Looking for Lesbians

Le Rat Mort, Paris
Yesterday’s Annual General Meeting of OutStories Bristol went very well. Thanks to the fabulous Bea Hitchman we had a good crowd of interested outsiders to make us quorate; and thanks to expert training from Kevin I was able to speed through the formal part of the proceedings very quickly. That left us plenty of time to listen to Bea.

The subject of Bea’s talk was the historical research that she did into lesbian life in fin de siècle Paris when writing her novel, Petite Mort. Researching LGBT lives is never easy, because so much is erased or hidden behind obfuscating language. In the case of lesbians there is also much pseudo-history written by men who are more interested in the titillating power of girl-on-girl sex than they are in the reality of lesbian life.

So sadly the idea that in order to signal oneself as a lesbian in Paris what one did was purchase a poodle, have it splendidly coiffured, and tie a bow around its neck, proved to be untrue. French lesbians did appear to have a fondness for dogs, but eccentrically decorative poodles were not de rigueur.

There were, however, lesbian bars, including La Souris (the Mouse) and Le Rat Mort (the Dead Rat), which bespeak a possible fondness for things small and furry. Toulouse-Lautrec was a regular visitor, as he was rather fond of painting pictures of lesbians.

Still with animals, I learned that Sarah Bernhardt, who was bisexual, had an exotic menagerie whom she took everywhere with her. This included a cheetah, and a boa constrictor which sadly died because she fed it too much champagne.

All in all it was a very entertaining talk, for which thanks again to Bea. If you have an event that needs an excellent speaker on lesbian issues, or indeed anything to do with historical fiction, do consider her.

After the talk, all of the lesbians hit the alcohol. They did not object to me joining them, which pleased me on a number of levels. One of those is that the Golden Guinea has an excellent selection of beer. I got to try Jurassic Dark, a dark wheat beer from the Dorset Brewing Company. Highly recommended.

Jurassic Dark

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Negotiating with the Dead

Today I’ll be in Bristol for the Annual General Meeting of OutStories Bristol, the LGBT History group of which I am co-chair. Our guest speaker for the event is Bea Hitchman, author of the fabulous Petite Mort. In the talk Bea will look at, “at the ethical detective work of researching a novel and what writers owe – or don’t owe – to communities of the dead.”

The novel is set in Paris.

This may turn out to be more complicated than we had expected.

It also reminds me that there is a reason why media news reports are called “stories”. Everything that you read and watch about Paris over the next week or so will be a story written by someone. Remember that.

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Trans Geek Movie – Final Day

We are into the final day of the Kickstarter campaign for the Trans Geek Movie. This is a bit of a relief for me, because it means I will be able to wake up in the morning without worrying that I’ll see pictures of me on Facebook. However, the campaign hasn’t yet reached its goal. That probably means they’ll have to try again, which means more pictures of me on social media. You can stop this madness, people. All you have to do is back the project, now!

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A Man of His Time

Much of the discussion I am seeing around the dropping of HP Lovecraft as the face of the World Fantasy Awards has centered on him being “a man of his time”, and therefore inevitably racist. The generally unspoken assumption is that he was no more and no less racist than any of his white writer contemporaries. In furtherance of this discussion, dear readers, I give you James Ferdinand Morton.

Morton was 20 years older than Lovecraft and an established literary figure. Born in New England, he could trace his ancestry in the region back to the time of the Pilgrim Fathers. He was a former president of the National Amateur Press Association, the ‘zine producers’ club of which Lovecraft was also a member. He was a prominent member of the Blue Pencil Club of Brooklyn, a writers’ club which Lovecraft joined. Morton introduced Lovecraft to Sonia Greene, whom Howard later married. And in 1922, when the then president of the NAPA resigned, it was Morton who suggested that Lovecraft should take on the post.

Morton was also an anarchist. For a few years he lived in commune in Washington State. He was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and wrote a book titled The Curse of Race Prejudice. He lectured widely on a variety of subjects including workers’ rights and feminism, both of which he supported. He was an early supporter of Esperanto, the proposed world language, becoming vice-president of the Esperanto League for North America. In his later years he converted to the Bahá’í faith, an offshoot of Islam generally recognized as a separate religion.

Before they met, Lovecraft denounced Morton as someone who participated in the, “wanton destruction of the public faith and the publick morals”. However, once they did get to talk they became firm friends. They kept up a lengthy correspondence, Lovecraft’s end of which has been preserved and published. I don’t own the book myself, but it is reviewed over at Innsmouth Free Press.

It is clear from that review that Lovecraft and Morton debated issues of race, each trying to convert the other to his view with singular lack of success. Lovecraft, therefore, is not someone who merely absorbed the racist rhetoric of his times. He is someone who firmly and proudly held racist views, and who strongly defended those views when one of his closest friends tried to talk him down. Lovecraft is someone who could write in a letter to that friend:

I’d like to see Hitler wipe Greater New York clean with poison gas – giving masks to the few remaining people of Aryan culture (even if of Semitic ancestry). The place needs fumigation & a fresh start. (If Harlem didn’t get any masks, I’d shed no tears…. )

And that, dear reader, is why, despite his many achievements, Lovecraft is not a suitable person to be the public face of an international award.

Posted in Awards, History | 3 Comments

The 2015 Trans Murders Data

TransGender Europe have released their official data for known transphobic murders over the past 12 months. The total is 271. That compares to 226 last year, and 238 in 2013. One of the biggest increases is in the USA where deaths have shot up from 10 last year to 27 this year. As always, the vast majority of victims are female-identified and people of color.

Further details are available here.

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Book Review – Carter & Lovecraft

Carter and LovecraftI’m not managing to review all that many of the books I read these days, but I did want to do one for Carter & Lovecraft because I think my friend Jonathan has done something exceedingly fun with it.

I am eagerly awaiting the television series, though if the hero is not played by someone who at least looks like the All Blacks fly half I shall be very disappointed. I know who I want to play Emily too, but that would be a spoiler.

Anyway, the review is done, and you can read it here. Enjoy. And good luck with the sanity rolls.

Posted in Books | 5 Comments

Wales Does Trans

The Orangery, Margam

I spent most of Sunday and Monday in Wales because my colleague, Berkeley, and I were speaking at a conference on trans issues organized by Youth Cymru. It was being held in Port Talbot, which as all Welsh people know is famous primarily for the steel works. However, that’s not all there is to the town. Nearby is Margam Park, formerly a Cistercian Abbey and, following Henry VIII knocking it about a bit, a stately home. It is now a fabulous resource for local people. We took over The Orangery, pictured above. It was very splendid, and just the sort of place to educate various government and voluntary sector people about trans issues.

We got to spend the night in Twelve Knights, a lovely old pub with guest rooms and super-friendly staff. I think my room was bigger than the place where I live. Good food too.

The weather on Monday morning was quite wild. It was just as well that it was cold because I bet the surf was up at Porthcawl.

The conference had a whole bunch of high profile speakers, including my friend Debs from Mermaids; the fabulous Bernard & Terry from GIRES (who were in Twelve Knights with us); Sally Holland, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales; and topping the bill Fox and Lewis from Lucky Tooth Films. Those guys are super-awesome. Fox had flown home from Prague on Sunday night, but he and Lewis were up at 6:00am to drive from Brighton to give a talk.

We were all given headsets so we could listen to live translations of the parts of the programme that were given in Welsh.

Then there was the amazing Fran O’Hara who created illustrations for the talks live as they were happening. Here’s part of her illustration for Fox & Lewis.

Fran O'Hara on Fox & Lewis

The day ended with a live performance of Humanequin, a theatre piece by four young trans men and created with the aid of theatre company, Mess Up The Mess. I understand that other local trans kids were involved in creating it, and have performed in it elsewhere, but only the four lads were able to get time off to be at the conference,

It was all very positive, and I’m very proud to have been a part of it. And especially proud because it was in Wales.

Special thanks go to Rachel Benson who organized the whole thing. Diolch am bopeth, Rachel.

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Howard Gets Retired

I’ve been away in Wales for a couple of days (of which more tomorrow). While I was away, the World Fantasy Awards were announced. You can find the list of winners at Locus. The biggest announcement of the weekend, however, was the HP Lovecraft was being retired as the face of the World Fantasy Awards. Next year’s trophy will be something different.

The most important point is that this has come not a moment too soon. Having a notorious racist as your public face really doesn’t do a lot for your image. The fact that it has taken the World Fantasy Board this long to take action is testament to their enduring conservatism.

The other question that people have been wrestling with is what the be trophy should look like. World Fantasy has always set itself firmly against any suggestion of fluffiness, so I’m afraid that dragons, elves, wizards and unicorns are right out. The new trophy will have to be something much more creepy.

I suspect that the Board might want to pick some other horror writer whom they regard as new and upcoming. Someone like Arthur Machen, or William Hope Hodgson. However, unlike HPL, they are not well know to a wide readership.

There’s Robert E Howard, of course, but these days he is strongly connected in the public imagination with swords, wizards and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I understand that Steve Jones has suggested that the new trophy should be a bust of him. However, the Board is concerned that it may not be able to afford the licensing fee he’d charge for the use of his image, or the gold-plating of the trophy that he’s insisting on.

All of which is going to leave the Board in a bit of a pickle. They won’t want to stray too far from their roots, but at the same time they probably want to avoid another fuss. So I thought I should draw up a list of requirements. It seems to me that the Board would want the following:

  1. A writer,
  2. Who is a frightful old horror,
  3. Is a dreadful bigot,
  4. But is an establishment figure whom the media will rush to defend if there is any fuss.

Once I had laid the problem out clearly, the answer became obvious. The new World Fantasy Award trophy should be a bust of Germaine Greer.

Posted in Awards | 3 Comments

Petition Wars

The “Drop the T” petition that I mentioned yesterday, which seeks to dissociate LGB people from those awful, disgusting trans folk, is causing quite a stir. Pink News had to disable comments on their report because of the level of anti-trans hate speech being posted there. If you feel that your brain needs a wash with bile there are screen grabs in Sarah Brown’s Twitter feed. It is good to know that there are plenty of people out there who are certain that I “claim to be transgender” in order to go into women’s toilets and rape lesbians. And yes, those comments are primarily from gay men.

Of course having a petition to throw trans people out of the LGBT community isn’t censorship. Petitions are only censorship when someone uses them to object to transphobic hate speech.

Some of the various campaigning LGBT organizations appealed to by the petition have come out strongly against it. The Human Rights Campaign described the petition as “unequivocally wrong” while GLAAD said that it “stands firmly with the transgender community”.

Meanwhile a counter-petition has been launched stating:

We find the petition by ‘Drop the T’ to be insulting, inaccurate and transphobic and we want to make it clear that this narrow group of people do not speak for the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.

I am, of course, expecting a counter-counter-petition from groups who feel that they are excluded by the LGBTQ+ term.

Currently the Drop the T petition has 1192 supporters while the counter petition has 458, though the former has been online a lot longer.

If you are wondering what sparked this sudden flurry of community in-fighting, it is probably the decision by voters in Houston to scrap equal rights protections for LGBT people, mainly because of a successful campaign by right-wingers who painted the law as allowing male sexual predators (that is, trans women) to enter women’s toilets and rape people. Some LGB people are reacting to this by desperately trying to dissociate themselves from trans folk because they regard us as a liability. Charming.

However, before we get all outraged about this, let’s remember that it works both ways. In looking for news reports about the petition I quickly found a fairly recent piece in Metro by a trans guy who wants to dissociate himself from all this pervy sexuality stuff.

Humans. Sigh.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gender | 2 Comments

Coming Soon – Afro SF Vol. 2

Afro SF Vol. 2Ivor Hartmann has sent me a review copy of the new edition in his Afro SF anthology series. This one is a bit different, in that rather than a bunch of short stories it contains five novellas. All are, of course, by Africa writers. Here’s the line-up:

“The Last Pantheon” by Tade Thompson & Nick Wood. An epic superhero face-off thousands of years in the making.

“Hell Freezes Over” by Mame Bougouma Diene. Long after the last skyscraper has drowned who remains and how will they survive?

“The Flying Man of Stone” by Dilman Dila. When ancient technology seems like magic legends live again in the midst of war and sides will be chosen.

“VIII” by Andrew Dakalira. A space shuttle crash, the numeral eight, serial murders, what connects them all could end humanity.

“An Indigo Song for Paradise” by Efe Tokunbo Okogu. Change is coming to Paradise city and it won’t be pretty, but if this is paradise then heaven must be hell in need of a revolution.

I’m looking forward to it. The book goes on sale on December 1st.

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When I Was A Book

Today I was in Bath to do some more training for Julian House, a charity for the homeless. Berkeley Wilde of Diversity Trust and I had done a couple of days work with their staff a few weeks ago, and we got such a good report that I was asked to come and talk at a meeting of their board of directors today.

My slot was in the middle of a planning retreat. The way it was structured was that during the lunch break a small number of people were made available to tell their life stories. The directors got to sit and listen to a couple of these tales each. It is a format based on the idea of the “human library” in which people take the parts of talking books, and visitors to the event come and listen to them.

I have been invited to human library events before and have always declined, partly because I find the whole thing a bit creepy, and partly because if you are doing this in a public space anyone could come up and listen to you, which for trans folk may not be very safe. However, this was different. I was there to talk to people about being trans, and the audience was expecting some fairly unusual life histories.

Being a book when you are normally a writer is a strange experience. I had to resist the temptation to get meta, but I did worry a lot about how much of a genre stereotype I came over as. The trans autobiography is most definitely a thing, and I worried a lot that my own story was far too close to the standard narrative. Still, you do what you can. I got to tell a small number of strangers that Kevin saved my life, which made me happy.

I see from the news that “transgender” came second in this year’s Word of the Year contest, meaning that it was the word seeing the second-biggest increase in usage. I’m certainly seeing a tremendous amount of interest, and of course a lot more trans people are getting into the media. On the downside there is an increasingly shrill and desperate backlash from the likes of Greer and her pals, leading to bizarre campaigns such as this one asking to remove the T from LGBT.

The petition had originally claimed that trans people were guilty of sexual abuse of children:

but it has since been toned down a little from that. On the other hand, it does have the enthusiastic support of a prominent G*merG*te leader. They also support Greer, of course. Funny how that works.

By the way, the accusations of child abuse these days generally centre around the fact that the majority of kids who express gender-variant behavior during childhood do grow out of it, though many of them end up being gay or lesbian. The TERF claim is that by providing gender services for kids we are forcing huge numbers of children who don’t need it through gender reassignment. This is completely untrue. Much of the point of treating kids is to find out who needs medical intervention and who doesn’t. Not every case is the same. Saying that you should ban gender treatment for kids because the majority who display possible symptoms don’t need it is rather like saying you should ban treatment for pneumonia because the majority of people with similar symptoms only have a cold or flu.

Anyway, on with the work. Tomorrow I get to try to catch up with email. On Sunday Berkeley and I are off to Bridgend where we are speaking at a conference about trans people on Monday. It will be good to get back to Wales, even if only for a day.

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More Radio

I was on Ujima again yesterday. Paulette has an education-themed show on Thursday mornings and Paul Jacobs, the Service Director for Education at Bristol City Council, has kindly agreed to come in once a month to talk to listeners. I needed to see Paul about next year’s LGBT History Month plans, and this seemed like a good time for a meeting. Of course Paulette saw it as a good chance to interview me.

So I ended up guesting with Ujima Chairman, Roger Griffith, talking about our experiences of education: me as a trans girl in the days before trans was even talked about, him as a black boy in a mostly white school. You can listen to that here. In the second hour Paul bravely took questions from a group of kids from a local school.

While I was on air Judeline phoned in sick, so I offered to take her place in the What the Papers Say panel on the following show. I had time to flick through a few of the day’s papers during the second half of the education show and immediately zeroed in on an article by Dave Aaronovitch in the Times where, in defense of Germaine Greer’s transphobia, he had the cheek to accuse students today of being Stalinists. Anyone who was active in student politics in the late 70s and early 80s will know just how ironic that is. Of course these days Aaronovitch is a shill for Rupert Murdoch. Doubtless he somehow manages to claim that his politics haven’t changed.

Anyway, I may have had a little rant about Greer.

I also made reference to this blog post by Radio Bristol presenter, John Darvall, who has been complaining about how the local media, including the BBC, have reported the death of his daughter. Sadly I don’t think it will change anything. The mainstream media will always hide behind the excuse that they have to simplify everything for the benefit of their listeners, and that the wishes of those whose lives they are reporting, not to mention the truth, always come a distant second.

That segment of the show is available here, and of course don’t forget that in the second hour Paulette and Zuzana reported on their trip to Calais to bring supplies to the refugee camp.

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Today on Ujima : Sanctum, TDOR, Tara and Tade

I was in charge of the Women’s Outlook show on Ujima again today. My first guest was Sara Zaltash who, like me, has performed at Sanctum. She’s one of those brave people who have been performing there in the middle of the night. And if you think that a trans woman reading science fiction stories is off the wall, just wait until you hear what Sara was doing.

Sara’s parents are Iranian, so along side discussion of her Sanctum performance we chatted about the issue of women’s rights in Iran. That was with reference to this article in yesterday’s Telegraph. I did rather like the idea that women in Iran are getting round laws about being their husbands’ property by refusing to get married. Of course personally I think the solution is to bring back Ishtar worship, but I can see that might be a bit unpopular in some quarters.

After Sara my next guest was Chris Hubley, a local artist who is staging an exhibition of work by trans artists as part of Trans Awareness Month (which November is). That includes a fundraiser party on the 13th at which I might be reading a bit of poetry. Chris and I talked a bit about the Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR) and how we both want trans people to be known for things other than being tragic. You can find out more about the events Chris is organizing here.

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

Chris had to rush off to catch a bus to London, but before he went we had a brief chat about the Tara Hudson case. Chris explains why he doesn’t have a Gender Recognition Certificate. If the Ministry of Justice were being consistent they should hold that, were Chris to commit a crime, he should be sent to a women’s prison. My guess, though, is that it wouldn’t happen. The trouble with the MoJ Guidelines is that they are based on the assumption that the primary goal is to protect the other inmates from the trans person, not the other way around. Trans women, because they are still seen as men by the MoJ, are deemed a danger to other women prisoners. Trans men are also seen as men by the MoJ, and therefore also deemed to belong in men’s prisons.

That only took up 15 minutes as Chris had to go, so in the next slot I brought in Paulette and our new colleague, Zuzana, who were just back from a trip to Calais to deliver supplies to the refugee camp there. They will have a much fuller report on the trip in tomorrow’s Outlook show. It sounds like it will be well worth a listen.

In the final segment of the show I ran a pre-recorded interview with Tade Thompson about his new novel, Making Wolf. Tade and I talk a lot about the background to the novel, which is set in an imaginary country carved off from Nigeria after the civil war. There’s a lot of great material in there.

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

The playlist for the show was as follows:

  • Thieves in the Temple – Prince
  • So Blue – Mahsa Vahdat & Mighty Sam McClain
  • Pressure Off – Duran Duran with Janelle Monáe & Nile Rodgers
  • Love will save the day – Koko Jones
  • Appletree – Erykah Badu
  • Lovin’ You – Minnie Riperton (dedicated to Kevin)
  • Killer on the Rampage – Eddy Grant
  • Jezebel – Sade

I am particularly grateful to Sara for introducing me to Mahsa and Sam. I was also very pleased to be able to music by a trans woman of color during our discussion of TDOR.

I’m going to be on Paulette’s education show briefly tomorrow morning. She’s interviewing Roger Griffith and I about performing at Sanctum was how/whether our various educational backgrounds prepared us for being writers. That will be between 10:00 and 11:00.

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Planetfall Drops

Talking of Planetfall, it is officially published today. I’m hoping that Forbidden Planet Bristol will have copies tomorrow as I’m in town to do the radio show. If you haven’t got the message about this book yet, why not listen to Emma Newman read the first couple of chapters at BristolCon Fringe.

Posted in Books, Podcasts | 1 Comment

Goodreads Choice Awards

The first round of voting for this year’s Goodreads Choice Awards has opened. Although they claim to be voting on the best books of 2015, the eligibility window is actually from mid-November 2014 to mid-November 2015, which is rather silly.

Anyway, the usual categories exist, and the usual nonsense about gendered reading habits is being perpetuated. Of 15 finalists in science fiction, only one (Ancillary Mercy) is by a woman. Fantasy looks rather better with 9 women out of 15. In Young Adult SF&F 14 of the 15 finalists are by women. Horror has 4 women out of 15.

Mostly the finalists look uninspiring, and occasionally oddly categorized. Uprooted is in YA, and I don’t recall it being sold as such. Charlie Stross’s The Annihilation Score is in Horror, though personally I read the Laundry novels for the comedy. Bizarrely, neither Radiance by Cat Valente nor Planetfall by Emma Newman has made the SF finalists list. However, you are allowed write-in votes at this stage. Much as I love Ancillary Mercy, I’d rather see one of those two get the prize this time around. Luna: New Moon should be on the list too, but isn’t.

The Graphic Novel category, however, is full of awesome: Saga, Rat Queens, Lovelace & Babbage, Goddess of Thunder, Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl, Lumberjanes. I was spoiled for choice.

Should you wish to vote, the ballot is here.

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A Morning In Prison

Now there’s click bait for you.

So yes, I spent this morning in prison. To be precise, I was in Ashfield Prison near Bristol, which is a specialist prison for male sex offenders. I can see the TERFs rubbing their hands with glee at this “proof” that I am in fact a violent rapist.

Sadly for them I was actually there to do some trans awareness training. I was accompanied by colleagues from LGBT Bristol and Diversity Trust who gave presentations on our work, on hate crime, and on LGBT mental health. It was, in many ways, a standard gig.

The first major difference was that it took place inside a prison. It took us forever to get past security. As I joked to my colleagues, it was harder to get into prison than to get into the USA. The security rules were even more weird. No chewing gum, no mirrors, but apparently safety pins were OK even though they are sharp and pointy. We all had mugshots taken and got patted down. No one questioned my ID.

I’d not been much involved in the planning and I thought we’d mainly be talking to staff. There I was wrong. Half of the audience was made up of people from other local area services who were there as much to get some experience of the prison as to listen to us. The other half were inmates. And when we had finished our talks several of them did short presentations about the diversity-related work they do in the prison.

So we had someone from the age awareness group, someone from the disability group, someone from the military veterans association, someone from the BME group, someone from the interfaith group, someone from the foreign prisoners group, and of course someone from the LGBT group (which, given the population, is mainly a GB group, but they have had trans inmates).

Yes, you did read that right. The inmates of a sex offenders prison have organized diversity awareness groups of various sorts for their community. What’s more they told us that they think this is pretty much unique in British prisons. Several of them had come to Ashfield from other establishments, or had been in other establishments at other times in their lives.

How did this happen? Well partly it appears to be down to the hard work of Hannah, the prison’s diversity officer. Partly it is, of course, down to the Equality Act, which has made people much more aware of such issues. And partly it is good prison management.

As one of the inmates put it, if he was outside he’d be mixing primarily with people from his own social and ethnic community. Hating people who are different would be easy. But inside the prison he’s part of a population of a few hundred, only a handful of whom share his background. So he has to learn to get along with lots of people from other backgrounds that he might never have become friendly with otherwise. Teaching the inmates to have respect for each other’s diverse backgrounds helps prison life run more smoothly.

There is one final point too. Over lunch I was chatting to one of the inmates and expressed surprise that this amazing community had been started in a privately run prison rather than a government one. (Ashfield is run by Serco.) He responded that government-run prisons don’t have much responsibility to anyone, whereas Serco is firmly regulated by government and is required to show that it is following its obligations under the Equality Act, or it might lose the contract.

I have two caveats here. Firstly I am well aware that I saw only a small fraction of the total prison population, and presumably those that there most enthusiastic about the diversity program. Secondly I’ve seen first hand how large companies can and do avoid complying with equality legislation. You have to have people willing to actually obey such laws before they can work well, so there’s no guarantee that a privately run prison will be better. But, even with those caveats I was hugely impressed.

It wasn’t until after I had left that I realized that I had just spent several hours in the company of a bunch of convicted sex offenders, and the only time I had felt threatened was going through security to get in.

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Well, That Was Sanctum

I did the Sanctum thing last night.

The actual site is lovely. Temple Church looks great, and the performance space that Theaster Gates has built is really nice. It is also not nearly as cold as I had feared. The staff there were all really helpful. And there was an audience.

Well, there was when I started anyway. Probably the best thing that can be said about my experience there is that it could have been worse. No one booed, no one threw anything, and I didn’t get hauled off stage by the management. However, about half the audience walked out during my performance, often not waiting breaks between items, and one person started talking loudly to his companion while I was reading.

Part of that is understandable in that I’m not that great a writer. I know many people who are far better at short fiction and poetry than I am. Part of it in undoubtedly because I had been scheduled to perform late at night on my way back from Cambridge. I was very tired when I got there, and had little time to rehearse. I have definitely done better performances.

On the other hand, I think this was probably the best I could have expected from the evening. The lack of a published schedule meant that I didn’t know most of the audience and they had no idea what to expect from me. They almost certainly were not expecting a trans woman reading science fiction and activist poetry. That isn’t an easy sell. One of the stories I read had gone down a storm in Cambridge the day before, but fell flat at Sanctum. The poem I did for 50 Voices went down really well there but was much less well received last night. Audiences differ, and given the sort of thing I write I’m never going to be particularly popular with an audience made of of random people who would attend a high profile art event.

It is what it is, as they say. More generally, Sanctum seems to be going very well. I very much hope to get to see some of it myself at some point. And I’ll have one of the performers on the radio with me on Wednesday.

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Trans SF&F at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas

Thanks to Farah Mendlesohn I was invited to give a talk at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas. That was yesterday, and I was very pleased with how it went. We had about 80 people, and many of them were very kind to me afterwards. It is always good to know that you entertained people.

I was half expecting the local TERFs to turn up. However, some bright spark at the festival managed to program them against me. Julia Long (who is one of the small band of TERFs who picketed the London Dyke March to protest against Sarah Brown being allowed to speak) was doing a talk on pornography that overlapped with mine. If all she was doing was complain about 50 Shades of Grey then she has my full support, but I rather suspect that the main thrust of her talk was full on Beyoncé hate, and the general tone anti-sex and anti-feminine.

What we did have was an old school transgender person who tried to troll the talk by nit-picking my use of language and claiming that I was excluding transgender people. There’s lots I could say about this, but I don’t want to bore you with trans community politics. Here are a few quick points.

It is impossible to maintain a rigid separation of meaning between “sex” and “gender” now that “transgender” has become an umbrella term for the whole community and terms like “gender identity” and “gender surgery” are used in talking about transsexuals.

If blurring the line between “sex” and “gender” means that I’m erasing the existence of people who identify as transgender as opposed to transsexual, doesn’t that mean I’m erasing myself as well?

Claiming that I only talked about transsexuals is an outright lie.

I have little time for people who try to police trans identities by insisting on narrow definitions of what it means to be trans and strict language use, and I have absolutely zero time for people who deliberately set out to wreck a trans-positive public event using such tactics.

I’m afraid that the talk wasn’t recorded in full, though I think some of it was videoed. However, my talk at the University of Liverpool from earlier this year is still online.

Several people asked for a reading list, so here it is:

  • The Holdfast Chronicles (Walk to the End of the World, Motherlines, The Furies, Conqueror’s Child) – Suzy McKee Charnas
  • The Gate to Women’s Country – Sherri S. Tepper
  • The Female Man – Joanna Russ
  • Triton – Samuel R. Delany
  • Steel Beach – John Varley
  • River of Gods – Ian McDonald
  • Brasyl – Ian McDonald
  • Luna: New Moon – Ian McDonald
  • The Forever War – Joe Haldeman
  • Friday – Robert A. Heinlein
  • The Courier’s New Bicycle – Kim Westwood
  • Shadow Man – Melissa Scott
  • 2312 – Kin Stanley Robinson
  • Shadow Scale – Rachel Hartman
  • Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper – David Barnett
  • Glasshouse – Charles Stross
  • Diaspora – Greg Egan
  • The Jacob’s Ladder trilogy (Dust, Chill, Grail) – Elizabeth Bear
  • The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Wraeththu series – Storm Constantine
  • The Culture series (specifically Consider Phlebas, Excession and The Hydrogen Sonata) – Iain M. Banks
  • The Drowning Girl – Caitlín Rebekah Kiernan
  • All the Birds in the Sky – Charlie Jane Anders (forthcoming)
  • The Rhapsody of Blood series (Rituals, Reflections, Resurrections) – Roz Kaveney
  • Tiny Pieces of Skull – Roz Kaveney
  • The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones – Jack Wolf
  • Books by Billy Martin writing as Poppy Z. Brite
  • Books by Cathy Butler writing as Charles Butler
  • Books by James Dawson
  • Books by Jan Morris (I particularly love Hav)
  • Redefining Realness – Janet Mock
  • Trans: A Memoir – Juliet Jacques
  • Man Enough to be a Woman – Jayne County
  • Nevada – Imogen Binnie
  • The Aleutian Trilogy (White Queen, North Wind and Phoenix Cafe) – Gwyneth Jones
  • The Parasitology Trilogy (Parasite, Symbiont, Chimera (forthcoming)) – Seanan McGuire writing as Mira Grant
  • Sense 8 (TV series) – Lana & Andy Wachowski & J. Straczynski
  • Comics by Kieron Gillen

Please note that this talk was about how science fiction and fantasy books have speculated about gender. Not all of the books listed above include trans characters, and some that do are problematic in various ways. The Liverpool talk addresses some of those issues. Also I have reviews of many of the books both on this site and at Emerald City. There’s also this essay, which is five years old now and probably needs updating.

The list also includes books by trans authors that may not be SF&F or contain trans characters.

My essay for Strange Horizons on writing better trans characters is here. I also recommend this essay by Vee on The Gay YA.

And finally, for those of you who came to the pub after the talk, the Wonderella cartoon that Kevin sent me that I was so amused by is this one. I am so going to use that head-explody panel in a slide pack at some point.

Posted in Gender, Science Fiction | 1 Comment

Thank You, Everyone

I’m having a very busy weekend, but before rushing off to Cambridge to do my talk I wanted to say thank you to all of you who signed the Tara Hudson petition. As you may have heard, the Ministry of Justice finally relented and moved Tara to a women’s prison yesterday afternoon. I would not have happened without the thousands of you who signed that petition. Thank you!

Posted in Current Affairs, Gender | Leave a comment

Help San José in 2018 Choose Prospective Guests of Honor

Worldcons have often been criticized for overlooking potential candidates for Guest of Honor because those making the decision don’t have a broad enough knowledge of the whole field (books, movies, TV, art, comics, you name it, in every country). To counteract this the San José in 2018 team is asking for suggestions for potential Guests of Honor, should they win their bid to host Worldcon.

Worldcon’s Guest of Honor appointments function as a sort of lifetime achievement award for contributors to SF & F literature, arts and the community. SJ in 2018 asks people to send guest recommendations to goh@sjin2018.org, and to include in their recommendation how the candidate meets the basic criteria for consideration and why they think the candidate should be honored.

Recommendations will be accepted through December 15, 2015.

The traditional criteria for Worldcon Guest of Honor consideration are:

  • An established career, usually considered to be 30 years from entry into the field.
  • Current relevance, usually considered to be current activity and notability. In the case of writers, availability of their back catalog in print/distribution is an excellent yardstick.
  • No prior recognition as a Worldcon Guest of Honor (for past guests, see here).

For full details see the SFSFC website.

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