Ulthar does. Nor do they exert the same influence.

The cute stuff doesn’t last long. As you will have guessed from the title, this story riffs off HP Lovecraft’s The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. Kij’s story visits many of the same places, and features a lot of the same characters, but there the resemblance ends. There is so much interesting, and occasionally brilliant, in what Lovecraft did, but this book makes me wish he had been a better writer.

You can read my review here.

While you are doing that, I’m going to continue to ponder on one of the great questions of the Dreamlands, which Kij alluded to but did not answer: just who is it that is buried in that bridge outside of Ulthar, and why?

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Clarkesworld Story Wins WSFA Award

cw_121_300The winner of this year’s Washington Science Fiction Association Small Press award was announced at Capclave over the weekend. This is an award for short fiction published by small presses, and I’m delighted to see that a story from Clarkesworld was the winner this year. I must admit that I wanted “The Haunting of Apollo A7LB” by Hannu Rajaniemi to win, because I adore that story. Stephanie Burgis had a story in the finalists too, which would have been a nice local win. But I am very pleased for Martin L. Shoemaker whose story, “Today I Am Paul”, was the eventual winner.

This also reminds me that the current issue for Clarkesworld, #121, is the 10th anniversary issue (once a month for 10 years). Having pushed out a magazine on a regular schedule for many years myself, I know how hard that is. My congratulations to Neil and the rest of the team for having stuck with it this long. Here’s to another 10 years, and continued growth of the revenue stream.

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New Fafnir Available

A new edition of Fafnir, the Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research, has gone online. You can find the current issue here.

The article I most want to read is one by Stefan Ekman and Audrey Isabel Taylor which attempts to construct a critical approach to evaluating worldbuilding. There are are also articles in English on dragon riding and A Song of Ice and Fire.

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The OutStories Bristol AGM

Jana Funke
I spent Saturday in Bristol for the OutStories Bristol Annual General Meeting. The official business was done very quickly because I have been taught how to run a meeting by the brilliant Mr. Standlee. This allowed us to get on with the more interesting part of the day, which was a talk by Dr. Jana Funke of Exeter University on the subject of Radclyffe Hall. I have a very nice recording which you can listen to here.

The meeting, by the way, took place in the Wills Memorial Building at Bristol University. It is a faux medieval fake, presumably built with the proceeds of the tobacco trade, but it does make for a nice backdrop. Goodness only knows what the face on the lectern is about.

One of the things that interested me about the talk is how much of Hall’s writing has fantastical themes. She does a lot of time travel and body-swapping. Both she and Virginia Woolf used these techniques to write about sexuality and gender in a way that would attract less attention, in contrast to The Well of Loneliness which was explicit and banned. It rather reminds me of Russian writers using science fiction to write about politics.

The other thing I latched onto was discussion as to Hall’s gender identity. Jana used female pronouns throughout because Hall and her acquaintances do so. However, she notes that Hall has a very masculine gender presentation. I could add to that the doubly-masculine name of the female hero of The Well of Loneliness, Stephen Gordon.

During the later 19th and early 20th Centuries most people conflated ideas of sexuality, gender identity and gender presentation. If you were an “invert” (the term used for homosexual people at the time) then you were expected to adopt characteristics of the other end of the gender spectrum. Lesbian couples were expected to be a femme and a butch, and the femme partner was not seen as an invert in the same way that the butch was.

Some people will argue that we can’t identify Hall as trans because the term did not exist back then. Certainly she wasn’t able to able to adopt it for herself. Nevertheless, there were people of the time who clearly identified in a way we now recognize as trans. Dr. Alan Hart had his top surgery in 1917 and went on to take testosterone once it had been identified by science and pioneered by Michael Dillon. The important question for me (and my thanks to the young lady in the audience who made this point) is whether Hall herself identified as a man.

You can do interesting comparisons of biographies to throw light on this. Michael Dillon (whose shortly to be published autobiography I have just been reading) clearly identified as male from a very early age. Alice Sheldon, on the other hand, was much more ambiguous. Her lesbian feelings seem to have so horrified her that she never acted upon them, and while she occasionally wrote of wanting to “be a man” it isn’t clear whether this is a gender issue or a yearning for the freedom and social status that masculinity would have given her, or a combination of both.

One thing that I learned from Jana is that Hall was known as “John” to her close friends, so she had in fact adopted a masculine persona. That definitely suggests more of a trans personality. Jana also pointed out a photograph in which Hall is dressed as a native American warrior (her mother was American and she fancifully assumed native descent).

What most gave me the sense of a trans person, however, is what Jana said about The Well of Loneliness, specifically its ending, which is not a happy one. At the end of the book Stephen Gordon fakes an affair with another woman so that her beloved Mary will succumb to the advances of a man and get married. As Jana noted, many modern lesbians dislike the ending. It is hardly a good advert for lesbianism.

Because I had been reading Dillon’s biography, his relationship with Roberta Cowell was in my mind as I was hearing this. We will never know for sure why she refused his offer of marriage. He appears to have been something of a misogynist, which would not have appealed to the independent-minded Cowell so fresh from a life of male privilege. There is some suggestion that she strung him along to get his help in obtaining surgery. But years later in her autobiography Cowell states that her marrying Dillon would be like two women getting married, suggesting that she rather literally thought he wasn’t man enough for her. That’s a very cruel thing for one trans person to do to another, but trans people are no more free of cruelty than anyone else.

Listening to Jana talk about The Well of Loneliness, I wondered about Stephen’s reasons for abandoning Mary. Did Stephen think that she wasn’t “man enough” for her lover, and that it was therefore her duty to step aside in favor of a “real man”? And does this mean that Stephen identified as a man, but was ignorant of other trans folks and so didn’t know that something could be done? If that’s the case, did that reflect Hall’s own feelings about gender?

Ultimately we can’t know. Because of the conflation of sexuality, gender identity and gender performance it is possible that Hall felt she could only be a proper lesbian by being a man, even though she identified as a woman. Certainly enough trans people down the years have been accused of being gays and lesbians who are ashamed of their sexuality, so the idea is very much in the public consciousness. But I agree with Jana that it is possible to read both Stephen Gordon and Radclyffe Hall as trans men rather than butch lesbians, and I think that the end of The Well of Loneliness makes much more sense if you do.

Wikipedia tells me that the novel ends with Stephen pleading with God to, “Give us also the right to our existence!” Chin up, old chap, we’ve done it for ourselves.

Posted in Gender, History | 1 Comment

My Eurocon Schedule

The Barcelona Eurocon has a program. Right now it is only available on the EuroSMOF Facebook group, but that’s public so I presume I can talk about it.

I have just one program item, and it is one of the first items after the Opening Ceremonies, so I’ll be done pretty quickly.

Friday, 11:15; Auditori
Queer Societies in SF (ENG)
Panel. Gay pride and prejudice.
Mariano Martín Rodríguez (Belg) MOD, Cheryl Morgan (UK), Lawrence Schimel, Arrate Hidalgo

I guess I’ll be talking about things like The Female Man, Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite, and Elizabeth Bear’s Carnival. Other suggestions welcome, especially lesbian societies because I’m on a panel with three guys*.

Much of the program is in Spanish or Catalan, and while Kevin might have enough Spanish to get by I will be the clueless Brit. However, there is plenty of English language progamming to keep me away from the delights of Barcelona. There are several panels about SF in other countries; I can listen to Richard Morgan and Adam Roberts talk about political SF; or Charlie Stross talking about the failures of futurology. There’s a person from Germany asking, “What does being a transvestite have to do with SF?” Karin Tidbeck and Johanna Sinisalo are talking about weird fiction. There is a panel about promoting European SF that I really need to go to (sorry Clute), and there’s a panel on Evil Female with Mihaela Perkovic and Johanna Sinisalo. Talking of Mihaela, she’s moderating a panel on cross-media SF featuring Richard Morgan, Rhianna Pratchett and John Clute. I shall go along to provide moral support because that’s a tough ask, though one I am sure she’s more than capable of handling. All in all, it looks like being a busy weekend.

* Correction: two guys and one non-guy, because I am a clueless Brit and don’t understand Basque names.

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Coode Street and the Best Series Hugo

This weekend’s edition of The Coode Street Podcast was devoted primarily to discussion of the proposed Best Series Hugo award category. As you may recall, this is a proposal that was given first passage in Kansas City and will be up for ratification in Helsinki. Furthermore, the Helsinki committee has used its power to create one special Hugo category to trial this award so that we can all see how it works.

Jonathan and Gary have used their podcast to look at the proposed new category and, in time-honored fannish fashion, test it to destruction by finding the most ridiculous nominees possible. Obviously, as with all other Hugos categories, we have to hope that the sanity of the voters will prevail. But, as we know to our cost, this isn’t always the case. And regardless, Jonathan and Gary have thrown up a number of interesting questions about the category. Doubtless many of these will have been raised in fannish discussions when the category was first proposed, and I apologize for any re-opening of old wounds. Hopefully those behind the category will see fit to clarify matters.

As with any live recording, Jonathan and Gary weren’t able to edit their thoughts into a coherent argument before unleashing them on the world. That’s a limitation of the format. However, listening to their discussion, it seems to me that they have identified at least four different sorts of things that might be seen as a “series”.

Firstly there is the multi-volume novel. Works like The Lord of the Rings or The Book of the New Sun are at an obvious disadvantage in the Novel category because each individual volume is necessarily incomplete. The new category will be a boon to such works.

Then there is the multi-volume series, in which each volume is complete in itself, but all volumes feature the same setting and characters, and there may be some sort of over-arching narrative. Crime fiction is full of this sort of thing. So, for example, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files books, Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye books, and Mike Carey’s Felix Castor books all fall into this grouping.

Next up there is the franchise. This is where one writer creates a world and then invites other writers to create stories set in that world. Gary and Jonathan mentioned George Martin’s Wild Cards and Ellen Kushner’s Tremontaine as examples. The suggestion was that if Wild Cards won then every person who had written for Wild Cards would get a Hugo.

Finally there is a thing that, for want of a better term, I shall call a mythos. In the show Gary and Jonathan speculated as to whether HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos could be regarded as a “series” for the purposes of the new Hugo category. There was also discussion as to whether Star Wars or Star Trek could be seen as a series from this point of view.

Some of these suggestions are clearly more sensible than others. I very much hope that the mythos idea doesn’t get included. The idea that every few years the Cthulhu Mythos would become eligible for Best Series and that every mythos story published in that year (possibly including one of mine) would automatically share in the win is patently ridiculous. So is the idea that every piece of Star Wars fanfic published in a year could become a Hugo winner if Star Wars wins Best Series.

Franchises are more complicated. There is a clear limitation as to what works can be included. Nevertheless, I am dubious about the idea that a writer can win a Hugo for a short story whose primary qualifying characteristic is that it happened to be part of a winning franchise. When a fiction magazine wins a Hugo we don’t give a trophy to every writer who had a story in it that year. Equally if a collection of essays wins Related Work the trophies go to the editor(s), not all of the contributors. And we don’t give a Hugo to everyone listed in the credits of a movie.

There is far less of a problem to an on-going series, but there are still questions hanging over them. What happens, for example, when a writer publishes a new book in a series created by someone else years ago? Could a writer who had a successful series years ago make it newly eligible by publishing a short story based in that series? What about a book such as Songs of Dying Earth in which a whole bunch of writers extended Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series? Here we are getting into the sort of grey area where fandom demands that the Hugo Administrator should be very proactive and exclude anything that is against the spirit of the category, right up until the point where the poor Administrator actually does something at which point they will discover that what they did was WRONG!!! and the Internet falls on their heads.

Still, this is why we trial categories, and why why debate them. Do have a listen to what Gary and Jonathan had to say, especially if you have nominating rights in Helsinki and can be part of the first year’s trial.

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Signal to Noise Wins Copper Cylinder

The Copper Cylinder Award is a juried award for Canadian fantasy fiction. This year the adult category was won by Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, a book I love.

Congratulations are also due to Leah Bobet who won the YA category with An Inheritance of Ashes. I’ve not read it, but clearly a bunch of keen readers were very impressed.

This is also a good opportunity to remind you that Sylvia has a new book out this month. Isn’t this a lovely cover?


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