Queering the Classics

Things are starting to gear up nicely for LGBT History Month 2018. In particular I am delighted to be able to confirm that I will be appearing at a conference at Reading University on February 12th. The event is called LGBT+ Classics: Teaching, Research, and Activism and other confirmed speakers include Jen Grove, Alan Greaves and a keynote from Jennifer Ingleheart. I feel totally like a serious academic among all that lot.

Registration for the conference isn’t open just yet, but if you are a classicist there’s an opportunity for you to get involved too. There will be time during the day’s schedule for a series of short (five-minute) spotlight talks by delegates. If you’d like to participate, details of how to submit can be found here.

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World Fantasy Awards

This year’s World Fantasy Convention took place at the weekend. There were, of course, awards. Some of them made me very happy. The full list is on the snazzily revamped Locus website.

Congratulations first to Jeff Ford who took the Collection category with his A Natural History of Hell. Also to Jack Dann whose collection of Australian horror, Dreaming the Dark, won the Anthology category. I’m sure they are both great books. I don’t know that I’ll ever have time to read them. Sorry guys.

Special Award, Professional went to Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction by Michael Levy & Farah Mendlesohn. Obviously I’m pleased for Farah, but I am especially pleased about this because Mike passed away earlier this year. He was a good friend to me for many years and I’m delighted that his work his been honored.

The Novel category winner was The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North. Claire is the most recent and successful incarnation of Kate Webb, whom you might know better as Kate Griffin. Here’s hoping that this international recognition means that she won’t have to regenerate again in the foreseeable future.

The prize for Long Fiction (meaning longer short fiction) went to Kij Johnson for The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, a novella that was on my Hugo ballot for last year. Obviously I am very pleased about this.

And finally, the announcement that had me jumping around on Sunday afternoon: the winner in Short Fiction was “Das Steingeschöpf” by G.V. Anderson. To win an international award with your first published work is an incredible achievement. Here in the South West we are all very proud of Gemma. The story is still available to read at Strange Horizons. I’m hoping to get Gemma on the radio to celebrate, but in the meantime here she is reading the opening of the story at BristolCon Fringe.

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Thank You, LaDIYfest

Despite the determined efforts of GWR to prevent me from getting to Bristol I had a great time at LaDIYfest on Saturday. I’m sorry to have missed the intersectionality workshop, and equally sorry that I was unable to risk hanging around for the bands, but it was a day well worth attending. Here’s to next year.

For those of you who were at my talk, I have checked the recording and it looks like it only missed about 5 minutes. That won’t be hard to recreate. The main problem is finding the time.

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Cat Out Of Bag

Yesterday Juliet McKenna did a blog post talking about how Ibsen might have intended Hedda Gabler to be black. I haven’t had a chance to follow up on that, though it does sound fascinating. However, at the bottom of the post she mentions a few other things she has been up to, including this:

We’re heading into the final stages of preparing The Green Man’s Heir for publication. This is a modern fantasy novel that will be coming soon from Wizard’s Tower Press.

So, er, yes. This is something that Juliet and I have been talking about for some time. I’ve been leaving her to get on with it at her own pace. I have no timeline for it as yet. When she’s ready, I will progress it through the publication process as fast as I can. As and when I am able to give dates I will do so. I’m very much looking forward to it.

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Aotearoa Futurism

As some of you will have seen from Twitter, I rather enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok. There are a lot of fun aspects to the film, but one I particularly enjoyed were the references to Asgard as a conquering empire that then rewrote the history of the Nine Worlds to make Odin and his people seem much more glorious than they had actually been. There was a metaphor going on here that should not be lost on British people.

In fact there was a lot more than I realized watching the film. I’m not going to give you spoilers here, but if you have already seen the film I recommend this article by Maori SF fan, Dan Taipua. The director of the film, Taika Waititi, is also Maori, and he has left a whole bunch of Easter eggs in there for his people, and for their indigenous Australian friends.

Dan got in touch with me on Twitter and pointed me at two Radio New Zealand podcasts in which he and colleagues apply the ideas of Afrofuturism in a specifically Maori/Polynesian context. You can find them here and here.

I’m delighted to see this sort of thing happening in the South Pacific, and I’m hoping to learn a lot more about Aotearoa Futurism if/when Worldcon comes to New Zealand in 2020.

Posted in Feminism, Movies, Science Fiction | 1 Comment

Historical Fictions Research Conference

I had entirely forgotten that the deadline for paper submissions for this conference was yesterday. I have mine in, but I checked with Farah and due to a pile of other stuff going on she won’t be looking at anything until next week. So if you would like to present, get something in now. It is in Stoke which is a great opportunity for those of you irritated by endless London conferences. And Jerome de Groot is giving one of the keynotes.

Full details of the conference and CfP can be found here.

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LaDIYfest is Coming

Bristol people, and those near enough to pop in for the day: there will be a festival of feminist goodness going on at the Southbank Club in Bedminster on Saturday. LaDIYfest is an annual celebration of sisters doing it for themselves. From 1:00pm to 6:00pm there will be various talks and workshops, and from 6:00pm until midnight there will be live music from a variety of bands.

Of course I am telling you this in part because I am part of the entertainment. Here’s the blurb:

A Short History of Gender – Gender is a social construct, but that means that different societies construct it in different ways. Cheryl Morgan takes a tour through several thousand years of history, looking at the different ways in which people were understood to be female, male, or something else.

It will be cool. There will be Sumerians and Greeks and Romans and Amazons and Native Americans and the Man Who Invented Heterosexuality. I’m on from 3:00pm to 4:00pm, but do drop in for longer because there’s lots of other great stuff going on.

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Today on Ujima – Black History, Egyptians, Menopause & Underworld Goddesses

October is a ridiculously busy month in Bristol, being both Black History Month and the time when all of the literary festivals happen. As I had devoted all of my October show to books, I decided to do something for Black History Month at the start of November. I’d only be a few hours late, after all.

So I began the show talking to my good friend, Dr. Olivette Otele of Bath Spa University, who is probably the best known black historian working in the UK. We had a great chat about a whole range of issues to do with black history, including The John Blanke Project.

That was followed up with more black history, albeit with a fantasy twist, as I welcomed local author, Justin Newland, to talk about his novel, The Genes of Isis. Justin and I managed to wander onto all sorts of topics, including the Theosophists.

Normally at this point I would direct you to the Listen Again service, but for some reason the file for the first hour of the show is only 7 minutes long. I will check with the station tomorrow, but I have an awful feeling there has been a software glitch.

The second hour began with Dr. Isabel de Salis of Bristol University talking about the Great Menopause Event. Yes, this was more taboo-busting. I have a ticket for it, and will report back in due course.

Finally on the show I welcomed Deborah Ward who is running a course on Storytelling the Underworld. Deborah and I discovered a common passion for ancient goddesses, in particular Inanna. We may have geeked out somewhat.

Thankfully hour 2 of the show recorded correctly.

The playlist for the show was as follows:

  • Eddy Grant – African Kings
  • Cedric Watson & Bijou Créole – Le Sud de la Louisiane
  • The Bangles – Walk like an Egyptian
  • Peter Gabriel – Here comes the Flood
  • Lianne la Havas – Midnight
  • Little Feat – Old Folks Boogie
  • The Herd – From the Underworld
  • The Pretenders – Hymn to Her

Because November has five Wednesdays in it, I will be doing an extra show on the 15th. In the meantime, if you are local, check out Miranda’s 2:00pm Friday show when she will be interviewing the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees.

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Italy Part 5 – In Search of Galli

As I reported last night, I spent most of Saturday looking around Roman ruins and museums. Part of this was just me geeking out over the history. I couldn’t quite get to stand on the Rostra, the platform in the Forum where Roman orators made their speeches. It is a bit old and rickety now, and anyway if they let any old visitor stand on it there would soon be nothing left. But I did get very close to it. I also got to see how gargantuan the imperial palaces are, even after 2000 years of wear, being sacked, and being robbed for their stone. And I got to see magnificently over-the-top things like the Hall of Emperors and the Hall of Philosophers in the Capitoline Museum. Rome has so much ancient statuary that they don’t know what to do with it. Some of the rooms in the Capitoline have the air of an antique shop.

What I was mainly looking for, however, was material connected to trans Romans. That’s a much more challenging quest. I didn’t get to see the Temple of Cybele on the Palatine Hill because the Christians demolished it in 394 CE. All we have left are a few artist’s impressions from the time. But I did get fairly close to where it would have stood, and I must say it had a splendid view. It would have been nice if there had been more signage to tell you where various old buildings stood, but the site is huge and I can understand why they concentrate on places that are still (partially) standing.

There is a Temple of Cybele in much better repair out at Ostia, the port of Rome. However, it takes the best part of a day to get out there and see stuff, so I didn’t have time to make that trip.

One thing I did succeed in doing is finding the bust of Elagabalus in the Capitoline Museum (he’s in the Hall of Emperors along with all of the others). The Capitoline is also supposed to have two images of galli (trans women priestesses), but I couldn’t find either of them. They may have been moved out to other museums, or have been put in storage. I don’t have time to find out.

A word of warning if you are visiting Rome. Many of the attractions require you to buy a ticket in advance and some, such as the Villa Medici, will only let you in as part of a timed guided tour. That’s what happens when you have a city that is overrun by tourists. I will know better if I visit again. Also everything is closed on Monday.

Obviously I am a little bit disappointed not to have seen everything I wanted to see, but quite frankly the city is so overwhelming that I don’t care. I have way more than those reasons for wanting to come back.

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Italy Part 4 – Veni, Vidi

It has been a very long day involving a lot of walking. The archaeological area devoted to ancient Rome, which includes the Forum, the Palatine Hill the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus, is vast. You need all day to see it properly. And that’s without starting on any of the museums. Rome, as the saying goes, cannot be seen in a day. I have done my best. There are pictures on Twitter, and there will be a whole lot more later. Right now, however, I am going to find the foot spray that I thoughtfully brought with me.

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Italy Part 3 – The G-Book Project

I’ll write more generally about the conference later, but right now I want to talk about a specific project that the MeTRa Center here is spearheading because I think that it is very important.

The G-Book Project is a joint initiative by academics and librarians in Italy, France, Spain, Ireland, Bulgaria and Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is funded by the Creative Europe Culture Programme. The project has three main objectives:

– To support the circulation of “gender-positive children’s literature” at the EU level;

– To stimulate and encourage local librarians to stock such books; and

– To raise awareness in local communities about the importance and benefits of such books.

What do they mean by “gender-positive”? Primarily they mean books which avoid harmful gender stereotypes of the “girls can only do these things, boys can only do those things” type, but instead are empowering for all children. That will include positive representation of LGBT+ people and relationships.

One of the outcomes of the project will be an online database of recommended books, split into two age groups of 3-5 and 6-10 years. Other outputs will hopefully include reviews, support material for teachers, parents, etc., and interactive aspects such as games and an interactive story.

Naturally part of the work will be to find suitable books to include. That may be more challenging in some of the target languages than others, but hopefully that will also spur translations. I will be pestering some of you about this over the next few weeks.

And yes, I know, Brexit stupidity means that there is no official UK involvement, but thanks to our Irish pals books in English are eligible.

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Italy Part 2 – The Venue

I have been to a fair few conferences in nice venues around the world, but I am pretty sure this is the most spectacular.

On Wednesday I tweeted that the landscape in Italy is very like parts of California, but with more sheep and castles. Something else I should have noted is that Californians mostly build on the flat because that’s easier for cars, but Italians, more particularly old-time Italians, build on the top of hills because that’s easy to defend.

Sometime in the 10th century, maybe earlier, a warlord build a castle on top of a hill in Bertinoro, a small town between Bolonga and San Marino. It continued to have a military role up until the 15th century, and at one point in 1302 Dante Alighieri found refuge there. From 1581 it became the palace of the local bishop, and it remained as such until 1969. In 1994 it was purchased by the University of Bologna and converted to a conference center.

Quite aside from being in a fabulous medieval building, the views are spectacular. On a clear day, which yesterday was, you can see the Adriatic and the Croatian coastline in the distance. My phone camera doesn’t have a good enough zoom to show the coast clearly, but look!

And here’s the room where I gave my paper today:

The residential area is in a former seminary just down the hill from the Palace. I confess that I am well out of breath by the time I have walked up the hill in the morning, but I am sure that the exercise is good for me.

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Roman Historians, Part 2

My arrival in Italy has coincided with the nice folks at Write Where It Hurts publishing Part 2 of my essay on Romans and Historians. This one features an absolutely fascinating character from Roman history, Nero’s trans-feminine wife, Sabina. Obviously that’s a somewhat reading of the history, but one that I think is entirely possible. Have a read of the essay and see what you think.

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Italy Part 1 – Train Adventures

Here I am in Italy. I am attending a conference called “Literature, Translation, and Mediation by and for children: Gender, Diversity, and Stereotype”. (That’s their title, don’t complain to me about the commas.) It is being put on by the University of Bologna at their country convention center in Bertinoro. More about the venue tomorrow, but first I need to talk about trains.

I suspect that a lot of Americans won’t believe this, but getting around Europe by train is really easy. I flew into Rome last night and stayed at an airport hotel. This morning I caught the Leonardo Express into Roma Termini. It is a half hour journey and costs €14.

Roma Termini is the main station in Rome where all of the inter-city trains stop. I caught a Frecciarossa service that runs from Napoli to Milano, calling at Roma and Bologna only. We even breezed through Firenze without stopping. It took just over 2 hours from Rome to Bologna, and cost under €30 for business class, including free cookies, water and espresso on board.

It should have taken just under 2 hours, but we were a bit late leaving Rome and there was some slow running through Firenze so I missed the local connection from Bologna to Forli. I had booked my tickets online in advance, and though I was able to read the timetables and find an alternative train I wasn’t sure if my ticket was valid. There are fewer people who speak English at Bologna station than Rome, but I got on the train and the conductor elected not to charge me any more. The cab driver at Forli spoke English.

So here I am, having a great time already, and having consumed a fair amount of fine local wine. I have discovered that dunking almond biscotti into sweet wine is a thing. I approve.

Posted in Travel, Where's Cheryl? | 3 Comments

Radio Bristol Today

I will be on the Laura Rawlings show just after the 5:30 news break today. Virginia Bergin and Jean Burnett will be on too, and we’ll be discussing the same issues as we did on the Strong Women panel for the Bristol Festival of Literature on Friday. If you miss it, it will be on iPlayer later.

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The Gifted – First Impressions

Sky is putting a lot of marketing effort behind The Inhumans right now. As everyone who has seen it tells me the series is awful I am not inclined to bother. However, rather more quietly they have also shown (on Fox) three episodes of another new Marvel series, The Gifted. This is set in the X-Verse rather then the main Marvel Universe, and Bryan Singer directed the first episode. The story takes place after anti-mutant laws have been put in place in the USA, and the X-Men and Brotherhood have both vanished from the scene. It follows the adventures of an upstanding white family who discover that their teenagers are mutants and therefore wanted criminals.

From an X-Men point of view, it features Thunderbird, Polaris, Blink and a number of others running a Mutant Underground. This makes me very happy because a) Johnny is not fridged, and b) having Lorna around takes me back to those heady days when there were suddenly two girls in the X-Men rather than just Jean. It was a Big Thing for me as a teenager.

From your point of view the interesting thing is that, like SHIELD, this show is heavily political. It is all about people being declared un-citizens, about them being rounded up by clandestine, quasi-military government organizations, about lynch mobs, and about clueless white people discovering just how hard life is for the less privileged.

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What A Difference A Year Makes

Today I made my one appearance at this year’s Bristol Festival of Literature. It went very well. We were sold out (though it looked like around a third of the paid attendees didn’t turn up), and we had a great discussion. Thanks are due to the panel: Becky Walsh, Lucienne Boyce, Jean Burnett and Virginia Bergin. Thanks also to Helen Abbot of the Festival of Literature, Adela Straughan of Arnos Vale Cemetery, Laura Muñoz, the photographer, and Alistair Sims of Books on the Hill.

We did the usual thing of talking about female characters in books. I may have talked quite a bit about Amazons, including Diana of Themyscira. You know the drill. Viriginia, Lucienne and Jean all did their usual stuff too. Jean, by the way, is writing a novel featuring Artemisia Gentileschi, which I am very much looking forward to reading.

The main reason I am writing this post, however, is the nature of the audience questions. Last year the questions very much riffed off what we said in the panel. This year the audience was full of Angry Feminists who wanted to vent their dissatisfaction with the way of the world. I wish I had brought along some WEP membership forms.

That should give us something to talk about on Radio Bristol on Monday.

Posted in Books, Conventions, Feminism | 1 Comment

Perfectly Dysfunctional

The inability of the British government to handle the Brexit process is providing plenty of ammunition for satirical cartoonists around Europe, but Brexit is by no means the only sign of dysfunction with the Tory party.

On Wednesday night Theresa May became the first seated Prime Minister to make an appearance at the Pink News Awards, run by the leading LGBT+ newspaper. In her speech Mrs. May committed her government to LGBT+ inclusive sex and relationships education in schools. “We’re determined to eradicate homophobic and transphobic bullying,” she said. She also pledged to reform the Gender Recognition Act, despite an intense media campaign against any further extension of trans rights.

On Thursday her Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, pledged to fine universities unless they provided a platform to any speaker who wished to encourage homophobia and transphobia. These new rules would not allow universities any control over the value or intellectual content of talks. All anyone would have to do is invite someone to give a talk, and then say they’d complain they were being “censored” unless the talk was allowed to go ahead.

So what exactly is the government’s position? Does it want to eradicate homophobia and transphobia, or does it want to make promoting those attitudes a special sort of protected speech that everyone is required to listen to? I certainly have no idea. I rather suspect that no one in the Cabinet does either.

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Bath Does Diversity in Tech

I spent most of today in Bath attending part of the Bath Digital Festival. Primarily I was there to attend a session on Diversity in Tech. It was run by the folks behind the Tech Talent Charter, an industry initiative making its first foray outside of London.

I have to say up front that the event went pretty much as you might expect for such an event in Bath. There we no obviously disabled people there (though of course that doesn’t mean that there weren’t any). There were more white men than women of color. And there were only two openly queer people, of whom I was one. Many of the panelists spoke eloquently about the need for diversity to mean more than white people of two different genders, but none of them seemed to have any idea how to go about achieving this.

One might also argue that a Festival whose website has a question about gender with options of Male, Female, Transgender & Intersex is so desperately clueless that it has no place running a diversity panel at all.

This, however, would ignore that fact that IT is now pretty much in crisis. The number of women in the industry has now fallen to 17% (and that’s without considering what jobs they get channeled into). If it falls any lower even the men will start to notice an absence of women. And, as the the event host Debbie Foster succinctly put it at the beginning, the pipeline is broken everywhere along its length.

There are, in my view, two significant issues that will be very hard to overcome. The first is that young girls, no matter how keen they might be on IT, have their eyes open. GamerGate happened. They know what they would be walking in to. One audience member who works with school kids says that girls as young as 13 and 14 were regularly asking her if IT was a safe career, or should they just give up now.

The other issue is that lad culture is now so heavily ingrained in the industry that women who do stick it out as far as getting jobs often don’t stay. One panelist talked about a company at which women recruits only stayed a few weeks, until such time as they put a woman in charge of the development department and forced a culture change. Most companies don’t see the need to do that, and yet they complain constantly about how difficult it is to find good staff, which is what happens when you have need of very talented employees and restrict your hiring to young white men.

And that’s before you get into issues like problems with recruitment practices, problems with work-life balance, domination of senior management by old white men and so on.

Challenging this sort of thing is hard. Yesterday evening I was a guest speaker at a careers workshop for LGBT+ students at Bristol University. One of the questions we got asked was, “if your sexuality or gender becomes a problem at work, who do you turn to, your manager or HR?” There were five us on the panel (two gay men, two lesbians and me, and yes they did try to find someone openly bi). We all said, “neither”. Because once an issue becomes a matter for company disciplinary practices you are going to lose (unless someone has been really stupid, and even then you can’t stay in the job).

So there is an enormous amount of work to be done, and there were some really interesting speakers, including my friend Zara Nanu who has recently set up a company (with Sian Webb) to develop technological solutions to closing the gender pay gap. We had two hours. We could have done with two days.

The sad thing is that there is plenty of evidence that a diverse workforce is a more efficient and competent workforce. There are also areas, such as AI algorithm development, where a lack of diversity can result in software that has massive biases when dealing with customers. That makes this sort of work massively important for the whole of society.

I have no neat solutions, because there is so much to be done. Obviously The Diversity Trust is happy to help if anyone wants us. I suspect that the sort of problems we can help with will get pushed way down the priority list.

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Romans, Historians and Me

Out there in Internet Land there is a website called Write Where It Hurts. It bills itself as, “A Community for Scholars doing Deeply Personal Research, Teaching, and Service.” Inevitably that means a lot of trans stuff. One of the things they want to do is to get trans people writing critical reviews of research about trans people done by cis people, because this is very much a thing that needs to be done.

I have written them a piece about Roman history which, for length reasons, has been divided into two parts. Modern historians can be quite clueless when discussing trans issues, but with Rome we have the additional complication that almost all Roman texts that have come down to us were written by well-to-do, white-ish men who lived in a society that could be deeply misogynistic. They are not exactly reliable when it comes to matters of gender, any more than Caesar could be trusted when describing the barbarian depravities of the people he wanted an excuse to conquer.

Part 1 of the essay concerns the Emperor Elagabalus, who allegedly offered a massive reward to any surgeon who could transform him into a woman. Did he really say that? Or was that just a story made up to discredit him? Do our own feelings about such a statement make us more or less likely to believe that he really said it?

Part 2 will appear next Wednesday. It is rather more spicy as Nero is in it. I’ll be talking mainly about his wife, Sporus who, depending on how you read the history, was either a pathetic victim of the Emperor’s depravity, a scheming gay man, or a trans girl who was made an offer that she couldn’t refuse.

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