The Trans Atlantic Fan Fund has published its latest newsletter. It includes a brief report on Nina Horvath’s adventures in the USA. It also has the announcement of the 2016 race. Unusually the administrators have taken the decision to hold another Europe – North America race next year. That will allow a European fan to attend Worldcon 74 in Kansas City, and a North American fan to attend Worldcon 75 in Helsinki in 2017.

By the way, the Kansas folks have announced their Hugo Award Base competition, so if you are up for designing one you need to check out the submission guidelines here. The deadline is January 18th.

Posted in Awards, Fandom | Leave a comment

On Mental Illness

Various things have conspired to make me think a lot about mental health issues this week, by far the most important of which is the sad news that David J Rodger, one of the authors who has read at BristolCon Fringe, took his own life on Sunday. I didn’t know David very well, though the one time I met him he seemed like a fascinating bloke whom I would have liked to know better. Other Bristol writers did know him better, and report that he had been struggling with depression for some time. There are some great obituaries online from Jo Hall and Tom Parker.

Depression is something that I know well. So is the mental unease that comes from gender dysphoria. These two combined might easily have killed me a little over 20 years ago. Instead, thanks to some good drugs, an improving medical climate for trans people, and people who loved me, I was able to embark on the journey that is gender transition.

For many people, however, mental health problems are something they feel that they can’t talk about, and perhaps can’t even ask for help over. Judging from what Jo and Tom say, David was one such person. Suicide is one of the leading killers of men, and I wish that there had been rather more talk about it last week on International Men’s Day, instead of all the MRA nonsense about the pain of being denied sex by uppity feminists.

I have just done an interview with the wonderful Emma Newman, part of which will feature on Women’s Outlook next Wednesday, and all of which I intend to put on Salon Futura in due course. Given the nature of the lead character in Planetfall, we talked about mental health issues, and the stigma surrounding them, quite a bit.

I greatly admire the courage Emma has in talking about her anxiety issues online. We are still very much in a world where any suggestion of weakness of that sort is liable to be held against you. These days, if you are applying for a job, prospective employers will comb social media for any suggestion of character flaws. HR departments, it seems, are less interested in finding someone who will be good at the job, and more interested in screening out anyone who might be seen as “difficult” in any way.

For trans people it is even harder. The medical profession might have (partially) moved away from the idea that we are all crazy, and towards the understanding that transition cures most of our mental health problems. Society has not taken the same leap. For example, this report from California shows how trans pilots are required to prove themselves sane each year, even though the FAA’s official guidelines say it is not necessary. I have similar problems with GPs, all of whom seem to be convinced that I am likely to be Overcome With REGRET! at any moment.

Of course if you are subject to regular harassment as part of your daily life, and many trans people are, you can still have mental heath problems post-transition. Last night we had the Annual General Meeting of LGBT Bristol, of which I am a trustee. The staff spoke eloquently about how many of the people they helped had complex and multiple problems to face in their lives. Not just trans, but trans, depressed and homeless, for example. I have tremendous admiration for the people who make it their day-to-day business to help such folk.

Help is available, and hopefully is improving in quality. Shortly after talking to Emma I got email inviting me to a one-day conference in Bristol in January. It is being run by Mind, and it is focused on suicide prevention for LGBT people. If it helps just one person, it is absolutely worth a day of my time being grilled about what it is like being trans.

Posted in Gender, Health, Personal, Radio | 1 Comment

That London – More Diverse Than You Think

My thanks to Caroline Mullan for pointing me to this article on the BBC website. It is reporting on the results of a DNA study by the Museum of London on human remains dating back to the founding of the city by the Romans some 2000 years ago.

By the time of the Roman conquest of Britain, the Roman Empire already stretched all the way around the Mediterranean. It included Egypt, Carthage and other African countries. The racial make-up of the soldiery, and of the slave community, was highly diverse. The people who built London, therefore, were anything but monochrome white.

And that’s not all. One of the skeletons studied, the so-called Harper Road Woman, was very unusual indeed. She was a native Briton, but although her bone structure clearly showed a female body she had a Y chromosome. This suggests that she had an intersex condition, probably Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Given the time in which she lived, she would not have known this. She would just have wondered why the gods had cursed her with infertility.

There’s another great story for my history of gender variant people.

Posted in Gender, History | 1 Comment

Coming Soon: Northern Storm

Northern Storm - Juliet E. McKenna
Every so often I remember that I run a publishing company as well as being a trans activist, a diversity trainer, an historian, and someone with a day job she needs to get done to pay the rent. Last night I sent I proof copy of this off to Juliet. Northern Storm, book 2 in the Aldabreshin Compass series, should be with you in a few days time.

Posted in Books, Wizard's Tower | 2 Comments

A Quick Note on TV

This is not a good time to be seriously busy. What I want to do is sit on the sofa and binge-watch Jessica Jones, which is an extraordinarily good piece of psychological drama.

But I also want to watch The Man in the High Castle, even if Tim Maughan did tweet an article saying that the TV series removes all of the ambiguity of Phil Dick’s novel.

And the first episode of The Expanse is supposedly now available, though my attempt to watch it on syfy.com this evening ended in failure. I should be broadcast soon anyway.

Thankfully I can totally do without sleep. Can’t I?

Posted in Science Fiction, TV | 1 Comment

One Final Thought On TDOR

Indian TDOR Ceremony
I wanted to post this to make it clear that the Trans Day of Remembrance is a worldwide event. India has a tradition of trans women in its society stretching back at least 2,000 years. It is hard to say how well accepted they were throughout that period, but they were most definitely there. What we do know is that the British conquest made their lives much more difficult. There were 6 trans murders in India last year, and 7 in Pakistan. Britain has to take some of the blame for that.

That picture is taken from this article on the fine Indian feminist blog, The Ladies Finger. The article, by Nadika Nadja, makes the very good point that we need a day to celebrate trans lives as well as one to mourn them. That, in theory, is what the Trans Day of Visibility is all about, but of course so many trans people have no desire to be visible. Maybe next year we can find a way of celebrating it that doesn’t make those it is supposed to be helping uncomfortable.

Posted in Gender | Leave a comment

Meanwhile, In Darkest Somerset

The Guardian breathlessly reports that the UK’s oldest graveyard has been discovered in a cave in Somerset.

Well, not discovered, exactly. That happened in 1797, so they are a trifle late on that piece of breaking news. However, they do have a press release about some scientific tests that show the cave was in use over a period from 10,000 to 6,000 years ago.

I’m slightly disappointed to learn that the graveyard is not still in use by descendants of the original users, but I am sure that someone is busy doing genetic tests on the locals to try to connect them to the burials.

Rumors that some of the skeletons were found to have been buried along with the deceased’s favorite articles from the Daily Mail have been dismissed as a piece of made up nonsense of the sort normally found in tabloid newspapers.

Posted in History, Journalism | Leave a comment

Reflections on TDOR

The Lord Mayor and I
Friday began for me on Thursday night when I headed into Bristol to appear on the trans-special edition of ShoutOut. I was expecting to be talking about the Trans Day of Remembrance, but as it turned out it was more important to cover the Vicky Thompson story.

Also on the show was an extended interview with two of the show’s other trans staff: Steffi and Tara. In it Steffi is reminiscing about the days when the only support groups available to transsexuals were cross-dresser clubs. Transsexuals are people like Steffi and myself who identify as female, and who wish to transition as fully as possible. Cross-dressers generally identify as male, and perform femininity either as a hobby, or as an act of some sort (e.g. as drag queens).

Steffi tells a story about going on a trip to Atlanta with other cross-dressers and their wives. The wives, she reports, hated the few transsexuals in the group. I’m not surprised. For the most part, contact with a transsexual isn’t going to somehow infect a cross-dresser and make him want to transition fully. However, back then many transsexuals were heavily closeted and, as gay men used to do, had married because it was expected of them. Experimenting with cross-dressing was often the way in which trans women found themselves, and came to understand what they needed to do to live happy and fulfilled lives.

Also back then there was no same-sex marriage, and the gender clinics expected trans women to identify as heterosexual. Indeed they might throw you off the treatment program if you said you were a lesbian. There was no expectation that a couple of who loved each other would stay together through transition, as for example Jan Morris and her partner have done.

These days, one hopes, with kids transitioning as young as they can, this sort of issue is quickly becoming a thing of the past. People who need to transition can do so, and meeting female transsexuals should no longer be seen as a threat by the wives of cross-dressers. I hope so. We are all women, after all.

You can listen to the whole show on podcast here.

I stayed with Paulette overnight, because there was no way I was going to get to City Hall for 8:30 the following morning otherwise. The Lord Mayor duly raised the trans flag, and gave a lovely speech in favor of trans rights (thanks Clare!). She had even managed to catch up on the Vicky Thompson story. Rachel Dinning, a journalism student from UWE whom I expect to see on TV one day, recorded a lot of audio, some of which will probably find its way onto ShoutOut at some point. The lad that Rachel brought along to take photos is responsible for the picture above. My thanks to the City Council and to the Lord Mayor for making this happen. There are not many cities in the UK that mark TDOR in this way.

ITV had promised to send a reporter to cover the event. He was half an hour late (Bristol traffic is dreadful), but I knew he was coming so I was able to hang around and talk to him. I have no idea whether any of what I said was broadcast, but I hope that if it was they used the bit where I called upon David Cameron to remove Andrew Selous from his post as Minister for Prisons so that LGBT people can have confidence in the fairness of the system.

After that it was off to the Ujima offices where I was due to be interviewed by another UWE journalism student. I spent well over half an hour chatting to Richard. Some of that will eventually go on a website that he is building as part of his final year project. I’ll let you know when it is up.

There was no point in going home, so I had lunch in Stokes Croft and took in Chris Hubley’s art exhibition at Hamilton House. There is some really good stuff in there, and is free, so do pop in if you can. Doing art in this way, like being a writer, allows trans people to gain recognition for things other than being trans, which has to be a good thing.

After that I hid away in a coffee shop, fed my little electronic pals, and tried to forget about dead people for a while. I drafted a review of Cat Valente’s Radiance, which I shall post when I have stopped being scared that I have failed to do it justice.

I popped into Forbidden Planet on the way up to the University to see if they had a physical copy of Batgirl #45. That’s the one with Alysia Yeoh’s wedding in it. I’m pleased to say that they did.

And so at last we came to the main event of the day. Jamie Cross, the Students’ Union Equalities Officer, had booked the Anson Rooms for us. That’s the concert space in the Students’ Union building. It is large. We didn’t use the stage, but we used most of the floor space. The audience must have been at least 80 people.

When I first started doing TDOR events in Bristol we were about 10 people gathered around a table in City Hall (or the Council House as it was back then). Clearly there has been a huge change since then. Had I still been doing it by myself it would probably still be 10 people. The fact that it isn’t is down to two people. Firstly there is Sarah-Louise Minter from LGBT Bristol. She provided some finance so that we can have refreshments and flowers. LGBT Bristol also paid for the venue hire last year. The venue this year, and the size of the crowd, is down to Jamie. I am very grateful to both of them for allowing us to have such a great event this year.

I am also very grateful to Charlie Oxborough, the President of the University’s LGBT+ Society. She’s a languages student specializing in Spanish so she is far better qualified than I am to read the names of the dead. Getting people’s names right is an important point of showing respect.

Because in previous years I had been reading the list of names I hadn’t really got the full effect of the ceremony. Listening to Charlie really brought it home to me just how many names were on it. The list seemed to go on forever. Reading it is so much easier, at least for me.

Finally I should thank the audience, who came from over the region. Students came in from UWE, the city’s other university. Some of the Tara Hudson campaign team came over from Bath. There were people from Bristol Pride, and from various local trans groups. Perhaps most importantly there were people from Freedom Youth, the city’s LGBT Youth Group.

While Charlie and I did most of the talking, I did ask members of the audience to come forward if they had something they wanted to say. Four people did, for which I am very grateful. Again it made it much more of a community event, not just me making an exhibition of myself.

I have always felt quite uneasy leading a TDOR ceremony. That’s partly because years ago I attended one in San Francisco. There the ceremony is led by people who are directly at risk, and may even have friends on the list of the dead. That changes the tone of the whole event. Even in Bristol I lead a fairly safe life. Of the four people who came forward to speak, one walks with a stick, one uses a wheelchair, one is 17 years old, and one is just 13. They know far more of the reality of discrimination than I do.

Hopefully in another year or so there will be a thriving network of trans groups in the Bristol and Bath area, putting on events and doing political activism. Then there will be people keen to lead the ceremony themselves and they can put the old lady out to grass.

Here’s a photo from the event, which I believe was taken by Daryn Carter from Bristol Pride.

The Lord Mayor and I

Posted in Gender | 2 Comments

More Flowers, More Tears

RIP Vicky Thompson

The memorial you see above is for Vicky Thompson, a young British trans woman who took her own life last week.

Details of the case are still sketchy, but there is a memorial group for Vicky on Facebook. According to a post on that group, when Vicky died she was in Armley Jail for men, Leeds. That is, she was in exactly the same peril that Tara Hudson faced just a couple of weeks ago. Unlike Tara, her friends and family were unable to save her in time.

This is why we fight. This is why we will not shut up.

Rest in Peace, Vicky. You will not be forgotten.

From the memorial group:

Please join us on Sunday 22 November 2015 Centenary Square Bradford 11 am. There will be a minutes silence for her at 12 o clock.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gender | Leave a comment

And Another Thing…

If Germaine Greer really wanted to complain about feminists being censored then she would take note of the UK Government’s plans to remove all mention of feminism from the A Level Politics syllabus. Yes, that’s right, one of the most important political movements of our time, and high school students in the UK will not be taught about it in their politics classes.

It is even possible that Greer is one of the prominent feminist thinkers whose work might be taught in such lessons. But is she complaining about this? Not a peep, as far as I can see. After all, objecting to government policy is so much less fun than bullying a minority group. Nor will it get her fat fees for TV and newspaper appearances.

I, however, am a feminist. Unlike Ms. Greer, I will be taking the opportunity to raise the issue, not only here, but also on my radio show next week.

Petition here for those so inclined.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gender | Leave a comment

Lies, Damned Lies and Germaine Greer

Many of you will have heard how Germaine Greer was viciously censored by a howling mob of trans women, and banned from speaking at Cardiff University this month. (I quote, for example, “Germaine Greer is banned from speaking to students”, from an article in Saturday’s Times). Here’s what actually happened.

Firstly, Cardiff University did not cancel the lecture. Greer withdrew, so that she could then go running to the media claiming that she had been prevented from speaking. She got a lot of TV time, and articles in newspapers about her almost every day since. She also rescheduled the talk for yesterday. I suspect that having it during Trans Awareness Week had always been the plan. When she was complaining that she was being prevented from speaking she claimed that the talk would be nothing to do with trans women, and yet from this Guardian report it seems as if it was very much about us.

Nevertheless, I expect to continue to see newspaper articles claiming that her talk was cancelled and that she has been prevented from expressing her opinions. When you have that level of access to the media, you can get them to say what you want. And still claim that you are being censored while doing so.

On the plus side, her opinions are so foul and irrational that all of this publicity might be doing us a lot of good.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gender, Journalism | 1 Comment

A Rugby Legend #RIPJonah

Not Welsh, but absolutely one of the greatest players ever to grace a rugby field. Lomu had great speed for a big man, but he also didn’t believe much in skipping around defenders. He ran through them, ran over them, and in some cases kept on running with tacklers hanging onto him. We won’t see his like again for many a year.

International reaction and tributes seem to be being best done by the Telegraph.

Thanks to Jon Courtney Grimwood for finding the great YouTube posting I used above.

Posted in Rugby | 1 Comment

TWOC Girls On Film

Trans Day of Resilience

Today in Trans Awareness Week I have news of two film projects about trans women of color.

First up the film MAJOR!, about the life of Miss Major, premiered in San Francisco on Friday. I dropped a fair amount of cash on the Kickstarter for this one because having had the honor of meeting Miss Major I very much wanted to see it happen. Obviously I couldn’t go to the screening, though the production company did do a lovely thing of encouraging people to buy tickets and donate them to poor trans women of color, so Kevin and I did have tickets to the event. Someone who did go is Jules Vilmur, a woman whose trans daughter committed suicide at 17. Jules writes movingly about the experience here.

Also there is a fundraising campaign in progress for post-production on a film about Marsha P Johnson, one of the best known trans women at the Stonewall riot. Sylvia Rivera is also a character in the film. The trailer they have on the campaign page looks very good. As I saw someone say on Twitter, this is what the Stonewall film ought to have been like.

Finally there’s a great article about 19th and early 20th Century trans women over at Autostraddle. Some them are featured in the film, Paris in Burning, and if you are European Coccinelle is actually pretty well known, but the rest I had never heard of. It is a fascinating read.

The illustration for this post is from an art project featured here. The picture I have chosen to use is by B Parker of BreakOUT!.

271 Trans people have been killed as a result of transphobic hate crimes in the last 12 months. Almost all of them were women of color.

Posted in Gender, History, Movies | Leave a comment

That Was Fringe

The November BristolCon Fringe meeting seemed to go very well. We had an excellent crowd. Tom Parker and Lucy Housom read very well. I did not mess things up.

What’s more I did manage to get to sleep last night, despite Tom’s story about spiders. Extreme exhaustion has its uses.

Amongst the crowd last night was Lucy’s Bristol-based sister who is an International Woman of Mystery with multiple secret identities. It occurred to me afterwards that with her short dark hair and Lucy’s long fair hair they could totally do Alex and Kara Danvers from Supergirl.

Meanwhile back to work and hoping the rain eases off before this evening.

Posted in Readings | Leave a comment

Busy Week

Fair warning, folks, this week is going to be very busy. I have to be in Bristol every evening.

Tonight is BristolCon Fringe, featuring Tom Parker and Lucy Hounsom.

Tomorrow is a Trustees meeting of OutStories Bristol.

Wednesday I’m helping put on a trans awareness workshop at Bristol University.

Thursday I’m part of an all-trans line-up on Shout Out Radio, after which I am off to the Lansdown to see Gareth Powell at Novel Nights.

And Friday is the Trans Day of Remembrance, with the flag raising at City Hall in the morning followed by the Ceremony of Remembrance in the evening.

Do not expect a lot of bloggage.

Updated to include Gareth’s event.

Posted in Where's Cheryl? | Leave a comment

Trans Awareness Week Begins

Jean Grey
This week is going to be very busy for me, and quite emotional towards the end when we get to the Trans Day of Remembrance. However, we have started off on a brighter note with an article I wrote for The Gay YA. I don’t really know much about modern YA, so when they asked me to write something I decided to take a trip down memory lane and say thank you to the girl who was my big sister and role model during my teenage years.

Thanks Jeanie, you were awesome.

Posted in Comics, Gender, Personal | 1 Comment

Looking for Lesbians

Le Rat Mort, Paris
Yesterday’s Annual General Meeting of OutStories Bristol went very well. Thanks to the fabulous Bea Hitchman we had a good crowd of interested outsiders to make us quorate; and thanks to expert training from Kevin I was able to speed through the formal part of the proceedings very quickly. That left us plenty of time to listen to Bea.

The subject of Bea’s talk was the historical research that she did into lesbian life in fin de siècle Paris when writing her novel, Petite Mort. Researching LGBT lives is never easy, because so much is erased or hidden behind obfuscating language. In the case of lesbians there is also much pseudo-history written by men who are more interested in the titillating power of girl-on-girl sex than they are in the reality of lesbian life.

So sadly the idea that in order to signal oneself as a lesbian in Paris what one did was purchase a poodle, have it splendidly coiffured, and tie a bow around its neck, proved to be untrue. French lesbians did appear to have a fondness for dogs, but eccentrically decorative poodles were not de rigueur.

There were, however, lesbian bars, including La Souris (the Mouse) and Le Rat Mort (the Dead Rat), which bespeak a possible fondness for things small and furry. Toulouse-Lautrec was a regular visitor, as he was rather fond of painting pictures of lesbians.

Still with animals, I learned that Sarah Bernhardt, who was bisexual, had an exotic menagerie whom she took everywhere with her. This included a cheetah, and a boa constrictor which sadly died because she fed it too much champagne.

All in all it was a very entertaining talk, for which thanks again to Bea. If you have an event that needs an excellent speaker on lesbian issues, or indeed anything to do with historical fiction, do consider her.

After the talk, all of the lesbians hit the alcohol. They did not object to me joining them, which pleased me on a number of levels. One of those is that the Golden Guinea has an excellent selection of beer. I got to try Jurassic Dark, a dark wheat beer from the Dorset Brewing Company. Highly recommended.

Jurassic Dark

Posted in Books, Food, History | Leave a comment

Negotiating with the Dead

Today I’ll be in Bristol for the Annual General Meeting of OutStories Bristol, the LGBT History group of which I am co-chair. Our guest speaker for the event is Bea Hitchman, author of the fabulous Petite Mort. In the talk Bea will look at, “at the ethical detective work of researching a novel and what writers owe – or don’t owe – to communities of the dead.”

The novel is set in Paris.

This may turn out to be more complicated than we had expected.

It also reminds me that there is a reason why media news reports are called “stories”. Everything that you read and watch about Paris over the next week or so will be a story written by someone. Remember that.

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

Trans Geek Movie – Final Day

We are into the final day of the Kickstarter campaign for the Trans Geek Movie. This is a bit of a relief for me, because it means I will be able to wake up in the morning without worrying that I’ll see pictures of me on Facebook. However, the campaign hasn’t yet reached its goal. That probably means they’ll have to try again, which means more pictures of me on social media. You can stop this madness, people. All you have to do is back the project, now!

Posted in Gender, Movies | Leave a comment

A Man of His Time

Much of the discussion I am seeing around the dropping of HP Lovecraft as the face of the World Fantasy Awards has centered on him being “a man of his time”, and therefore inevitably racist. The generally unspoken assumption is that he was no more and no less racist than any of his white writer contemporaries. In furtherance of this discussion, dear readers, I give you James Ferdinand Morton.

Morton was 20 years older than Lovecraft and an established literary figure. Born in New England, he could trace his ancestry in the region back to the time of the Pilgrim Fathers. He was a former president of the National Amateur Press Association, the ‘zine producers’ club of which Lovecraft was also a member. He was a prominent member of the Blue Pencil Club of Brooklyn, a writers’ club which Lovecraft joined. Morton introduced Lovecraft to Sonia Greene, whom Howard later married. And in 1922, when the then president of the NAPA resigned, it was Morton who suggested that Lovecraft should take on the post.

Morton was also an anarchist. For a few years he lived in commune in Washington State. He was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and wrote a book titled The Curse of Race Prejudice. He lectured widely on a variety of subjects including workers’ rights and feminism, both of which he supported. He was an early supporter of Esperanto, the proposed world language, becoming vice-president of the Esperanto League for North America. In his later years he converted to the Bahá’í faith, an offshoot of Islam generally recognized as a separate religion.

Before they met, Lovecraft denounced Morton as someone who participated in the, “wanton destruction of the public faith and the publick morals”. However, once they did get to talk they became firm friends. They kept up a lengthy correspondence, Lovecraft’s end of which has been preserved and published. I don’t own the book myself, but it is reviewed over at Innsmouth Free Press.

It is clear from that review that Lovecraft and Morton debated issues of race, each trying to convert the other to his view with singular lack of success. Lovecraft, therefore, is not someone who merely absorbed the racist rhetoric of his times. He is someone who firmly and proudly held racist views, and who strongly defended those views when one of his closest friends tried to talk him down. Lovecraft is someone who could write in a letter to that friend:

I’d like to see Hitler wipe Greater New York clean with poison gas – giving masks to the few remaining people of Aryan culture (even if of Semitic ancestry). The place needs fumigation & a fresh start. (If Harlem didn’t get any masks, I’d shed no tears…. )

And that, dear reader, is why, despite his many achievements, Lovecraft is not a suitable person to be the public face of an international award.

Posted in Awards, History | 3 Comments