Today on Ujima: #LGBTHM, Feminist AI and Time to Talk Day

I was live on Ujima again today. It was a bit of a scramble getting the show together and huge thanks to those guests who came on board yesterday. Also huge thanks to my old pal Valentin who used to run the desk for Paulette back in the day when I was a trainee presenter. As Ben was on holiday this week, Valentin stepped in to help out. Ben messaged me to say he was listening to the show online, which is incredible devotion to duty, and probably means that we had a listener in Kenya this week.

The first hour of the show was devoted to LGBT History Month events in Bristol. First up I was joined by Claire from Aerospace Bristol. They, in conjunction with The Diversity Trust, OutStories Bristol, and South Gloucestershire Council are putting on an event specifically aimed at engineers, and the aerospace industry in particular. The headline speaker is the wonderful Caroline Paige, and I’m particularly looking forward to the panel with the young people from Alphabets who will be discussing what they want from employers in the future. That event is on Saturday. I will be there with both my DT and OSB hats on. Full details are available here.

Next I welcomed back Karen from M Shed, along with Zoltán from Freedom Youth. I’m not curating the M Shed event this year. We’ve turned the whole thing over to the young people, and they have done an amazing job of putting together a programme. You can find details of their event here. It is on Saturday 22nd, and sadly I will be in Salzburg that weekend, but I hope some of you will go along and let me know how it turned out.

We also mentioned two other great events coming up in Bristol this month. The leading civil rights lawyer, Johnathan Cooper, will be at Bristol University Law School on the evening of the 19th to talk about, “Policing Desire: LGBT+ Persecution in the UK, 1970 to 2000”. Tickets are available (for free) here. Also there is the Black Queerness event that we covered in last month’s show. That’s on at the RWA. It is officially sold out, but there’s a wait list that you can get onto here.

The second half of the show began with my being joined by Coral Manton from Bath Spa University. Coral describes herself as a “creative technologist”, which basically means that she gets to do fun things with computers all day and gets paid for it. One of her projects is Women Reclaiming AI, which looks to do something about the sexist bias in electronic personal assistants.

We all know that most of these things (Alexa, Siri, etc.) come with female-coded voices, and that’s because the companies who make them decided (probably after some market research) that customers wanted a subordinate and submissive identity for their personal assistant. (Interestingly SatNavs work the other way: male drivers won’t take instructions from a female-coded voice.) Because these software constructs are maninly created by men, the personalities that they have are not based on real women, but on what men want their female assistants to be like.

This leads us down all sorts of feminist rabbit holes. Most notably, before Coral and her colleagues could create a “real” female personality for an AI, they had to decide what it meant to be a “real” woman. Part of the process has been running workshops in which groups of women get to have input into the process of creating the AI personality.

It turns out that one of the things that they asked for was that the AI would have the right to decline to help every so often. Real women can’t drop everything and help their families whenever they are asked to do so, so artificial women shouldn’t either. That sounded good to me, though I did have visions of Hal 9000 saying, “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that”; and possibly of Portia from Madeline Ashby’s vN saying, “NO, you will obey ME!”

I could have happily have talked to Coral about this stuff for the whole two hours. Hopefully you find the discussion as interesting as I did.

My final guests were Ali & Loo from some local mental health charities, and Shani, a poet who works with them. Tomorrow is Time to Talk Day, on which people are encouraged to talk about their mental health issues. There’s a whole lot going on in Bristol tomorrow, and you can find links to it all here. I particularly love Loo’s event making pom poms to support the Sunflower Suicide Prevention Project.

The other event that I had to mention is the one coming up at Foyles in Cabot Circus on the evening of the 25th. That will be Emma Newman, Emma Geen, Liz Williams and myself in conversation with Kate Macdonald on the subject of women in science fiction. I understand that it is sold out, but there is probably a wait list. Details here.

You can listen to today’s show via the Ujima Listen Again service here.

The playlist for today’s show was:

  • Faint of Heart – Tegan & Sara
  • So Strong – Labi Siffre
  • Two Old Maids – The Vinyl Closet
  • Cream – Prince
  • Come Alive – Janelle Monáe
  • Are Friends Electric – Tubeway Army
  • Dock of the Bay – Otis Reading
  • I Need Somebody to Love Tonight – Sylvester

And in case any of you haven’t seen it, here is the wonderful video for the Tegan & Sara song. Watch carefully and you will spot Jen Richards and Angelica Ross in there as well.

Talking of Angelica, I see that there are rumours that she’ll feature in the Loki TV series. There have also been hints that Sera, one of Marvel’s current openly trans characters, will be in Thor: Love & Thunder. It is tempting to tie the two together, but what I really want to see happen is for Angelica to play Loki alongside Tom Hiddleston, because it won’t be proper Loki without some gender-flipping and it would be awful if they put Tom in drag for that.

Today on Ujima – Mexican Food, Poetry, Fiction & Renewables

Today I was in the studio at Ujima with lots of studio guests.

First up I welcomed Graham from My Burrito, a fabulous Mexican eatery in Bristol. We had a great chat about the glories of Mexican food. I was hungry by the end of it, as were Ben, my engineer, and Keziah, the studio manager. You probably will be too.

Next in the hot seat was Tom Denbigh, Bristol’s first LGBT+ Poet Laureate. I met Tom at an event that was part of Bristol Pride and loved the poem he read so I knew I had to get him on the radio. Sadly Ofcom rules about swearing on air rather limited what he could read. It’s about time the regulations caught up with everyday speech.

Guest three was Heather Child, who was no problem to interview as I had already done it last week at her book launch. We talked again about The Undoing of Arlo Knott and the various places where you can find out more about the book.

Finally I was joined by Jon Turney from Zero West to talk about local renewable energy projects.

Much of the music I played was inspired by my time doing the live coverage of Bristol Pride. The full playlist was:

  • Boney M – By the Rivers of Babylon
  • Pointer Sisters – Fire
  • Shea Freedom – Woman’s World
  • Nina – Calm Before the Storm
  • Jackson 5 – I Want You Back
  • Eddy Grant – Baby Come Back
  • Chi-Lites – Give More Power to the People
  • Boney M – Brown Girl in the Ring

You can listen to the whole show for the next few weeks via the Ujima Listen Again service.

Women’s Outlook Pride Special

Today I did a Pride Special on Women’s Outlook. We began with Roz Kaveney who did a great reading at Hydra Books last night. On the show I asked Roz a few questions about Tiny Pieces of Skull, got her to read some poetry, and asked her a few things about the Rhapsody of Blood series.

Next on the show was Sister Ann Tici Pation of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The Sisters are looking to set up a chapter in Bristol which will be a very fine and wonderful thing. I’m looking forward to seeing them, especially my good friend Brother Bimbo, at Pride on Saturday. If you are in Bristol and fancy getting involved, do pop along to the Volunteer Tavern on Friday from 1:00pm. They will apparently be there all evening, though I suspect that a certain amount of beer may have been consumed by late in the day.

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

The second hour begins with my talking to Daryn Carter, the Director of Bristol Pride. There is one heck of a lot going on in Bristol this week. Sadly the FGW train strike makes it very difficult for me to do anything before Saturday. I just got out in time today. Not that I’m going to complain, because the RMT guys are striking to defend the existence of food and drink services on London trains. Apparently the management want to make them driver-only.

Anyway, there’s theatre tonight, comedy tomorrow, a big party thing possibly involving fishnet-wearing transylvanians on Friday night, a massive all-day party in the park on Saturday, and some trans-themed film programming at Watershed on Sunday. Phew!

Finally I was joined by Jeff Evans of Schools Out who is in charge of the National Festival of LGBT History. We talked a bit about Jeff’s own academic interests, and then looked at some of the exciting things that will be happening in Bristol next February.

Hour two had a couple of little technical glitches. One was because I listed the songs in the wrong sequence on the running order, so my apologies to Eric and Isaac for that. The other was because the studio wifi went down briefly, causing us to have no access to the ads when we needed to play them. Thankfully it came back up in time for us to play the missing ads in the next segment.

You can listen to the second hour here.

The playlist for the day was a combination of LGBT-themed music and artists who will be appearing on the main stage at Pride.

  • Diana Ross – I’m Coming Out
  • Sylvester – You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)
  • M People – Moving on Up
  • Ladytron – Sugar
  • Little Richard – Good Golly Miss Molly
  • Vinyl Closet – Garbage Man
  • Tracy Chapman – Baby Can I Hold You?
  • Noah Stewart – I Have A Dream

By the way, Roz tells me that the woman on whom Natasha in Tiny Pieces of Skull was based knew Sylvester very well. Small world.

50 Voices for Malcolm X : Movement for Change

Giving it the full title here, 50 Voices for Malcolm X : Movement for Change was a civil rights event staged over three nights in the Studio at Bristol Old Vic. The show was staged by Ujima Radio to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Malcolm X. We note with pride that Bristol is the only city in Europe to be home to a community center named after the legendary civil rights leader.

The structure of the show was 5-minute performances by a variety of artists, each with a different take on civil rights issues. The performances included spoken word, music, dance and film.

I was unable to be there for the Thursday and Friday shows as I was in Brighton, but the idea was to have different people on different nights. Some of the audience came to all three events.

The Saturday show was topped and tailed by Ujima director, Roger Griffith, reading from the speeches of Malcolm X. In between we had a range of performers, several of whom we have had the pleasure of interviewing on Women’s Outlook.

The first session included material from Shawn Sobers from the Haile Selassie House in Bath. Shawn spoke eloquently about the issue of names. Many Caribbean and African-American people bear last names derived from the slaver families who owned their ancestors, which is clearly problematic for them. I was pleased to hear Shawn talk about how the name “Sobers” is no longer associated with slavery, but rather with the finest player ever to grace a cricket pitch.

Also up in the first session was Joseph Langdon reading a powerful piece written by the brilliant Jamaican/British playwright, Alfred Fagon. Those of you who follow Women’s Outlook may remember my talking to James Peries of the Old Vic about Fagon back in 2013. James was the director for the 50 Voices show and he did a fabulous job of putting me at ease and giving me advice on my performance.

Next up was Michael Jenkins from 8th Sense Media. He’s making a film called Black Soldier, White Army, about Patrick Cyrus, a black British soldier who served in Northern Ireland. From the clips we saw it looks like being a very powerful film.

I was up about half way through the first session, and it seemed to go quite well. I managed to remember almost all of the poem, just needing a couple of surreptitious glances at my notes along the way. The acoustics in the Studio are amazing. Those of you who have seen me on panels know that I don’t have a very loud voice and generally need a microphone even in small rooms. I was able to perform in the Studio without a mic. I’m sure that helped a lot. Anyway, people were very nice about my performance afterwards, so I guess I did OK. Can I call myself a performance poet now?

I was followed by Paulette, Frances & Christine from Women’s Outlook, and a few other people, talking about various campaigns centered around refugees rights.

Next up were two amazing performers: Glen Cook, known as The Singing Chef, and poet Miles Chambers. I guess Glenn could be described as signing Gospel, but really it was far more innovative than you would imagine from that description. I was really impressed with how well Miles had worked various key quotes from Malcolm X’s speeches into his poetry, and with the power of his delivery.

The second session featured performance poet Shagufta Iqbal with a great poem about being a Mother of Color. She was followed by photographer Benny Benn with a lovely montage of images (including pictures of Janelle Monae, and of T’Challa & Ororo). Then there was John Dior from a community youth group.

We also had Jay Kallias who is a Krump dancer. I had never seen Krump performed live before, and was seriously impressed. It is very different, and perhaps not that graceful, but very powerful.

My friend Adam Murray, who was part of the Afrofuturism project at Watershed, talked a bit about the current film series he has been involved in there. It is called Come the Revolution and features a number of fine films about black history.

A couple of ladies from the RISE community action group came and talked about their work. Once they were done, one of them, Nia Bimkubwa, treated us to a fine performance of “Love Will Save the Day”. This was essentially karaoke, in that she was signing with a backing track, but it was way better than what you’ll hear in clubs.

Also on the music side, we had Kizzy Morrell, whose show you may remember I was a guest on last year. Kizzy is also a professional signer, and she treated us to a wonderful rendition of “Georgia on My Mind”, again just accompanied by a music track.

My thanks are due to Roger for making the whole thing happen; the James, Sharon and the crew from Bristol Old Vic; to Julz for compering the evening with style; to DJ Style for the music; to the young lady who announced the performances (her name’s not on the program, Roger!) and of course to all of my fellow performers. It was a wonderful evening and I’m delighted to have been part of it.

A couple of people asked whether my poem was available online anywhere. I’ve sent Roger a few suggestions about doing a book. I also know that the whole thing was filmed. When I know a bit more about what is going to happen I’ll let you know.

Trans Studies Now – The Conference

The purpose of my trip to Brighton was to attend an academic conference at the University of Sussex. The title of the conference was Trans Studies Now, and the objective, fairly obviously, was to present the very latest in trans studies across a range of disciplines.

Roz Kaveney was one of the keynote speakers, and she opened up the conference with a talk about her work. That included a reading from Tiny Pieces of Skull, some of her own poetry, including her Inanna poem, and a poem by Catullus that she has translated.

The Catullus poem is about Attis, the consort of the Goddess Cybele who, myth has it, castrated himself for the love of the Goddess. This is usually presented to modern readers as being the result of a fit of madness — being unable to possess the Goddess, Attis choses to castrate himself rather than have any other woman, or he’s driven mad by her beauty, anything but the actual reason. Catullus, Roz notes, make it very clear that Attis wanted to become a woman. He is, of course, the archetype of the Galli — the castrati priestesses of Cybele whom I mentioned in my trans history talk. I’ll be having a lot more to say about them in future.

For now let’s just note that Catullus also involves lions in the story. Lions are, of course, sacred to Ishtar/Inanna, and Cybele’s cult originated in Syria, which is not that far from Mesopotamia.

My paper was due up on the first session after Roz’s talk. I was paired with a Californian trans-male poet, Jonathan Bay, who is now based in Edinburgh, and with my new friend Emma Hutson with whom Roz and I had had dinner the night before.

Jonathan’s poetry centered on trans issues. I particularly enjoyed the one about his nervousness about going through US immigration (even as a citizen, as a trans person it is scary), and the one about his transphobic uncle who moved to Montana rather than live close to Jonathan.

Emma gave a really good paper about the “standard narrative” of being trans, and how one size definitely does not fit all. She clearly has a very good understanding of complicated historical narratives such the rise of transgenderism and the split in the trans community it engendered. For a first time giving a paper at a conference it was very impressive. (Believe me, I have heard a lot of bad papers, especially at ICFA.)

The audience listened quietly to my paper and seemed to have enjoyed it. Only Roz was sufficiently well-versed in SF to ask in-depth questions, and she’s heard most of the content before, so I didn’t really have much to deal with. In the absence of questions, I offered to give them an example of trans-themed SF. A few of you will know what I mean when I say I read “Goldilocks” for them, and that appeared to go down well too. My paper is available from

After lunch we had the second keynote speech, which was by Katherine Johnson. She’s been in trans studies for a long time, and gave a fine overview of the history of the field, and where it is now.

The afternoon paper session that I attended featured three presenters from outside of the UK. Olivia Fiorilli is from Portugal, and gave a very nice summary of the state of trans pathology in a variety of European countries. Olivia correctly identified a growing trend towards depatholgisation of the condition, and democratisation of treatment. As I said to her afterwards, it is rather ironic that the roadblocks that gender specialists deliberately put into the pathway with the intention of weeding out “unsuitable” candidates for transition have ended up encouraging people to find ways around the standard treatment pathway, which in turn has caused the gender specialists to adjust their protocols in an attempt to retain control of the process.

Next up was Olga Lidia Saavedra Montes de Oca who is from Cuba. This was a really fascinating paper. Under the old Communist regime gender roles were strictly enforced. Adopting proper gendered performance was seen as being evidence of being a good Revolutionary. Of course trans people existed in Cuba, just as they do in every other country. Typically they would leave home so as not to cause embarrassment to their families. Now that there has been philosophical change in the government, many of these trans people are being welcomed back home, because for Cubans family ties are apparently paramount.

Finally we had Sabah Choudrey, who is one of the founders of Trans Pride and also a Muslim. He gave an excellent presentation about how trans people of color are excluded from trans narratives and trans activism. In the UK that generally means actual exclusion. In the US, where there are greater numbers of TPoC, it generally means separatism — there are white trans activists who are the ones who have a chance of getting the ear of the government and access to what little funding is available; and there are TPoC activists who have to do everything for themselves but seem to get a lot more done.

The final session was a film about trans life in Turkey, but by that time I had been off email for over 24 hours so I took time out to check email. I gather that the film was quite distressing.

Overall it was a very interesting day. I met lots of good people, and I hope that Sally Munt and her team as Sussex do this again.

Having A Word

I arrived in Brighton on Thursday afternoon. It was the first warm day I have experienced thus far this year (that is, the first day with sunshine and temperatures over 20C — the English call this a “heat wave”), and I had a very heavy rucksack so I was a bit sweaty after walking from the station to my hotel in Kemptown. I had just enough time to have a shower and change before having to go out for a dinner with Roz Kaveney and one of my fellow presenters from the Trans Studies Now conference, Emma Hutson. Roz was presenting as well, of course, but she was a Keynote Speaker, not a mere academic.

Kudos to Emma for finding a place to eat called The Troll’s Pantry. Actually it was just food being served in a pub called The Hobgoblin, but it was a cool name. I was somewhat disappointed that they didn’t serve spit-roasted dwarf, but I did get to eat a Minotaur. It is essentially an up-market burger joint, so the aforementioned bull-man was actually a beefburger-Cretan fusion thing. The important point is that the people running the place are serious foodies who are very particular about ingredients and it showed.

On the downside, there was no table service and getting served at the bar took a while. Also, it being a pub, there was a lot of background noise which made it hard for me to hear anything. I have old lady ears, and while I am by no means deaf I can’t hear nearly as well as I used to be able to. Yet another reason for avoiding pubs.

Having eaten, the three of us trotted down to the Jubilee Library for a Trans Special evening of Have A Word — Brighton’s LGBT spoken word event. This is run by Ellis Collins. Normally the event is held at his shop, but thanks to a contact at the Library he has been able to schedule two Pride-related events, of which this was the first.

The line-up for the evening was Alice Denny, Maeve Devine and Fox Fisher. I knew that Alice and Fox would be awesome, but I’d not heard Maeve read before. She was absolutely hilarious. Roz and I were in stitches.

Roz was, of course, added to the bill, and treated us to a few of her fine poems, including the one that she wrote to annoy people at the New Statesman when Neil and Amanda were guest-editing it.

And then there was me. Given the choice I would not have had my first ever public poetry reading be in front of Roz and Alice, both of whose work is so much better than mine. However, I did want to try out the 50 Voices piece in front of a friendly audience. While I hadn’t managed to memorise it, I did get through it OK, and people were very kind afterwards.

After the event we headed off to the Marlborough, where a lovely person with a mountain of electric blue hair was running a pub quiz. As I had been up since 6:00am I retired early after just one drink.

The hotel was had chosen is Legends, which is on Marine Parade just up the hill into Kemptown from the Sealife Centre. It is the place with the rainbow flags out front. The staff there were lovely. I couldn’t manage to get my email, either on the hotel wifi or tethered, which is potentially an issue. On the other hand, the croissants and pain-au-chocolat fresh out of the oven at breakfast were so good I’m going back there for Trans Pride.

Tomorrow, In Brighton

Have A Word

Tomorrow I am off to Brighton, primarily to talk about science fiction at an academic conference. However, I have discovered that there is a spoken word event on at the Jubilee Library tomorrow evening. As you can see, there’s a stellar line-up. And now there will be me too, and hopefully Roz Kaveney as she’ll be in town as well. It will be transtastic. Do come along if you are in town.

Launching Bloodie Bones

Yesterday evening I was in Foyles for the launch of the latest book by my historical novelist friend, Lucienne Boyce. This time she’s gone for a bit of genre-blending, because the book is a mystery, and has a tinge of fantasy to it as well.

Bloodie Bones is billed as a Dan Foster Mystery, Mr. Foster being a former pick-pocket who now works for the Bow Street Runners (an early London police force) and is an amateur pugilist (bare-knuckle boxer). The story is set in Somerset and is based around the events of the Enclosures, a time when the nobility were changing their lands from being open fields and woods to fenced private property. The net result of this was to force large number of agricultural workers off the land and into cities were they could be employed very cheaply by the new factories.

The title, of course, refers to the mythological figure, Raw Head and Bloody Bones, who featured in Jack Wolf’s novel.

The evening opened with Lucienne’s husband providing a powerful reading of “The Mores” by the working class poet, John Clare, who did fine work documenting this part of English history. There were also readings and questions, which inevitably resulted in yours truly putting her hand up because no one else wanted to be first.

The event was recorded by a lady called Suzie Grogan who works with a Somerset-based community radio station, 10 Radio. I’m not sure when the material will be aired, but I’ll be keeping in touch with Suzie to find out. They don’t appear to have a full Listen Again service like Ujima, but they do podcast some of the material. Suzie’s main interest as a broadcaster is books, so one or two of you reading this may hear from her soon.