A Trip to the Seaside

Weston-super-Mare is a small town on the Somerset coast previously most famous for being home to Jeffrey Archer. These days, of course, it is well known for Banksy’s new Dismaland exhibition. I didn’t go there for that. Tickets are like gold dust right now. But it was Weston’s annual Pride today, and with it being a bank holiday a lot of the LGBT Bristol folks were unavailable, so I offered to head over there and help with the stall. I hadn’t been to Weston in a long time, and with the trains on strike it was a good excuse to take Effie for a nice long run.

I did walk past Dismaland on my way to the park where Pride was being held. Parking was pretty much impossible on the sea front, what with it being a bank holiday Saturday and Banksy. The queues of people waiting to get in were horrendous, and that seemed to be for people with tickets, because you couldn’t buy them at the venue. It was sold out online.

Pride, on the other hand, was very quiet. This was only their second year, and having been a bit cramped last time they had moved to a much bigger park in which there is lots of room for expansion. It is a lovely venue. I wish Bristol had somewhere that nice, but we did rattle a bit.

I did some interviews for Shout Out while I was there, including interviewing the Mayor about Banksy. Hopefully Mary will like what I have got. A special mention to Alec, a young trans boy I met there who has started an LGBT group at his school with the help of a supportive teacher.

Having done the interviews, I decided to head home because they really didn’t need me there. But before I left town I stopped in on the Sand Sculpture Festival exhibition. Weston has a funny beach. The tide goes out a very long way. It almost looks like you could walk to Wales over the mud, but there are some very dangerous channels out there, and the chances are that you’ll get stuck in the mud before you get to water. However, near the promenade the beach is lovely. The donkey rides are famous, and the sand is some of the best for castle-building anywhere in the world. The Sand Sculpture Festival makes use of this to put on an annual display of amazing sand art. The photos on their website are probably better, but I took some while I was there and you can see them below.

Weston 2015
Weston 2015Aug 29, 2015Photos: 35
Posted in Personal, Photos | 2 Comments

Tolkien and Finland, an Update

Earlier today I noticed a BBC article about the “new” Tolkien book, The Story of Kullervo, and its connection to Finland. I tweeted about it. That has got quite a few retweets, but on Facebook it drew the attention of my good friend Jonathan Clements who is a) a scholar rather than a journalist and b) married to a Finn (hi Kati!). He pointed me at an article that he wrote yesterday on his blog that corrects a few aspects of the BBC piece and the book’s introduction.

As is usually the case with Jonathan, he combines erudition with humor. He gives some examples of the truly dire prose of which the young Tolkien was guilty, and also takes aim at some of the wilder claims made about Tolkien and Kullervo, in particular that the Finnish work was Shakespeare’s inspiration for Hamlet.

At one point, the introduction also implies that Kullervo somehow forms a literary ancestor to Shakespeare’s Hamlet — which would require Shakespeare climbing into a time machine, buying a copy of the English translation of the Kalevala in 1888, and then jumping back to the 1100s, Terminator-style, to kill Saxo Grammaticus before he could write the Gesta Danorum.

Of course there is a lot to be interested in about the book as well. I look forward to Jonathan being on a panel about it at Worldcon 75. In the meantime, do read his post. It is well worth it.

Posted in Finland, Science Fiction, Translations | 3 Comments

Attention Cambridge – Coming Your Way

Apparently I have ideas. Or at least they think so in Cambridge, because I have been invited to give a talk at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas. It will be called “Challenging the gender binary through science fiction and fantasy”, and the details are Saturday 31 October: 3:00pm – 4:30pm at Anglia Ruskin University, East Road, CB1 1PT. Full details (including a photo by the inimitable Henry Soederlund) can be found here.

The smart people among you will see the reference to Anglia Ruskin and twig that Farah Mendlesohn is involved in this somehow. Indeed, it was all her idea, and she persuaded the University to put forward the proposal to the Festival. Also the event will actually be me in conversation with Farah, rather than an hour and a half of me blathering on. The Festival website seems to have lost this vital piece of information.

Anyway, huge thanks to Farah for getting me this opportunity, and I look forward to seeing some of you in Cambridge for Hallowe’en. Do I need to bring a costume?

Oh, and that title — totally chosen to fool any TERFs who might have a hand in the process that the talk had nothing to do with us awful trans people. Boy are they in for a shock.

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

Happy Birthday, Kevin!

Dear Kevin, 20 years ago today the Goddess gave you a cat for your 30th birthday. Unusually for a cat, she has stuck around, though she has wandered a long way from home. Thank goodness the Internet is the natural habitat of felines.

I’m very sorry I am not there to look cute and cuddly for you. However, I can at least assure you that there is life after 50.

Feed me tuna now?

Posted in Personal | Leave a comment

20 Years Ago Today

I did warn you that there were a lot of anniversaries coming up. Here’s today’s.

Saturday August 26th, 1995. By this time I was living and working in Melbourne, but I had gone back to the UK to do some project work there and pick up some more of my belongings. The project work took me to Edinburgh. My friend Anabelle suggested that I attend the World Science Fiction Convention, which was taking place in Glasgow around the same time. I would know several people there, including Martin Hoare and Dave Langford, and Teddy whom I expected to be in the masquerade, so I figured I might as well give it a go.

One of the things I wanted to do there was see if I could find some Australian fans. At this time I was living as a woman at all times except for work, but the only people I knew in Melbourne were my work colleagues. I wanted some people I could hang out with socially as me. To my surprise and delight I discovered that Melbourne was fandom central in Australia, and that Melbourne fans were bidding to hold Worldcon there in 1999. I offered to help. They explained to me how Worldcon site selection works, and sent me off to vote on that year’s race to see the system in action. (Martin was supporting one of the two rival Boston bids, so he was keen for me to vote as well.)

Instant runoff voting wasn’t new to me — I’d seen it used a lot in student politics — but my diary tells me that I had a few questions and a very helpful American guy behind the desk answered them all for me. I thought nothing more of this, and enjoyed my day at the con, including watching Teddy and his colleagues take the masquerade by storm. Afterwards I had agreed to help my new Aussie friends run a bid party. Who should turn up, but the American guy from the site selection desk. And apparently he was there to see me.

I should note that at this time in history the standard advice to trans women was never to get involved with a man prior to surgery, because he will only be interested in you as a “shemale” and will drop you like a stone once you no longer qualify as such. I was mindful of that, but probably a bit giddy too. I had, after all, never been chatted up by a bloke before, let alone kissed one. I rather liked this Kevin fellow.

The following day he asked me for a date (dinner, the Hugo ceremony, and the firework display). I said yes. It is the best decision I have ever made in my life.

Posted in Conventions, Personal | 11 Comments

Buy This Book, Please

Letters to Tiptree - Alex Pierce & Alisa KrasnosteinYeah, I know I have a short piece in it, but it is a very short piece and the book is full of all sorts of fabulous things, including a whole bunch of Tiptree’s correspondence with Le Guin & Russ.

Alex has written a bit about the book here, including links to other pieces of Tiptree material that have been published recently. To that I’d like to add the academic paper I gave in Manchester this year which talks extensively about Alli Sheldon’s gender identity.

Details as to how to order the book can be found here. It is available as an ebook, so you don’t need to have paper shipped from Australia.

Oh, and someone should probably nominate the book for next year’s Tiptree Award. Lots of interesting stuff already recommended, I see. So many books…

Posted in Books, Gender | 1 Comment

40 Years Ago Today

This is a week of massive anniversaries. Here is today’s.

On August 25th 1975 Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band released an album called Born to Run. I can’t remember when I first heard any of it, but I do knew that I have loved Bruce’s music from that moment on. 40 years. That’s some relationship.

To mark the occasion, here is my all time favorite rock song, which also happens to be the opening track of the album.

Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty but, hey, you’re alright
Oh, and that’s alright with me

Story of my life. I’m still waiting, Bruce. If I hear your Chevy pull up outside, I’ll be straight out.

Posted in Music, Personal | 1 Comment

What’s In A Name?

So, the Helsinki Worldcon is now a reality. The vote tally was officially confirmed at the WSFS Business Meeting yesterday, and the newly seated convention has launched its website.

Very quickly long-time Worldcon attendees noticed something different about it. The name of the convention is Worldcon 75. That’s it. No silly fannish name. No local focus. Just Worldcon. I love it.

Partly that’s because Worldcon has a long history of conventions that have seem themselves as far more important than the fact that they are Worldcons. It is, in a way, an artifact of the resolutely anti-authoritarian stance of WSFS, but it is also a result of jingoism by committees (and not just nationalist jingoism either, city and state pride comes into it too). Helsinki has, in effect, made a statement that it sees being a Worldcon as important, not as an annoying inconvenience. However, they also put out this tweet:

That made me really happy. Looking at what went on in Spokane on Saturday night, and much of the reaction on social media afterwards, I got a very strong impression of a community drawing in on itself. That’s a very natural reaction of a community that is under attack, which it very much was, but it is also a lost opportunity. Thanks to our Morose Mongrel “friends”, we have had an explosion of interest in the Hugo Awards and Worldcon this year. (Over 48 Gb of web traffic yesterday, over 81,000 visitors to the website, lots of interest from mainstream media outlets.) This is a golden opportunity to reach out to new people and welcome them in, not a time for bristling against anyone seen as “not part of our community”. Helsinki appears to be determined to try to grasp that opportunity.

Finally, look at their Guests of Honor:

  • John-Henri Holmberg – Swedish, male; fan and publisher
  • Nalo Hopkinson – Jamaican, queer female; author
  • Johanna Sinisalo – Finnish, female; author
  • Claire Wendling – French, female; comics artist
  • Walter Jon Williams – White male American writer of thrilling space adventures, with Finnish ancestry

They could so easily have had a mostly-Finnish or mostly-Nordic guest list, and I do hope that the convention will also make a big fuss of the likes of Petri Hiltunen, Toni Jerrman and Irma Hirsjärvi. But that is a brilliant set of Guests of Honor. Someone thought very hard about those choices. Well done, Helsinki. Let’s continue putting the world in Worldcon.

Posted in Conventions, Fandom | 5 Comments

Doing Trans History #HistTrans

It was perhaps not the best timing in the world to be spending last weekend in a hotel in Manchester. I was up in the middle of the night on both Friday and Sunday mornings for events at Worldcon. But there was no way I was going to miss the UK’s first ever academic conference devoted solely to the history of trans people. Thank you so much to Emma Vickers and Liverpool John Moore University for putting it on. Here are my impressions of the event.

The keynote speech was given by long-time trans activist, Stephen Whittle. He treated us to a personal account of the history of trans activism in the UK — some of which he was very much a key part of. Stephen is an experienced speaker with a wealth of entertaining and illuminating anecdotes. My favorite was the one about the UK branch of the Transsexual Action Organisation dissociating itself from the US parent organization, in part because they claimed that the Americans were “into the Occult”. I’m pretty sure that means that a lot of the Americans were neo-pagans.

There were seven papers in all, including mine. I’m going to highlight the three I found most interesting.

First up, Jacob Bloomfield, who like me went to great lengths to be there. He is performing at Edinburgh Fringe at the moment. He caught an early train down, and left immediately after giving his paper so that he could be on stage at 8:00pm. His paper was all about cross-dressing revues put on by military veterans after the two world wars. Apparently there were quite a few. Danny La Rue was the most famous graduate of them. It isn’t clear whether anyone involved actually identified as trans, but the circumstances under which they were permitted by the authorities were quite interesting. The fact that the performers were all military veterans was apparently a key issue here as it established their essential virility. There was to be, according to one censor, “no pansy business”. Fascinatingly Jacob suggested that some British people found the idea of Tommy watching men dressed (very convincingly) as women preferable to the idea that he might hook up with some foreign woman while busy saving his country overseas.

Clare Tebbutt had a great paper about “sex changes” in the 1930s. These were nothing like the gender clinic work we know today, though they did center primarily around Charing Cross Hospital. A South African doctor called Lennox Broster became something of an expert in what we’d now call intersex conditions. Many intersex people who had been assigned female at birth were treated by him and a significant number were legally reassigned male as a result. His most famous patient was Mark Weston. The media of the day, having little understanding of the biology, reported these cases as “sex changes” and put them down to the miracles of modern medicine. Reporting was almost always favorable towards the patient, with scare quotes being used for the birth gender rather than the new one. Because of Broster’s particular specialism, the vast majority of the patients were seen as female-to-male, so we don’t know much about how a perceived male-to-female would have been reported, but the media climate then was clearly very different to what we see today.

(By the way, the history of such cases is why Michael Dillon was able to get his legal gender changed so easily, even though he had no intersex condition. The doctors, and the authorities, were used to such cases.)

Finally, my favorite paper of the day, Juthathorn Pravattiyagul on the Thai trans diaspora. Juthathorn is Thai herself, and she has done a lot of research hanging out with Thai trans women in various European cities. Acceptance of trans women is seen as much better in the West than in Thailand, because we have laws protecting us and Thailand doesn’t. That, combined with the obvious economic incentives, has caused large numbers of Thai trans women to emigrate to Europe. Juthathorn has found that the reality of life in the West rarely matches up to their dreams. Partly that’s because of racism, but in addition she found that social attitudes towards trans women are far less accepting in Europe than in Thailand, despite our more supportive laws. I so wish I had known about her work before I put in my submission to the UK government’s Transgender Equality Inquiry as I would have cited her.

It was also great to hang out with friends such as Emma Hutson and Catherine Baker, and to make new friends. I can warmly recommend the 60 Hope Street restaurant that Emma Vickers found for the conference dinner. However, I do have a few concerns about the way trans history is being done.

The majority of the attendees were cis people. Some of them were great. Others clearly don’t quite get it, and it you are doing trans history that’s important. I absolutely accept the idea that we can’t know how people from the past identified. I opened my own paper by saying so. Even if they did, their self-conceptions are likely to be very different from those of a modern trans person such as myself. However, just because we can’t say for certain that person X from the past identified as trans, or as the gender in which they presented for most of their life, we can’t say for certain that they didn’t. To persistently use the birth gender for all subjects, and to characterize them all as cross-dressers, is to erase the possibility of people being trans in the past. Given that the idea that being trans is a modern invention is a key part of TERF ideology, this is deeply political position to take. It is not, as I suspect most of the researchers assume, simply a neutral and default position.

It gets worse too. People do cross-dress for all sorts of reasons. Just take a look at any stag party, Halloween party, Saturday crowd at a Test Match and so on. There are so many more cis people than trans people that my guess is that there were more people in history who cross-dressed and did not identify as trans than there were those who did. Even with eunuchs, who are physically trans, there will probably be more who continue to identify as their birth gender than as anything else. If your “trans history” is focused on the idea of cross-dressing rather than on the idea of trans identities, then you will end up writing a history of cis people and calling it a history of trans people. I do not want to see us go down that route. Hopefully most of the academics involved don’t want us to either.

Posted in Academic, Gender | 1 Comment

Trans Duly Historicised

Well that was fun. Some really great papers, and mine seemed to go down well too. I’ll write more about it tomorrow, but I have to be up at 3:30am for the Hugo Award Ceremony so I’m going to bed now. If you want more of a flavor of the event, check out the #HistTrans hashtag on Twitter.

Posted in Academic, Gender | Leave a comment

Hello World, Welcome to Helsinki!


Well look at that, I think we done got ourselves a Worldcon. :-)

The results are technically pending until confirmed at the Saturday WSFS Business Meeting, but here are the numbers from the count:

  • Helsinki 1363
  • Washington 878
  • Montreal 228
  • Nippon 120

In a 4-way race, Helsinki wins on the first round of counting with 52% of the vote.

Thank you, fandom. See you all in 2017.

I am so very proud of all my Finnish friends right now.

By the way, it won’t be snowing in Helsinki in August. In summer Finland looks more like this:

Finland summer

Posted in Conventions, Finland | 2 Comments

My Sasquan Panel

I managed to wake up in the middle of the night to do the “Exploring Orientation and Gender in Fiction” panel at Sasquan. It was a lot of fun. Many thanks again to Cat Valente for inviting me and providing the Sasquan end of the tech, and also to Heather Rose Jones who is a fellow historian of things LGBT. She has a wonderful online resource here that I shall be spending a long time reading through.

The experience did remind me that 90 minutes is the ideal time for convention panels. Any longer and you’ll probably run out of steam, but any shorter and you’ll barely scratch the surface of the topic. I know an extra half hour doesn’t seem a lot, but when you take out 15 minutes for room change (i.e., a 60 minute slot means a 45 minute panel) and 15 minutes for audience questions you only have a half hour panel. A 90 minute slot doesn’t need to extend either of those, so you get an hour for the panel, meaning you have doubled the time available.

This morning Tero asked me about my experience of participating in a panel by Skype. It was mixed, but I’d still do it again.

The connection to Spokane was a bit spotty. A couple of times I got the dreaded “connection lost, trying to get it back” message. Thankfully the second time worked, but I lost quite a bit of the first half of the panel. Obviously if you are going to do this you have to have a good connection.

Microphone technique becomes much more important if you are using Skype. The mics that are provided in convention centers tend to be sensitive and highly directional. People who keep moving their head while speaking, or who wave the mic around as if they are on Top of the Pops (where, as you should know, everyone is miming) are a menace, because you only get to hear half of what they say.

That goes double for audience questions. Even if you provide people with a mic, the chances are they will mis-use it. Kudos to Cat for realizing this and repeating the questions for me.

Moderators who have one or more Skype panelists should probably keep an eye on the text window. This wasn’t really an issue for us, but if I’d had a problem then texting via Skype might be the only way I had to let the moderator know.

The thing I wasn’t expecting was how much I missed visual clues. I know Cat and Ctein so I could recognize their voices, but I had difficultly telling whether Julia or Heather was speaking, and it was clear that the panel was never quite sure if I’d finished, and was politely not jumping in too soon. Having video as well would probably have helped, except that no one would have wanted to see me at 4:00am.

If there’s anyone who was at the panel who would like to see my lecture at Liverpool University earlier this year, you can find it here.

Posted in Conventions, Gender, Internet | Leave a comment

Girl on a Motorbike


As regular readers will know, my favorite comics character growing up was Jean Grey. But she wasn’t the only redhead superhero around. Reading Gail Simone’s obituary for Yvonne Craig last night, it occurred to me that Babs is probably the reason I grew up loving motorbikes.

Thanks Yvonne, you were awesome. — A Fan

Posted in Comics, Motorbikes, TV | Leave a comment

Book Review – Luna: New Moon

Luna: New Moon - Ian McDonaldThe new Ian McDonald novel isn’t actually out for about a month, but he has been on Coode Street to talk about, and I wanted my review live today so that I can talk about it on the panel tonight. Yes, Ian has done interesting things with sexuality and gender in this book too. My review is a little spoilery, but I don’t think there’s anything much worse that what Ian has already said to Jonathan & Gary. I very much enjoyed the book, and am looking forward with excitement to future volumes, and with some trepidation to the TV series. You can find my review here.

I do hope that people take notice of this book. There are a lot of people out there asking for more diversity in SF&F. That’s a good thing. There are also people trying to deliver, but those asking for diversity often tend not to see it if it isn’t written by a woman and published as YA. I can understand why, but we need this diversity and we shouldn’t ignore any of it.


Posted in Books, Gender | Leave a comment

My Sasquan Schedule

No, of course I am not in Spokane. That doesn’t mean that I won’t be involved in Worldcon. They can’t get rid of me that easily.

As most of you will know, on Saturday night I will be helping Kevin and Mur Lafferty co-host the text-based coverage of the Hugo Award Ceremony. Because of my travel plans, I’ll actually be doing this from a hotel room in Liverpool. The ceremony starts at 4:00am my time. Ouch. You can find information about how to watch the coverage here.

However, it appears that won’t be my only involvement. I may be on a panel too. Tonight Cat Valente is moderating a panel titled “Exploring Orientation and Gender in Fiction”. There are no obviously trans people on the panel, so last night Cat put out a call on Twitter for trans writers who might want to help out. I muttered something about not being there, and to my surprise and delight Cat offered to Skype me in. There’s no guarantee this will work. The tech might not be up to it, and someone at Sasquan may decide that fandom needs to be protected from a notorious Menace like me. However, we are going to give it a try. That means I have to be up for a 4:00am event tomorrow morning too.

Anyway, fingers cross, and huge thanks to Cat for making the offer.

It is a good job that all I’m doing on Friday and Sunday is catching trains.

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

Historicising Trans Symposium

Tomorrow I’ll be off to Liverpool where I will be delivering a paper at the Historicising Trans Symposium at John Moores University. I’m looking forward to seeing some old friends (well, friends I have know for a while who are much younger than me), and to meeting a bunch of of new scholars who are into trans history.

My own paper is going to look at problems with the evidence for the existence of trans people, focusing on cases at the Court of Versailles and in the Inca Empire. As this is a trial run for a paper I want to give at a much bigger conference in London next year I probably won’t put it on academia.edu just yet. Sorry, you’ll have to wait a bit.

Sadly all of my friends in Liverpool seem to be on vacation right now, but as you will see from the next post that’s probably just as well.

Posted in Academic, Gender | Leave a comment

Hugos and Business Meeting Update

I have been having a very interesting email discussion with my friend Neil Clarke about my post from yesterday on the issues for debate at this year’s WSFS Business Meeting. Neil has made a very clever point that I am convinced by, and I think will save a lot of time this year.

Right now one of the problems with deciding what to do about the Puppies is that we have very little data to go on. We don’t know what effect either of the proposed anti-Puppy techniques would have had, had they been in place this year. Nor do we know what effect the vastly greater interest in the Hugos that Puppygate has caused will have on future years’ Award ballots.

However, all amendments to the WSFS Constitution take two years to pass. Anything that is passed for the first time at Sasquan cannot take effect until it is ratified at next year’s Worldcon, MidAmeriCon II in Kansas City. Therefore, we can pass both 4 and 6 and E Pluribus Hugo this year, and decide which one of them would work best next year when we have more data. We don’t even need to waste time debating their relative merits now, we just get the ball rolling on both so that action can be taken as swiftly as the deliberately pedestrian WSFS Constitution allows.

The spanner in all this is, of course, popular ratification. If that passes with the wrecking amendment added in London intact then it could take three years to do something about the Puppies rather than two years. Personally I think it would be a very good thing if whatever technique we adopted to combat the Puppies was subject to popular ratification, because then democracy would be seen to be done. However if, as some people fear, the Puppy vote will be able to flood the nomination ballot in all future years, the sooner something gets done the better.

I haven’t had a chance to ask Kevin whether the wrecking amendment can be removed again at Sasquan, but if the price of having popular ratification is that it will take another year to do something about the Puppies then I’m pretty sure it will get voted down.

By the way, this does raise another interesting constitutional question. If we had popular ratification, and both anti-Puppy proposals passed this year, would that leave us with the possibility of the popular vote passing two mutually incompatible next year? I’m not sure if this is the sort of thing that will get Kevin excited or keep him awake at night, but I’m very glad that I have him to think about such things so that I don’t have to.

Posted in Awards, Conventions, Fandom | 4 Comments

Reinforcing the Binary

One of the things that really annoys me about the way that trans women are treated is the way that we are constantly called out for “reinforcing the binary”. I think we can all agree that having rigid gender stereotypes that force everyone into strict and distinct roles as either Real Men or Real Women is a bad thing. However, the way this discussion is framed is very different in the case of trans women than it is for everyone else.

I should note here that I’m not too upset about non-binary people who accuse trans women of reinforcing the binary. The trans community is very diverse, and in every sub-group there are those who insist that everyone else is “doing trans wrong”. This is more about bolstering their own self-confidence than anything else. There are groups of binary-identified trans women who say awful things about non-binary people too. I try hard to let everyone be trans in the way that is most comfortable for them. I mean, why exchange one set of enforced stereotypes for another?

No, the people I am talking about call themselves “feminists”, though in my book one of the last things that feminism should be about is policing other women’s behavior. They are generally academics, probably into gender studies or something similar, and they may well have spent far too much time misunderstanding Judith Butler. For them, everything that trans women do is wrong.

Wear pretty clothes? Reinforcing the binary. Wear makeup? Reinforcing the binary. Wear our hair long? Reinforcing the binary. Read romance novels? Reinforcing the binary. Are attracted to men? Reinforcing the binary. Go on a diet? Reinforcing the binary. Have any sort of cosmetic surgery? Reinforcing the binary. Enjoy crafts such as embroidery or knitting? Reinforcing the binary. Cry? Reinforcing the binary. The list is seemingly endless.

And let’s not even think about anything to do with children, because that would be all, “Urgh! Paedo!!!” Right?

Such discussions are generally accompanied by talk about how trans women seek to “pass” as female, couched in similar terms to the way a black rights activist might talk about a neighbour who tries to “pass” as white. In other words, it is a deception, a bad thing.

Trans women are, of course, under tremendous pressure to “pass” as female. The doctors and psychiatrists (most of whom are men) on whom we rely for treatment tend to withhold it if they think we fail to conform to their idea of how women should look and behave. Well-meaning friends and family are forever nit-picking our supposed performance because they are convinced that we can’t possibly have any idea how to be women, even when we are a damn sight more fashionable and stylish than they are. And of course if you are out in public and look visibly trans then your chances of getting beaten up or even killed are massively higher than if you look gender-normative. For trans people, and particularly trans women, “passing” is a matter of personal safety.

Women who are assigned female at birth generally don’t get called out in the same way. They might attract attention if they dress like Barbara Cartland, or if they drone on about how women should stay at home and have kids rather than get jobs. But for the most part they are allowed to do feminine things because their femininity is deemed innate and natural, whereas ours is deemed fake.

Trans men don’t get called out for reinforcing the binary very often either. They can grow beards, watch sports, drink beer, work out and do all of those supposed manly man things without attracting anywhere near the same level of opprobrium. It is past time that many feminists took a good long look at how they accept default male behavior as “normal” but decry default female behavior as “fake”. It is not for nothing that Julia Serano invented the term, transmisogyny, to denote the particular hatred of trans women that happens precisely because our behaviour is deemed feminine.

What comes across very clearly in all of these denunciations is that these “feminists” believe that trans women have no right to behave in a feminine manner because we are not “really” women, we are just men who are playing a role. They don’t want us to “pass” because they don’t want us to, in their eyes, get away with having other people think that we are women. When I hear “feminists” denounce trans women for “reinforcing the binary”, this is what I hear them actually saying:

“We don’t want you deceiving people, we want you to look like the men you really are.”

Well you know what they can do with that attitude, don’t you.

“One problem with that view of social construction is that it suggests that what trans people feel about what their gender is, and should be, is itself “constructed” and, therefore, not real. And then the feminist police comes along to expose the construction and dispute a trans person’s sense of their lived reality. I oppose this use of social construction absolutely, and consider it to be a false, misleading, and oppressive use of the theory.” — Judith Butler.

Posted in Feminism, Gender | Leave a comment

Book Review – Some Sami Mythology

Fathoms of the Fenlake - Ante AikioI have a new book review up. It is a book based on Sami mythology, written (in Finnish) by an actual Sami, and translated into English. If any of you have an interest in the beliefs and practices of hunter-gatherer societies (and I suspect this might be quite a few of you) then you’ll find this fascinating. You can read my review here.

Aigi : Fathoms of the Fenlake is the first in what is planned to be a series of books bringing Sami mythology to the rest of the world. The book is available as a paperback here and as an ebook from the piranhas. If you happen to be at Worldcon I believe that the Helsinki bid people will have some paper copies for sale.

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Fixing the Hugos

As I can’t travel to the USA I won’t be able to attend this year’s WSFS Business Meeting. That means I don’t get to have a direct say in what gets done about Puppygate. So I am going to write about what I think needs to be done here in the hope that it might sway some people who do have a vote.

Before I get onto the actual Puppy-related motions, however, there are a bunch of other pieces of business that also deserve attention. The full text of all motions can be found on the Sasquan website.

Business Passed On from Loncon 3

A.1 Popular Ratification

I still believe that the 3-year timescale that was forced into this motion at Loncon 3 is a bad thing, but overall the idea of popular ratification is a good thing. The vast majority of fans cannot afford to go to every Worldcon. Giving those who can’t attend a stake in the convention’s governance is a something we need to work towards, and small steps are better than no steps at all.

Also all of the material about electronic voting is a Very Good Thing. I know Sasquan tried to make site selection available online, but the process was unnecessarily complicated and needs to change.

A.2 A Story By Any Other Name

Pass it. This is an amendment designed to ensure that things like the unfair exclusion of Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” never happen again. (The whole affair should also serve as a warning against activist Hugo Administrators. You may well think they’d be great for combatting Puppies, but what happens when they use their powers to do things you don’t like?)

A.3 Hugo Finalists

Pass it. This is a sad but necessary change in terminology brought on by people who describe themselves as “Hugo nominees” because they have sent in a ballot nominating their work.

A.4 WSFS Membership Types and Rates

Kick it out. This is an attempt to prevent Worldcons from offering a cheap “Voting Membership” in order to encourage participation in the Hugos. We need to do everything we can to encourage participation. It may be that voting memberships are a bad thing, but they have never been tried and I take a dim view of anything that tries to ban an innovation before it can be tested.

New Resolutions

B.2.1 I Remember the Future & B.2.2 Hugo Eligibility Extension for Predestination

These are both requests to extend the availability of works due to limited distribution. I know nothing about either work, but generally films that do well on the festival circuit and then go on to do well in DVD sales ought to get a second chance. WSFS members generally do not attend film festivals, and so don’t see the works premiered there.

B.2.3 Hugo Nominating Data Request

This is a request for some (anonymized) data from this year’s Hugos to help people decide what to do about Puppygate. I have no objection, but the Hugo Administrators might.

B.2.4 Open Source Software

On the face of it, this is a fairly reasonable request. It is asking that any software used by a Worldcon (excluding anything that is a commercial product and legally protected) have its source code be made available for inspection. Obviously we want Worldcons to use good quality software, but this Resolution is a disaster waiting to happen.

Two of the less good things about fandom are the tendency to busybodying and the habit of fans to believe that they know far more about any subject than anyone else. If this Resolution passes then it will be possible for anyone who wants to make a nuisance of themselves to demand access to code developed by Worldcons, to suggest amendments to that code, and to demand that the Worldcon in question either incorporate those changes or justify not doing so. It will be a nightmare for the people actually doing the work.

In the past I have helped build the website for a Worldcon. I wouldn’t do it under the conditions of this resolution. Everything you put on a website is effectively code, even if it is just a blog post. I do not want to have countless arguments with concerned fans about religious issues in HTML and CSS.

There are better ways of improving the software that Worldcons use. The first is that if you have real development skills then you can get involved with Worldcon committees and help write the software that they use. The second is that Worldcons should make a point of developing code that can be re-used every year. There should be no more of this re-inventing everything from scratch each year because someone on the committee is a software nerd who insists that everything ever written by any previous Worldcon is useless and he has to write his own versions. That’s largely a matter for Worldcon chairs to enforce, but IT policy is a question that can be put to bids, and the Business Meeting can set up a Software Development Committee to help pass on code from one year to the next.

B.2.5 MPC Funding

The better known the Hugos and Worldcon become, the more people trying to monetize fandom try to steal our service marks. If people want those marks to be defended, it will cost money. In terms of the overall Worldcon budget, the amounts being discussed are very small, and haven’t changed since the 1980s. This Resolution basically puts a little bit more money into the defense fund. Please support it. It will make Kevin’s life much easier.

Constitutional Amendments

I’m going to take these mostly from the bottom up, leaving the serious anti-Puppy stuff until last.

B.1.8 Electronic Signatures

This seeks to remove one of the excuses that the forces of conservatism might seek to use in order to prevent online voting. That sounds like a good thing.

B.1.7 Two-Year Eligibility

This is daft, and discriminatory. Please kick it out.

To start with the whole notion is stupid. The proposers of the motion effectively say that the science fiction field is too big for anyone to get a grasp of it all in one year, so Hugo eligibility must be extended to two years to give us all time to read everything. Have they any idea how many books get published each year? Let alone short stories. And fanzines. And…

Not to mention the fact that in the second year a whole lot more material gets published, which you also have to read.

In addition the proposal wrecks one of the basic principles of Hugo Award Internationalism. Worldcon has always recognized that the majority of voters come from the USA, and that therefore a work not published in English, and/or not published in the USA, is at a disadvantage. Also US voters would be prevented from nominating works they may love if they don’t find out about them until they get US publication and the work was no longer eligible.

So, the way things work at the moment is that works get up to three shots at eligibility: on first publication; on first publication in English; and on first publication in the USA. Obviously for some works two of those, or all three, are in the same year, but for others they can all be different years.

This proposal would change that. All works in English would get two years of eligibility, but those would be consecutive, regardless of country of publication.

What does this mean? Consider a work published in English in Australia in 2015, and again in the USA in 2018. Under the existing rules it gets two years of eligibility: 2016 and 2019. Under the new rules it also gets two years, but 2016 and 2017. By the time the book appears in the US market its eligibility will have been burned.

To repeat, this is a bad proposal. Please kick it out.

B.1.6 Nominee Diversity

This is what you might call the anti-Doctor Who motion. The idea is to prevent the Dramatic Presentation: Short Form category being filled up with episodes all taken from the same series. The motion would limit any such dominant series to two finalist slots. It would also prevent any given author from having more than two stories in any of the fiction categories, which may make it partly an anti-Puppy measure.

I have a certain amount of sympathy with this, but for reasons I shall explain in detail later I am generally opposed to rules which try to kick specific works off the final ballot when they have received enough votes to get there. It gives people the excuse to claim that the system is rigged against them. So I think I’d vote No on this one.

B.1.5 Multiple Nominations

Despite the title, this is not the same thing as B.1.6. Rather this proposal seeks to prevent a single work from being a finalist in more than one category. The commentary suggests that under the current rules a work could be a finalist in, for example, Related Work and Fancast. This is traditionally something that we have relied on Administrators to be activist about, but they may be less inclined to be so these days. Also having this rule explicitly stated removes one of the more common objections to a YA category. Part of me says that this rule is only needed because categories are badly specified, but perfection is never easy. On balance I think I’d vote for this.

B.1.3 Best Series

Now that the Trojan Horse langauge for getting rid of Novelette has been removed, this proposal is far less odious. I’m still not convinced that we need a Hugo category for ongoing series, though. When it was first proposed I saw a number of authors suggesting that it was a bad thing even without the Novelette nonsense. I’d want to hear the debate on this, but my instinct is to vote against.

B.1.2 The Five Percent Solution

This would get rid of the rule that requires that a work get at least 5% of the votes in order to make the final ballot. That rule is the reason why there have been fewer than five finalists in Short Story a number of times recently.

It is possible that if this rule were put in place we’d end up with 10 or more finalists in Short Story. However, the restriction causes a lot of upset amongst people who feel that they or their friends have been unfairly left off the ballot. Let’s give this a try for a while, and see what happens. If people get even more upset about large numbers of finalists than they did about works being excluded we can always revert. This may be a case for a sunset clause (that is, adding an amendment that says the change goes away after x years unless a Business Meeting votes to make it permanent).

B.1.1 4 and 6 and B.1.4 E Pluribus Hugo (Out of the Many, a Hugo)

I have lumped these two proposals together because they are both aimed at reducing the effectiveness of so-called Slate Voting, in which an organized group all put exactly the same works on their ballot. As such, these are both anti-Puppy measures.

4 and 6 simply adds an extra finalist slot to each category, while simultaneously restricting voters to nominating four works instead of 5. This would make it much more difficult for a slate to work. A simple slate could only get 4 works out of 6 onto each finalist list. Of course it is possible for a well-organized and well-supported slate to distribute votes in such a way as to gain all six finalist places, but that would require more work by the slate organizer and more supporters of the slate.

E Pluribus Hugo is a much more sophisticated approach, relying on a mathematical algorithm to detect slate voting patterns and disqualify works deemed to have benefited from slate voting. I have no doubt that it is a more robust solution to the Puppy problem. I also urge you to vote against it, and for 4 and 6 instead. Here’s why.

Many of the problems that afflict the Hugos are situations that large numbers of people deem “unfair”. Any time the Award rules get complicated you can bet that someone will call them “unfair”, especially if the rule leads to a work missing out on a finalist slot when it got enough votes to be there. So, for example, the 5% Rule is widely deemed “unfair” because it means that short stories that might otherwise have been finalists are denied that honor. You can bet that if an episode of Doctor Who were kicked off the final ballot because the Nominee Diversity proposal got passed then Who fans would be furious about how “unfair” this was.

Even the instant runoff system of vote counting in the final ballot is deemed “unfair” by some people. I have sat through far too many Chris Garcia rants about how instant runoff is unfair and un-American and the Hugo should always go the work that gets the most first preference votes like in proper elections.

So my concern is that if we adopt E Pluribus Hugo what will happen in the future is that whenever a work gets disqualified under that rule there will be a huge fuss about how the Hugos are fixed in favor of some special interest group. Because most people won’t be able to understand the theory on which E Pluribus Hugo is based (and for sure I don’t), this accusation of unfairness will be widely believed, even though it is correctly defending against slate voting.

If you think I’m over-reacting here, consider that Open Source Software resolution. You might wonder why it is there. Surely people aren’t actually worried about websites, or registration software. Nope. My guess is that it is there precisely because people don’t trust the code that will be used to implement E Pluribus Hugo and want to be able to check it.

In contrast, the 4 and 6 proposal is simple, straightforward, and easy to understand. Crucially it will never result in a work that otherwise had sufficient votes to become a finalist being disqualified. Therefore it will not result in future dramas that will have people sympathizing with a slate voting campaign.

If that doesn’t convince you, consider this. The Hugos are often criticized for being snobby and elitist (particularly by the Puppies). In response to that, what sort of idiot proposes a Constitutional Amendment with a Latin title? It is the very epitome of saying, “we are smarter than you, go away”. I don’t think that WSFS should behave like that.

Update: I have further thoughts about the two anti-Puppy motions here. As I explain, I now favor passing both of them this year.

Finally I’d like to note that the only real defense against the Puppies and groups like them is to get more people to participate in the Hugos, especially at the nominations stage. We’ve had a huge increase in participation this year. Let’s do everything we can to keep those people involved, and to get more people voting. This will probably mean that it is even less likely that works I like will become finalists, let alone win, but I’ll take that. If you want to have a high profile, international, fan-voted award then you have to accept a wide degree of participation; you can’t restrict the process to “people like us”.

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