Amanda Palmer in Bristol

Talking of mothers, or at least mothers-to-be, Amanda Palmer will be at St. George’s on Friday May 29th. I have a ticket. I hope to see some of you there. Neil sadly, has been booked for two events at Hay that day, so he’s missing the gig. It is a tough life being popular, because often your life is not your own.

If you want a ticket for the gig, you can get one here. Let me know if you are going.

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The Motherhood Thing

In my Age of Ultron review I had a few things to say about Natasha Romanov, motherhood, and how society treats childless women. Today is Mother’s Day in the USA, and inevitably the Internet is full of posts about motherhood. I’d like to draw your attention to this one from Helen Boyd about the difficulties that childless women, and non-traditional mothers, face on days like this. There’s no one right way to be a mother, or to have a mother, and not conforming to some narrow definition of motherhood does not make you any less of a woman.

It is probably also a good time to point you at this brilliant satirical piece from Beulah Maud Devaney on the things people say to childless women.

Of course the “wide continuum of mothering” that Helen’s piece quotes does leave people out. I don’t know what views Amy Young has on LGBT folks, but her post is centered on religion so sadly I suspect that their omission is deliberate. This post, therefore, is for lesbian and bi women who get told that having children without a man is wrong and selfish; it is for young trans women who know that no matter how good their bodies might look on the outside they’ll always be missing a womb; it is for trans guys who are biological mothers and may or may not see themselves as mothers; and it is for older trans women who have biological children, yet are told that they can never be “mothers” to them.

Motherhood. It is no more simple than anything else in the world.

Posted in Feminism | 1 Comment

Ultron Review

I have finally managed to process my thoughts about Avengers: Age of Ultron. The review is inevitably spoilerific, but if you have seen the film, and more particularly if you have been reading all of the outrage about the film, you may want to take a look.

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Sense8 Trailer

So, Netflix only. But will it be on Netflix in the UK?

Also I love the joke they are playing with those “mirror” scenes.

And Agent Carter has been renewed. So not a bad day at all, TV-wise.

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The People Have Spoken

Well, that was weird. Prior to the election the polls were predicting that Labour and the Conservatives were neck and neck — if anything with a slight lead for Labour, though that wouldn’t necessarily translate into more seats. I wasn’t surprised, as David Cameron had presided over the least competent government I can remember. When I went to bed the exit polls had just come out, and they were predicting that the Conservatives would have a healthy lead with 316 seats to Labour’s 239. Now, with all results in, the Conservatives have an actual majority with 331 seats to Labour’s 232. The leaders of Labour, the LibDems and UKIP have all resigned.

What the heck happened?

Understanding elections these days isn’t easy. If it was, the pollsters would get it right. Take a look at my constituency, for example. It is a Tory Rotten Borough, so the incumbent MP was re-elected with over 52% of the vote. UKIP came second with their vote shooting up from 5.5% to 17.5%. The Greens, running for the first time, got 5.8%. The LibDems slumped from 30.5% to 10.6%. Conservatives and Labour had small gains. So did a whole lot of former LibDem voters defect to UKIP? I think it unlikely. I think that UKIP drew votes from both Conservatives and Labour, but those parties also gained LibDem votes. Of course there’s no way I can prove that. Explanations as to what happened have to be conjecture.

From my point of view, the main issue with UK politics prior to the election was that all three major parties — Conservatives, Labour and LibDems — have been drawing their candidates mostly from an upper middle class, English, Oxbridge educated elite that has little connection to ordinary people and no experience of having a job outside of politics. I understand that this was more marked in Labour and the LibDems than in the Conservatives, who are happy with taking on rich businessmen as candidates.

Many of the British people are more than a little pissed off with this, and are looking for an alternative. In Scotland they found one. The SNP, as Jane Carnall explains, took a lot more of their candidates from local communities. And while Scotland voted against independence the Scots were very happy to vote in national elections for a party that didn’t appear to only represent London. The result was an utter massacre of both Labour and LibDems in Scotland (a country that was already almost Tory-free).

The situation in Wales was a little different. Plaid Cymru failed to establish itself as a viable alternative and trailed in fourth behind UKIP. That may be because Welsh independence has never looked viable economically, but it could also be due to local issues I’m not aware of as I don’t keep a close eye on goings on in the Welsh Assembly.

As for England, what choice did the disenchanted voter have? The LibDems had proved themselves useless over five years of propping up the Tories. Voting Green is still seen as an eccentric middle class fad. And Labour were busily promising to be just like the Tories if they won, with more austerity measures and even more persecution of those on benefits. So people voted UKIP instead.

Labour is busy blaming the SNP for their poor showing, which seems a bit off because even if they had won every SNP seat they could still not have formed a government. What may have tipped LibDem voters into going blue rather than red was the prospect of a Labour-SNP coalition, or failing that a need for a second election. That, of course, is partly Labour’s own fault. They campaigned heavily against electoral reform and therefore helped make voters afraid of anything other than a single-party majority government. Unfortunately for Labour, without Scotland, which they appear to have treated with utter contempt, they have no chance of ever getting a majority in Westminster.

Given the level of anti-Scottish rhetoric in the English press over the past few weeks, I suspect that if they held another Scottish Independence referendum now then the Nationalists would win easily. Then the Scots could get back to being a country again rather than begin just anti-English. How long that sentiment will last I don’t know.

As for the rest of the UK, what it desperately needs right now is a viable opposition to the Tories: a party that is neither made of up careerist politicians nor racist cranks. I have no idea where such a party can be found, though if the Greens can manage a bit more populism they might fill the void.

One small ray of hope is that the Tories will probably soon be tearing each other apart over exit from the EU. Promising a referendum helped Cameron stave off the UKIP threat, but now he has to deliver and the business community is firmly on the side of staying in the EU. Similar issues with the Eurosceptic wing of the party bedevilled John Major’s government too. It had a similar wafer-thin majority, and when it collapsed that ushered in Tony Blair.

On a personal level, the election has been a disaster. I quite understand the public anger with the LibDems, but losing Julian Huppert and Lynne Featherstone from Parliament is a major setback for trans rights. Thankfully we still have Kerry McCarthy and Caroline Lucas, but I don’t know of anyone with a voice in government that we can rely on.

Bristol, on the other hand, has done quite well. All four city MPs are now women, three of them Labour. One of the new ones is Thangam Debbonaire who is a former professional cellist, and an internationally renowned campaigner against domestic violence. We don’t have a gay MP any more, but you can’t have everything. I note also that Bristol Greens gained 7 seats in the City Council elections, including both Clifton seats.

Finally a word of commiseration to my friend Talis Kimberley who stood as a Green candidate in Swindon South. While she didn’t manage to save her deposit, she did come within a whisker of beating the LibDem. In any case, standing for Parliament is a hugely stressful thing to do, Here’s hoping her political career only goes upwards from here.

Posted in Current Affairs | 4 Comments

A Little Awards News

I was pleased to discover yesterday that my Trinidadian friend, Rhonda Garcia, tied for second place in the SF/F/H category of the Independent Publisher Book Awards. The IPPYs are not an award I’m familiar with, but they appears to be interestingly international, and of course small press focused. In any case I’m delighted for Rhonda. Lex Talionis is a very promising debut. You can listen to my interview with Rhonda at Salon Futura.

Also yesterday the Arthur C. Clarke Award continued its journey away from science fiction and towards literary respectability. This year the award went to a beautifully written piece of sentimental twaddle aimed at the sort of pretentious hipsters who think that suffering an apocalypse means being unable to have iPhones, Sunday supplements and skinny flat lattes. It is a very long time since a book without a trans character made me as viscerally angry as Station 11 did. However, I don’t appear to have sent any death threats to the Clarke jury. Nor have I vowed to destroy the award, or even decided that it is “broken”. In fact I rather suspect that the Clarke will do better next year without any help from me. Clearly I am doing this social media thing all wrong.

Then again, I am confident that the winner of this year’s Hugos will be a far better science fiction novel than the winner of the Clarke.

Posted in Awards | 3 Comments

Yesterday on Ujima

Yesterday’s show seemed to go OK, despite the long layoff. I don’t think I have lost my touch, which is a relief. And I managed to cope OK with the new (temporary) studio. Thanks are due as ever to Valentin for making things happen when I need them to.

The first hour was all about books. I started out with Sarah Hilary talking about her Marnie Rome novels. Someone Else’s Skin has just been long-listed for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. Most of the discussion, however, was about the new book, No Other Darkness. We talked about killing children, pointing fingers, preppers, the role of crime fiction in the world, and the amazing talent of Lauren Beukes.

Sarah was followed in the hot seat by Pete Newman. We talked about being a two-writer household, sexism in the book business, babies, goats, demons, singing swords and the genius of Akira Kurosawa. We also talked briefly about Tea and Jeopardy, and there was a brief appearance by Latimer.

You can listen to the first hour here.

The second hour followed on from my article on sanitary products for Bristol 24/7. I had a pre-record interview with Chloe Tingle, and then two of her colleagues, Frances Lucraft and Michelle Graabek, joined Judeline and I in the studio to discuss the issues raised. The Talk Period is now live, so if you are in or around Bristol please do get involved. Frances and Michelle assure me that male-identified persons are welcome.

You can listen to the second hour here.

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Attention, Britain

On Thursday there is a General Election. Stand up and fight for your rights. VOTE.

It’s a bit scary how current the right wing rant on that track sounds, given that the song was released in 1978.

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I Interview Roz Kaveney for Lambda Literary

You all know that Roz Kaveney has a new novel out, right? Tiny Pieces of Skull is not fantasy. It is a fictionalized memoir based on Roz’s time as a young trans sex worker in Chicago in the 1970s. It is very good indeed, and has what might be my favorite last line of a book ever. Of course you do have to have a certain amount of interest in trans issues and feminism to appreciate it the way I do, but hopefully lots of people will like it.

Anyway, I was asked to do an interview with Roz for the Lambda Literary website. That’s now online, and it also links to a review of the book written by someone else (so you don’t need to take my word for it). Mostly Roz and I talk about how life has changed for trans folk between when the book was written and now. We also talk about why the book is dedicated to some chap called Neil Gaiman, of whom you might have heard.

Read. Enjoy. Go buy Roz’s book.

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Back On Ujima

For a whole variety of reasons I have not been doing any radio for the past few months. However, I’ll be back on Women’s Outlook tomorrow. The original plan was for me to do a whole show once a month, which would be much more manageable from my point of view. However, Paulette has had to head out to Jamaica for a few weeks on family business so I’ll actually be doing the next three week’s shows.

My first guest tomorrow will be crime writer, Sarah Hilary. We’ll be discussing her new novel, No Other Darkness, and also the fact that her debut, Someone Else’s Skin, has just been long-listed for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award.

Next up will be Pete Newman, husband of the fabulous Emma and half of the Hugo-nominated Tea and Jeopardy podcast team. I’ll be asking Pete about his novel, The Vagrant, which launched last week. I may also get him to allow Latimer to say a few words.

The second hour will be given over to the issues raised in my Bristol 24/7 article from last week. It includes an interview with Chloe Tingle of No More Taboo — recorded because she’s in Uganda right now. Also a couple of her colleagues will be joining the team and myself for further discussion.

As usual you can catch the show live via the Ujima website. It should also be available via the Listen Again service for a few weeks.

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Trans History Goes To Exeter Pride

I’m delighted to announce that I am taking my trans history talk on the road again. Exeter Pride takes place on Saturday, May 16th. As part of it I will be giving my talk at Exeter Library between 15:30 and 17:00. Further details of the day’s programme are available here. I’m not sure which room in the Library I will be in yet, but presumably there will be signage on the day.

For those of you not familiar with the talk, it is titled “A Potted History of Gender Variance”, and it covers 2000 years of history and five continents. If you don’t mind a few spoilers, Katie Herring has a lovely write-up of the talk here.

I look forward to seeing some of you there, and if you know anyone in the Exeter area that you think might be interested please pass the wold on.

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A Little Hero Worship

Yeah, that’s Janet Mock, talking to Oprah. Janet is an amazing advocate for trans people. I particularly like the way she acknowledges the privilege that her looks, and her binary identification, give her, and then comes back for everyone else. I hope I can manage just a tiny bit of her eloquence and grace.

And while I’m on the subject of amazing trans people, Laverne Cox recently won an Emmy for a documentary called The T Word. She got that for making the show. The stars are the seven young trans people that she features in it. You can find it online here, but it isn’t available everywhere so you may want to consider something like TunnelBear.

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In Which I Am A Responsible Adult

I guess that in most people’s lives there aren’t many opportunities to do something important. Some of us have serious platforms from which to effect change, others have jobs that involve saving lives, but for most of us the things we do aren’t that vital. That’s certainly the case with me. Wittering on about books is great fun, but mostly not life-changing. This week was different. This week I got to do something that I hope will make a real difference to people’s lives in years to come.

Some of you may remember that back in January I had a little rant about how things won’t get better from women, and trans women in particular, without education. I particularly noted that when training on trans issues was done, trans people were often excluded from the process. I honestly didn’t expect things to get any better in the near future.

But in February I did the trans history talk at the M-Shed. In the audience was Dr. Rachel Hogg, who works with Bristol University Medical School. She and some colleagues were in the process of putting together some LGBT+ training materials for the medical students. They’d done this in previous years for LGB issues, but this year they were keen to include trans and they wanted to know if I would be willing to help.

This was all part of something called Disability, Disadvantage & Diversity Week (3D Week for short). During this week, second year medical students get a range of lectures from people who are liable to be excluded from the health service in some way. There were sessions on disabilities, on cultural diversity, on homelessness, on world health and so on. Rachel is a former co-chair of the Gay & Lesbian Association of Doctors & Dentists, so she is well placed to talk about LGB issues. She wanted me to talk about trans issues.

Time Out. Let’s think about that for a minute. I was being asked to give two days of lectures to a group of young people who, in a few years time, will become doctors. Many of them will become GPs. These days the chances are that some of them will have trans friends. But for some I might be the first trans person they would knowingly meet. Can you say, “responsibility”?

In the past most GPs have had no training at all on gender medicine. If they touched on issues of sexuality it may well have been only with regard to mental health or HIV. Rachel said yesterday that when she was a student being gay was still being taught as a mental illness, even though it was officially declassified in 1973. UCL’s medical school now has some good resources on LGB issues (we showed some of their videos), but as far as we know no other medical school in the country has training on trans issues. If they do, I very much doubt that they have actual trans people involved. If that’s true, well done Bristol for leading the way.

Part of the point of 3D Week, however, is to get people from the community to talk to the students about the issues that affect them. I think that’s a wonderful idea.

Hopefully I did a decent job. I’m confident that I know what I’m talking about, and while I clearly can’t represent all trans people I did refer the students to the fabulous My Genderation films, and to GIRES where there is a lot of good scientific information.

I was a little worried going in as to what sort of a reaction I would get. I wasn’t just lecturing either. There were tutorial sessions in which it was going to be necessary for me to be very open and accept the sort of intrusive questioning that I’d normally tell people is very rude. As it turns out, the students were wonderful. They were really nice young people, culturally quite diverse, and all wanting to learn about helping LGBT+ patients. Some of the comments that Rachel and I had after the sessions were very heartwarming.

I’d like to thank Rachel for involving me in this, and also huge props to Anna Taylor, the medical student whose idea the whole 3D Week project is. Thanks also to Dr. Hannah Condry from the Medical School for making the whole thing happen, and to Lea and Chrissie in the admin team for their support. Most of all, however, I’d like to thank the students for attending, and for being so receptive to the ideas we were putting forward. Having GPs who are trained in trans issues will make a huge difference to the lives of trans people in the coming years. I can’t begin to express how happy and proud I am to have had a part in making that happen.

Posted in Gender, Health | 2 Comments

April Gets a Birthday Present

April Ashley award

As I reported on Wednesday, trans icon April Ashley has just turned 80. A splendid innings, my dear, if I might say so.

Well actually I did send her a message. More of that in a little while. First up that photo above, which shows April receiving a Citizen of Honour award from Liverpool City Council. The photo is courtesy of the lovely people at Liverpool Trans, who also came up with the idea of creating a book of birthday wishes for April. I’m in it, because I wanted to tell April about the really exciting thing I have been doing this week — something that would not have been possible without trailblazers like her.

What have I been up to? That will be in the next post.

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Launching The Vagrant

Last night I was at Forbidden Planet in Bristol for the launch of Pete Newman’s debut novel, The Vagrant. As you should know, Pete is the husband of Emma Newman, and half of the team that makes the hilarious (and Hugo-nominated) Tea & Jeopardy podcast. Emma came long to provide support. It was lovely to see her looking well after all she’s been through over the past year.

If you’d like to hear part of The Vagrant, there’s a podcast of the first two chapters from BristolCon Fringe available here (along with the first two chapters of Emma’s forthcoming Planetfall). In addition I will have Pete on Women’s Outlook on Ujima next Wednesday. We’ll be talking about the baby, and the goat, and I’ll see if I can coax a few words out of his alter-ego, Latimer.

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Talking About Tampons

I have a new article up for my feminism column at Bristol 24/7. This one is all about menstruation, and the enormous cost of sanitary products. If you are saying “eeewwww” right now then you are part of the problem. Go have a read. I’ll be discussing the article on Ujima next Wednesday, so if you have any feedback I’d be very grateful.

Posted in Feminism | 3 Comments

Gods and Heroes

I have been enjoying Alastair Sooke’s documentary series, Treasures of Ancient Greece. However, I think he’s quite wrong when he says in the final episode that the influence of Greek art on Western culture has waned thanks to its co-option by the Nazis and the rise of non-realist forms of art. He’s just not looking in the right place.

Greek Superheroes

That statue was on display at an exhibition called Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2008. I would love to have seen that.

I’m sure there are people who have made a study of this sort of thing, but to my inexpert eye Jim Starlin in particular has a direct line of descent via Michelangelo to ancient Greece. I’m sure there are many more examples.

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2015 Tolkien Lecture

Tolkien Lecture 2015

It is that time of year again. Just in case you can’t see the image, the speaker will be Lev Grossman, and the salient details are: May 13th, 6:30pm, Pichette Auditorium, Pembroke College, Oxford. Full details, including (free) booking, here.

I’d love to be there, but I have schedule issues so it will require work. Hopefully a bunch of you will make it.

Posted in Science Fiction | 3 Comments

Happy Birthday, April! #April80

April Ashley

80 years old today and still as glamorous as ever. Thank you so much for everything you have done for us, and congratulations on being made a Citizen of Honour of Liverpool.

Posted in Gender, Personal | Leave a comment

March Fringe – Chris Cutting & Paul Cornell

I have just uploaded the audio from the March BristolCon Fringe events. I suspect that this will provide our most listened to podcasts yet, by a long chalk.

We start out with Chris Cutting, who does more theatre than prose and always threatens to destroy my recording equipment when we work together. He has the loudest voice I have ever heard. My apologies if the audio is slightly distorted due to having to make it less LOUD. On the other hand, I think I have edited out all of the pauses caused by Chris having the story on his recalcitrant phone. I have to tell you about that because otherwise you won’t understand some of his comments in the Q&A.

Chris’s story isn’t exactly speculative, but it can be described as horrifying, and may have a slight tinge of steampunk to it.

Next up is the very wonderful Paul Cornell, who should need no introduction to the readers of this blog. Excitingly, we have an exclusive extract from his next Shadow Police novel. The book won’t be out until the end of the year, but once you have heard Paul read from it I’m pretty sure you’ll be wanting to read the rest to find out what the heck is going on. The title of the book will be…

No, I’ll let you listen. Paul announces the title during the reading. You are not going to believe whose murder his heroes end up investigating.

Finally there is a Q&A, in which we discuss all sorts of interesting things. Chris has a play to promote, which is all about vampires and social media. There are some terrible puns. We talk about Victorian fiction, including Dracula and Sherlock Holmes. We discuss the possible murderous tendencies of Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin. Paul drops another fascinating tit bit about the new book, and talks about a whole lot of exciting new projects he is working on.

Now I just have to work out how to get an advance copy of the book out of Paul, because I for one do not want to wait until December.

Posted in Books, Podcasts, Readings | 1 Comment