Trans Pride South West Programme


The full programme for Trans Pride South West is now available as per the image above. Further information is available through the Events listing on their Facebook page, or from their website.

As usual I will be helping out with the Trans Day of Remembrance service at the University of Bristol Students’ Union. That’s on Wednesday 21st in the evening.

I will also be staffing an OutStories Bristol stall at the Community Day at The Station on Saturday the 24th during the day.

Given the way this year has gone, it is entirely likely that some of these events will be picketed by anti-trans activists. The two above are the most likely for them to target. People planning to attend should be aware that attempts may be made to photograph them for use on social media. The TDoR event should be relatively safe as the venue is inside the Students’ Union and lots of people will be going in and out for other purposes. The Community Day will be more complicated to protect, but the venue is very close to Bristol’s main police station so if there is trouble it shouldn’t take long to sort out.

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Yesterday on Ujima – Maternity, Careers and Mental Health

Yesterday’s show was supposed to start with my interviewing fellow Ujima presenter, Sandra Gordon, about a maternity rights event taking place in Bristol soon. Unfortunately circumstances intervened and I had to spend half an hour talking about maternity all by myself. It isn’t a subject I know a huge amount about, having never been pregnant myself. Fortunately I was saved by my friend Laura Wood because I could talk about her amazing book on the mental health issues that can arise from childbirth.

Sandra did arrive in time to get on the show briefly, but I had to hurry her up as it was time to talk to Ben Shorrock of TechSpark who is trying to get a grant to help diversify the tech start-ups being created in Bristol. The article we discussed can be found here, and if you want to vote for Ben’s project you can do so here (but you only have until Noon tomorrow, UK time). Inevitably Ben and I ended up talking about women in tech, and why women make better programmers than men.

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

Next up I welcomed Jenny Stringer, a local journalist who has been doing a project to highlight opportunities for women in the construction trade. That doesn’t just men being a brickie. Women can also be electricians, or plumbers (like mine, hi Penney!). Anything men can do, women can do too. And more importantly you can earn twice as much as an electrician than as a beautician. Get to it, girls!

Finally I ran a pre-recorded interview with La JohnJoseph who was coming to Bristol to run a workshop on queer mental health. I went along to the event in the evening and it was a lot of fun. Huge thanks to JJ for doing this, and to the Wellcome Foundation for funding the project.

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

The playlist for the show was as follows:

  • The Intruders – I’ll Always Love My Mama
  • The Supremes – Baby Love
  • Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
  • Michael Jackson – Wanna Be Starting Something
  • The Housemartins – Build
  • Angelique Kidjo – Houses in Motion
  • Patti Labelle – Messin’ with my Mind
  • Jamiroquai – Music of the Mind
Posted in Computers, Feminism, Gender, Health, Music, Radio | Leave a comment

London Bound

In a week and a bit’s time I will be in London for a couple of decidedly Queer events.

On Saturday 17th I will be at the Fringe! Queer Film Festival for a showing of TransGeek, a documentary film about trans people who also happen to be geeks. I’m one of the people interviewed in the film. Roz Kaveney and I will be on hand to answer questions afterwards, as will the film’s Director, Kevin McCarthy.

On Sunday 18th I will be at the National Maritime Museum as part of their Lost in a Book literary festival. Roz and I, together with Sacha Coward from the NMM, will be hosting a discussion on Queer Futurism. As the blurb says: “This is an informal chance to talk about LGBTQ+ representations in science fiction and fantasy. We want to imagine what a queer-inclusive future might look like.”

If you happen to be in the area and fancy popping along to either of these, I would love to see you.

Posted in Fandom, Gender, Movies, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

Wizard’s Tower in Bath Tomorrow


If you happen to live in or near Bath, you may be interested in Small Publishers’ Gathering which is taking place in the city tomorrow. Wizard’s Tower will be one of the publishers attending, as will our good friends Tangent Books who do all sorts of amazing titles about Bristol.

The event is taking place at the Friends’ Meeting House on York Street and will be open to the public from Noon for you to come any buy books. If you weren’t at BristolCon you should come along and pick up a copy of Kingdoms of Elfin by Sylvia Townsend Warner. This is an author I have been longing to read since hearing about her at Gendered Voices last year. Kudos to Handheld Press for bringing out a new edition.

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The Mere Wife on Tour

You only get to be on the Tiptree Jury for one year, which given the amount of work is just as well. However, one book I would have looked forward to reading this year would have been Maria Dahvana Headley’s feminist re-telling of Beowulf, The Mere Wife. Maria lives in the USA, but she’s doing a short UK tour this month, so you’ll have a chance to meet her.

On Nov. 6th she will be at Foyles on Charing Cross Road where she is being interviewed by Neil Gaiman, who knows a bit about Beowulf himself. Tickets are £15 but include a copy of the book.

And on Nov. 12th she will at at St.John’s College, Oxford where she is being interviewed by Professor Carolyne Larrington who knows one heck of a lot about literature from the Norse sagas all the way through the high Middle Ages. Prof. Larrington is also someone I’d love to meet, so I’m going to be wending my way over to Oxford for that one. I hope to see some of you there. It’s free.

Posted in Books, Gender, History, Readings, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

On Non-Euclidian Geometry

I have been catching up with Hannah Fry’s BBC 4 series, Magic Numbers, which is a history of mathematics. Today I watched the second episode in which Hannah touched on some of the revolutions in mathematical thinking that took place at the end of the 19th Century. One of those revolutions was the development of non-Euclidian geometry, which is a perfectly respectable field of mathematical study. I, of course, started to think of something else.

These days we tend to think of Lovecraft as a horror writer, but I suspect that he saw himself as much more of a science fiction writer. Many of his stories involved aliens, and he seemed to keep up with what was happening in science, and in maths. He was very much disturbed by the way in which the foundations of human knowledge, which had been accepted for hundreds of years, were being eroded.

Euclid’s geometric theorems had been the basis of much of mathematical thought since the time of Classical Greece. They still hold good today, but only in certain circumstances. Because the Earth is so large we can approximate living on it to living on a flat surface. On such a surface, if you follow a path that turns through four right-angles, with equal distances between each turn, you get back to where you started. But, as Fry demonstrated in the program, that’s not the case if you live on the surface of a cube. In that case you only have to turn through three right-angles to get back where you started. That’s very weird.

The program also touched on the story of the German Mathematician, Georg Cantor. He was responsible for the development of Set Theory, as part of which he discovered that some infinities are bigger than others. This too is very weird. In the latter part of his life Cantor had very poor mental health and was institutionalised on several occasions. You can just imagine the tabloid headlines: “Famous mathematician driven mad by contemplating infinity!”

If you then throw in the development of quantum physics, which was also happening around the time that Lovecraft was writing, it is easy to see how one might come to the conclusion that unravelling the mysteries of the universe might drive men mad.

Posted in Science, Science Fiction, TV | Leave a comment

Ujima Black History Month Special


I was in the studio today for a very special edition of Women’s Outlook. The entire show was co-presented by, and produced by, my good friend Olivette Otele.

If you have been following my tweetage you will know that Olivette has recently been appointed Professor of History at Bath Spa University. For non-UK readers, that’s a big deal, because here only the most senior academics can call themselves Professor. Olivette is the first black woman to become a professor of history in the UK.

Most of her work to date has centered on colonialism and slavery, but for today we chose to look further back in time to showcase some of the people of colour from Africa who interacted with Europe in the past.

The chap in the picture at the top is Joseph Boulogne, the Chevalier Saint Georges. He was a military man, an accomplished fencer, and also a brilliant musician. He was so good at music that he became Marie Antoinette’s music teacher, and we played one of his compositions during the show. I was delighted to discover that he once fought an exhibition duel in London against the famous French trans woman, the Chevalier d’Eon. Olivette also informed me that during the French Revolution he fought alongside the father of Alexander Dumas (hands up everyone who didn’t know that the creator of the Three Musketeers was black).

Also featured on the show were Saint Maurice, Jacobus Capitein, and my personal favourite, Queen Amanirenas, the one-eyed warrior who gave Augustus a bloody nose. Plus a whole lot more interesting people.

The Listen Again feature appears to be working OK again at the moment. You can listen to the first hour here, and the second hour here.

Olivette also selected all of the music for the show. I have to say that she has great taste. Here is the playlist:

  • Steel Pulse – Shining
  • Bob Marley – Get Up, Stand Up
  • Chevalier St. Georges – Overture to L’Amant Anonyme
  • Angelique Kidjo – Born Under Punches
  • Lady Nade – Waiting for You
  • Sade – Soldier of Love
  • Hamilton Cast – Immigrants
  • Eddy Grant – African Kings

I hope you enjoy the show. I’ll be back with a more regular slot on November 7th.

Posted in History, Music, Radio | Leave a comment

Convention Circuit

There are lots of conventions happening this month. I am going to be at some of them. SF&F people will be able to guess which ones. I’m not saying much more than that, because over the past week or so anti-trans activists have taken to turning up at events where prominent trans women are speaking with the intent of disrupting them, and of obtaining audio or video recordings that they can edit creatively and then put online. Probably I am much too small fry for them, but I did have one event disrupted last week so I’m not going to make things easy for them.

This is also a good moment to remind you all that the Government’s consultation on the Gender Recognition Act closes tomorrow evening. They will have received large numbers of responses from “concerned citizens” demanding that all of my civil rights be taken away. If you have time, please respond. Even if you don’t understand any of the other questions, it is important that you tell the Government that they need to consider rights for non-binary and intersex people.

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The OutStories Bristol AGM


Saturday saw the AGM of OutStories Bristol and the associated John Addington Symonds Birthday Lecture. The event is sponsored for us by the Institute for Greece, Rome and the Classical Tradition at Bristol University, which means we get the use of the lovely Wills Memorial Building for the event.

This year the lecture had special significance for us because it was actually about John Addington Symonds himself. Symonds was born in Berkeley Square, just the other side of Park Street from the Wills Memorial Building. He lived for a while in Clifton Hill House, which is now one of Bristol University’s conference venues. And of course some of his archives are held in Bristol.

It was archives that we were mainly concerned with on Saturday, in particular those pertaining to Symonds memoirs. They deal initially with Symonds’ coming to terms with his homosexual identity — something which there were no polite words for when he was young, so deeply had European culture supressed the idea. It was only later studying Classical Greece, and collaborating with the sexologist, Havelock Ellis, that he was able to write about how he felt.

That realisation, of course, brought with it the knowledge that his memoirs would be far too gay to publish. Or, to use the euphenmism of the day, “too Greek”. That’s the term his collegues at Oxford used when advising him not to apply for a senior post.

And so the memoirs were locked away, in a green cardbard box tied up with string. By the terms of Symonds’ will, they were bequeathed to his friend, Horatio Brown, with strict instructions not to allow anything embarrassing to be published, but neither to allow them to be destroyed. Through an Herculean effort of editing, Brown managed to produce a biography that was relatively complete, slightly suggestive, but free of any taint of scandal.

The rest of the story follows the heroic attempts of Symonds’ youngest daughter, Dame Katharine Furse, to gain access to the memoirs and have a more honest version published. It appears that Symonds’ proclivities were an open secret in the household, and younger generations were much less ashamed of same-sex liasions than their forebears.

All of this was related to us by Amber Regis, a scholar who has produced the most complete version yet of the memoirs. Amber was able to regale us with stories of adventures in the archives, and bring to life the voices of Symonds, Furse and other characters in the story.

I say “most complete yet” because there are still items under lock and key. Horatio Brown died without immediate offspring, and the rights to his literary estate passed to a pair of nephews in Australia. Those men, and their descendents, currently hold the rights to certain documents that Amber is not allowed to publish. So, Australian friends, if your last name is Brown, or you are descended from Browns, do check your family tree. There may be a lovely surprise in it for you.

By the way, the sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that Amber is based at the University of Sheffield. We did have a long chat after the meeting about the existence of aliens in they city. It has all been very exciting for the locals.

It was a very splendid day. My thanks to Amber, to the IGRCT, and to Chris Leigh who did all of the organising. I just chaired the meeting, and messed up thoroughly by forgetting to record Amber’s talk. Very sorry, everyone.

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Today On Ujima: Students, Clothing, Theatre & Feminism

Today’s show began with two wonderful guests from the University of the West of England. Noor and Josie are part of a small group who are pioneering an organisation called Equity within the university that will help Black & Minority Ethnic students get the best out of their education, and find good jobs afterwards.

As we all know, the academic system, and the jobs market in the UK, discriminates against anyone who doesn’t fit the default stereotype of white and male. However, much can be done by finding role models, or as I prefer possibility models, that give people the confidence that they can beat the system and suceed in life. I’m delighted to find that UWE is the first university in the country to actively try to help BAME students in this way. If you happen to be a Person of Colour who works in or near Bristol, please take a look here to see forthcoming events where you can help inspire these students.

Now if only we could do something similar for trans students…

My second guest was Jo-Jo from the gender-neutral clothing company, Max Tariq. It is, apparently, Bristol’s first and currently only such label. Jo-Jo and I chatted about the philosophy of gender neutral clothing. We discussed how such clothes could be for anyone who foudn them attractive, and how “gender neutral” doesn’t mean dull and vaguely masculine. We also talked about making clothing climate-neutral.

The Listen Again system is still playing up occasionally. You can listen to Noor & Josie here. Jo-Jo’s interview got dropped, but I have the archive recording and will be putting him up on the podcast soon.

Next up was Yasmin from the Mandala Theatre Company. She’s putting on a play called Castaways at The Station (the old fire station building in which Ujima’s studios are located) tomorrow night. It is a pay what you can afford event, so money is no excuse. If you want a ticket, or just to learn mre about the play, go here.

I kept the final half hour guest-free because I wanted to have a bit of a rant about the whole Kavanaugh debacle over in the USA. I chose some powerful feminist music to go with it. Along the way I also managed to talk about the WASPI fiasco with women’s pensions, and the awful two-child limit on tax credits.

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

Not included, because I am slightly nervous about the lyrics, was the new Amanda Palmer song, “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now”. The video, which is absolutely NSFW, is here.

The playlist for the show is as follows:

  • Big Mama Thornton – Let Your Tears Fall Baby
  • Bessie Smith – Alexander’s Ragtime Band
  • CN Lester – White wedding
  • Prince – Raspberry Beret
  • Minnie Ripperton – Young, Willing and Able
  • Erykah Badu – Drama
  • Janelle Monae – Americans
  • Lady Gaga – ‘Til it Happens to You
  • Alicia Keys – Superwoman
  • Gloria Gaynor – I Will Survive

The first two tracks are, of course, a nod to Black History Month. The Gaga song is particularly powerful and I’m glad I found it.

I’ll be back on air in two weeks with my friend Olivette Otele to do Black History Month properly.

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GRA Reform and Non-Binary People

When I did the explanatory post on single-sex exemptions I briefly mentioned the issue of non-binary people and said that it deserved a post all of its own. Here is that post.

I should start off by reminding everyone that there are more than two genders. Most cultures throughout history have recognised this, and many governments around the world today recognise non-binary people in some way. The list includes, but is not limited to: Australia, New Zealand, parts of the USA and Canada, Germany, India and Pakistan.

Also there are more than two sexes. Biological sex is a social construct which, in theory, is based on a collection of physical characteristics (some of which are fairly recently discovered). While most cisgender people exhibit the full collection of characteristics associated with their gender, many do not. Nor do a large proportion trans people. In practice, biological sex is assigned to babies on the basis of their external genitalia; and assumed in adults on the basis of gender presentation and secondary sex characteristics. Neither of these methods is very scientific.

So non-binary people definitely exist, both socially and medically. But in the UK they do not exist legally. This is a problem, both for them, and for the rest of society. We need to fix this, and we can’t do that by pretending that they don’t exist.

The argument for providing spaces that cater to non-binary people should be obvious. Just like men and women, they need spaces of their own. In some cases that can be solved by having all-gender facilities, and we do that quite happily with toilets in our homes, and on trains and aircraft. In other cases, non-binary people might want, or need, separate treatment.

There is a particular problem with spaces like rape crisis centres and domestic violence shelters, because currently almost all of the burden for supporting non-binary people is being placed on women’s services. Those non-binary people who have more feminine physiology are sent to women’s shelters because they are seen as women, and non-binary people who have more masculine physiology, but more feminine presentation, also get sent to women’s services because it is assumed they won’t be safe in men’s services.

Obviously this is a very new thing for such services, and they will need to work out procedures for risk assessment and safeguarding, but at the moment non-binary people are being failed by the social services.

Provision of spaces for non-binary people can also be of assistance to binary-identified trans people early in their transition. Because it can take several years for hormones to work their magic, and to work your way through waiting lists for surgery, almost all binary-identified trans people go through a period of worrying about being accepted. Whether we like it or not, most people make judgements based on appearance. Going into single-sex space when you feel that you don’t look right can be a very scary thing. The advantage of non-binary spaces is that there is no stereotypical appearance for being non-binary. So people in the early years of transition may feel safer using non-binary spaces.

Non-binary spaces may also be of help to people who are gender-non-confirming. For example, if you are a butch lesbian you may present in a very masculine style. The current panic over trans women in toilets is causing significant problems for masculine-presenting women. While I think it is outrageous that people who have lived as women all their lives are being thrown out of women’s toilets because of a misguided moral panic, it may be that such people will find it safer to use non-binary spaces.

Finally I want to note that legal recognition for a non-binary gender may have potential benefits for intersex babies with ambiguous genitalia. The fashion for “corrective” surgery on such children is rooted in the erroneous belief that there are only two genders, and only two sexes, and that anyone who does not conform to that model is a deviant who much be “fixed”. Creating a society in which non-binary gender is recognised should lead us away from such harmful ideas.

Please note that I am not advocating that all gendered spaces become non-binary. While we still have patriarchy, women will always need space spaces to go. Women’s toilets in pubs and clubs, for example, are not just used as toilets. They are a safe space where women can go if they feel unsafe. Non-binary people will doubtless need their own such safe spaces.

Looking at the responses to the Scottish Gender Recognition Act Reform Consultation it is clear that almost all of the anti-trans lobby is also anti-non-binary. I’d expect this from the religious right, but it is very disappointing to see the same conservatism from self-identified feminist groups. Which just goes to show that such groups are not really interested in protecting women. What they are interested in is forcing everyone to conform to the gender they were assigned at birth.

So when you fill in your GRA response, which I hope you will all be doing, please encourage the government to start along the path of non-binary recognition. They are reluctant to do this, because sex/gender is deeply ingrained throughout our legal code. But, as other countries have shown, we do not have to change every law at once. We can make a start, and every little helps.

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Clarkesworld News – Award and Bristol Appearance

I don’t have the time to keep up with my former colleagues at Clarkesworld as much as I would like these days, but I do keep an eye open for what they are doing. Today I’m delighted to report that the 2018 Small Press Award, given by the Washington Science Fiction Association, has gone to Suzanne Palmer’s “The Secret Life of Bots”. The story did win the Hugo for Novelette as well, but that news tended to get lost in the excitement around Nora Jemisin’s historic hat trick. This time around the glory is all Suzanne’s.

Also another former non-fiction editor of Clarkesworld, Jason Heller, will be appearing in Bristol in October. He’s going to be at Bristol Library on the evening of Monday, October 22nd, to promote his new book, Strange Stars. This is about the symbiosis between pop music and science fiction in the 1970s. It makes a perfect start to BristolCon week. Tickets are available here.

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GRA Reform and Single-Sex Services

Much of the debate around reform of the Gender Recognition Act centres on interpretation of the relevant legislation (both the GRA and the Equality Act). There have been many claims in the media that changing the way in which Gender Recognition Certificates are granted would give trans people “new rights”, and that these rights are in direct conflict with the rights of cisgender women.

In response trans activists and their allies have pointed out that most of the rights that trans people currently have derive from the Equality Act, not from the Gender Recognition Act. The Equality Act already grants trans people rights on the basis of self-identification because a person acquires the Protected Characteristic of Gender Reassignment from the moment that they propose to undergo that process.

That interpretation appears to be clear from reading the Equality Act, and it is further reinforced by guidance produced by the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The document, “Provision of goods, facilities and services to trans people – Guidance for public authorities: meeting your equality duties and human rights obligations” was written to help public authorities understand their obligations to trans people.

On page 27 in the section on the health Service the EHRC says:

It is also important to note that determining the best way to accommodate a trans person:

  • does not depend upon them having a Gender Recognition Certificate or legal name change
  • applies to toilet and bathing facilities (except, for instance, that preoperative trans people should not share open shower facilities), and
  • should not be influenced by the views of family members which may not accord to the trans person’s wishes.

This makes the following points clear:

  • Trans people are covered regardless of whether they have a GRC;
  • Trans people already have the right to access gender-appropriate toilets, etc.; and
  • That the EHRC is aware that trans people who have not had genital surgery might reasonably be excluded from communal facilities where they would be seen naked.

In other words, the idea of trans women going into communal women-only spaces and “waving their willies about” had already been considered when the EA was passed, and reasonable accommodations were made.

It is interesting to note that the EHRC was as concerned for the welfare of trans people as for it was for cis people. In the section on education (page 46) they note:

Trans people frequently face unnecessary problems regarding single-sex accommodation and single-sex facilities.

Research conducted by the Equality Challenge Unit suggests that some trans students may not feel comfortable in single-sex accommodation where there are communal showering facilities.

This reinforces the claim that many trans people would be uncomfortable having people see them naked if they have not had the surgeries that they want. The idea that trans people are shameless exhibitionists who will flaunt their bodies whenever possible has no basis in everyday life.

As far as I can see, there is only one area where there is a possibility of a major issue resulting from the proposed GRA changes, and that relies on a contested interpretation of the Equality Act.

Currently the EA allows trans people to be excluded from single-sex services under certain, highly constrained conditions. The example given in the Act is:

A group counselling session is provided for female victims of sexual assault. The organisers do not allow transsexual people to attend as they judge that the clients who attend the group session are unlikely to do so if a male-to-female transsexual person was also there. This would be lawful.

It is important to note that this does not allow for a blanket ban on trans women using rape crisis centres. Specific conditions have to be fulfilled, and each exemption has to be justified on a case-by-case basis.

Confusion arises, however, in the case of a trans woman with a Gender Recognition Certificate. The GRA states that someone in possession of such a Certificate should be treated as a person of their acquired gender for all purposes under the law. The key question is: can a trans woman with a GRC be lawfully excluded from a woman-only service under the provisions described above?

Over the past 8 years in which the EA has been in force, most professionals in the equality business have assumed that the answer is Yes. Certainly in my own training I always advise that this is the case. Indeed, this has been a bone of contention for trans activists who feel that it is unfair to exclude someone with a GRC in this way. In his evidence to the Transgender Equality Inquiry, James Morton of the Scottish Transgender Alliance said:

The exception, as currently drawn, effectively has no limit. You could be decades transitioned, you could be fully integrated and you could still be turned away at your moment of need from a refuge or from a rape crisis service.

However, anti-trans activists have recently begun to claim that a trans woman with a GRC cannot legally be excluded from a single-sex service. The consequences of this interpretation are quite significant. Currently just under 5,000 GRCs have been issued. Around half of those will be to trans women. But the government believes that this represents only a fraction of the number of people eligible to apply for one. Furthermore, the proposed GRA changes will allow trans people to apply for a GRC earlier in the transition process, so there will be an initial bump in the numbers. It is not unreasonable to assume that the GRA changes will increase the number of trans women with GRCs by a factor of 4 or 5.

The anti-trans lobby claims that this is a an entirely new group of people who will not be able to be legally excluded from a single-sex space. But are they right?

It is important to note that there is no definite legal answer to this. A court could rule either way, and as yet there is no legal precedent. However, as I have noted, up until now there has been a consensus agreement that trans women with GRCs can be excluded from women-only services, under the limited provisions of the EA. It would be good if the government’s reform of the GRA clarified this point so that we all knew where we stood. I believe that they will, and I am confident that they will make it clear that having a GRC does not make you exempt from the single-sex service exclusion provisions.

To understand why we have to look at what the government is trying to achieve with GRA reform. Part of their concern is the UK’s obligations under international human rights agreements. We are falling behind other countries, and this is not good. My colleague, Bea Gare, from WEP Exeter is far better placed to write about this than I am. I hope she will do so.

The other thing driving the government’s agenda is consistency of people’s identification documents. When the GRA was first proposed it was expected that transition would be a fairly swift process, and that legal gender recognition would come at the end of that process when the transition was deemed to be complete. It was expected that this would take a little over two years.

I underwent transition in the 1990s, and it took me 5 years. A friend who transitioned more recently tells me that she was 8 years in the process. The government knew that people in transition would need some documents changed immediately, but were not too worried about this because they expected legal gender change to follow within few years. This is not happening.

In the comprehensive study of LGBT life in Britain published earlier this year the government revealed that only 12% of the trans respondents had a GRC. The idea that thousands of people in the UK have a driving licence and passport in one gender, but are legally a different gender, makes heads explode in the Home Office. This is no way to run a national bureaucracy.

The reasons for the lack of uptake of GRCs are many and varied. 34% of respondents to the government survey said that the process was too expensive, while 38% said that it was too bureaucratic. (There may be some overlap between these groups as respondents were allowed to give more than one reason).

If getting a GRC was really important, maybe people would be more desperate to get one. But the value of a GRC has declined since they were introduced. Most of the rights that trans people have derive from the Equality Act. Pension ages are being equalised, so there is no advantage there from being legally female. And if you are a heterosexual trans person without a GRC and want to get married, you can always get a same-sex marriage, though many such people would find that humiliating.

There is no obvious way that the government can make having a GRC more valuable, so instead they want to remove some of the barriers to getting one. The expectation is that only people who would eventually have qualified for a GRC under the current system will get one under the new one. (And the requirement for a Statutory Declaration will be maintained to help ensure that.) The government certainly doesn’t expect to be giving people new rights, just making it easier for them to get ones they are already entitled too.

But in making this change the government has opened itself up to the idea of granting GRCs earlier in the transition process. It has done so because it doesn’t want any gap between changing social gender and legal gender. After all, who knows how long the process will take? This is a shift from the granting of a GRC being the end point of the process, to it being the start point of the process. Given the way that the government thinks, that makes it far more likely that they will be minded to confirm that trans women with GRCs can be excluded from women-only services under the existing provisions in the Equality Act. They will reason that if you haven’t completed the process then of course having a GRC doesn’t change that.

That brings us to another wrinkle in the government’s plans. 44% of those people who had not applied for a GRC said that they believed they would not qualify. Partly that is a result of the reputation that the Gender Recognition Panel has of insisting on conformance to gender stereotypes. But mainly it will be because those people are non-binary and have no legal gender that they can transition to. That is complicated enough to have to be the subject of a separate post. For now I am concentrating on binary-identified people.

As someone who has gone through full binary transition, passing all of the obstacles that the government has put in my way, I am slightly miffed to know that I still won’t be regarded as fully female under the law even though I have a GRC. However, I am not too worried about this. I work a lot with women-only services, advising them on trans inclusion. Most of them are very keen to be welcoming to trans women. In addition, the reasons why a service might want to exclude me in some way, or rather provide me with a different type of service to cis clients, would either be for my protection or for reasons that would apply whether I was trans or not. Services do risk assessment on all clients, and will exclude clients from group activities for all sorts of reasons. These services are run by wonderful, understanding people, and I am confident that if I needed their help they would try hard to provide it.

However, there is a small possibility that the government will decide that trans people with GRCs cannot be excluded from single-sex services. One thing that the government does not like is being seen to be taking away people’s rights. If the anti-trans lobby succeeds in changing the consensus on this issue, and it becomes commonly accepted that trans women with GRCs cannot be excluded from women-only services, then the government might be reluctant to change that. So if I was anti-trans I would be very careful what I was arguing for.

(Once again I am closing comments on this post as I don’t have the time to deal with a hate storm. If you have questions, I am not hard to find.)

Posted in Current Affairs, Gender | Comments Off on GRA Reform and Single-Sex Services

Special Issue of Mythlore: Mythopoeic Children’s Literature

An interesting call for papers has turned up on Academia.edu. Mythlore, the academic journal of the mythopoeic society, is having a special issue devoted to children’s fantasy. This is of rather more interest to the likes of Farah Mendlesohn and Cathy Butler than me, but I’m very happy to share it. They want draft papers (not abstracts) by March 30, 2019. Full details here.

Posted in Academic, Science Fiction | Comments Off on Special Issue of Mythlore: Mythopoeic Children’s Literature

OutStories Bristol AGM

It is almost that time of year again. Long time readers might remember that a regular feature of the OutStories Bristol AGM is a talk by an academic on a subject from LGBT+ History. This year we are delighted to welcome Amber Regis who is probably the UK’s leading expert on John Addington Symonds, who in turn is probably Bristol’s most famous queer inhabitant.

As usual, the meeting will be in the Wills Memorial Building at the University of Bristol, thanks to our friends at the Institute of Greece, Rome, and the Classical Tradition. The IGRCT, of course, owes a significant debt to Symonds who was a noted Classicist as well as a leading Renaissance scholar, and the reason we have the AGM in conjunction with them, in early October, is to celebrate Symonds’ birthday (Oct. 5th). We can’t always hit the exact date, and this year we are on October 13th. I trust Mr. Symonds will forgive us for being a week late, and we promise to be extra queer to make it up to him.

Oh, and for those of you not interested in all of the queer stuff, Symonds’ other claim to fame is that Edward Lear wrote “The Owl and the Pussycat” for one of his daughters.

Full event details are available via our website. For those of you who can’t make it, we will be recording Amber’s talk and postcasting it in due course.

Posted in History | Comments Off on OutStories Bristol AGM

October at PROUDbristol

PROUDbristol is a network for LGBT+ professional people in Bristol. There are, unsurprisingly, a lot of LGB folks among lawyers, accountants and so on. Trans people are somewhat more rare, but we do exist. Shon Faye, for example, is a qualified solicitor, though I beieve that she’s a full-time performer and activist now. Anyway, on October 11th these lovely people are extending an invitation to trans people to talk about their lives. I am one of the invited speakers. If you are interested, the event details are here. As the other speakers are (ahem) much younger than me, I will doubltess end up talking about the old days when you had to go to the Temple of Cybele for your operation.

Posted in Gender | Comments Off on October at PROUDbristol

Deadpool 2 Fashion Report


Unsurprisingly, Deadpool 2 is a steaming heap of dingo poo with far less self-awareness than the average Internet troll, at which market is it clearly aimed. It does have some good stuff. The DC joke was actually funny. Domino is awesome and clearly needs her own movie, though of course she is unlikely to get one. Also we have our first glimpse of Teenage Mutant Lesbians, neither of whom get killed off. Indeed, while the cis, white women in the film have life expectancies in nanoseconds, the other women escape unscathed. I’m assuming that the scriptwriters didn’t notice this. Otherwise the film is pretty much forgettable.

While I have little to say about the plot, I was intrigued by one small fashion choice. See above. Ellie (Negasonic Teenage Warhead, on the right) is wearing a green and black, metallic-look fluffy sweater. I recognised it instantly. Something very like that was in fashion back in the late 80s, and early 90s.

This being a Deadpool movie, it is pointless trying to fit it into X-Men chronology. We last saw our favorite mutants in the 1980s, but there are sufficient pop culture references in the film to date this one to at least the present day. Also Deadpool knows that Wolverine is dead, which doesn’t happen until around 2024. Besides, why would the film crew spend any time thinking about setting-appropriate fashion choices when they could be writing another dick joke?

I’m therefore forced to conclude that the sweater is there because Brianna Hildebrand owns it and thought it would suit Ellie’s style. But how? She wasn’t born when it was originally in fashion? Does she collect vintage clothing? Or has someone brought it back? If they have, please point me at it so that I can buy one.

Posted in Clothes, Comics, Movies | Comments Off on Deadpool 2 Fashion Report

Fringe Tomorrow

It is that time of the month again. BristolCon Fringe will happen at The Gryphon on Colston Street from 7:30pm. The readers for this month are Chris Halliday and JL Probert. I don’t know much about them as yet because the fabulous Cavan Scott has offered to help out with hosting the event. This is his first event so please to turn up to support him, and our readers.

A reminder also that there is no Fringe in October because of BristolCon, but there will be the usual open mic reading session on the Friday before the covention.

Posted in Readings, Science Fiction | Comments Off on Fringe Tomorrow

A Festival of Monsters

The University of Bristol’s autumn art lectures series will focus, this year, on monsters. It will cover Frankenstein, Gogmagog, dragons, and a lot more. The full programme is available here. I’m too busy to attend all of them, but I’m going to make sure I am available for Ronald Hutton’s lecture on dragons.

Posted in Art, Science Fiction | Comments Off on A Festival of Monsters

Trans Rights at the WEP Conference

I spent the weekend at the Women’s Equality Party conference. There was lots of good feminist discussion and I made lots of lovely new friends. We debated a lot of policy issues, most notably adopting a motion calling for a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal, and specifically asking for an option to remain in the EU. If I get time I will do a separate post about other policies, but the discussion I know that most people will be interested in is the one that took place around trans rights.

Before I start I would like to note that WEP is one of the best places in which to have such a discussion, because issues of gender are central to so much of what WE do. Also WE are the only party dedicated to Equality. On the other hand, WE are also one of the most difficult places to discuss trans rights, because so many of our members became feminist activists because of their experience of male violence. Those experiences cannot be ignored.

That said, here’s what went down as I understand it.

Prior to Conference, some well meaning cis members submitted a motion on the Gender Recognition Act. It was very simple, calling for an end to medicalisation, recognition for non-binary genders, and an end to the Spousal Veto.

Once the motions were published, Sophie Walker was deluged with emails complaining about the motion. While many were from the usual suspects, many were from ordinary members who were concerned about what WE were up to.

Sophie has been on a bit of a journey herself over the past year. That has included getting booed at an anti-trans meeting, and discovering the lovely people at TELI. So she could see that many of the concerns were based not in bigotry, but in confusion. She wanted to reach out to those members and try to bring some clarity to the discussion.

In the meantime, another member had proposed an amendment to the motion. To the untrained eye it looked fairly inocuous, but I could see that if we passed that amendment we would immediately lose the confidence of the trans community and its allies. Indeed, had the amendment been adopted as policy it would have been impossible for me to remain a member of the party.

So we had a situation where Sophie didn’t want a vote on the main motion, and I didn’t want a vote on the amendment. Both of us could see that a lot of members would probably end up voting without fully understanding the issues. Sophie came up with the idea that World Science Fiction Society members will recognise as a version of Committee of the Whole. Instead of debating the motion, we would simply have a discussion around the issue, with no vote. Unfortunately Sophie chose to call this a “Special Debate”, which lead some trans people to assume that she was calling for a debate on whether trans women are women. In fact she was doing just the opposite: saving us from voting on an amendment that would have been taken as decision on whether trans women are women.

Sophie and I chatted by phone before conference, and I offered to speak in support of having Special Debates in case anyone on the pro-trans side wanted to try to force a vote. Inevitably someone did, though she wasn’t part of the group that brought the original motion. Thankfully the Special Motion was passed, so when we got to discussing the GRA there would be no vote.

But I am getting ahead of myself. That didn’t happen until Sunday morning. On Saturday a lot went on. In particular the folks from TELI gave a great talk on the Gender Recognition Act consultation. Claire McCann was amazing: very clear and very authoritative. There was little opportunity for discussion, though it did throw up one very interesting point that deserves its own blog post.

Meanwhile the anti-trans lobby was busy having meetings and distributing leaflets. There appeared to be around 15 or 20 of them, which is relatively small in a conference with over 700 attendees. There were apparently several different leaflets — someone clearly put a lot of money into trying to influence WEP policy on trans people — so I didn’t see them all, but the one I was given was, in my opinion, very misleading. However, the anti- side did refrain from using the obnoxious penis stickers, and although some leaflets were apparently stuck in toilets there were no razor blades.

The leaflets did make the event feel very unwelcoming to trans people, but I think this was more of an issue for our supporters than myself and the other two trans women at the venue. We all agreed that we had seen far worse.

Thankfully we were able to forget our differences for the evening and enjoy the wonderful comedy night that Sandi Toksvig had put together for us.

On Sunday morning, then, we got to actual policy debate. In supporting Sophie’s call for a Special Debate I made the following points:

  • I wanted all trans members full involved in any discussion, not just those who could afford to go to conference;
  • I felt that the amendment was too coded for us to vote on safely;
  • I was concerned that most members had obtained too much of their knowledge of trans issues from dishonest newspaper articles; and
  • I wanted us to have a proper, feminist discussion of the issue, not an adversarial debate that could only have winners and losers.

When it came to the actual Special Debate it turned out that huge numbers of people wanted to speak. All sorts of views were expressed. Some, inevitably, were very anti-trans. Others were wonderfully supportive. Chris Paouros has posted her introductory speech on her Facebook feed, but that may not be public so I’m not linking to it at this point. Stella Duffy has posted the speech she wrote here. As she notes, she didn’t get to give all of it.

I’d also like to thank the following:

  • Toni for giving her personal perspective as someone in the process of applying for a GRC;
  • Tabitha for talking about her work ending violence again women and girls, and how this was not impacted by being trans inclusive; and
  • Madeline for pointing out that women in prison are in far more danger from male staff than from trans women.

There were other pro-trans speeches as well, but I can’t remember all of them, or the names of the people who made them. Bea from Exeter wanted to make a speech explaining that the UK has obligations under international human rights law that the GRA changes are, in part, required to address. But she was helping chair the session so was unable to speak.

The opposition were mostly respectful, sometimes confused, and on a couple of occasions flat out wrong. The only thing that really got me angry was when a speaker appeared to accuse a well-known athlete who was assigned female at birth, and identifies as female, of being a male cheat. Sadly I was so angry that I didn’t manage to raise a point of order in time.

Sophie’s speech was not what I was hoping for, but I understand where she is coming from. Too many members have attempted to engage with the issue on social media, said something unfortunate, and been dismissed as a transphobe. Sophie doesn’t like this happening, but there are reasons why it does.

These days my PoC friends on Twitter spend a lot of time complaining about about being expected to do the intellectual and emotional labour of explaining their oppression to white people. The same sort of fatigue affects trans people. We get very tired of people saying, “couldn’t you just be happy as a gay man?” We are fed up of explaining that our being trans is not the fault of our parents, and that no amount of more or less strict parenting would have made a difference. It is exhausting, and people tend to snap.

I’m in a somewhat different position. I’m a professional. I get paid for explaining trans people to a sometimes clueless audience. I give my labour to WEP for free because I believe in the party, but I have experience of dealing with this stuff. Other trans people may have less skill and/or resiliance.

This is probably the point at which I should talk about some of the confusion around the issue, and why it is so dangerous.

One of the points that people kept making is that there are biological differences between trans women your average cis woman. On the face of it, that is entirely true, and one speaker emphasised the importance of recognising those differences so that trans people can get the correct medical treatment. The problem is that as soon as you conceed that point it gets spun into being radically anti-trans. The existence of some biological differences is taken as proof that trans women are not, and never can be, women. The spin then goes on to claim that this means trans women should be excluded from all women’s spaces, that gender reassignment should be removed from the Equality Act, and that the Gender Recognition Act should be repealed.

That’s the situation for trans women. For trans men and non-binary people it is in many ways worse. Non-binary people get told biology proves that they cannot exist, while trans men are told that they must identify and present as women in order to access vital gynaecological treatments.

Most people citing “biological differences” in the debate had no intention of taking things so far, but because others use the “biological differences” argument as an excuse to completely deny trans rights, any trans person seeing that phrase is liable to jump to conclusions.

And this is why we should not have the discussion on social media, or in a short, adversarial debate.

So where do we go from here? WEP has promised that it will consult the membership, and that trans members will be fully involved in the process. I’m looking forward to that happening. I’m happy to give my time and expertise to help make it work.

But I think we need to address the PR issue as well. Trans people are still afraid of WEP. That’s partly because so much of the harrassment they suffer comes from people who identify as “feminists”, partly because of unfortunate public statements by party members, and partly because of stirring by members of other political parties. Anti-trans people are doubtless concerned about the party too, but that’s not something I can address as those people won’t be open to an approach from me. What I can do is address the trans side.

So if you are a trans person and a feminist, and have the time and energy to get involved, please reach out to WEP. We need more voices than just mine. You don’t have the join the party. Indeed, you can become a Supporter while still a member of another party. WE are different like that. If you are nervous about approaching people you don’t know, come to me, and I will find a supportive person that you can talk to first.

As for WEP branches, please reach out to your local trans community. Let us know that you care. Many branches already have trans members who can help. I have contacts around the country. And if there’s really no one local then someone like myself, Carol Steel (who is a member) or Christine Burns (who isn’t, yet) would be happy to come and talk to you.

I’m going to close comments on this because what went on on social media last night made it clear how many trans haters there are out there. Most of you know how to get in touch with me should you need to.

Posted in Feminism, Gender | Comments Off on Trans Rights at the WEP Conference