Fury Road – Brief Thoughts

Wow. Two whole hours of solid stupid. As I said on Twitter last night, let no one now dare tell me that the plot of Jupiter Ascending makes no sense.

And this, remember, is someone who is a life-long fan of Formula 1. I like watching cars going round and round in circles.

I guess, though, that Mad Max is more for fans of stock cars and monster truck racing, where half the point is that the vehicles should look ridiculous and get destroyed during the race.

Of course it was funny. Furiosa was (mostly) tougher than Max. A small group of women managed to defeat an entire army of Gamergaters, sorry Warboys. Women deserve a chance at all roles in life, including idiot car chase movies.

As feminist science fiction, however, I found Fury Road wanting. I note that when it came to actually having a plan, as opposed to just running away, it was Max who came up with it. I wanted to see more leadership from the women. And I wanted a plot that you could actually believe in, because if the plot is nonsense all you have done is blow a few raspberries at the Patriarchy.

It will doubtless get on my Hugo ballot next year, if only to annoy the puppies. There will be films and TV that I will have enjoyed more.

Posted in Australia, Feminism, Movies | 1 Comment

History Month 2016 Reminder

LGBT History Month 2016 flier

Oh look, we have a flier!

And of course I’m posting it here to remind you that we are looking for people to do presentations throughout LGBT History Month next year. I will have some say in what gets put on in Bristol. I am particularly looking for proposals from people of color, bisexuals, trans people, and anyone who falls within LGBT+ but feels excluded by just LGBT. We want all of your histories to be represented.

And the link to find out more from the flier is: http://lgbthistorymonth.org.uk/national-festival/.

Posted in Gender, History | Leave a comment

The #MyVanityFairCover Thing

Cheryl's Vanity Fair Cover

For those of you not on Twitter (or not plugged into the trans subset of tweets), this hashtag is a response to the Caitlyn Jenner cover. The idea is that all trans people deserve a shot on the cover of Vanity Fair. I figured that if they were going to put me on the cover then they’d do so for a reason. My thanks for Tom Becker for the photo, and to Crystal Fraiser and Jenn Dolari for starting the hashtag and making the template.

Posted in Gender, Personal | 1 Comment

Sense8 : First Thoughts

Nomi and Amanita

Thus far I have watched the first three episodes of Sense8. I thought I should offer a few views on it because I’m seeing people who have given up on episode 1.

I think the criticisms of the lack of story are fair. The series follows 8 major characters, and introducing them all over the space of a one-hour program is hard work. Many TV series take a while to get going, and this one maybe takes longer than most. Even after three episodes, some of the character arcs haven’t really got started. I’m keeping watching for other reasons.

What makes the series interesting, however, is that it is a genuine attempt to introduce a bit of diversity. We have characters from Mexico, India, South Korea and Kenya. The London-based character is Icelandic, and the Berlin-based character is Russian. We have a gay man, and a trans woman. This diversity is both a strength and a weakness.

Much of the weakness derives from the fact that this is not just anyone doing diversity, this is a bunch of rich Californians doing diversity. Much as I love California, certain amount of cluelessness is inevitable. Also there’s that whole thing that I talked about yesterday about having to present diversity to a non-diverse audience in a way that they will find acceptable. That can mean using clichés. Watching the India segments of episode 1 gave me a horrible, sinking feeling. That was confirmed when Samit Basu tweeted this:

And then they doubled down by putting a Bollywood dance number in another episode.

Head * Desk * Repeat

I haven’t seen any comment from Korean, Mexican or Kenyan viewers, but my gut feeling is that the level of stereotyping is getting close to the India segments for some of them. I’ve also seen African Americans expressing disgust with some of the Chicago material.

I do think that this is mostly a result of cluelessness, and lack of knowledge, on behalf of the writers. I say that because they also have a minority character with whom one of the writers has a fair amount of personal connection. There is Nomi Marks who is a trans woman, and in my humble opinion she’s awesome (at least so far).

Part of this, I will admit, is because of Freema Agyeman who plays Amanita, Nomi’s girlfriend. She’s the sexiest thing in Hollywood by far at the moment. If anyone could persuade me to become it lesbian it would be her. Especially if she brings… (whoops, TMI). She’s also a great actress, and Amanita is gloriously fierce. But most of it is because of the issues that get covered in the script.

A lot of you won’t have noticed much of what has gone on. For example, the scene where a TERF1 accuses Nomi of being a “colonizing male” and Amanita steps up in support is fairly short. You probably got that the TERF said something bad, but not what she said, or that she was a TERF.

Then there’s the scene where Nomi and Amanita are given pot brownies by a couple of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. Those are two actual Sisters playing at being fairies. I’m not sure which ones — Feòrag probably knows.

We also get a scene at an interpretive dance performance being staged as part of San Francisco Pride. This is The Missing Generation, an extremely powerful piece about AIDS staged by Fresh Meat Productions. The Artistic Director of Fresh Meat is Sean Dorsey, who is trans. Sean has a cameo in Sense8 in a scene with Nomi, Shawna Virago, a queer musician, and Jamison Green, a trans activist2.

In episode 2 we get introduced to Nomi’s horribly transphobic parents. Without giving away too much, Nomi’s story arc is turning into a tale of forced de-transition. It isn’t something that happens a lot, but it is something that absolutely terrifies trans people. Mostly transphobic families can’t do anything awful to us until we are dead, but if they can get us sectioned there’s no limit to the cruelty that they can inflict. Lana Wachowski has apparently said that parts of Nomi’s story are autobiographical. I do hope for her sake this isn’t one of them.

I’m sure that not all trans people will be happy with Nomi as a character, but as far as I’m concerned between them Lana and actress Jamie Clayton are doing a wonderful job. Nomi is somewhat lacking in agency at the moment, but the script wouldn’t have trailed her hacking skills if she wasn’t going to get to use them at some point. I’m pretty sure that she’s going to be absolutely key to the resolution of the plot.

And that, people, is freaking amazing. We have a science fiction TV series with a trans woman as a major character. The plot does address trans issues, but they are real issues that trans people face, not using transition as a plot device.

There are a couple of things worth highlighting here. The first is that Lana knows trans issues well and is therefore able to represent them well. The show’s creative team clearly doesn’t have the same in-depth knowledge of, and sympathy for, the other diverse characters that they are trying to represent. The other is that having a high profile trans character is truly ground-breaking. Having an Indian character is not. Indian people have Bollywood, so there’s no chance of them being impressed by a bunch of Americans including a bunch of horrible stereotypes as representation.

Diversity is hard. We all screw up at some point. With eight differently diverse characters your chances of screwing up are pretty much 100%. But if we are afraid of screwing up then we’ll never make the attempt, so I try not to be too critical. Then again, if the trans content was as clichéd as the Indian content, and if I had lots of other shows with trans characters in them to watch, I’d doubtless be pretty annoyed. I’ll keep watching, because I want to know what happens to Nomi. I quite understand that other people might not want to.

1. For those of you who are not regular readers, TERF stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist — basically a feminist who believes that trans women are men, and probably dangerous sexual fetishists to boot.

2. My thanks to Charlie Jane Anders for connecting me to Sean & Shawna’s work.

Posted in Gender, Science Fiction, TV | 6 Comments

Caitlyn Jenner and the Cis Gaze

Watching the trans community’s reaction to Caitlyn Jenner’s high profile transition has been interesting. Other well-known trans women such as Laverne Cox, Janet Mock and Paris Lees have all broadly welcomed Jenner. They understand that having someone else to fly the flag, and take the heat, is extremely valuable to all of us. I’ve mostly been happy to go along with that.

Many trans women have pointed out that Jenner’s wealth and privilege have allowed her to transition in a way that is denied to almost all of us. It is hard not to be jealous of her access to top quality surgeons, stylists and photographers, not to mention that car. Others, inevitably, have felt duty bound to try to take her down, because the desire to police other women’s behaviour is by no means confined to New Statesman columnists.

Rather more seriously, some trans women of color have suggested that Jenner’s transition was born from a desire of white, mainstream media to have a trans icon who can replace Laverne Cox and Janet Mock in the public eye. From what I have read I’m convinced that Jenner’s trans identity is genuine. I no more think that she’d transition solely as a publicity stunt than I think that Mike Huckabee would have actually pretended to be trans just to perve at girls in high school. The cost is way too high for someone who isn’t genuinely trans.

Nevertheless, I am sure that Jenner will become the mainstream media’s go-to trans person, partly because she was so well known before transitioning, and partly because she’s white. I hope she’ll make a good job of representing us — all of us — but I fear that she’ll find it hard.

There was something nagging at the back of my mind when I was thinking about this. I have been writing a paper on trans characters in SF for the Trans Studies Now conference. Jenner’s transformation reminded me strongly of John Varley’s book, Steel Beach. It was a classic manly-man becomes girly-girl story.

Now of course such people do exist. A stereotype is always based on some degree of reality. We’ve got Jan Morris who climbed Everest with Hilary & Tensing; we’ve got Kirsten Beck who was a US Navy SEAL. Jenner is rather more girly than them, but then look at the rest of her family.

Nevertheless, the thing that bugs me about Steel Beach is that it is popular with cis people. It is almost as if that is how they want trans people to be; how they think we should be. The reality, it seems, is a bit too complicated, and not nearly as sensational.

On Wednesday I was listening to my interview with Sarah Savage in which we noted that both she and Fox felt under pressure to present their gender in a binary way on My Transsexual Summer. And then on Thursday I was listening to Elif Şafak and Robert Irwin talking about Western narratives about Islam. Suddenly everything fell into place.

You see, Jenner’s job is to play a fantasy version of herself on TV. I say fantasy version because we all know that “reality” TV shows are heavily scripted, don’t we? For that matter, Jenner’s transition process has also been meticulously planned. Jenner will be making a TV series about her transition. She’ll doubtless guest on other shows as well. She’ll be under pressure to bring in audiences, and to do that she’ll have to present herself in a way that is palatable to cis people, whether she likes it or not.

Jenner has apparently said that she wants to use her high profile to do good for the trans community. I’m sure that she’ll try. How much she’ll be allowed to do so by studio bosses is another matter. What happens when the audience gets bored and she’s seen as just another aging woman?

I wouldn’t want to be in Jenner’s shoes when some smartass executive decides that it is time to run with the regret narrative. I’m pretty sure that, sooner or later, someone will.

Posted in Gender, TV | 14 Comments

50 Voices at Bristol Old Vic

50 Voices posterSo, guess who is part of this, then?

The 50 presenters are being spread through the three days. I’m doing the Saturday, because on the Thursday and Friday I am busy with the Trans Studies Now conference.

So, er, now all I have to do is write a 5-minute performance poetry piece on trans rights. And deliver it flawlessly.

No pressure.

Thanks for the opportunity, Roger!

Posted in Where's Cheryl? | Leave a comment

Tales Most Marvellous & Strange

Tales of the Marvellous, News of the StrangeToday I took myself off to Salisbury to learn more about one of the most significant short story anthologies to be published last year. It is significant because it is over 1,000 years old, and this is the first time it has been published in English. The event at the Salisbury Arts Festival featured Turkish writer, Elif Şafak, and the noted scholar of all things Arabic, Robert Irwin, who also wrote the introduction to the English edition of the book.

The history of the book is a tale in itself. Irwin revealed some of it in The Independent last year. We got a bit more information today. Hopefully I have remembered it correctly.

As I noted above, the book is believed to have been written down in the 10th Century, either in Syria or Egypt. That judgement comes from analysis of the content. The handwriting in the copy that we have suggests that it was made in the 14th Century, but even that is older than the oldest surviving copy of The 1001 Nights that we have, which dates from the late 15th Century.

Irwin believes that the manuscript came to Istanbul in 1517 when the Ottoman Sultan, Selim the Grim, defeated the Mamluks in battle and conquered Egypt. Large numbers of documents are known to have been shipped from Cairo to Istanbul at the time.

Our manuscript was discovered in the early 20th Century by a young German scholar, Hellmut Ritter. He was living in Istanbul in disgrace because he had been outed as gay. His professor died in 1933 and an emboldened Ritter announced the discovery to his academic colleagues, but shortly thereafter Hitler seized power in Germany and Ritter wisely decided to stay put in Istanbul.

Translating early Arabic documents is a specialist task, and although Irwin had known about this book for many years it had, up until last year, been available only in German and Arabic. Eventually the noted translator, Malcolm Lyons, who had earlier produced a new translation of the The 1001 Nights, began work on this book, and an English version was the result.

The manuscript that we have is not the whole book. We have the Table of Contents, which says that there are 42 chapters. We only have 18 chapters, containing some 26 stories, not all of which are complete. We don’t even have the title. The one used for the English edition — Tales of the Marvellous, News of the Strange — is taken from the opening line of the introduction which says we will be treated to al-hikayat al-‘ajiba wa’l-akhbar al-ghariba. The title is a straight translation.

There is some possibility that, somewhere in Istanbul, there is a complete copy of the book. I hope so, because like Irwin I want to read “The Story of the Serving Girl Who Swallowed a Piece of Paper”. Tantalizingly Irwin suggested that there may even be an older edition of The 1001 Nights waiting to be discovered.

Unlike The 1001 Nights, Tales of the Marvellous, News of the Strange does not have an over-arching framing story to compare with that of the murderous Sultan Shahryar and his clever bride, Scheherazade. It does, however, have two tales in common, proving a common thread of storytelling in the Arabic world. It also boasts a story, “The Story of ‘Arus al-‘Ara’is and Her Deceit, As Well As the Wonders of the Seas and Islands”, that is almost as complicated and nested as Cat Valente’s The Orphan’s Tale, as well as having a truly remarkable anti-heroine.

I’ve not had a chance to read all of the stories yet, but Irwin says that they are even more fantastical than those in The 1001 Nights. Interestingly from my point of view, there is quite a lot of mention of automata of various sorts. This is partly, as Irwin noted today, because in the stories no statue is ever a piece of art. It is either someone who used to be alive, or it is something that has been made to come alive and, like Chekov’s gun, has to perform its function at some point during the tale.

In addition, however, the Islamic kingdoms were somewhat in awe of the achievements of their predecessors, in particular Egypt. As Irwin notes in his Independent article, the storytellers “envisaged advanced technology not as something that would be achieved in the future, but rather as something whose secrets were lost in the distant past”. When I questioned him about automata he added that some books on their manufacture did exist in Arabic — unusually they were even illustrated, because the authors wanted to show how their designs should be made — but there is no evidence that any of these machines were ever built.

Not that this in any way puts a stop to the idea of Arabic Steampunk that we came up with at the Arabic SF panel at Worldcon last year.

Most of the discussion today was about issues surrounding the book, rather than the content. Irwin spent some time as a Sufi disciple in his youth and Şafak also has a keen interest in Sufism, so we got rather sidetracked for a while even though there are no Sufis in the book. (Sufism had not become popular in the Islamic world when the book was written.)

This does remind us, however, that this is a collection of medieval stories written in the Islamic world, and the stories are therefore suffused with Islamic sensibility. The writer of the tales appears to have been a Shi’ite because several of the characters make religious references that only Shi’ites would make. However, the Sultans in the book would have been Sunni, and they are treated with all due deference. Even the many Christian characters in the stories are treated (with a few exceptions) with respect. Irwin notes that a lot of wine drinking happens in the stories. The Islamic world of the stories is a very different one to the Islamic world that modern Western media paints for us.

Herein lies some of the value of the book. Politics is all about narratives, these days, and we desperately need some narratives to counter the scare-mongering about Islam to which we are subjected on a daily basis. Quite how much can be done by Irwin and his colleagues, however, is debatable.

One of the most interesting conversations of the day was on the subject of Orientalism and Edward Said’s famous book (which Irwin strongly dislikes). One the one hand, as Şafak made clear, the points about Western scholars interpreting other cultures through a Western gaze are well made. No matter how hard we study other cultures, and how lovingly we write about them, we are no substitute for people from those cultures writing about themselves. On the other hand, Irwin says that Said has grossly misrepresented the writing, actions and motivations of many early Orientalists in order to make his point. And Şafak added that the mere suggestion of Orientalism can now act to close down the possibility of discussion between the West and other cultures because all interest by Western scholars is deemed suspect.

This brought to mind all sorts of interesting thoughts about balancing authenticity with the need to tell stories about ourselves in a way that others will understand and accept them. As a result, you’ll be getting a new post about Caitlyn Jenner tomorrow or at the weekend.

That is another sidetrack, though. The point here is that there is this amazing book out there full of remarkable fantastic stories, some of which deserve to be as famous as those of Sinbad the Sailor, or Aladdin and his Magic Lamp. Check out Irwin’s article for more details about some of the stories. There’s a whole world of fantasy out there waiting to be read,

Posted in Books, Translations | Comments Off on Tales Most Marvellous & Strange

Today’s Women’s Outlook Show Links

Well I don’t know about you folks, but I thought that went pretty well.

Kevlin Henney can always be relied upon to do great things with flash fiction, and I was delighted to hear that this year Bristol will be the focus for National Flash Fiction Day. I’m really sorry I can’t go to all of the good stuff that Kevlin has planned, but I will be in Finland so I mustn’t complain. If you want to attend the flash workshop on the 22nd, details of BristolCon Fringe meetings are here. Details of all of the events in Bristol on the 27th are here.

Lucienne Boyce is excellent value on the history, and I was really please that her husband, Gerard, came along and read a bit of the John Clare poem. It sounds so modern in places, and the similarities between the 18th Century landlords fencing in common land, and our present-day politicians selling off the NHS, are quite alarming. You can learn more about Lucienne and her books at her website.

I also managed to get in a brief discussion of the work Nicola Griffith has done recently on women and literary awards.

And you can listen to the first hour of the show here.

Hour two begins with a little discussion of the Caitlyn Jenner story and then dives into the interview with Sarah Savage. Before the ads, Sarah talks about her time on My Transsexual Summer. After the break we move on to discuss Trans Pride and her new book, Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl? I really like the fact that Sarah & Fox have chosen to avoid writing about a trans kid and have instead tackled the issue of gender stereotyping of children. if we can stop people obsessing about gender stereotypes the lives of trans people will become immeasurably easier.

Details of tomorrow night’s event in London with Paris Lees, Peter Tatchell and Owen Jones (amongst others) can be found here.

The final segment was with Kalpna Woolf of 91 Ways, a wonderful project that uses food to promote links between Bristol’s many diverse cultures. I’m always happy to discuss food, especially when that involves looking at cuisines all around the world. I expect to be donating a food memory to the 91 Ways website at some point. It may well be something else from Melbourne.

The Mexican restaurant I talk about is Fuego.

You can listen to the second hour of the show here.

The music on today’s show was as follows:

  • The Story of Beauty – Destiny’s Child
  • Me and Mrs. Jones – Billy Paul
  • Kung Fu Fighting – Carl Douglas
  • The Boxer – Simon & Garfunkel
  • True Trans Soul Rebel – Against Me
  • Get Up, Stand Up – Bob Marley & The Wailers
  • Food for Thought – UB40
  • Living for the City – Stevie Wonder

I know that Against Me isn’t the sort of music that we normally play on Ujima, and to be honest (sorry Laura), they are not really my cup of tea. However, True Trans Soul Rebel is a brilliant pop song. Were it not for the fact that I am completely useless with guitar and cannot sing to save my life, I would love to perform that song. I have been humming it to myself all day.

Oh, and if you listen along you’ll hear mention of something called 50 Voices. I’m appearing in it. So is Kalpna. I’ll have more to say about that in due course.

Posted in Books, Food, Gender, History, Radio, Writing | Comments Off on Today’s Women’s Outlook Show Links

Congratulations, Chaz!

This year’s Lambda Literary Awards were announced last night. They are for queer writing in all of its forms. One of the categories is for science fiction, fantasy & horror. As Locus reports, the winner for 2015 is my dear friend Chaz Brenchley for his book, Bitter Waters. Congratulations also to Steve Berman of Lethe Press who published the book.

You can find the full list of winners here. There are two trans categories. The fiction category was won by Casey Plett’s A Safe Girl To Love from the very fabulous Topside Press. The non-fiction category was won by Thomas Page McBee’s Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man from City Lights/Sister Spit. It must be pretty spectacular as it beat out Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness.

Posted in Awards, Gender | 1 Comment

Brand New Princess

Caitlyn Jenner - via Vanity Fair
Nice wheels, love!

Well, thank goodness that’s over.

I’m not a big fan of celebrity culture. I’m not entirely sure what a Kardashian is. But, as a trans woman, I have found the Jenner saga all over my social media feeds for months. Now at last we seem to have some clarity.

Caitlyn Jenner arrived in the world through a cover and big photo spread in Vanity Fair. She looks great, and very content. She can, we hope, look forward to being happy ever after, just like the best fairy tale princesses. I’m really pleased for her.

What her sudden transformation means for the rest of the trans community is less certain. On the one hand, all publicity is good publicity. Jenner is keeping trans issues in the news, and forcing people to confront their thoughts, prejudices and misconceptions about us. If Jenner’s million-plus followers on Twitter translates into more public sympathy for trans people, I’m all for it.

It is important to remember, however, that Jenner’s story is by no means typical. Little more than a month has passed since the confessional ABC interview with Diane Sawyer, in which Jenner was still presenting as male. Now we see her in glamour shots looking a damn sight better than the average 65-year-old woman. This sort of transformation does not, and cannot, happen for everyone.

Jenner’s transition appears to have been very carefully stage-managed, probably with the help of talented PR people. She will also have had access to the best surgery money can buy, and to expert stylists. There may even have been a bit of photoshop involved. I mean, what glamour shoot in magazines isn’t touched up these days?

In reality, gender transition is a long and drawn out process. Even Lana Wachowski, with all of her money, spent a long time out of the public eye while going through it. From start of hormone therapy to final surgery took me five years. That was actually quite quick, because like Jenner I was able to afford private treatment. Those stuck on NHS waiting lists don’t get the same privileged access.

So if you happen to know someone who announces that they will be undergoing gender transition, please don’t expect an overnight transformation. It will take a long time, and they’ll need a lot of support along the way.

They almost certainly won’t come out of it looking like Jenner either. I mean, how many 65-year-old women do you know who look that good? Would I love to be that glamorous? You bet I would! Is it likely to happen without a massive lottery win that I can spend on cosmetic surgery (and an end to my chocolate habit)? Not a hope in hell.

Trans girls who access treatment before puberty stand a very good chance of looking beautiful, and there will always be a few like April Ashley for whom glamour seems effortless. For most of us who have been through the horror of male puberty, however, beauty is seriously hard work.

Nor should it be a requirement. Firstly, no matter what the advertising business tells us, being beautiful is not a pre-requisite of being female. Most of us can and do get on with our lives perfectly well without film star looks. There’s no more reason to require a trans woman to be beautiful than any other woman. Nor does everyone care. Being glamorous clearly appeals to Jenner, and it does to me as well, but I know plenty of women — trans and otherwise — who are perfectly happy with short hair, no makeup, jeans and a t-shirt.

The point about beauty is that it is an optional extra. Some women are lucky enough to get it for free, some are able to buy it, and some don’t particularly want it. Lack of it, however, does not make you any less of a woman. So while I would like to be more beautiful, lack of beauty is a minor issue compared to where I have come from. Being able to live my life as a woman is such an enormous step forward from where I was before that it seems a bit churlish to ask for anything more. Of course I’d take it if I had the opportunity, but I already have something far more valuable, the ability to be me. I suspect that if you asked Caitlyn Jenner she’d say that was more important to her as well.

Posted in Gender, Personal | 3 Comments

Tomorrow on Ujima: Flash, Crime, Trans & Food

I have a very busy show lined up for Women’s Outlook tomorrow.

First up from Noon I will be joined by Kevlin Henney who will, of course, be talking about flash fiction. It is that time of year again. In particular Kevlin and I will be discussing a workshop that he’ll be running at the next BristolCon Fringe (which sadly I shall miss because I’ll be on my way to Finland for Archipelacon). And of course Kevlin will have a story or two to read.

Next up is Lucienne Boyce. We’ll be talking about her new historical novel, Bloodie Bones, the launch of which I reported on last month. The book is an historical crime novel set in Somerset during the time of the 18th Century Enclosures. There will be poaching, and bare knuckle boxing, and talk of agricultural workers’ rights.

Also on the show will be an interview that I recorded with Sarah Savage when she was in Bristol on Friday. We talked about her time on My Transsexual Summer, about the founding of Trans Pride, and about her new children’s book, Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl?, which challenges gender stereotyping.

And finally I will be talking to former BBC executive, Kalpna Woolf about her latest project, 91 Ways. This is part of the Bristol Green Capital initiative. It is based around the idea that there are 91 different languages spoken in Bristol. That’s one heck of a lot of different cuisines. The project aims to:

  • Inspire people to lead more sustainable lives using the power of food to encourage dialogue, shared learning, education and action
  • Help people make better decisions about their food and well-being to improve the health and sustainability of our city
  • Create a modern social history of Bristol through food and be instrumental in encouraging a sustainable way of living across the whole city
  • Help us all to have a better understanding of how Bristol’s communities live and their behaviour, food journeys and how they engage with our city

Yes, of course this is an excuse for me to talk about food. But it is a great project too.

As usual you can stream the show live from the Ujima website, and it will be available via the Listen Again system for several weeks after broadcast.

Posted in Books, Food, Gender, History, Radio, Writing | Comments Off on Tomorrow on Ujima: Flash, Crime, Trans & Food

Me on Choice Feminism at Bristol 24/7

I have a new feminism column up at Bristol 24/7. This one is a bit theoretical, but basically it is all about one of the was in which white media feminists try to police the behavior of other women. So it would be “Up Yours, New Statesman” again. You can find the column here. Do please at least click through. As far as I know, I’m the only trans person in the country who gets to write a regular column on feminism. That sort of thing needs to be encouraged.

Talking of ever trans person’s least favorite newspaper, Amanda & Neil have an interesting blog post up about the process of editing their special edition. The whole thing appears to have been a little fraught, but at least they did print Roz’s poem, and they let Roz perform it live at the Hackney Empire gig last Thursday. I suspect that one or two people chocked on their lobster & Bolly over that.

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Brighton Next Week

Advance warning to Brighton people. I will be amongst you next week. There is a conference called Trans Studies Now taking place at the University of Sussex on Friday, June 12th. There will be keynote speeches from important people like Roz Kaveney and Lewis Hancox. And there will be me talking about science fiction and how gender might evolve in the future.

If you want to attend, details are here. And if you can’t go you should be able to follow along on Twitter.

As it is a formal academic conference, my paper will go up on Academia.edu after the event.

And because it starts early in the morning I’ll be in Brighton on the Thursday night. If anyone wants to catch up for dinner and/or a drink in the Marlborough, please let me know.

Posted in Academic, Gender, Science Fiction, Where's Cheryl? | Comments Off on Brighton Next Week

Amanda Palmer at St. George’s

I have to confess that I am not in the least bit objective when it comes to Amanda Palmer. I have, after all, known her husband for over 30 years, and I have a great deal of faith in his judgement. I was a little nervous when he first told me about her, but having seen her perform live four times now I have grown to love this fierce, fearless and amazingly talented woman.

If you have been to one of Amanda’s gigs before, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect. There were piano songs and ukelele songs. But, as she often does, she opened up with “Wind that Blows the Barley”. St. George’s is a former church. It is known for its awesome acoustics. Singing unaccompanied shows it off at its best.

Of course there is a huge picture of Jesus at the back of the stage. Apparently when Richard Dawkins did a talk there he insisted on having it covered up. Maybe he was afraid it was watching him. Amanda had no such worries. She just played “Jump You Fucker, Jump!” from Peter Cook & Dudley Moore’s Derek & Clive album. That’s the one that sounds a bit like a religious chant and ends, “Aaaaaa-souls” (or something that sounds very like that).

God did not strike any of us dead.

Amanda then launched into “Astronaut” and “Ampersand”, which is enough to get any audience going, and built the show from there. This being Amanda, while she had some idea of what she was going to play, there was always going to be audience interaction. She took requests, and played most of them, even though these days her fans know what is coming and delight in asking for obscure songs from her catalog.

She played “Vegemite”, which made me very happy because I love that song. Sorry, Neil.

Of course the main distinguishing fact about this gig was that Amanda is five months pregnant, seriously in need of naps, and suffering from acid reflux. Most people would take that as an excuse for a little time off work. Amanda is not most people. She just adapted the show to take account of it. There was no crowd surfing. There was, however, a song about pregnancy.

The support crew for this tour includes Whitney Moses, who in addition to organizing the tour is helping Amanda out with all of the pregnancy stuff. Whit is also a really good singer. She and Amanda did a couple of duets, one of which was a song called “Pregnant Women Are Smug”. That’s by an American comedy duo known as Garfunkel and Oates, which is the name of the band (from Art Garfunkel and John Oates, whom they describe as “two famous rock-and-roll second bananas”). These ladies are hilarious, and just as potty-mouthed as Amanda. Here’s their version of that song.

If you liked that, go here and listen to some more of their work. I even laughed at the one in which they make fun of people who like sport. I especially laughed at “The Loophole”, but then I’m a sad history geek who understands how the meaning of the term “sodomy” has changed down the ages.

Thank you, Amanda. It was a great gig. You’ve made my heavy metal obsessed pal, Sarah, into an Amanda Palmer fan, and you’ve made me into a Garfunkel and Oates fan.

Posted in Feminism, Music | Comments Off on Amanda Palmer at St. George’s

Introducing Nomi Marks


And dear Goddess I miss San Francisco…

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Winter Song Available

Winter Song - Colin HarveyIt has taken a little longer than I wanted, but I finally have the first of Colin Harvey’s novels available again as an ebook. Winter Song is now available from the usual ebook stores in a fine new Wizard’s Tower edition. It also boasts a new introduction by Gareth L. Powell.

For a list of purchase options, click here.

Work on Damage Time is progressing well and I hope to have it available very soon.

And then we start work on the hardcover editions.

Posted in Books, Wizard's Tower | Comments Off on Winter Song Available

2015 Tolkien Memorial Lecture from @leverus

That’s a recording of Lev Grossman’s lecture as presented in Oxford earlier this month. It is a little over half an hour long, so if you don’t have time to watch it all you can read my thoughts on it below. It is worth the time, though. It watched it on my big HD TV and it looks great. Thanks to the folks at Pembroke College for making it available. However, it doesn’t include the Q&A session, and some of what I have to say below refers to points raised during that, so you may want to read this anyway.

Grossman’s topic was how fantasy has changed since the time of Tolkien and Lewis. He noted that the Inklings saw their work as discovery rather than creation. The Fantastic was out there, waiting to for someone to grasp it and present it to a modern audience. He characterized them as palaeontologists patiently wiping the dirt off newly discovered story fragments and trying to guess what great legend they were part of.

In addition the work of the Inklings was forged in the fierce furnace of the early 20th Century, a time of rapid and very obvious social and technological change.

In contrast, Grossman grew up in a world in which fantasy was everywhere. Kids played Dungeons & Dragons, and bookstores were full of many-volume “trilogies”. Fantasy had become fat, and had apparently sworn an oath that neither it nor its devotees would ever be hungry again.

Grossman characterized Inkling fantasy as a longing for longing. It worked because what was longed for was perpetually just out of reach. With time, our world has discovered that this is the perfect Capitalist product. No matter how much you buy, you can never get enough. Modern fantasy, however, has moved far beyond longing. Once you have gorged yourself on something to the point of nausea, what can you long for? Fantasy has become a requiem for longing.

I do wish that M. John Harrison had been in the audience. I would give a lot to sit and listen while he and Grossman discussed Viriconium, and more particularly The Course of the Heart, which is the perfect book about longing for longing (and therefore my favorite fantasy novel).

Grossman went on to talk about his vision for modern fantasy. He bemoaned the fact that it is no longer wild. Thanks to D&D, it now has rules, based on physics. You can teach it in schools. In his view, the duty of modern fantasy is to bring about Ragnarok. The camera, he said, is no longer following Lucy, it is following Susan, and she’s angry.

In response to a question he said that he wanted to do for fantasy what Watchmen had done for superheroes. He was writing second order fantasy; fantasy about fantasy.

So now I understand The Magicians so much better.

But do I agree with him? Do I think that the magic has really gone away?

Actually, no.

Let’s come back to those palaeontologists. When I was a kid, dinosaurs were still a bit magical. They were still cold-blooded for a start, so people didn’t really understand them very well. Nowadays they are in every museum. David Attenborough recreates them in CGI. We don’t actually have Jurassic Park, but we pretend that we do, and the dinos in it look real enough.

Fiction, too, can fossilize. Gary K. Wolfe talks very intelligently about the process in his book, Evaporating Genres. Fat fantasy is absolutely a fossilized version of what Tolkien discovered. It is a dead skeleton of real fantasy, put on display with scientific explanations of how it works. It is not magical.

But that doesn’t mean that fantasy itself has been destroyed, any more than dinosaurs have been destroyed by being fossilized. Until such time as Jurassic Park becomes real, true dinosaurs will always have existed, and will forever be just beyond our reach. They will still be magical.

There are still writers out there who want to give us a glimpse of real magic. They are few and far between, because it is so much easier just to stick up a few fossilized fantasy skeletons and claim that they are alive. But, if you seek out these writers, you can still be enchanted by their words.

One writer I think does it rather well is Liz Hand. Now I happened to sit next to her at dinner after the lecture, and she said to me that she understands where Grossman is coming from. Given that she’s working down the fantasy mines, and finding them running dry, I need to respect that. But at the same time if you listen to her on Coode Street talking about Wylding Hall you’ll hear her talking about techniques inherited from Arthur Machen that fantasy writers use to produce the sort of effect I’m talking about.

The question is not whether you can still do that, it is whether what you write in that way has any meaning in the 21st Century.

Does fat fantasy need to be destroyed? Quite possibly it does. At one point Grossman described our world as a broken world that looks whole. He was contrasting it with the world post-WWI, which was very obviously broken. We live in a world that is run on story. Politics, the media, marketing, are all about narrative; about pulling the wool over our eyes. We live to be told stories, almost all of which are lies. The question is, what should we do about it?

Grossman, I think, wants to break the stories and throw the pieces in our faces. Harrison, in contrast, wants to teach us that living for stories is pointless, and we should turn away from them. I think Mike has the better argument, but I’d love to see the point debated.

I have one final and unconnected point. Juliet McKenna asked Grossman what he thought of Grimdark. He made the very reasonable point that there should be room in fantasy for all sorts of writing, but he found Grimdark a rather nihilistic art form. It was, he said, an exercise in finding out how much meaning you can leach from the world and still have a story. He once tried to write a Grimdark novel, and had to give up because he couldn’t make it work. I think that means that somewhere, far off, and out of the corner of his eye, he can still see Elfland.

Posted in Admin | 4 Comments

Book Review – Wylding Hall

Wylding Hall wraparound art

A new book from Elizabeth Hand? Am I there? You bet!

The book isn’t actually available as yet, but Liz was talking about it on Coode Street at the weekend so I feel justified in publishing a review.

I have been a little bit cheeky, but hopefully you will enjoy my review.

Posted in Books | Comments Off on Book Review – Wylding Hall

Cory Wants to Be Free

I spent much of today in Bristol where Cory Doctorow was promoting his new non-fiction book, Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free. He was there at the behest of the Festival of Ideas and the local branch of the Open Rights Group. I tweeted quite a few quotes from his talk so I’m going to be lazy and reproduce those tweets here.

Cory’s main question in all this is to determine how creative people such as himself can make a living in the digital world. He admitted upfront that being a creative person is not a great money-making proposition. Nevertheless, there are ways in which the world can be arranged which allow creative people to make a living, and there are ways that prevent them from doing so.

His central thesis is that the big media and technology companies are leaching all of the value out of the work of creative people, thanks to a combination of:

  • Technological curbs on consumer behavior (e.g. DRM, which locks you into the supplier you rented, rather than purchased, content from);
  • Market regulation designed to raise barriers to entry against potential competitors;
  • Legal bullying of consumers (e.g. punishing an entire household if one member of it downloads pirated content).

This is all fairly basic economics. The big media and technology companies have found ways to establish market dominance, and are now proceeding to “extract rents”, as economists say, on the back of that dominance. Often they will use “regulatory capture”, that is using their contacts in government to have laws passed that favor them and disadvantage their competitors and customers. As we have seen with the TTIP fiasco, governments on both sides of the Atlantic are firmly in the pockets of big business. The scary thing is that it is hard to see what anyone can do about it. With TTIP ordinary people, and even most politicians, have been prevented from having any say in what goes on.

It is worth noting that all of this makes very little difference to actual piracy. Illegal copying goes on regardless. What it does is put a stop to legal challenges to the dominant companies, sometimes by simply making competing with them illegal.

Kudos to Cory for adopting a policy of taking alternate questions from men, and from women/non-binary people. He says that if he doesn’t do this then his questioners tend to be almost exclusively male.

Naturally I ended up providing one of those questions, but I was pleased to see a young woman in the audience ask something too. She turned out to be one of the people from Hydra Books, our local anarchist bookstore (hi Anna!). Cory and I popped in for a coffee on our way back to Temple Meads, and I was pleased to find that they had several trans-related books in stock.

All-in-all, it was a splendid day. Thanks to Cory for being such an engaging and enthusiastic speaker, and for being so approachable.

Posted in Current Affairs, Economics, Technology | 2 Comments

Mind-Melded Again – Other People’s Universes

I have been asked to contribute to another SF Signal Mind Meld. The question for this one was:

What fallow universe do you think deserves additional exploration, and who would you ask to write in that world?

You can find my response, along with those of many other fabulous people, here. Probably the most interesting thing about the whole exercise is how many people want to see Kameron Hurley write their favorite characters. I’ll leave you to guess who I wanted her to write. You can click through for the answer.

Special thanks to Paul Weimer for illustrating my piece with the cover of Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion.

Posted in Science Fiction | 1 Comment