Today’s show began with an hour-long chat with Dr. Donna Drucker who has recently written a great little book on the history of contraception. Our conversation goes all the way from herbal rememdies to cybersex.
Some of you will remember that last year I walked 125 miles to raise money for the Bristol charity, One25. Well, they are looking for help again this year, and this time the challenge is to give something up for 125 hours. Thinking of something was a challenge in itself because we’ve been forced to give up so much thanks to the pandemic, but I have an idea I think that you’ll enjoy. The image above is a clue. More on that later, but first, why One25?
One25 are a charity who work directly with street sex-working women to provide outreach, casework and essential resources for their future. 80% of women who street sex-work are homeless. In the strangest of times we now find ourselves in, One25 remain focused on keeping contact with women as much as possible and continuing to deliver services. They are doing whatever they can to make sure that some of Bristol’s most vulnerable women know that they are loved and not alone.
UK-based readers might remember that last year the Sussexes visited One25 and Meghan wrote on some bananas.
As a trans woman I am painfully aware that sex work could easily have been part of my life. Thanks to a great deal of luck and Kevin’s love, I managed to avoid that, but numerous people didn’t. High profile trans women such as Roz Kaveney and Janet Mock have written movingly about their experiences in the sex trade. Each year, when I help read the names of the departed at the Trans Day of Remembrance ceremony, I am painfully aware that many of those women died because they had no choice but to sell their bodies, and therefore had to make themselves vulnerable.
I have done several sessions of trans awareness training for One25 staff and have been very impressed by their openness and willingness to provide support to whoever needs it.
So, what’s the plan? Well, for the duration of the fundraiser, 1:00pm on May 15th to 6:00pm on May 20th, I am giving up living in the UK. I’ve had enough of this staying at home lark, and by the magic of the internet I am going to travel the world. And I’m inviting you to come with me. For each of the 6 days I will visit a different country. I will check out the tourist spots, talk to local people, try the local food, play the local music and so on. You will be able to follow it all on social media.
I have four of the six countries inked in. Australia and California are obvious choices as I have lived in both countries. Finland is next as I have been there so often. I’m going to do Italy because it gives me an opportunity to talk about Romans (again). The other two are as yet undecided. Croatia and Canada are obvious picks as I’ve been to each of them several times, but I’m open to persuasion to go somewhere else. It needs to be somwhere I can do a decent job of visiting. Suggest somewhere.
If you happen to live in one of those countries and would like to help by suggesting places to visit, things to eat, or music to play I would be very grateful. If you’d like to do an interview I would be over the moon. Do let me know.
In honour of Lesbian Visibility Week I thought I would do a post about lesbianism in Ancient Rome. There are, of course, numerous examples of men having sex with men in Roman literature. There are a lot fewer examples of women having sex with women. That’s in no small part because almost all of the surviving Roman literature was written by men. But the women are there, of you know where to look.
The first thing to note is that sexuality wasn’t a matter of identity for Romans the way it is for us. Sex was something that you did, not something that you were. For Roman men it was far more important to know whether you were penetrating or being penetrated than who you were doing it with. In recognition of that there were at least three different words for effeminate men, though these could often refer to social behavior rather than sexual habits.
For women there was one word, “tribade”. It meant someone who rubs. It isn’t clear whether the Romans actually understood this as having sex, because no penises were involved, but it was certainly something the women might do.
Of course women might have used dildos. They certainly existed at least as far back as Classical Greece. The playwright, Aristophanes, mentions them in his Lysistrata. This is a play about how the women of Athens go on a sex strike to try to bring an end to the Peloponnesian War. It includes mention of an “olisbos” which is made of leather and is used by women when there are no men available.
Mention of Greece reminds us that the Romans would have been familiar with the legends of the Amazons. In an all-female society, women having sex with women would be expected. They would have believed that the Amazons were real as well. After all, they had contact with women warriors of the Scythians who lived north of the Black Sea, with the dark-sinned warrior queens of the city of Meroë south of Egypt, and with the warrior queens of Britannia.
The Romans were also very familiar with the poetry of Sappho of Lesbos. Far more of her work would have been available to them than survives today. In Hadrian’s time, Greek culture was hugely fashionable and it became a thing for upper class women to write poetry “in the style of Sappho”. Sadly this meant writing in Greek and using the same grammatical forms as Sappho. It would be like us writing sonnets using Shakespearean English. It did not mean content.
On the other hand, we know about this at least in part because of some women’s writing that has survived. Julia Balbilla and Claudia Damo were two wealthy Roman women who were part of the entourage of Hadrian’s wife, Vibia Sabina. Their poems have survived because they wrote them (or more likely had them written by slaves) on a rather large statue of Amenhotep III during an Imperial tour of Egypt. Hadrian and his wife had married for political reasons when they were very young and by this time hated each other. Hadrian apparently had no interest in sex with women. It is rumoured that Vibia Sabina had an affair with the historian, Suetonius, but it wouldn’t be surprising, given how much Sappho they were reading, if at least some of the ladies of her court became close to each other.
One place were women might have gathered to have sex with each other is in meetings of mystery cults. These were a strange phenomenon of Roman religious life that we might call secret societies, but which had as their excuse the worship of particular gods. Some mystery cults were more like the Freemasons, which a man might join in the hope of befriending the rich and powerful. Others seems to have been excuses for orgies. Roman men were deeply suspicious of mystery cults that catered to women, on the not unreasonable basis that their wives might be sneaking off to have sex with other people at their meetings. The fresco at the top of this post is from Pompeii and is believed to depict a meeting of a mystery cult.
Some of our most obvious references to lesbian Romans come in works of fiction. The poet Martial wrote about a woman called Philaenis whom, he says, has sex with both boys and girls, allegedly averaging 11 girls a day. Philaenis is also the supposed name of the author of a legendary Greek sex manual, so if this is a real person that Martial is talking about he has probably used a pseudonym, and may even have made her up. However, even if he is exaggerating for effect, it is certainly something that he thinks a woman might do.
However, by far the best example of love between women in Roman literature comes in The Dialogues of the Courtesans (sometimes called The Mimes of the Courtesans) by Lucian of Samosata. This is a satirical comedy in which high class sex workers tell of entertaining encounters they have had with clients. In one of these Leaina tells of a wealthy person known as Megilla who is a client of hers. Although this person is understood to have been assigned female at birth, he dresses like a man and insists on being called Megillos, which is a Greek equivalent of insisting on male pronouns. He even has a wife, a woman called Demonassa.
We need to bear in mind here that Lucian is a satirist. He’s not averse to making things up. He did, after all, write a book about people traveling to the Moon. So while Megillos might sound to us like a trans man, there’s no guarantee that he is based on a real person that Lucian knew. This might be another case of exaggerating for effect.
However, the important point here is not whether Megillos is real, but where Lucian has him hail from. Demonassa, his wife, is from Corinth, but Megillos is from the island of Lesbos. I don’t believe that this is an accident. Sappho lived on Lesbos, and Diodorus Siculus tells us that the island was once an Amazon colony. Lucian chose Lesbos, I’m sure, because although the English word “lesbian” only acquired its current meaning in 1890, as far back as the first Century CE the island of Lesbos already had a reputation of being home to women who loved women.
42 is the answer to the question, “how many days in 6 weeks?”. So that’s how long I have been in self-isolation. I did go out twice to get food, but other than that haven’t left home. I’m not missing the outside world much, though having a garden I could sit in would be nice.
Today was spent primarily at a conference for women Classicists (and allies). I gave a short talk which seemed to be well received. And I learned a lot, particularly about doing online teaching. I have felt for some time that you can’t simply replace a classroom lecture with an online one, and it was good to have that confirmed, and to get some tips for doing online teaching better.
It was an interesting experience spending the best part of 7 hours in an online conference. I thought it went very well, though getting people into breakout rooms in Zoom continues to be an unnecesarily complex process.
I also recorded another interview for the new Salon Futura, and I’ve put a loaf in the bread machine. I think that will do for the day. I’m pleased to see that I appear to have just enough flour for one more loaf. Hopefully it will be possible to buy it again next time I go to Tesco.
I don’t know much about what happened in the rest of the world today, though I gather that the government opened a website for testing essential workers for the virus, and it collapsed after a few hours. That is entirley typical.
The results of this year’s Otherwise (formery Tiptree) Award have been announced. The winner is Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi. The Honor List is as follows:
“Dreamborn” by Kylie Ariel Bemis
The Book of Flora by Meg Elison
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Meet Me in the Future by Kameron Hurley
“Of Warps and Wefts” by Innocent Chizaram Ilo
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Elemental Logic series by Laurie J. Marks
The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya
The Deep by Rivers Solomon
I’m not familiar with Emezi’s work at all, but clearly I should be. Nor do I know much about the short fiction (the Hurley and Motoya are both collections). I have reviewed The Calculating Stars and The Deep. I reviewed Fire Logic and Earth Logic back in Emerald City and loved them both. Both books won the Gaylactic Spectrum Award. Now that all four books are out I have been meaning to re-read the entire series, but of course I have no time. Meg Elison won the Philip K Dick Award with The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, the first volume in the trilogy that The Book of Flora concludes. I have The Book of Flora on my TBR pile, and it has just got a boost up towards the top.
I am, of course, delighted to see so many works with trans themes on the list.
A few weeks back Lee Mandelo asked me to contribute to a mind meld thing for Tor.com on how queer SFF has changed over the past decade. I was deeply honoured to be asked, considering that some of the other contributors are Charlie Jane Anders and Yoon Ha Lee. Tor.com has chosen the Trans Day of Visibility to publish the piece. You can read it here.
Here we go again. Today is the day on which trans people all over the world are supposed to stand up and be counted. Already I have seen a flood of posts on social media celebrating the visibility of trans folks. I’m also seeing posts from trans people saying that they are fed up of being visible; that they are scared of being visible. Part of that is because the world has changed dramatically since TDOV was first concieved, but it is also a matter of how we do TDOV.
A little context is in order. TDOV was created because the only international day that the trans community had was the Trans Day of Remembrance. That’s a pretty depressing, if essential, experience, and it is also one many trans people want kept within the community. It is noticeable that anti-trans extremists now deliberately target TDOR in order to provoke offence and, they hope, mental health breakdowns. We needed a much more positive day.
TDOV is supposed to be that day. However, since it has become popular it has started to have the opposite effect that was intended. That, I think, is because in trying to make trans people more visible, it has ended up as an exercise of They Walk Among Us, which makes us seem different and scary.
Now it is important that trans people be visible. I’m certainly not advocating that we go back to the days of having to disappear into the cis population and fearing that your life will be over if you are ever outed. I’ve been through that fear. It isn’t fun. Not can we pretend that we are “just like everyone else”, because clearly we are not, especially those of us who live far outside the gender binary.
What we do need, however, is to be visible for things other than simply being trans. And there’s no reason why we can’t be, because trans people are fucking awesome. We have to be.
What I would like to see today, therefore, is not just trans people being visible, but trans people visibly doing things in addition to existing. That can be the day-to-day work that they do, but it would be even better to see what trans people are doing to help the community through the current health crisis. I’m sure there are loads of great stories out there waiting to be told. I’ll start.
I’m still working with The Diversity Trust, most recently doing an online talk on trans history for an LGBT+ youth group;
Through Wizard’s Tower I am helping authors continue in business when mainstream publishing and bookselling are collapsing around them;
And I’m still doing my radio show for Ujima. The next one will be broadcast tomorrow.
Over to you, trans community. What are you doing that you would like to be visible for?
And cis folks, if you are thinking of doing posts, please stop thinking of trans people as a downtrodden minority that needs saving, and start thinking of us as hidden heroes whose contributions to society should be recognised.
Today’s radio show sat on the cusp between the end of LGBT History Month and the arrival of International Women’s Day. (International Men’s Day is on November 19th, thank you for asking.) I began the show by looking backward and running an interview with my friend and sometime colleague, Dan Vo, that I had recorded in Cardiff over the weekend. Dan is a professional Queerator, that is, someone whose job it is to go around museums and find queer stuff in their collections that they can use to be more LGBT inclusive.
In the second slot I welcomed Rebecca from Watershed who is part of their cinema team. In particular she has been helping put together their International Women’s Day programme which features the Feminista Short Film Festival. There are also some great women-centered feature films coming up. Rebecca is also involved in QueerVision, the Watershed’s regular celebration of queer cinema. There’s a short film festival coming up for that and she’s looking for submissions.
Slot three should have been a feature on drink spiking featuring Andy Bennett from Avon & Somerset Police, but some sort of operational emergency claimed his time and I had to fill in with the chat and extra music. Hopefully we can do that piece another time.
Finally I welcomed Sian and Laura from the Bristol Festival of Women’s Literature. They have loads of great talent lined up for this year’s event, including the very wonderful Juliet Jacques talking about memoir writing. You can find more details of the programme here.
An event of particuar interest to me is the launch party at Spike Island on the 27th as it is being run in conjunction with the wonderful people from Comma Press who are publishing Europa 28, an anthology of writing about the future of Europe by women from all over the continent. It is political essays rather than SF, but these days the one quickly shades into the other. And of course much of the content is translated.
If you missed the show live it will be available through our Listen Again service for a few weeks. Go here to listen.
The playlist for the show was as follows:
Duffy – Rockferry
Tracy Chapman – She’s Got Her Ticket
Selecter – On My Radio
Rihanna – Only Girl in the World
Janet Kay – Silly Games
The Weather Girls – Its Raining Men
Bat for Lashes – Horse and I
Thelma Houston – Don’t Leave Me This Way
Janelle Monáe (feat. Grimes) – Pynk
Aretha Franklin – Until You Come Back
Sian and Laura, this is the famous Monica Sjöö painting that was one of the inspirations for Janelle Monáe’s video for Pynk.
Because I’m going to be in Canada with Kevin for the first part of April, my next show will not be until April 15th.
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.
The lovely people at Vector asked me if I wanted to do an article looking back on the decade. This gave me the opportunity to crunch some Hugo data. The results are really quite remarkable. If you take a look here you will see why I titled the article, “The Decade That Women Won”.
I should dedicate that article to Joanna Russ. I wish that she was still alive to see it. We still have a long way to go, but the fight is not impossible.
Today was my first day back at work that involved leaving home. I was back in the Ujima studios for another Women’s Outlook. It had been a bit of a challenge pulling this one together because no one was answering email before Monday, so I had two days. Nevertheless, we had some guests.
The first slot was empty so I played some music to talk about the unpleasant prospect of at least 5 years of the UK being ruled by Blue Meanies. I then played a few songs to send a message to a certain orange-faced person over in the USA.
My first guest was Carolyn from Bristol Women’s Voice. There was a time when people like me were distinctly unwelcome at that organisation, but I’m pleased to report that they have turned a corner and are happy to include all women again. Carolyn was particularly there to promote their Volunteer Network Event later this month, but we also discussed current campaigns, and of course the International Women’s Day event in March.
Next up was Helen from Royal West of England Academy. She was on the show to talk about the amazing Celebrating Black Queerness event coming up in February, and the associated Africa State of Mind exhibition. Celebrating Black Queerness is a joint event with Kiki, Bristol’s QTIPOC organisation, and will feature luminaries such as Lady Phyll and Travis Alabanza.
My final guest should have been Jo from Diverse Insights, but she suffered a transport malfunction on the way to the studio so I had to fill in for her as best I could. The event she was due to talk about is Screen Futures 2020, which is an amazing day of workshops for people interested in pursuing a career in television and radio.
I’m delighted to announce that my workshop, “Writing Queer Characters from History,” is now available from the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers. Those of you who participated at FantasyCon, and at the Writing Historical Fiction conference at Bath Spa University, seemed to enjoy it. Bath Spa folks in particular should note that the online course will be 2 hours, not 20 minutes, so there will be a lot more time to explore the issue.
The first course will be on Saturday, January 4, 2020, 9:30-11:30 AM Pacific time. Further details about the course and how to sign up are available here.
Normally in February I am rushing around the country doing LGBT History stuff. Next year, however, I will also be doing a panel on Women in SF&F at Foyles in Bristol (assuming that no apocalyptic events have destroyed Cabot Circus in the meantime, as tends to happen with great frequency in books by local writers). This event is the brainchild of Kate Macdonald from Handheld Press, and is going to be part of the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival. I am hugely honoured to be asked to feature alongside three brilliant local writers: Liz Williams, Emma Newman and Emma Geen.
It is a paid event, which I’m making no apologies for because the number of times I have turned up for a sold out free event and fewer than half the number of people who have booked have turned up is ridculous. You can get a ticket, and learn more about the event, here.
I am very much hoping that Ian Whates will manage to get some copies of Liz’s new novel, Comet Weather, to us for sale.
My colleagues at The Diversity Trust have put together another newletter highlighting our work over the past few months. you can read or download it here (PDF).
The contents include a report from one of our happy training clients. (I was so pleased to be able to deliver trans awareness training in Taunton.) There’s also a great little article on pronouns by my colleague, Aaron. And my 15 minutes of fame being featured in BBC Online has been turned into an article too. Any excuse to re-use one of those fabulous Lou Abercrombie photos, eh?
That was my final Women’s Outlook show for 2019. This is what we talked about.
First up I re-ran my interview with Rivers Solomon from last year. We talked mainly about The Deep, and it is published in the UK tomrrow. I’m sure there are a lot of listeners who might buy it but who have forgotten about the interview by now. If anyone wants to see my review of the book, you can find it here.
My first studio guest was Lisa Whitehouse from Interculture. She’s currently crowdfunding for money to run three series of courses that are aimed at bringing various cultural groups in Bristol together so that they can get to understand each other better. Lisa and I spent quite a bit of time talking about whiteness and how we, as white people who work a lot with BME communities, can avoid making everything all about us.
Next in the studio was Sammy Walker, a young trans woman who has been a key part of this year’s Rainbow Laces campaign. She’s a very good soccer player, but is currently playing for Bristol Panthers, an inclusive LGBT team with mainly male players, because she doesn’t want to have to deal with all the politics around trans women in sport. The conversation expanded from football to trans women in sport in general.
I had a really bad coughing fit at the start of the interview with Sammy. I’ve just listed back to it and it isn’t too bad, but my apologies again to everyone for that, and thanks to Ben the engineer for his bottle of water.
The conversation with Sammy went on for about 45 minutes and I filled the rest of the time with a bit of Christmas music because it is that time of year. Here’s the full playlist:
The Deep – clipping
Americans – Janelle Monáe
Money – Jackie Shane
Unstoppable – Lianne la Havas
We Are Family – Sister Sledge
My Feet Keep Dancing – Chic
Run, Rudolph, Run – Chuck Berry
All I Want for Christmas is You – Maria Carey
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen & Sleigh Ride – The Ramsey Lewis Trio
Last week saw the 4th anniversary of Trans Pride South West (TPSW), our local celebration of trans pride which sprang from Sarah Savage’s visit to our LGBT History Month event in 2016. I’m not involved in the running of it, but I do get involved in various parts of it.
This year, for the first time, we had a march. That began with a gathering on College Green in front of City Hall, and that meant speeches. We had some political representation. Carla Denyer, the Green Party candidate for Bristol West, was there. She was accompanied by a bunch of young party members, and by Baroness Bennett, so the Greens really put some effort behind us. The Liberal Democrats sent along James Cox who had kindly stood down in Bristol West in order to give Carla a better chance of getting elected. Sadly there was no official representation from Bristol Labour, though Kaz Self from the TPSW committee did make a speech on their behalf. There was also a representative from the Women’s Equality Party, which was of course me. So yes, I did make a speech. No one laughed, except when I wanted them to, which I am taking as a win.
From there we marched up Baldwin Street towards the city centre. We had space in The Station, a former fire station on Silver Street for a Community Day. There were just under 200 people (and three dogs) on the march, which was very good for a cold and wet November morning. I was very pleased to count at least 16 people of colour among us.
The Community Day had a lot of stalls. I was representing OutStories Bristol. The photo above shows me at my stall along with Spencer from TPSW and Alex from the hate crime charity, SARI. The Diversity Trust also had a stall. The event was very well attended. Indeed, around 13:00 you could barely move in the room. I think the committee might need to look for a bigger venue next year.
I was somewhat worried that there might be some attempt by right-wing groups to disrupt the march, but everything went off very smoothly. Clearly the anti-trans fauxminists are easily put off by a little rain.
I had to rush off immediately after the event ended as I was giving a talk in Brighton on the Sunday, so I didn’t get to chat to people at thing were winding down, but I’m very happy with how things went and I’m looking forward to TPSW being bigger and better next year.
One of the more striking aspects of the Black Panther movie is the reliance of Wakanda on an all-female elite fighting force, the Dora Milaje. Those of us who have an interest in women warriors know that this was inspired in part by the real African kingdom of Dahomey which boasted its own female army. The Agojie, or Mino, made up around a third of the nation’s fighting force when they were first contacted by Europeans. Although they were disbanded after Dahomey became a French protectorate in the late 19th Century, memory of them lives on.
Lupita Nyong’o, who plays T’Challa’s girlfriend, Nakia, in the movie, has made a film for Channel 4 about the historical inspiration for Wakanda’s women warriors. Some local historians feature in the film, and the historical advisor for the programme was my good friend Professor Olivette Otele.
During the course of the programme Lupita meets a number of people who have connections to the Agojie, and is helped by the current Dahomey royal family. She also witnesses a Vodun ceremony that invokes the spirit of a dead Agojie warrior (CN: animal sacrifice).
It is a fabulous piece of history, exposing both the admirable and horrific aspects of an all-female army in an African society. One thing I picked up was that life in the Agojie was a common choice for young girls who did not want to marry, which shows that Dahomey made space for lesbians in its society, albeit a fairly brutal one. In theory all of the Agojie were married to the king, but he wasn’t likely to take advantage of that when he had a harem recruited for non-military skills.
The programme will be available for a few weeks, at least to viewers in the UK. If you want to watch it, you can do so here.
I was back in the Ujima studio today, and my first guest was friend and colleague, Dr. Jamie Lawson of the University of Bristol. Jamie has written a children’s book on LGBT+ history called Rainbow Revolutions. It is published tomorrow, and I’m very impressed with it. We had a great conversation about the use of the word “queer”, Section 28 and why people are worried it might come back, Ball Culture and the success of Pose, and so on.
Next up I dragged in Harriet Aston who roomed with me at Worldcon. It was her first big convention and understandably she was a bit overwhelmed, which makes her an ideal person to represent that first Worldcon experience. I was impressed that Harriet felt that she was swimming rather than drowning by day 4.
The rest of the show was devoted to women’s cricket and the triumph of Western Storm in the final year of the Kia Super League. I played my interview with Raf Nicholson, and passed on the latest news about the women’s part in the stupid new “The Hundred” series. It is possible that a new Western Storm might rise from the ashes of the KSL after all.
You can catch up on the show via the Listen Again service here.
The playlist for today’s show was as follows:
Gil Scott Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
Grace Jones – This Is
Thin Lizzy – The Boys Are Back In Town
Earth, Wind & Fire – September
Bob Dylan – Shelter from the Storm
Billie Holiday – Stormy Weather
The Impressions – We’re A Winner
Jim Steinman – The Storm
My next show will be on October 2nd and will feature an interview with Ellen Datlow that I recorded while we were in Ireland.
As you might have guessed, that is the title of an academic conference. It is a bit of a mouthful, but basically it was a feminist conference about trans issues. It look place at the University of Roehampton in London last week, and I was one of the speakers.
You can find the full schedule for the day here. Sadly UIrika Dahl was unable to attend due to illness, but the rest of the conference went ahead as planned.
Because the conference was advertised online it came to the attention of the transphobe mob on Mumsnet, who unsurprisingly lost their collective shit about it. If you want to see the nonsense that they come up with, just Google the conference title. This had two main consequences. Firstly the trans student group that was going to be involved had to withdraw because they were concerned about their safety. (One of the haters’ favorite games is to take unflattering photos of trans people and post them online accompanied by a sea of insults and, if they can get it, doxing data.) The other was that for the first time in my life I attended an academic conference that had a security guard on duty at all times. Thanks Pavel, you were great.
Interestingly, of the 8 speakers, 6 were cisgender women. The claim that the haters speak for all women is really utter nonsense.
I won’t go through all of the talks because much of it is fairly niche stuff, but Erzsébet Barát’s description of life in Hungary under the government of Viktor Orbán was chilling, and could prove a forecast of what the UK will be like should Boris Johnson still be Prime Minister at the end of the year. Sadly there are always women who are prepared to go along with far-right regimes and preach a form of “feminism” that puts women’s lives firmly in the control of men.
The really bizarre thing about right-wing Hungarian “feminists” is that they describe their views as being in opposition to that awful neo-liberal capitalist form of feminism known as “intersectional feminism”. The capacity of the far right to re-define words to mean what they want never ceases to amaze me.
The other country I learned a lot about at the conference was India. My thanks are due to Sarah Newport (I’ve found your thesis, Sarah, and look forward to reading it), and also to Antonia Navarro Tejero who introduced me to a work of Indian feminist science fiction.
Manjula Padmanabhan is an Indian SF writer who is working on a trilogy of novels about a young person called Meiji. The first book, Escape, is set in a country in which all women have been exterminated. As the title suggests, Meiji, who was assigned female at birth, manages to escape, and book 2 is set on The Island of Lost Girls. This, of course, is the place where women survivors have fled to. But, as all Suzy McKee Charnas fans will know, that doesn’t mean it is a utopia.
Listening to Antonia talk about the books, it is clear that Padmanabhan is in conversation with Joanna Russ and Charnas. My guess is that she has read both The Female Man and The Holdfast Chronicles. What is interesting and different about her books is that there are a whole lot of trans people in them.
Book 3 isn’t out yet, but I have bought the first two books to see what they are like. That wasn’t easy. Amazon appears to be deliberately hiding them. If you search for “The Island of Lost Girls” you won’t find Padmanabhan’s book even though that’s a full and almost-unique title. I had to search for “The Island of Lost Girls Manjula” to find it. And the two books aren’t linked either.
Anyway, I will read the books and report back. In the meantime, does anyone know anything about Manjula Padmanabhan? Mimi, Tasha, Aisha, Samit?