Too Crazy To Drive

Just in case anyone is wondering why I am not going to the Eurocon in St. Petersburg this year, here’s a clue as to one reason. According to that BBC report, trans people are now banned from driving in Russia on the ground that, as sexual deviants, we are too mentally unstable to be allowed to drive.

I eagerly await the New Statesman article praising the Russian government’s modern and enlightened approach to mental health and public safety.

By the way, the Russian fans running the convention are lovely people, and I have bought a membership. I still hope that one day in the future it will be safe for me to visit their country.

Posted in Conventions, Current Affairs, Gender | 2 Comments

New Fafnir Published

A new issue of Fafnir, the Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research, is now available online. I shall definitely be having a read as there is no way I can resist an article whose abstract begins thus:

In this article, I argue both Margaret Atwood in Handmaid’s Tale and Sheri S. Tepper in Gate to Women’s Country use the same three ‘women type’ characters to explore ideal female gender roles and their relationship to society. Further, I argue that both authors use these characters as part of their bigger rhetorical engagement with the American gender essentialist political movements of 1980s.

It is written by a man too. This will be interesting.

There is also an essay celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sun Ra. So gender politics and Afrofuturism (and jazz). What’s not to like?

Posted in Academic, Music, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

New Edition of the Anime Encyclopedia

My inbox yesterday included an announcement that in March there will be a new edition of Jonathan Clements’ and Helen McCarthy’s Anime Encyclopedia, a fabulous work of reference. The announcement includes the usual blurb about thousands of new entries (apparently over a million new words), but what caught my eye was this:

Fully cross-referenced (with live hyperlinks in the e-book edition)

That sounds like it must have been a huge amount of work, but also something that will be very valuable.

Posted in Comics | Leave a comment

Leelah – A Shared Grief

Well that was interesting. Normally this blog averages around 200 visits per day. For the first five days of 2015 it averaged over 1500 visits.

It is obvious why this happened. The story of Leelah Alcorn has struck a nerve with the general public. I very much wish that it wasn’t necessary to write about a tragedy like this before people will pay attention to trans issues, but at the same time I need to take advantage of the opportunity while it lasts, because Leelah is the tip of a very big iceberg and we need to stop tragedies like hers from happening again. While I do talk a bit about trans issues here, I’m much more likely to be talking about books, so many of the people who have discovered me over the past few days will soon get bored and stop reading. I’m going to do what I hope is one last post while there is still interest in the subject.

Today I received email from the organization promoting the petition to outlaw conversion therapies in the USA. It asked me to imagine myself in Leelah’s place: alone, cold and seeking solace in death. That wasn’t hard. I’ve been there. Most trans people I know have.

Also today I saw this NPR interview with Greta Martela, the founder of a national (US) suicide helpline for trans people. She says she started it because she could have done with one herself. When she tried calling one of the big suicide prevention hotlines it was less than helpful.

“the operator didn’t know what ‘transgender’ meant, and so I had to explain that to him,” she says. “And once he did understand what I was talking about he got really uncomfortable.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Greta says about Leelah, “I think every trans person I know was crying about it the day that it came out.” I’m pretty sure that was the same for me.

Why? I refer you to this 2012 survey (PDF) of British trans people conducted by Scottish Trans. It reported that 84% of the respondents had considered suicide at one point during their lives. Eighty-four percent.

And yes, those numbers do include me, as I participated in the survey. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, suicide isn’t just something I considered in the past, it is something I know I need to plan for in the future as I get older.

When people say that Leelah’s suicide note struck a chord, we mean it. We have pretty much all been there. We know how she felt, because most of us have had those feelings, and nearly all of us know someone who has. Many of us have lost friends to suicide.

Why? How does this happen?

Well to start with it was the timing. Leelah died just after Christmas. That’s a time of year when many people are talking happily about shared family experiences, about spending time with their loved ones. By no means all trans people are openly rejected and abused by their families, as Leelah was, though many are.

I was talking last year about a charity trying to raise money to buy a house where homeless trans kids in Jamaica can shelter, because right now they are living in a sewer, having been kicked out of their homes by their parents. For some it really does get that bad. And I see from their Facebook page that over Christmas the police raided the place where the kids were sheltering and beat them up.

For many trans people Christmas is a time for gritting teeth as elderly relatives constantly mis-gender us and call us by the wrong name. Others are simply not welcome at family gatherings because of the friction it would cause, or get asked when they are going to “get over” the “phase they are going through”. It’s no fun. It is often easier to stay away. So Leelah died at exactly the right time of year to trigger memories of family issues.

You might think that your family is the one group that ought to support you. Again, not everyone is like Leelah’s parents. The trouble is, however, that the better someone knows you, the harder they find it to come to terms with a gender change. The way we humans interact with each other is so heavily influenced by gender that we find it very difficult to change how we see someone if their gender changes. Also parents tend to imagine futures for their children the minute that the midwife has pronounced the gender of the baby. If they are not sufficiently clued up to look for signs of gender discomfort, they will have nurtured those hopes for years before they find out there is a problem. Truly, families are a minefield for trans folk.

Something else that will have struck a chord with almost all trans people is the part where Leelah talks in her note about feeling that she is running out of time. Puberty is a shit time for an awful lot of people, but for trans folk the problems are multiplied many times over, because we find ourselves turning into monsters.

When you are a kid it is possible to hold on to crazy dreams about how the whole gender thing is a dreadful mistake, and when puberty hits it will all come right. Maybe you have some intersex condition that no one knows about, but will manifest itself when you need it. When puberty hits, these dreams come crashing down in ruins. Trans teenagers find their bodies changing in ways that horrify them; ways that they know can only be fixed by painful and expensive surgery. No wonder they think that their lives are over.

In some ways it was easier for me, because I didn’t know that anything could be done. Sure people like April Ashley had got hormones and surgery when they were older, but teenagers had no access to that. Modern teens like Leelah know that isn’t true. Treatments do exist, and you can get them if only your parents and doctors will let you. There must be a very real sense of seeing an opportunity pass you by.

I’ve seen some very passionate posts about how it is wrong that trans women should feel it so important to conform to classic standards of beauty, and I can see the point. The trouble is that from a very early age we are bombarded with messages telling is that being pretty is the most important attribute a girl can have. It takes considerable strength of will to resist that sort of conditioning.

There is also the matter of personal safety. Trans people — trans women in particular — do suffer from a much higher level of violence than non-trans people. If, as a trans woman, your looks are somewhere in the average range for non-trans women, then you will be much safer from such attacks than if they are not. That might be a dreadful state of affairs, but it is a simple fact of life.

So the process of going through puberty, the process of acquiring an adult body of the wrong type, is a deeply traumatic thing for trans teenagers. Every trans person who has known about their condition from childhood (and not all of us do) will have gone through that. Most of us have also wrestled with the knowledge that our families don’t fully support us, or the fear that they won’t if we tell them. The feelings that drove Leelah to take her own life are common to the vast majority of trans people.

Eighty-four percent.

Truly, there but for the grace of the Goddess, go I.

And one final thing. One more reason why, despite the awfulness of Leelah’s story, people are so keen to share it. The media has finally taken notice. With a few dishonourable exceptions, it is covering the story sympathetically. This is rare and unusual. We’ve got lucky, and we need to exploit the moment for all it is worth while that luck lasts.

We know, for example, that around the world a couple of hundred trans girls like Leelah are murdered each year. Mostly these killings are not reported outside of local media, or at all. If Leelah had not been white, her story would probably have got much less media attention, and would have been spun very differently.

If you are sensing an air of desperation, of a feeling that this too is an opportunity that could easily slip away, and we have to make the most of it while we can, well you’d be spot on.

Fix society. Please.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gender, Personal | 1 Comment

Book Review: Roz’s Kaveney’s Resurrections

With apologies for the delay, I have finally got my review of the new Roz Kaveney novel online. Resurrections is the third in the Rhapsody of Blood series, which manages to be a whole lot of fun and very erudite at the same time. I’m really enjoying these books. You can find the review here.

Posted in Books | Leave a comment

Forthcoming Events

2015 is starting to get into full swing, and already I am starting to find my calendar filling up. Here are a few places where you will be able to find me over the next few weeks.

Monday January 19th: BristolCon Fringe, featuring Emma & Peter Newman. There will probably be tea, and possibly a spot of mild peril. I cannot promise an appearance by That Latimer.

Saturday February 7th: My LGBT History Month talk at the M-Shed in Bristol: “A Potted History of Gender Variance”, in which I set out to show that rigid insistence on the binary nature of gender is a comparatively recent, Western, invention.

Sunday February 15th: My paper at the National Festival of LGBT History academic conference in Manchester: “Their-stories: Interrogating gender identities from the past”. (See, it has a colon in the title. I’m a proper academic, I am.)

Thursday February 19th: I’m hosting the launch event for Antonia Honeywell’s novel, The Ship, at Foyles, Cabot Circus.

Wednesday February 25th: I’m participating in a panel as part of the Bristol University Student Union’s Festival of Liberation: “What Next for the LGBT+ Movement Following the Passing of the Same Sex Marriage Act?”.

Gareth Powell will be launching his latest novel at Forbidden Planet, Bristol on Thursday January 15th, and I plan to be there because Gareth has promised to dress up as a monkey for the event.

There’s a Fringe event on February 16th, but I’m traveling back from Manchester that day and had promised the University I’d drop in on another of their events that evening, so I may not be there for the whole thing.

Jo Hall and Gareth Powell are doing a reading at Bristol Library on Friday February 27th, but I think I am double-booked with an Out Stories event so I might not make that.

Posted in Where's Cheryl? | Leave a comment

Words Without Borders Does Alt-History

Words Without Borders, a very fine online literary magazine, has devoted their January 2015 issue to Uchronia (that’s alternate histories to most of us). As is their wont, WWB has gathered together some of the best authors around the world, and provided translations. You can find the issue here. And here’s some idea of what you can look forward to.

From Mexico, Otra Vuelta de Tuerca prizewinner Bef pictures a face-off between Maximilian I and the digital ghost of Benito Juárez.

From Sweden, Crawford Award-winning novelist Karin Tidbeck investigates an otherworldly cause for the disappearance of a town.

And Italian writer Aldo Nove takes a fresh look at the life of St. Francis of Assisi.

The issue also features work by Jorge Baradit (Chile), Hernán Vanoli (Argentina), Xavier Mauméjean (France), Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro (Brazil), and Jorge Eduardo Benavides (Peru). The French story is translated by Edward Gauvin who is a past winner of the SF&F Translation Award.

And it is all free. Go read. Fabulous authors, most of whom you will never have heard of before. Plus Karin Tidbeck who is literally* made of awesomesauce.

* Modern usage of “literally”, not to be taken literally.

Posted in Science Fiction, Translations | Leave a comment

Leelah – The Establishment Closes Ranks

As many of you will know, Leelah Alcorn’s online presence has been erased. Not just her suicide note, everything: her blog, her art, her music. I’d rather expected this because Leelah was only 17 and was probably a minor under US law. However, Jane Fae has been investigating the situation and her report suggests that even this excuse wasn’t necessary. The mere fact that Leelah’s parents were “direct family” was enough for Tumblr to give them control over her legacy. (And yes, it was the Daily Mail that dug that up. It is a strange world in which the Daily Mail is more trans-friendly than the New Statesman.)

This is quite worrying. As Jane notes, the law in Europe may be different, but all of my online presence is hosted by US-base companies. I already knew that I needed to get my will re-written this year. It looks like I also need to make sure that Kevin has some ownership over my online presence so that no one can take it down if I die.

Something else that Jane has been investigating (content warning – Jane reports on some extreme transphobia) is a hate page on Facebook which was looking to bully other trans kids into killing themselves. Unlike most of the newspaper and social media coverage, this site was explicit about the method of Leelah’s suicide. It also directly encouraged copying it. Despite frequent complaints from trans activists over a period of 24 hours, Facebook moderators insisted that the page did not breach any of their community standards. Only when Jane took an interest, and mentioned that she wrote for major newspapers, did Facebook decide to take action. My guess is that the page will be back up again in a few days, probably after the New Statesman has published an article by Sarah Ditum defending Facebook’s right to freedom of speech in the face of bullying by trans thugs.

This is the sort of thing that drives trans people to take their own lives. No matter how much support we have, no matter what laws are passed to protect us, when it comes down to it there always seems to be this closing of ranks whereby those in power cite endless regulations justifying their mistreatment of us. Sure, we might have rights these days, but enforcing them is another matter entirely.

Illegitimi non carborundum.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gender | 4 Comments

Looking Forward to 2015

Lots of people are posting lists of books they are looking forward to in 2015. I thought I’d have a go too. Here are some planned new releases that I want to read.

  • The Galaxy Game, Karen Lord (Jo Fletcher)
  • Macaque Attack!, Gareth L. Powell (Solaris)
  • Karen Memory, Elizabeth Bear (Tor)
  • Something Coming Through, Paul McAuley (Gollancz)
  • Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer (PM Press)
  • The Ship, Antonia Honeywell (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
  • Starborn, Lucy Hounsom (Tor UK)
  • Company Town, Madeleine Ashby (Angry Robot)
  • The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf)
  • Wake, Elizabeth Knox (Constable & Robinson/Corsair) *
  • The Glorious Angels, Justina Robson (Gollancz)
  • Persona, Genevieve Valentine (Saga)
  • The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi (Orbit)
  • The Book of Phoenix, Nnedi Okorafor (DAW)
  • Collected Fiction, Hannu Rajaniemi (Tachyon)
  • The Year’s Illustrious Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy, Vol. 1, Nisi Shawl (Aqueduct)
  • The Dark Forest, Liu Cixin (Tor)
  • Dark Orbit, Carolyn Ives Gilman (Tor)
  • The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
  • Radiance, Catherynne M. Valente (Tor)
  • The House of Shattered Wings, Aliette de Bodard (Gollancz)
  • Falling in Love with Hominids, Nalo Hopkinson (Tachyon)
  • No Other Darkness, Sarah Hilary (Penguin)
  • Luna Volume One, Ian McDonald (Gollancz)
  • Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho (Tor UK)
  • Queers Destroy Science Fiction, Seannan McGuire (Lightspeed)
  • Spark and Carousel, Joanne Hall (Kristell Ink)

* Actually I read this when it came out in New Zealand at the end of 2013. It is brilliant, though deeply disturbing. Highly recommended.

Obviously that’s not a complete list. Not every publisher submits their forthcoming books to Locus, and I haven’t spent a lot of time researching the list. However, the point remains: diversity, it is not hard, why aren’t you doing it?

Posted in Books | Leave a comment

TAFF Goes European

I am delighted to see that this year’s contest for the Transatlantic Fan Fund (TAFF) has two candidates from Central Europe.

Nina Horvath is an Austrian fan who is well known for writing convention reports and the like in English. She has provided a rare window on the German-speaking fan scene for us. One of her nominators is my Croatian friend, Mihaela Marija Perković. You can see what Mihaela has to say in support of Nina here.

Wolf von Witting is also German-speaking, but his ancestry includes some Swedish and Scottish. He’s been around the European fan scene somewhat longer than Nina, and even wrote a few articles for Emerald City back in the day.

The online voting form, complete with each candidate’s manifesto, can be found here. It should be a great race and, whichever way it turns out, this year’s Worldcon will be getting a little taste of Europe.

Posted in Conventions, Fandom | 3 Comments

In Which I Learn A New Word

Social media is a rapidly evolving space, and not just because of changes in hardware and software. We monkeys are learning new ways to interact, and devising new rules for it. Part of this involves coining new words. We are probably all familiar with “trolling” and “derailing”. We may be less familiar with the term “gaslighting”, though use of both the technique and term are quite common in posts I see. Yesterday I learned a new word: “sealioning”. There’s an explanation here. Again the technique is very common, so I’m not surprised that it has acquired a name.

What interests me about this is that these are all forms of rhetorical device. It is almost as if we were back in Athens learning the rules of public discourse once again. I suspect this is a very fertile area for research.

Posted in Internet, Philosophy | Leave a comment

Some Quick Leelah Links

While media feminists in the UK were busy trying to bury the story of Leelah Alcorn, media feminists in the USA have been offering support to the trans community. On today’s episode of the Melissa Harris Perry Show there was a segment featuring Leelah’s story, followed by a feature on Angelica Ross whose organization TransTechSocial, gets trans kids off the street and teaches them technology skills.

There was a vigil for Leelah in London today. I couldn’t get there, but I understand that it was very well attended. Sarah Brown gave a speech, which she posted to her blog. It is concise, to the point, and most importantly is aimed at the real villains here, the therapists who claim to be able to cure people of being trans.

Sarah says she’ll be doing what she can to ban such therapies in the UK. I wish her every success. These methods are banned in California for treatment of gays and lesbians, but not for treatment of trans people. In the UK, although the Health Minister described their use on gays and lesbians as “utterly abhorrent”, he refuses to ban it, and such treatments are apparently being paid for on the NHS. If is happening with respect to sexuality, I am sure it will be happening with trans kids too.

If you’d like to see conversation therapy for trans people banned in the USA, please consider signing this petition.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gender | Leave a comment

Making Engineering Fun

One of the great holiday season traditions in the UK is the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. Started by Michael Faraday in 1825, these lectures feature a top scientist talking to an audience of children. The BBC naturally picked up on this, and have been broadcasting the lectures for longer than I’ve been around. When I was a kid I would have been thrilled by lectures from the likes of David Attenborough and Eric Laithwaite (the inventor of MagLev). While I was at university Carl Sagan did a series. It was great stuff.

Of course in the early days the lectures were quite stuffy and the lecturers mostly male. That has most definitely changed. This year’s lectures were given by Danielle George who is a professor of engineering at Manchester University. And the lectures are not just being given by a women engineer, they are being given by a heavily pregnant woman engineer, because it is important to show the kids in the audience that mums can be engineers too.

Prof. George has a lot of fun in her three lectures. For each one she set herself an engineering challenge to do something awesome with fairly everyday kit.

Lecture 1 saw her turn the side of the Shell Center in London into a giant Tetris game, playable by wifi with a remote console.

Lecture 2 involved getting her assistant for the show to be telepresent in the lecture theatre as a talking hologram, and adding in kit to demonstrate the state of the art technology for remote touch, taste and smell.

And finally lecture 3 saw the Doctor Who theme being played live in the lecture theatre by a robot orchestra. In addition to more traditional instruments, the orchestra included a dot matrix printer, a cymbal played by a flying drone, and a theremin played by a humanoid robot. Keyboards were played by members of the University of Plymouth robot soccer team (each of six robots taking one portion of the keys).

All three lectures were a lot of fun. Those of you in the UK can find the programmes on iPlayer. The RI website has information about seeing the programmes in other countries — currently Singapore and Japan. It also has an archive of some of the star past lecture series, and these may be available anywhere.

Enjoy. :-)

Posted in Science, TV | 1 Comment

Clarkesworld Hits A Century

While I have been busy with other things, my friends at Clarkesworld have published their 100th issue. It looks like a really good one too. It includes fiction from Aliette de Bodard, Kij Johnson, Cat Valente and Jay Lake. It has the first of the translated Chinese stories that they ran the Kickstarter campaign for. And there’s an article that is Ken Liu interviewing Xia Jia. Cat Rambo talks about feminism in SF, and inevitably there is a Julie Dillon cover. Do go and check it out.

My warmest congratulations to Neil and the team. I remember how good it felt to get to 100 issues of Emerald City. I wish them many more wonderful issues.

Posted in Clarkesworld | 1 Comment

More #EUVAT Irritation

Over the past couple of days I have been working on adjusting the prices of Wizard’s Tower books in various stores to take account of the new VAT laws. It isn’t as easy as it sounds.

A major issue is that the stores don’t all work the same way. Amazon and Kobo expect you to enter a VAT-inclusive price, while Nook wants a VAT-exclusive price and Google allows you to do either.

On the face of it, VAT-exclusive is the right thing to do, because VAT rates are different in each country, but there’s a problem with that because you can’t know where a customer is located until they supply a physical address and that may not happen until checkout. EU law requires stores to quote a tax-inclusive price, which may be why Amazon has chosen the method it has.

In any case, one can’t argue with what Amazon does, because they account for the vast majority of sales, so I have to go along with them.

Then there’s the question of individual country prices. Amazon has stores in many different countries, and as it requires VAT-inclusive pricing in theory I should know the rate for each country, and keep track of changes, so that I can price books correctly. It is actually much easier to set a single price for the whole Euro zone and accept that you’ll get more money for sales in low-VAT countries than in high-VAT countries.

All of the stores have some means of calculating prices in other countries based on a core price and current exchange rates. That’s fine if you can enter the price in US$ — you only have to add different prices for countries in the EU. But Kobo wants me to enter the core price in GBP, and because that price is VAT-inclusive I can’t use it for the basis of any other country prices. I have to do each one by hand.

And then there’s Nook, with their seemingly sensible VAT-exclusive pricing. I was happy with that, until I read this blog post. Apparently some EU countries have fixed pricing laws than mean you can’t offer the same book for different prices in different stores. So I’d have to make sure that whatever VAT-exclusive price I entered for the Nook exactly matched the VAT-inclusive price entered for Amazon and Kobo, and again I’d need to keep track of rates. I’ve ended up restricting Nook sales to the USA (because the only options are USA and USA + EU).

I suspect that a lot of people will just give up and sell exclusively through Amazon. Which, you know, might just be what Amazon’s lobbyists wanted.

Posted in Current Affairs, Wizard's Tower | 3 Comments

Cis People Know Best, They Tell Us

Surely as night follows day, support for a cause leads to a backlash. The huge outpouring of sympathy and support for trans people that came from the sad death of Leelah Alcorn was inevitably going to lead to attacks on trans people. Unsurprisingly to any trans activist in the UK, the first salvo has come from the New Statesman.

On the face of it, Sarah Ditum’s article is supportive and caring, but it is actually a very clever piece of concern trolling. What Ditum wants to happen, is for people to stop writing about Leelah. Her excuse for this is that it is against Samaritans guidelines to publicise suicides, least this encourage copycat attempts. Technically, of course, this is correct, in that yes, the Samaritans do advise this. Practically it is quite another matter.

To start with, Leelah did a darn good job of publicising her suicide herself. She posted her suicide note on Tumblr, and by the time I woke up on Tuesday morning my Twitter feed was full of the story. Many young trans people have few friends outside of the Internet because they dare not tell anyone who might gossip about them to their parents, their teachers or other kids at their school. The bush telegraph of Tumblr and similar sites is very effective. Any additional publicity was mostly going to reach cis people, who are not the people at risk.

Secondly, many of the trans activists who covered the story (myself included) deliberately pointed to Leelah’s own words because we know how badly our stories can be mis-represented in the media. If a community is used to having news sources tell lies about it, then it will want the right to speak for itself.

Then again, there’s the question of least harm. If a teenage girl had killed herself because her parents were sexually abusing her, would people want this made known so that the parents could be brought to justice? I’m pretty sure that most of you would say yes. Well Leelah wanted the world to know that she was being abused too. Her parents had forced her to undergo “therapy” to “cure” her feelings. I don’t think they use electric shocks like they did when I was a kid, but this sort of thing is still very much psychological torture. The aim is to make the kid associate having the “undesirable” feelings with pain and unhappiness. In many parts of the world, using these methods on gay and lesbian people is banned by law. It is still commonly advocated for trans people.

By the way, while Leelah’s parents certainly bear some responsibility for what happened, personally I would prefer to see the blame land squarely on the preachers and quack psychiatrists who peddle these supposed cures. They prey on worried parents for profit.

But couldn’t the publicity that Leelah’s death has got encourage other trans kids to kill themselves so they could become famous too? If you believe that trans people are all attention-hungry and mentally ill — and many radical feminists do appear to believe that — then maybe yes. However, trans kids are killing themselves in ridiculous numbers anyway. As recent surveys have shown, the number of suicide attempts per head of population for trans people is over 40%. Roughly speaking, a trans person is 10 times more likely to attempt suicide than a straight cis person, and twice as likely as a gay or lesbian cis person.

As this Salon article notes, “Trans people don’t commit suicide because they’re trans; they commit suicide because the rest of us don’t treat them like people.” Leelah knew this, and said so. Her eloquently written note ended with a plea for trans people to be treated like human beings. It led to exactly the sort of outpouring of support from the mainstream media that she must have hoped for. No wonder some people want her silenced.

Given that the trans community was all getting the story on social media anyway, a deafening silence in mainstream media would have confirmed everyone’s worst fears. Publishing supportive articles was a far better way of preventing copycats than silence.

Like all good pieces of concern trolling, Ditum’s article contains some good points. She certainly sounds like she cares. But what she doesn’t say is also very telling. For example, she makes use of the #TransLivesMatter hashtag, but says absolutely nothing about the #RealLiveTransAdult hashtag that was very popular in the wake of Leelah’s death. Why did she fail to mention it? Could it be that it was because it was solid proof of the trans community doing something positive to try to prevent further tragedies? That would hardly fit with the narrative of people needing to be protected from themselves now, would it?

The real viciousness of the column, however, will be invisible to most readers, because it lies in the choice of author. You see, Sarah Ditum has a reputation amongst trans people in the UK as a leading TERF. In fact it would be hard to find any journalist more hated by the UK trans community. I guess they could have asked Julie Burchill to write that piece, but she’s incapable of the sly subtlety that Ditum has mastered. If the New Statesman’s editorial team (and yes, I do mean you, Helen Lewis) wanted to commission something guaranteed to cause hurt and anger amongst the UK trans community, they could not have done better than to ask Ditum to write it. This looks like Fox News level viciousness.

So why does this happen? On the face of it, the New Statesman is a very liberal, progressive newspaper. It publishes some great articles by Laurie Penny, who is a good friend to the trans community. Why do they have this hate on for trans people?

It would be simplistic to say that they are all radical feminists stuck fighting a battle that they lost back in the 1970s. It is certainly true that Ditum believes that trans women are “really” men. I’m sure she’ll take any criticism by trans folk of what she writes as “male bullying”. But that’s not the whole story. If it was she wouldn’t be able to do the concern troll thing so well, and Lewis wouldn’t think she was doing right by publishing it.

No one thinks of themselves as a villain. Conservatives tell themselves that they are following the world of God, or that the oppression of the poor is simply the Law of the Jungle in operation. When liberals want to oppress someone, they tell themselves that they are doing it for that person’s own good.

What I see here is a deep-seated belief that trans people are mentally ill; that they are not capable of speaking for themselves, because they are so clearly deluded. They need protecting from themselves, and curing of their sickness. When I see Ditum say that she cares about trans people, what I hear is that she wants us in asylums, where she hopes that we can be made to be not trans. I hear exactly the sort of dehumanising behaviour that drove Leelah Alcorn to take her own life.

So yeah, if there is anything at all written about this case that is likely to cause more trans suicides, it is that piece in the New Statesman. And they will tell themselves that it is for our own good.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gender | 20 Comments

A Surfeit of Hobbitses

As there is never anything worth watching on TV over the Holidays, I have got into the habit of watching movies instead. For the past few years I have binge-watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I still enjoy despite the occasional bits of idiocy, especially where battle scenes are involved. Of course there is now a whole new trilogy to watch, but that’s much less enjoyable. I thought the first Hobbit film was poor, and the second bad. I saw the third one yesterday, and as I rather expected parts of it were absolutely dreadful.

On the other hand, I have bought the Extended Editions of the first two films, and will buy the third. I doubt that I’ll actually watch the movies again, except to listen to the director’s commentary. I didn’t buy them for that, I bought them for the Appendices, and to my mind they are worth every penny.

To start with the Appendices give you some insight into why certain artistic decisions have been made. I might not always like those decisions, but I have to admit that there were problems that needed solving. A fairly obvious one is how to make all 13 dwarves distinct and memorable characters. Of course not all of the problems they set themselves are real. Peter Jackson clearly feels that it is necessary for them to outdo themselves in terms of ever more ridiculous action scenes in each movie. In fact it appears to be one of the parts of making the films that he loves best. *sigh*

The Appendices give you the opportunity to see geniuses like Alan Lee, John Howe and Howard Shore at work. There are also many exceptionally talented people who work behind the scenes on everything from prosthetics to building sets to making weapons and costumes to digital art. You get to meet unheralded stars of the process such as Leith McPherson, the dialect coach, and Terry Notary, the movement coach. The views you get of the sets, and of course of the magnificent New Zealand scenery, are often better than you get in the actual films. I’ve even come to have a lot more respect for Benedict Cumberbatch, though I do wish he’d stick to acting and never go near the F1 podium again and I’m still very nervous about Dr. Strange.

Watching the appendices gives me a much better understanding of the process of making movies. I’ve learned a lot about screenwriting, acting, and just how much hard work goes into it. Just think of the food fight scene in Bag End, for example. Every time the director calls “cut” the table has to be reset exactly as it was, with all of the same food on it. Deborah Logan, the food stylist, made at least 10 identical sets of all of those dishes. They had a potter who made thousands of pieces of crockery.

This brings me to the issue of the three films. Jackson & co clearly didn’t intend to do three films at the start. They don’t clearly explain why they made the change. My guess is that it may have been something to do with the budget, in that the expense of all that worldbuilding is considerable and can be more easily borne by the studio if spread over three films rather than two.

Something else that comes through clearly is the family nature of the production process. These six films have been in production for more than 10 years. The people involved have inevitably got to know each other very well. I’m sure it hasn’t all been sweetness and light, but the team does seem to get on very well. I like the way that Jackson welcomes the children of the team into the process, and the use of Maori ceremonies to make important stages in production.

So all in all, although I really didn’t like the Hobbit movies very much, I have a much better understanding of why they are the way they are, and I have many, many hours of interesting documentary footage to watch. I’m even prepared to admit that, when it comes to getting millions of people to watch your films, Peter Jackson’s artistic judgement may well be far superior to my own.

There’s only one thing about the final Hobbit film that I’m not going to budge on, and sadly it is by no means the only big film this holiday season to have made this mistake. I understand from Twitter that Paddington and Boxtrolls have similar issues. We need to stop making “man-in-a-dress” jokes.

To start with, it is misogynist, because it plays into the whole idea of a woman who wants to be like a man being admirable, but a man who wants to be like a woman is shameful. Do we laugh at Eowyn for dressing like a man? No, of course we don’t. But to illustrate how disgusting and shameful Alfrid is we have him dressing as a woman and we are supposed to laugh at this.

My guess is that most people who make jokes like this are not intending to make fun of trans people. Nevertheless, such jokes do impact us. The “you look like a man in a dress” line is the most common and least imaginative insult thrown at trans women. Fear that we will look like that is one of the main reasons why trans people get rejected by their families.

When I was a kid, it was perfectly acceptable to make racist jokes, often involving blacking up. Thankfully those days are gone. I hope I live to see the day when making man-in-a-dress jokes go the same way.

And please note that I am not calling for an end to drag, which is often very celebratory of femininity.

Posted in Movies | 2 Comments

Some Reflections on Leelah

Yesterday was interesting from a trans activism point of view. Leelah Alcorn’s story hit a number of mainstream media outlets. Here’s The Independent, for example. It also prompted an outpouring of support on Twitter.

The most obvious result was the hashtag, #RealLiveTransAdult, which was an attempt by adult trans folk to give hope to young people like Leelah who may be despairing of ever having a good life. I say attempt because one of the more obvious results was a lot of cis people congratulating those of us who have survived on how well we have done. That wasn’t the point, folks. We didn’t do this for bragging rights, and my apologies if my own tweet made it sound like I was doing so. Surviving as trans is by no means only down to personal effort. One of the more interesting tweets of the evening was this one by Sarah Brown.

That was certainly the case for me, though as far as I’m concerned there’s a good case for replacing “fortunate enough” with “smart enough” or “too cowardly”, because I was shit scared of what would happen if I told anyone, and I was right to be scared. I should also add that I was fortunate enough to have been born white, to have had a good education, and to have been smart enough to get a good job.

One of the things that worries me about the current situation as far as trans folk goes is that kids like Leelah have access to plenty of information about being trans, and what to do about it, but will be coming out into a society that still isn’t ready to accept them. Even with all of the advantages I had, if it had not been for Kevin and my mum I would probably not be here now.

Something else I noticed was at least two separate announcements of people starting new trans support groups. Folks, I know you mean well, but lack of support groups was not Leelah’s problem. There are plenty of them. If you want to help families with trans kids, please check out Mermaids in the UK, and TYFA in the USA. In the UK kids of Leelah’s age can find support through Gendered Intelligence, and in the USA through Trans Student.

What is actually needed, as Leelah noted, is education. And on that front I was delighted with this tweet from the new head of Stonewall.

Education for parents is particularly important, as this infographic from Trans Student shows:

Why supportive parenting matters

There’s still a long, hard road ahead. However, little by little we are making change happen. I just wish I was in a position to make it happen faster.

Posted in Gender, Personal | Comments Off

VAT Price Rise Reminder

Those of you based in the EU, don’t forget that most ebooks will be rising significantly in price after today. That’s because many small presses that were previously VAT-exempt now have to charge VAT, and because Amazon et al will be required to charge your local VAT rate rather than the 3% they have been charging on VATable books.

The Wizard’s Tower store will be closing some time this evening. If you want to get anything, please do so now.

Posted in Current Affairs, Wizard's Tower | Comments Off

Famous Last Words?

This morning I woke up to the news of yet another trans person who had taken her own life. Leelah Alcorn was just 17. I never met her, had never even heard of her until today. There are, after all, millions of trans people in the world. But she’s another hole in my life, and in the lives of every other trans person out there who knows that, save for a bit of good luck, and some very good friends, they could have gone the same way.

What I can say for Leelah, though, is that she could write. She left a suicide note on her Tumblr account. You can find it here. It goes into some detail about how badly her family treated her, but the note ends with a stirring call to action:

The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.

We don’t count suicides in the number of trans people murdered each year, because people would nit-pick that and use it against us. Nevertheless, killing themselves is often something trans people are told it is their duty to do, so as to avoid bringing shame upon their families. And sometimes it is just necessary because there is no hope, and death seems preferable to putting up with how other people treat you.

I’m not in that place yet, though I am often amazed that I have survived as long as I have. One of the things that helps is having something to live for. It being the time of year when we are supposed to make resolutions, here’s one from me.

I can’t make your death mean something by myself, Leelah. Few people have much influence in this world. But what I can do is keep working hard for trans rights, to try to create the sort of world you have dreamed of. I have to believe that one day we will get there. I wish you could have believed that too.

Posted in Gender, Personal | 2 Comments