Convention Planning

I hadn’t been planning to attend Eastercon this year. However, with The Green Man’s Foe being up for a BSFA Award it seemed entirely appropriate that I should be there with copies to sell. You’ll therefore be able to find me in the Dealers’ Room. And if all goes well there will be something rather special Juliet-related available.

I warn you in advance that I will not be very awake. I will be fresh off a plane from Western Canada and in the middle of jet lag recovery. I may hide in my room quite a bit.

So that’s one extra convention on the calendar for this year. I also have one fewer. For complicated reasons I will be unable to attend Worldcon in Wellington. I am very disappointed about this as I have been looking forward to this particular Worldcon for 10 years, but my life gets complicated by things outside of my control. I would like to stress that this is not the fault of the ConZealand committee, who have been incrediably helpful, nor are the particular conditions affecting me likely to prevent anyone else from attending. Have fun in NZ, folks. I will miss you all.

Reflections on Belfast

I have been to Belfast three times this year, most recently for TitanCon. Each time I have been I have seen more evidence of increasing sectarian activity.

The hotels that Kevin and I stayed in were right in the city center close to the Europa. They were also just a short walk away from a notoriously Protestant area which was festooned with flags. The Union Jacks and Ulster flags are expected. The flags of the British Parachute Regiment are a particular political protest related to a criminal trial of a soldier. The Donald Trump MAGA flag was a reminder that nothing in this world happens in isolation any more.

Back in the days of the Troubles, the American-Irish community was known to have raised funds for the IRA. Now it seems like we have Americans providing funds for the other side of the dispute as well.

Belfast is a lovely city that has blossomed since the Good Friday Agreement. It would be a tragedy to see it collapse into sectarian warfare again. Unfortuantely that seems to be what some people, including some people in the current UK Cabinet, are hell-bent on making happen.

The Race for 2023

There has been some discussion on Twitter today about potential future Worldcon sites. Washington DC has been awarded the 2021 convention. It is probably too late to do anything about 2022, for which Chicago is unopposed. That leaves us with 2023 as the next possible non-US Worldcon.

Prior to Dublin the extant bids for 2023 were Nice (France), Chengdu (China) and New Orleans (USA). The New Orleans bid has, I understand it, collapsed. However, some US fans were busily organising a bid for another city. Apparently they viewed this as essential to prevent yet another non-US Worldcon. I think they have settled on Memphis but it was a bit confused.

The Chengdu bid is controversial for two reasons, one of which is that it is very hard to get into China. Elizabeth Bear told me that she has been denied a visa because she is a writer. That could happen to a lot of us. My own view is that a Chinese Worldcon won’t happen without government approval, and if that approval exists then it should be possible to set up a system whereby visa applications can be expedited. This is China, after all. If bureaucrats are told to do something they will do it. It is only when they have no instructions that they are dangerous. I know this is rough on my Chinese friends, who very much want to extend the hospitality of their country to the world, but they need to show that they can get people to the convention.

The other issue is personal safety. Clearly a lot of Americans are terrified of going to China. I know a lot of people who have been. That includes my boss, Berkeley. His husband, Duncan, has been working in China for several months, and Berkeley has spent a lot of time out there. Given that he’s never had any job other than Gay Activist, and this should be obvious from his social media activity, I don’t think that China is that dangerous for LGBT+ folks.

It is, however, potentially dangerous to Muslims given what is happening to the Uighurs at the moment. It is also extremely dangerous for anyone who has friends or family involved in the current protests in Hong Kong. That is a very good reason for not voting for China. Things may be different in two years time, but political change in China does not happen easily, and I can’t see their government backing off while neither the USA nor the UK has any interest in asking them to, and the EU desperately needs allies against the Trump-Russia axis.

That leaves us with Nice. It is a lovely city, just down the road from Monaco, and easily accessible by train from much of Europe. It may even be accessible by train from the UK if the Channel Tunnel hasn’t been blocked up Brexit fanatics by then. It also has excellent air links. It is not far from Spain (well, Catalonia) and very close to Italy, which makes it a good site for a European event.

The downside is that the Nice bid committee are largely new to Worldcon. As far as I can see they don’t have much involvement from the folks who run Imaginales and Utopiales either. They don’t have fans from other European countries helping them out. And I don’t know of any tradition of con-running in Nice. Organisationally, they seem to be a weaker bid than Chengdu.

We have two years to turn that around. I know a bunch of French fans, and I plan to talk to any I find at Eurocon this weekend. Being of generous spirit, I also hereby volunteer to take a short holiday on the French Riviera so that I can inspect the site. I may be nagging the Nordic, Croatian and Italian fans to help out too.

Finally I note that in these times of increasingly difficulty of international travel, and of burgeoning climate crisis, it is absolutely essential that we look at ways of making more of Worldcon accessible over the Internet so that people can participate without having to travel. The New Zealand convention is an excellent point at which to start. But that’s a big enough subject for a whole new post and I need to talk to Norm and Kelly first.

Tourism in Dublin

Some of you are in Ireland already, and many more are on the way. Obviously there is Worldcon to look forward to, and a fair amount of Irish history (particularly if you count yourself as part of the diaspora), but many of you will be interested in that thing that Ireland is justifiably famous for: alcohol.

I don’t know what the convention centre bars are like, but if they are rubbish I suspect that a lot of us will end up in the Porterhouse on Temple Bar. It happens to be just a short walk from my apartment, and as I recall it is the traditional Dead Dog location for Octocon. Anyway, they will have a good selection of microbrews.

Then there is the matter of whiskey. Are there distilleries? Yes, there are. Can you visit them? Of course. Here’s a quick guide.

First up, don’t bother with Jamesons. I understand that they don’t actualy make whiskey in Dublin any more, and in any case what’s the point in looking for whiskey that you can buy at home. Also Bushmills is in Ulster. Wait until you get to Belfast before asking for that. Thankfully Dublin has seen an explosion of craft distilleries in recent years.

The Tourist Information lady I talked to in Dublin back in February recommended Pearse Lyons and Teeling. My local whiskey shop in Bath added Liberties and Dingle. And there’s also Roe & Co, which I know nothing about. All of these places are right in the centre of Dublin in and around the Liberties district, so south of the river and west of the castle.

If visiting all of those places seems like a bit much, you should be able to get an overview of the field at the Irish Whiskey Museum. You can sample what’s available at the Dingle Whiskey Bar (at least I hope you can, they do have a connection to the Dingle distillery so they may be a teeny bit biased). And you can buy bottles to take home from the Celtic Whiskey Shop.

Most of these distilleries are quite young. I think they all have product available now, but it won’t have had much ageing.

That should keep you all busy during your trip. However, there’s one more place that I’d like to visit if I have the time. That is the Irish Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum. I don’t suppose it is entirely devoted to Horslips, and Thin Lizzy do deserve a place. I gather that there’s another Irish rock band that is quite famous too. Anyway, it seems like fun.

An Ireland Adventure

This year’s invitations to do talks for LGBT History Month included one from Queen’s University, Belfast. I’d never been to Belfast before, and had a friend who teaches at the University who was able to put me up for the night (thanks Danielle!) so I said yes. It turned out that the cheapest way to get there was to fly to Dublin and head north from there, hence this little travel adventure.

Thursday started badly with heavy fog over Darkest Somerset. When I got to Bristol airport flights appeared to be coming and going OK, but mine wasn’t. I think the problem was that the likes of a 757 were OK, but the little turbo prop that Aer Lingus was using for my flight was too small to risk it.

I got re-booked on a later flight, but there was no time to fulfil my plan of going into Dublin and catching the train to Belfast. Instead I booked myself on an express bus from Dublin airport to Belfast. Thanks to Jon Turney for the travel advice. I normally travel very badly on buses, but this one was motorway pretty much all the way to Belfast. I actually ended up feeling much more sick on the short hop from plane to terminal at Dublin because we had a shuttle bus driver who thought he was in a rally.

The other reason I survived the bus trip was that I slept most of the way. I woke up when we got to Ulster and started making stops. We arrived in Belfast just before 17:00 and looking at the traffic I figured we’d be stuck, but there is a secret bus-only route that takes you right into the city centre. I’m impressed, Belfast.

By the way, that did mean that I was asleep when we crossed the border. There was no passport check at any point on the journey. That ease of travel will probably go away post-Brexit.

Having made it to Belfast on time, I did my talk. Huge thanks to the lovely students in the Queens LGBT+ group. We also had a great meal at a local Nepalese restaurant. There seems to be plenty of good eating in Belfast.

On Friday morning I was able to check out the trains. I caught a commuter service from where I was staying into the city, then the Enterprise down to Dublin.

It is worth noting that the main station for Belfast city is Great Victoria Street. However, the Enterprise leaves from Lanyon Place which is smaller and in a commercial/industrial district. The bus station is next to the Great Victoria Street station.

It is also worth noting that the train is much more expensive than the bus. I paid £30 for a Belfast-Dublin ticket on the train, and €8 for a Dublin-Belfast single on the bus. Of course I my case I can work on the train. On a bus I can only sleep or be sick. So the extra cost is worth it. Also the train has free wifi and a food & drink service, which the bus does not. The journey time is about 2 hours on the train. It is also 2 hours from Dublin airport to Belfast, because the airport is north of Dublin right on the motorway. If you get the bus from central Dublin you need to add at least an extra half hour to get out of the city.

There were no passport checks on the train either. I knew when I crossed the border because my phone told me that I had switched from a UK service to a (free) roaming provider. The free roaming will go way after Brexit too.

The other way that you can tell whether you are in Ulster or the Republic is the signage. In the Republic it is all dual-language. In Ulster it is defiantly English-only.

Having got to Dublin I spent an hour or two wandering around taking photos of things of interest close to the convention center where Worldcon will take place in August. I tweeted the photos, and you can find the thread here.

I also got into a lengthy conversation with a lovely Croatian woman who was working at the Tourist Information Office in Dublin. She gave me a lot of advice about places to visit (most importantly whiskey distilleries). But I’m saving that up for another post.

Thankfully my trip home was a lot smoother than the outward leg.

The Graz Armoury

One of the highlights of my visit to Graz — indeed the one thing I desperately wanted to do before getting there — was visiting the Armoury. They have an incredible amount of mediaeval and early modern armour and weaponry on show. There’s enough kit, I was assured, to outfit an army of 5,000 men.

Quite a bit of it is unused. The large collection of infantry sabres in one of the pictures below was ordered for the Napoleonic Wars, but Napoleon conquered Austria so quickly that the blacksmith hadn’t finished them by the time the war was over.

The prize item in the collection is the horse armour. It was sold to the museum for two pints of beer by a nobleman who had no more use for it. Decades later it is worth millions.

If you want to visit the Armoury, it is best to go in summer. In the winter it is open only for tours on a select few days. I happened to get lucky in not only picking the right day, but also getting a personal guided tour. Thanks Cristoph, that was awesome!

Welcome to the Armoury

Image 1 of 26

Kunsthistorisches Museum Photos

My main interest in Vienna was the Kunsthistorisches Museum. I only had a few hours and of course I spent most of my time looking at ancient stuff. Frankly there was so much bling on show in the Hapsburg displays that it was rather overwhelming. I loved the automata though, and kudos to the museum for having tablet computers with film of each one working available.

Anyway, here are some photos. If you share my obsession with ancient history you’ll enjoy some of these. The gallery plugin I am using doesn’t allow for much descriptive text so do ask if you are interested in anything.

The museum is an exhibit in itself

Image 1 of 54

Graz Photos

Here are some more photos from my trip to Austria. These are all from the city of Graz, where the conference took place. They include the Schlossberg, the precipitous, fortified hill in the middle of the city.

Graz is 2 hours by train south of Vienna. Part of the reason for the time is that the railway has to wind through the foothills of the Alps. It is not far from the Slovenian border, and only a few hours from Zagreb by road. A lot of the big buildings in the city were built by Italian architects, which gives the city something of a Mediterranean feel. The courtyards are a particular feature of the old town.

City Hall lit up for Christmas

Image 1 of 53

Vienna Photos

Today is St. Stephen’s Day, and therefore the perfect day to put up some of my pictures of Vienna, given that their main cathedral is named after him. Google has comprehensively broken their photo system, which means that the system I used to work for displaying photos here no longer works. I’m testing a new system. Fingers crossed.

Hotel

Image 1 of 22

Up on the Aqueduct

More of the “that time of year” thing. This time it is the review of the year posts on the Aqueduct Press blog. The lovely folks at Aqueduct keep asking me to write these things, so I keep doing them. This year I was a bit late due to the Austria trip, but my contribution is up at last. You can find it here.

Women’s Outlook Has a Podcast

With the Listen Again system having problems, I needed to find a new way to share the Women’s Outlook show with you. Fortunately there was a recording of the August 1st show, so I asked the station managemnt for permission to create a podcast feed and post parts of the show there. The downside of this is that I have to edit out the music and ads. The upside is that the material will stay there for as long as we pay to host the site. Management said go for it (thanks Miranda!), so we now have a podcast!

Podcast hosting is relatively inexpensive these days, but it still costs so I have added a patronage system to the site. Right now all I’m hoping to do is to get 9 people to pay $1/month because that covers the hosting costs. If we get more support we’ll have to think about what we might offer as rewards. Let me know if you have any ideas.

Right now all that I have up are the four interviews from August 1st. Yaz says they want to put some of their material up too, in in weeks where we don’t have a show I’ll start running the occasional interview from the archives. There’s some great stuff in my old shows.

Of course we have to have a Twitter feed to go with all this. I haven’t done a Facebook page yet, but will do so if there is sufficient demand.

While you can listen to the interviews I have put up by going to the podcast site (or by downloading the Podbean app to your phone or tablet), I can also embed the material here, so here goes.

First up we had Nik Jovčić-Sas playing his violin live in the studio, and talking about his LGBT+ activism. There were a few issues with sound balance along the way. It turns out it is very hard to balance sound between a backing track and the live mic when the live instrument is in the studio. I learn something about the technology each time we try something like this. Apologies to Nik for this, but I think we captured enough of his playing for you to hear how good he is.

My second guest was Helen, a newly qualfied recruit from Avon Fire & Rescue. She’s amazing: a single mother raising two daughters who has been an Olympic weight lifter and is now a firefighter. I think there’s a role for her in the next Wonder Woman movie.

Next up Molly and Helen from Women’s Adventure Expo encouraged us to get out of our comfort zines and have an adventure. I think I am a bit old for skiing to the North Pole, but I still love traveling and am looking forward to visiting Austria in December for the Worlding SF conference.

Finally the lovely Sharifa Whitney James from Bristol Ageing Better came to tell me what she’ll be doing to improve the lives of older LGBT+ folks in Bristol.

The playlist for the show, excluding Nik’s contributions which I didn’t need to edit out, was as follows:

  • Pointer Sisters – Fire
  • Fontella Bass – Rescue Me
  • Bat for Lashes – Travelling Woman
  • Minnie Ripperton – Adventures in Paradise
  • Blondie – Die Young, Stay Pretty
  • Little Feat – Old folks boogie

Italy Part 1 – Train Adventures

Here I am in Italy. I am attending a conference called “Literature, Translation, and Mediation by and for children: Gender, Diversity, and Stereotype”. (That’s their title, don’t complain to me about the commas.) It is being put on by the University of Bologna at their country convention center in Bertinoro. More about the venue tomorrow, but first I need to talk about trains.

I suspect that a lot of Americans won’t believe this, but getting around Europe by train is really easy. I flew into Rome last night and stayed at an airport hotel. This morning I caught the Leonardo Express into Roma Termini. It is a half hour journey and costs €14.

Roma Termini is the main station in Rome where all of the inter-city trains stop. I caught a Frecciarossa service that runs from Napoli to Milano, calling at Roma and Bologna only. We even breezed through Firenze without stopping. It took just over 2 hours from Rome to Bologna, and cost under €30 for business class, including free cookies, water and espresso on board.

It should have taken just under 2 hours, but we were a bit late leaving Rome and there was some slow running through Firenze so I missed the local connection from Bologna to Forli. I had booked my tickets online in advance, and though I was able to read the timetables and find an alternative train I wasn’t sure if my ticket was valid. There are fewer people who speak English at Bologna station than Rome, but I got on the train and the conductor elected not to charge me any more. The cab driver at Forli spoke English.

So here I am, having a great time already, and having consumed a fair amount of fine local wine. I have discovered that dunking almond biscotti into sweet wine is a thing. I approve.

A Trip to San Antonio

No, not me, I’m still now allowed into the USA. I’m talking about G.V. Anderson, the young writer from Dorset whose first professional sale, “Das Steingeschöpf”, has been chosen as a World Fantasy Award Finalist.

Naturally she’s very excited, but World Fantasy is in San Antonio this year and a trip to Texas is expensive. So she’s crowdfunding the cost of flights for herself and her significant other. Every little helps, so if you have a few pennies you can donate the appeal is here.

Also, if you are going to World Fantasy, there’s a young lady who could do with some friends to look after her.

Toilets in Helsinki

One of the things that worries people most about visiting a foreign country is making sure they use the correct toilet. As you will have noticed from my videos, major venues such as the airport and Messukeskus doing the usual signage thing, which is fine unless you come from a country where men traditionally wear skirts and/or women trousers. However, bars and restaurants around the city may use words instead of pictures, or just have letters like they do in St.Urho’s, the fannish pub. So which door should you use?

Persons who are male-identified should use the door marked M, or Miehet. You may also see H or Herrar if the venue’s preferred language is Swedish.

Persons who are female-identified should use the door marked N, or Naiset. You may also seen D or Damer if the venue’s preferred language is Swedish.

Gender neutral toilets are very rare here.

Of course some places may try to be cute and use other terms, in which case the best advice I can give is to lurk and watch who uses which door.

Friday Night is Cruising Night

On the first Friday evening of each month proud car owners in Helsinki bring their beloved vehicles to the harbor where they can be admired by others. Otto and I took a trip to see the show. Here are some pictures.

Helsinki – Airport to City by Train

A whole lot of you will be flying into Helsinki for Worldcon over the next few days, and will be wondering how you get from the airport to the city. So I made a video of what I did when I arrived. For the princely sum of €5 you can get a train from the airport to either Pasila, the station by the convention center, or Helsinki Central. The full journey takes just 28 minutes, and the trains are very frequent. Here’s how it is done.

Update: In answer to Lynn’s question in comments, the schedules are available online here. The trains have a gap in service between roughly midnight and 5:00am, but there are a number of bus services that full the gap. The 615 is half-hourly through the night.

Travel Planning

If you have asked me about my availability recently I have probably said something along the lines of, “not in February, please”. That’s LGBT History Month, and that tends to mean a lot of travel. Today I have been doing some booking. Here’s what it looks like.

Jan 31 – Feb 4 I shall be in Barcelona for a conference at the university on gender in the ancient near east. That will feed directly into my presentations as part of the official LGBT History Month events.

Feb 11-12 I am in Exeter where I am speaking both at the launch event on the Saturday and on the festival day on the Sunday.

Feb 15 I have marked in as the Ujima show devoted to LGBTHM.

Feb 18 I am in Bournemouth doing the same trans people in the ancient world talk that I gave in Exeter on the 12th.

There will probably be some stuff going on in Bristol. I know M-Shed will be busy on the 18th, and on the 22nd. I have the 25th reserved in my diary for a possible talk on trans people in art down the ages.

Mar 3-5 I am in Liverpool for the LGBTHM academic conference.

And that is why (Ceri, Adele) I will not be going to London on Mar 10-12 for the Women of the World conference. I will be asleep that weekend.

Train to Helsinki

One of the things that was different on this trip to Helsinki is that the train from the airport is now in service. As a service to Worldcon members, and a gift to Kevin, here is a brief report.

Helsinki airport has two terminals linked by an underground tunnel. Just like the Heathrow Express, their train leaves from a station located in the tunnel. All trains go to Helsinki, but as the route is a loop you may need to get a train going the right way if you want the convention center stop.

Helsinki has an Oyster-style travel card. Travel from the airport to Helsinki is a 2-Zone journey. Travel between Helsinki central and the convention center is single-zone. You don’t have to touch out, which is why you have to select the journey type. Fares vary a bit dependent on how you buy the ticket, and anyway may be different next year, but they seem reasonable (unless you are paying in GBP which may be worthless by next year).

HTrain3

The trains are comfortable, quiet and roomy. There is plenty of space for luggage. There are power points at the seats if you need them (EU plugs, obviously).

HTrain2

I didn’t time the trip properly, but it was about half an hour. The train does make several stops along the way. It appears to be usable as a commuter service as well as for the airport. Here it is stood in Helsinki station.

HTrain1

The final stop before Helsinki is Pasila, where the convention center is. You can’t miss the place: it is huge and the train stops right next to it. They are currently hosting a Jehovah’s Witness convention.

HTrain4

All-gender toilet. Could do with better signage but otherwise pretty good.

A Day in Hay

As I mentioned earlier, I spent yesterday at the Hay Festival. It was the first time I have been, mainly because you need a car to get there and until recently I haven’t had one. Of course having a car means that there are other distractions.

The shortest route to Hay from where I am is over the Severn Bridge, turn left at Newport and from Abergaveny head up through the Brecon Beacons via Crickhowell and Talgarth. It is beautiful country, and I wish I had had time to stop and take lots of pictures.

crickhowell
Crickhowell

I will say, though, that it would have been much easier if I had a SatNav system. Hay is not well signposted. In fact as far as the road system goes it seems that the only acceptable way to get to and from the town is via Hereford. That way the signs are HUGE! Any other route and they are practically non-existent.

Part of this may be due to the fact that Hay is very much a border town. Indeed, there is a Welcome to England sign within the town boundary. There may be some confusion in highways departments as to whether the Festival is an English thing or a Welsh one. Thankfully that confusion was not reflected inside the Festival where evidence of its Welshness could be found everywhere.

Beulah Devaney wrote an article for The Independent this year about how elitist Hay is. She’s right, most of the programme was of little or no interest to me. I can’t imagine Hay having someone like me involved the way Cheltenham did. Then again, Hay is necessarily elitist. You can’t even get there by train, and to enjoy it properly you really need to stay in the area for several days. I’m willing to bet that the cost of accommodation goes through the roof during the Festival. People do actually camp, which doubtless helps with the cost, but personally I am allergic to camping.

So no, Beulah, if we want accessible literary festivals, the first thing to do is to not have them in Hay. There are plenty of others we can target. Hay, I think, can be safely left to go its own way.

Hay600
The Festival site, with the Brecon Beacons in the background.

Why was I there, then? Well to start with I wanted to see the famous Town of Books. That was a complete failure because the main Festival site is in a field on the outskirts of town. I never got into the town itself, except driving through on my way home.

I also went to see Kate Adair. I hadn’t seen her since Trans Pride in Brighton last year and it was good to catch up. I’m really pleased to see her career in TV taking off. It is amazing that BBC Scotland has given her the ability to make shows about trans people herself. They seem to be only available on social media and in community TV in Scotland, but they still have that BBC tag on them which makes a world of difference. Sadly I’ll be a bit too old by the time Kate gets to be a big name BBC producer, so she won’t be able to help me make my trans history documentary series, but hopefully she’ll do it with someone else.

The other reason I was there was because it was archaeology day. There were actually two talks I was interested in seeing. The first was Paul G. Bahn, who is an expert in prehistoric art. That’s primarily cave paintings to you and me, but is also much more as I discovered. To start with ice age people did a lot of art outside. The reason that we only know their cave paintings is that paintings on rocks outside of caves tend not to last as well.

Of course there are people creating rock art today, and one of the reasons why we know so much about how cave paintings were done is that we can go to Australia and ask people how they do it. This is a tradition with a history of tens of thousands of years, and by some miracle European colonialism hasn’t wiped it out.

Probably this most spectacular thing in Paul’s talk was this:

tuc-daudoubert-bisonClay sculptures of bison from the Tuc d’Audoubert cave in France, made around 13,500 BCE.

After Paul it was on to the main event, a talk by Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe, who is the foremost archaeologist in Britain. I have been reading his books, and watching him on TV, for decades. His new book is about the history of Eurasia and looks at how civilization developed in that vast land mass. This is very much history on a grand scale, but it is also of interest to me because the narrative touches briefly on things relevant to my world.

Sir Barry’s primary thesis is that Eurasia developed civilization rapidly because the major transport routes (the Silk Roads, the Mediterranean) run within regions that are ecologically similar (i.e. east-west, rather than north-south as is the case in the Americas or Africa). That wasn’t quite what I wanted to hear, because I’m actually looking for links between Mesopotamia and India, but I was delighted to find right in the first chapter mention of trading links between the civilizations of the Fertile Crescent and those of the Indus Valley. Sir Barry’s book also contains mention of this:

buddahA statue of the Buddah found in Kabul, which is remarkable because he is wearing clothing that looks distinctly Greek or Roman in style.

I should note, by the way, that I am not specifically looking for evidence of cultural diffusion. When I do talks about trans history people tend to ask me about links between people like the galli of ancient Rome and modern day hijra. There are a lot of similarities. It is possible that the Indus civilization picked up religious ideas from Mesopotamia. But then there are the quariwarmi of the Inca empire, and to claim they got the idea from Sumer takes us totally into von Daniken territory. I want to be able to talk about what is known, not make some imperialist point.

I wish I could have stayed longer. The Michael Palin talk was, of course, sold out. Billy Bragg, on the other hand, was a definite possibility. Fortunately for me I have the memories of the Concrete Castle gig in Bridgwater years ago, when I got close to a personal Billy Bragg concert, so I’m OK about missing him.

sheep600
The locals are unfazed by all of the bookish excitement.

Traveling Privilege

I’m spending most of today asleep because of jet lag, but I did want to comment briefly on my travel experience. I have been to North America. I have taken a total of four plane flights. Not once have I had anyone grope my genitals giving the excuse of “security”.

This might not seem entirely surprising to you, but I only managed this degree of comfort because I confined my travel to Canada. Trans women in the USA are groped pretty much every time they fly, sometimes several times per flight. I suspect that I would fare better because I have had surgery and therefore don’t show up as an “ALARM” on the perv scanners. However, the TSA are a law unto themselves and are perfectly capable of demanding to grope someone because they “look suspicious”.

I have lost count of the number of times that I used public bathrooms in Canada. I used the ladies, as I have been doing without incident for over 20 years. However, it will be a lot of times. I spent hours in airports, Kevin and I spent a lot of time in restaurants and tourist destinations, and on Monday I spent the day at a hotel giving a training course for clients. All of those things were only possible because I was able to use public toilets.

My use of women’s restrooms is not a crime in Canada, save for in the fevered imagining of Germaine Greer and her supporters who claim I have committed “rape” by “penetrating” women-only spaces. However, as of yesterday it would be a crime in North Carolina. In less than 24 hours the state’s three levels of legislature — lower house, upper house and Governor — all approved a sweeping bill to repeal and ban all equality-based legislation, and also to require trans people to use the bathroom appropriate to their “biological sex” (whatever that means). There’s a lot in the bill, an I expect most of it to be rolled back quickly, but it was the alleged need to keep women and girls “safe” from people like me that was used as the excuse for pushing it through with such unseemly haste.

Actually I might be OK. According to The Guardian, the bill has an exemption for trans people who have had their birth certificate changed. Obviously I’d need to carry mine with me, which I don’t have to do anywhere else in the world. However, I note that laws governing trans people are not uniform in the USA. There are still some states where, no matter how much medical intervention you have had, you can’t get your birth certificate changed. Also there’s no public health coverage of trans issues in the USA, so the proportion of trans people able to access surgery (always assuming that they want it) is probably much lower than in the UK.

The main group of people who will suffer, however, are trans kids. There is barely a country in the world where trans kids can legally change their gender, and access to surgery is generally restricted until they are legally adult. Obviously they cannot take advantage of exemptions to such laws the way I can. There are even places (hello Kansas) where laws are being proposed that will allow kids to get a substantial reward for ratting on trans pupils who dare to use a gender-appropriate bathroom.

UK readers may think that sort of thing doesn’t happen here, but it does. Today’s Gay Star News has a report by Jane Fae on a pub in Ramsgate that operates a strict “no trans women in the ladies’ toilet” policy. Obviously that’s not a legal requirement the way it is in North Carolina, but the report suggests that the pub’s landlord has had legal advice assuring them that their policy is legal. Jane notes that this seems to contravene the Equality Act, but I beg to disagree. What you can say is that the case has not been proven, because no precedent exists, but the pub’s action may be legal.

The point that will be argued is that a pub toilet is a single-sex service, and the Equality Act contains language that allows businesses to deny trans women access to women-only services if it is reasonable to do so. The recent Transgender Equality Inquiry notes that such exemptions can apply, even if the trans woman in question has a Gender Recognition Certificate and has had her birth certificate changed. Which means that they apply to me. One would hope that a judge would deem that banning me from women’s toilets in the UK would be unreasonable, especially as this contravenes the intent of the Gender Recognition Act, but until such time as the law is clarified, or a test case has been heard, the question is unanswered.