LGBT History Month – Part 3

On Saturday, Feb. 6th I will be speaking as part of a day of queer history talks curated by Leeds Art Gallery. I’ll be talking about Michael Dillon again (well he is one of the icons of this year’s LGBT History Month), and I will do my best to make this different to the talk at M Shed on the 10th.

There are lots of great talks on the day, and attendance is free. You can register to attend here.

Happy Solstice

With this year being decidedly weird, I have not being terribly efficient when it comes to holiday cards. I did get some off in time, but I totally failed to buy any from Dru Marland. The image above is what I would have sent out had I been more together. Sorry Dru, I will order some early in the new year.

One interesting side effect of the pandemic is that both Stonehenge and Newgrange have been live streaming the solstice. English Heritage have just provided camera images set to music. Sunset yesterday was pretty good, but sadly today was overcast and dull.

In contrast, Heritage Ireland has provided a hosted TV show which talks about how the Newgrange site works. Yesterday morning’s show got a pretty good performance from the sun. You can watch it here (you need to fast-forward to about 14 minutes).

In today’s show from Newgrange, Clare Tuffy notes that while there are still a few days left in the Julian calendar, as far as the solar calendar is concerned, 2020 is over and done. Welcome to the new solar year, everyone. Here’s hoping this one is less scary.

Coronavirus – Day #130

I forgot to post again yesterday, didn’t I. In my defence, I was rather enjoying myself. I finally got to see the Danny the Street episode of Doom Patrol. If that means nothing to you, well Google is your friend. Or you can wait for the new Salon Futura in which I shall explain all. In any case, it was fabulous, and that rather distraced me from anything else last evening.

Things are happening with Worldcon. Announcements soon.

Apparently Bozo went to Scotland today. The SNP were celebrating like it was all of their birthdays rolled into one.

Coronavirus – Day #103

Today I have mostly been working on stuff for next year’s LGBT History Month. You’ll learn more about that in due course. Also I had a 3:00pm Zoom meeting, which meant no siesta. I am very tired so I will keep this short.

Today the weekly rolling average of deaths in the UK ticked upwards again. Only slightly, but that’s two days on the trot.

A Quick Note on Facebook

As of the start of August, Farcebook has no longer ben accepting cross-posting from third party applications such as WordPress and Twitter. Consequently none of the posts I write here will turn up in my Farcebook feed. I am totally cool about this. The only reason that I am still on Farcebook is because so many organisations I work with use it as their primary form of communication. If you don’t like Twitter, there is always Tumblr, though I never log in there so I have no idea if there is any interaction. Being an old fogey, I still use RSS feeds to keep up with a lot of things.

Introducing History Acts

I’ll be back from Finland late on the 14th, but am staying over an extra day because on the 15th there’s a very interesting event happening in town.

History Acts is an organisation that aims to develop links between historians and activists. It is a joint project of Birkbeck and Queen Mary colleges. The next meeting will focus on trans history, and there is a stellar panel including Kit Heyam, Catherine Baker, Morgan M. Page and Clare Tebbutt. Kit and Catherine are good friends whth whom I have collaborated before, and Clare has done some great research on trans lives in the UK in the 1930s. I’m very much looking forward to this. Hopefully I will see some of you there.

I, Film Critic?

Next Saturday (March 3rd) the Watershed cinema in Bristol will be hosting a screening of the Oscar-nominated films, A Fantastic Woman, followed by a panel discussion. The film, which was made in Chile, is up for an award in the Best Foreign Film category. There was some hope that it’s star, Daniela Vega, would also get a nod. She didn’t make it, but the Academy was sufficiently impressed to make her the first openly trans person to get to present an Oscar.

After the screening, there will be a panel discussion about the film, and about the wider issue of trans visibility. It will feature Shon Faye, my Ujima colleague Yaz Brien, Jo Bligh, and me. I don’t expect to have too much to say about the film as I’m not as well versed in film criticism as some of the others, but I will have plenty to say about visibility, gaze and so on if that’s required. Hopefully I will see some of you there.

Hugos Redux

I haven’t had much time, and even less brain cells, to study the Hugo stats. Also I don’t have all of the photos that Paula took for me yet. There will be a proper fashion report in due course. However, in the meantime here are a couple of pictures.

First up, a much better picture of the trophy than the one I tweeted yesterday.

And secondly Emma and Pete singing a victory song in the style of the Little Chickens.

Hello LiveJournal Users

As many of you will know, LiveJournal recently moved their servers to Moscow. As a result there has apparently been a fresh exodus from the platform. I maintain a LiveJournal account solely because people have told me that’s the way they prefer to read my blog posts — what I post here is (normally) cross-posted to LiveJournal. However, if you are all moving to Dreamwidth then presumably I should set up an account there instead.

I’m agnostic about the whole thing. I’m sure that Russian, US and British intelligence services have me noted down as trans. There’s nothing I can do about that. And as far as I know no one had yet tried to block my site because of that. So I’m happy to do what works best for you folks. Let me know.

New Diversity Trust Newsletter

The latest newsletter from The Diversity Trust has been published. As usual there is a lot of good content.

I’m delighted to see us getting into the field of easy reading training. That’s essential to so many areas of social engagement.

Our new recruit, Aaron Barnes, talks about the difficulties of getting proper medical testing when you are very obviously a man but happen to have a vagina.

Berkeley talks about issues affecting older members of the LGBT community — something that has grown in part out of the event we did in October as part of the Bristol Festival of Literature.

There’s a section on the wonderful people at SARI whom we work with on hate crime issues. Some of the stories that they tell about things that happen to trans people in Bristol are just terrifying. Much too terrifying to be put in the newsletter.

Also there’s news of a project being run by Bristol University looking at justice and gender-based violence. There’s more information about that here.

You can read the whole newsletter here.

Eurocon Live

In a week’s time I will be in Barcelona and will be in the middle of my one panel (on same-sex utopias). You might not be able to be there, but the whole convention is being streamed live, and will be available for viewing after the con. How cool is that? Get your Eurocon here.

Tomorrow – Stories of Strong Women

My next Bristol Festival of Literature appearance is tomorrow at Arnos Vale Cemetery. I’m joining a panel chaired by Becky Walsh titled “Stories of Strong Women”. Also on the panel are historian and historical fiction writer, Lucienne Boyce; artist Deenagh Miller; and Jean Burnett who read at the Egyptian Tales event on Saturday and is also responsible for Who Needs Mr. Darcy and The Bad Miss Bennett Abroad.

I am likely to be talking about Fight Like A Girl, Juliet McKenna and other fabulous people and books.

Kingston University Does Gender – Thursday Night

Kingston Uni ad
I have been planning to spend this coming weekend in London for some time, because Trans*Code is happening. Then last week I got an invitation to be part of a panel on gender organised by Kingston University Students’ Union. As it is scheduled for Thursday night, and I have some fabulous friends in London, I am able to do it.

So if you want to come and hear me talk about gender (and more importantly hear Sabah who is amazing, and Soof whom I don’t know but I am sure will be amazing too), then Kingston University is the place to be. Thursday night, 7:30pm in the Clattern Theatre. The FB event page is here. See some of you there.

Science, Smarter Than TERFs

One of the interesting things about supposedly progressive newspapers like The Guardian and The New Statesman is that, while their politics pages are often resolutely transphobic, and quote “science” as proof that trans women are “really” men, their science pages are generally supportive of trans folks.

Why might that be? Well, possibly it is because the understanding of science possessed by the White Feminist clique that does all of the political stuff is seriously lacking.

In view of which, here, from last weekend, is a little history of the concept of “sex chromosomes”. I was pleased to discover that the fact that the whole X/Y thing is simplistic nonsense was known right from the start. What’s more, the idea that X and Y chromosomes are vital to determining sex gained currency because it was championed by a man, whereas the more nuanced view was championed by a woman scientist. Which makes it even more ironic to see anyone who disputes that a Y chromosome is the ultimate arbiter of masculinity called a Dupe of the Patriarchy.

It also makes perfect sense that the sex chromosome idea was favored by eugenicists, because like the TERFs they have an obsession with biological determinism.

All of this comes from a book called Sex Itself: The Search For Male And Female In The Human Genome, by Sarah Richardson, which clearly I need to read. I was particularly amused by this observation from the New Statesman article:

Richardson points to several different groups as responsible for digging genetics out of its chromosome-determining rut: criminal psychologists, clinical physicians and, above all, feminists, whose interrogations of gender and sexuality (often from outside the scientific academy) created an important body of empirical evidence.

Feminists, responsible for persuading scientists to have a less essentialist view of gender? Oh dear. Anyone would think that TERFs aren’t very good feminists.

Shakespeare Vs Cthulhu

I don’t have to say any more than that, do I?

OK, it’s an anthology, and it is being crowdfunded on Kickstarter. Sadly it doesn’t seem like there will be an open submissions period. And oddly every single one of the authors lined up to contribute is male. Thirteen of them. I wonder what the probability of that happening by chance is?

Anyway, I’m familiar with the work of quite a few of them, so it should be a pretty good book. You know what you need to do to make it happen.

The National Diversity Award Trophy

National Diversity Award trophy won by Ujima Radio
The trophy for the National Diversity Award won by Ujima Radio has now made it back to Bristol. While I was in the studios yesterday I took the opportunity to get a photo with it (thanks Melody!).

Of course I only played a very small part in winning the award. There are many other areas in which Ujima has championed diversity, but I have been assured that I was mentioned on our submission to the jury and I’m very pleased that Ujima saw fit to promote its being trans inclusive.

Getting More Women In Translation

Yesterday’s post about the numbers of women writers being translated was a bit depressing, but we can make progress on this. I was reminded (thanks Sue and Christina) that there are exciting projects underway in Spain, including this one: Spanish Women of Wonder. It is an anthology of science fiction stories by Spanish-speaking women that is already published to great acclaim in Spanish and is hoping to get an English language version. The authors in the book include Angélica Gorodischer, and there will be an introduction by Ann VanderMeer. So, why not get on over to Kickstarter and get involved.

2015 Tolkien Memorial Lecture from @leverus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now I understand The Magicians so much better.

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

Actually, no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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