Coronavirus – Day #104

Today has mostly been spent working on the new issue of Salon Futura. It will probably go up on Monday.

In the outside world I woke up to the news that a particularly nasty transphobe has been permanently banned from Twitter. People have been calling for this for months, if not years. What he finally did wrong was go after the Women’s Institute, who had made a trans-supportive tweet.

Twitter bans tend to happen in two ways. Firstly they may be the result of mass reporting. That’s the way that people from minority groups tend to get banned. It doesn’t matter what was actually tweeted, if enough people complain at once a ban is automatic. The other mechanism is when someone important complains. The WI have a lot of members, and they are very respectable so Twitter listens to them.

Anyway, Twitter bans for right-wing trolls are bit like deaths in superhero comics. I’m sure he’ll be back in a few months, once he’s found the right person to whisper in Jack Dorsey’s ear.

Virtual Tolkien

Yes, everything is going online these days. That includes the J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature. But the nice folks at Pembroke College have come up with a cool idea. Rather than have poor Rebecca Kuang give a lecture by Zoom, they have invited a bunch of past lecturers to join her in an online symposium. The subject for discussion is: “the importance of fantasy in times of crisis: how science-fiction and fantasy literature respond to, and provide inspiration during, moments of despair and personal difficulty.” In addition to Kuang the panelists are: Kij Johnson, Adam Roberts, Lev Grossman, Terri Windling and VE Schwab.

The symposium will take place on Saturday May 16, 4:00 – 5:30pm British time (11am – 12:30 Eastern).

Obviously this clashes with WiFi SciFi, but I have been assured that the discussion will be recorded so you don’t have to miss me, though I won’t be at all surprised if you do. If you can’t make it, you can send in a question in advance.

To register, or to ask a question of the panel, go here.

Let’s Give It Up for One25!

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.

And, most importantly, PLEASE PLEDGE. My fundraising page is here. No amount is too small. Every penny is gratefully received.

WiFi SciFi – First Impressions

Today I participated in my first online science fiction convention. It was a small thing, just two panels and a quiz, but you have to start somewhere. It went very well, all things considered. Of course not everything went according to plan, but the attendees weren’t expecting perfection because we all knew it was an experiment. One of the purposes of the experiment was to find out what worked and what didn’t, so that next time can be better.

Part of the success was definitely down to a great list of panelists that included Mike Carey, Dave Hutchinson, Aliette de Bodard, Gareth Powell and Tade Thompson. Part of it was also due to Anne Corlett and her team who, I understand, have been working hard in the past few days getting to grips with the Zoom software and discovering all of the advertised features that don’t actually work as advertised.

Another great part of the event was the international nature. We had people from the USA (including one Californian who was up at 7:00am), from Canada, from Finland and Croatia, apparently someone from India though I don’t know who that was, and one very keen Australian for whom the con was in the middle of the night. This gives me a lot of hope for Worldcon becoming truly international.

I will be catching up with Anne and her team over the next few days and talking through some of the issues that came up. There are certainly some things that can be improved with minor tweaks to the way things are run, and others that would be better if the software wasn’t so buggy. If anyone who attended it has feedback they want to pass on, do get in touch. The objective is to do a more in-depth review for the next Salon Futura.

The first panel was also streamed live on YouTube. You can watch it below.

I’m not sure what happened to panel 2, but I’m sad if it is not available as it was great (apart from Tade’s internet woes).

Coronavirus – Day #15

One of the things that the current crisis has laid bare is just how international and connected our world now is, or at least can be.

On the one hand, my local residents’ group has sent round an email asking whether people are lonely, and offering to host a meeting by some strange new software system called Zoom.

On the other hand I have spent the day on Zoom, Google Hangouts and Facebook. I have given a talk on trans history to an LGBT+ youth group in Somerset. I have recorded interviews for my next radio show with people in France, Germany and the USA. I have chatted to friends in Finland and Greece. And I have participated in a committee meeting in the USA.

I don’t have the time to be lonely.

Coronavirus – Day #12

One of the interesting things about the current crisis is how quickly things have changed. Only a couple of weeks ago we were wondering whether travel would be affected. Now conventions as far out as August are being cancelled. And you can get caught out. I’ve been watching a documentary series about British Rivers on Channel 5. It is basically an excuse to do some local history of the back of the region that a major river flows through. The latest episode I watched was on the Warwickshire Avon. (There are lots of rivers called Avon in England because afon is Welsh for river, and the English are stupid.) This is the one that flows through Stratford, but it is also known for Rugby and its sport, Warwick for its castle, Leamington for its spa and several other things. The river is also prone to flooding. At the start of the show the narrator said that 2020 would be remembered as the year of terrible floods on the Avon. Ha, no mate. Nice try.

Keeping up with the pace of change has been hard for some organisations. Today I got email from Tesco to say that they have finally implemented a queuing system (with enforced separation) for getting into stores, and at checkouts, plus a rigorous cleaning regime. They’ve also cut down on the range of products they stock to make sure they have enough basic necessities. I’m not going to risk heading out there for a while though. Goodness only knows how people will be behaving.

What does seem to be working is the Internet. Today I had a long video chat with my friend Otto in Helsinki. That sort of thing is easy. Also Disney+ seems to have got through its UK launch with no capacity issues. But utility systems are complicated. We still have power, water, and connectivity, but what happens if things go wrong? I’ve just had email from my internet provider, Zen, who have been great, but they don’t own vans. If something were to go wrong on the network out in the country somewhere, it is a company called Openreach that would send an engineer to fix it. They have just announced that they can no longer keep to their advertised service level. If your internet goes down, and you are not a priority industry, then you are screwed. In theory I still have the mobile phone, but hopefully I won’t need it.

Without the Internet, of course, I would be completely cut off. I think I would probably still be OK for a while. I’m slightly boggled at the people who are getting cabin fever after a day or two of working from home. Obviously I don’t have kids, which helps a lot, but I’m used to this. I’ve been working for myself, mostly from home, since 2003. What’s more, as a trans person, I’m used to going 2 to 3 weeks over Christmas with no in-person social contact every year. In effect I have been training for this for a long time.

New Year, New Look

No, not me, the blog.

As you have presumably noticed, there’s a new theme in place here. This wasn’t planned. Some very old themes don’t support mutliple screen sizes very well. In particular they tend to be designed for PCs rather than tablets or phones. Modern themes are designed with portability in mind. Now you can get clever stuff that will adjust your theme for mobile devices (in the Jetpack plugin, WordPress veterans), but that is being retired this year.

There are a lot of sites that I manage, and many of them use a themes that are up to 10 years old and which need an update. Also many of them are text-heavy, and most modern blog themese assume that every post will have an associated image. So finding a replacement theme that a) works on a text-heavy site; b) is free; and c) isn’t likely to become unsupported in a year or two; will not be easy.

This theme is Penscratch which looks specifically designed for a text-heavy site. It is also created by Automattic who own WordPress so it is likely to stick around for a while.

The header image is from Pixabay. It has cats and books, which seems kind of appropriate.

I will probably fiddle with the look of the thing for a while yet. In the meantime if you spot anything that is not working in the theme (not broken links, there are bound to be lots of those) then please let me know.

Tomorrow on Ujima

In the midst of all this I still have to do my radio show. Naturally tomorrow I am devoting most of the show to LGBT History Month. I will be joined by Daryll Bullock, a local writer whose book, David Bowie Made Me Gay, has been receiving international acclaim. Darryl will be talking to me about the queer black roots of modern popular music. He’ll be followed by Ujima’s own Angel Mel who will bring us right up to date with news of the queer music scene in Bristol.

In the second hour Karen Garvey from M Shed will pop in and we’ll preview the rest of the entertainment we have planned for Saturday. If you are in Bristol there will be loads of great talks so do pop in.

I also have a short interview with Sophie Walker, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party, that I bagged when she was in Bristol on Sunday. Naturally we talked about the 100th anniversary of (some) women getting the vote, the gender pay gap and so on.

Finally I’ll be talking about plans to hold an anti-trans event in Bristol on Thursday and how the increasingly hostile media coverage of trans issues is leading to an increase in the number of hate crimes against trans people in the region.

Stuff & Nonsense

Every so often I think I should do a blog post rebutting some of the latest nonsense that the TERFs* have come up with. Then things get even more weird. I’m not going anywhere near the nonsense in the Labour Party because it is not my fight, but he’s a few examples of the bizarre things that have been going on.

As you may recall, the current TERF-fueled media assault on trans people is mostly about the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act and is a complete fabrication because a) the legislative changes would not give trans women the rights people are complaining about, and b) we have actually enjoyed those rights under the Equality Act for 8 years. I explained it all here.

Ireland has had a system of self-declaration of legal gender, similar to what has been proposed for the UK, since 2015, and recently there was an article in The Guardian about how Irish trans people had worked together with feminist groups in Ireland to make this happen, and that nothing awful had resulted from it.

Predictably the TERFs started harassing Irish feminists on social media. They also decided to have a public meeting in Dublin to school Irish women on how to be proper feminists. It was billed as being in support of Ireland’s fight for legal abortion, but as it was also part of a UK tour focusing solely on spreading alarm about trans rights the Irish were under no illusions as to what was intended. They issued a scathing open letter.

Since then I have seen TERF accounts on Twitter claiming that the Irish must be anti-abortion for opposing the proposed meeting, and that being pro-abortion is anti-feminist because the only purpose of abortion is to allow men to be less responsible about having sex.

Oh, and Germaine Greer has come out against the #MeToo movement.

Meanwhile it has been a common plank of TERF ideology, despite masses of evidence to the contrary, that trans women are all obsessed with gender stereotypes and act to reinforce the gender binary. Today I learned that, because they insist that being trans is only about gender presentation, they are taking to calling themselves trans because they don’t present in an extremely feminine manner, even though they were assigned female at birth and fully and proudly identify as women.

This is, I presume, another of their silly little psychological games in which they try to mess with trans women’s heads in an attempt to drive us all to suicide. I guess they are hoping that we’ll see anti-trans posts being made by people who claim to be trans in their profiles and be distressed by this. Thankfully you can normally tell because they will write “transwoman” rather than “trans woman” (using transwoman as a noun to indicate that a transwoman is an entirely separate class of being from a woman) and they’ll probably have “XX” in their profile as well).

About the only interesting thing about this is that their tactics are remarkably similar to those used by the miserable remnants of the Sad Puppy movement to harass writers that they don’t like on Twitter. Right down to the fact that their preferred targets are almost always young women.

One day we, as a society, will learn to recognize all of this nonsense and ignore it. Sadly that day is not yet upon us.

* TERF = Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist, a term invented by Radical Feminists decades ago to distance themselves from the anti-trans fanatics. TERFs are notable for being neither Radical nor very good at feminism.

History Goes Viral

No, I’m not referring to the ongoing-nonsense about whether people of color existed before they were “discovered” by European colonialists. While I was down in Hove I spotted this tweet from one of the best satirical accounts on Twitter:

Naturally I couldn’t resist offering a few comments. Somewhat to my surprise, some of those tweets I made have over 900 likes. One has over 1000. And it is still going, well over a week later.

Interestingly, despite all of the attention, I haven’t got much in the way of new followers. I’m not overly upset over that. After all, hordes of followers generally means endless harassment. As it is I check new followers for TERFs and block them on sight. But this has been something of a window on what social media popularity is like. I’m rather glad it doesn’t happen often.

Oh, and that tweet has lots of very funny replies. The whole thread is worth reading.

New LiveJournal Terms of Service

I see that LiveJournal has released new terms of service which all users are obliged to sign up to. (I discovered this when my last blog did not cross-post.) These terms include being subject to applicable Russian laws regarding content. I suspect that I am massively in breach of those laws, simply by being me. Has anyone else got any more information on this?

Hello LiveJournal Users

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

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

Stolen – Monetizing Online Harassment

People are always looking for the next big way to make money out of the Internet. It doesn’t surprise me that someone is trying to make money out of online harassment.

Stolen is a new online game that allows players to “steal” the Twitter accounts of others, to buy and sell the people that they now “own” and to make comments on the game pages of the people they “own”. Of course they can’t give you access to someone’s actual Twitter account. They describe the game as more like collecting trading cards. Except they don’t just have trading cards of famous people, they have cards for everyone on Twitter. The potential for abuse is phenomenal.

In this interview with Holly Brockwell at The Gadgette the CEO of the company behind Stolen makes pretty-sounding noises about how they won’t be bad guys like Twitter and will ban people who use the site for abuse. I don’t believe a word of it.

Firstly I can’t believe that anyone could have been so stupid as to design a game like this and not realize that it would be a magnet for trolls. Heck, their own Twitter profile currently describes their product as, “literally the worst app”. They know what they are doing.

And second, even if they do start off trying to rein in the worse excesses, as soon as they find out just how much money people are prepared to throw at online harassment they are not going to be able to resist taking that money.

So, if you are not a straight cis able-bodied white male, and possibly even if you are, send them a DM and ask to opt out of their game. I did, and I have got a DM back assuring me that my account won’t be included. I’ll now be doing the same for every other Twitter account that I own.

My Sasquan Panel

I managed to wake up in the middle of the night to do the “Exploring Orientation and Gender in Fiction” panel at Sasquan. It was a lot of fun. Many thanks again to Cat Valente for inviting me and providing the Sasquan end of the tech, and also to Heather Rose Jones who is a fellow historian of things LGBT. She has a wonderful online resource here that I shall be spending a long time reading through.

The experience did remind me that 90 minutes is the ideal time for convention panels. Any longer and you’ll probably run out of steam, but any shorter and you’ll barely scratch the surface of the topic. I know an extra half hour doesn’t seem a lot, but when you take out 15 minutes for room change (i.e., a 60 minute slot means a 45 minute panel) and 15 minutes for audience questions you only have a half hour panel. A 90 minute slot doesn’t need to extend either of those, so you get an hour for the panel, meaning you have doubled the time available.

This morning Tero asked me about my experience of participating in a panel by Skype. It was mixed, but I’d still do it again.

The connection to Spokane was a bit spotty. A couple of times I got the dreaded “connection lost, trying to get it back” message. Thankfully the second time worked, but I lost quite a bit of the first half of the panel. Obviously if you are going to do this you have to have a good connection.

Microphone technique becomes much more important if you are using Skype. The mics that are provided in convention centers tend to be sensitive and highly directional. People who keep moving their head while speaking, or who wave the mic around as if they are on Top of the Pops (where, as you should know, everyone is miming) are a menace, because you only get to hear half of what they say.

That goes double for audience questions. Even if you provide people with a mic, the chances are they will mis-use it. Kudos to Cat for realizing this and repeating the questions for me.

Moderators who have one or more Skype panelists should probably keep an eye on the text window. This wasn’t really an issue for us, but if I’d had a problem then texting via Skype might be the only way I had to let the moderator know.

The thing I wasn’t expecting was how much I missed visual clues. I know Cat and Ctein so I could recognize their voices, but I had difficultly telling whether Julia or Heather was speaking, and it was clear that the panel was never quite sure if I’d finished, and was politely not jumping in too soon. Having video as well would probably have helped, except that no one would have wanted to see me at 4:00am.

If there’s anyone who was at the panel who would like to see my lecture at Liverpool University earlier this year, you can find it here.

Today On Ujima – Books, Social Media & Auschwitz

My first guest on today’s show was Amy Morse. Like me Amy is part of the organizing committee for this year’s Bristol Festival of Literature. She was on the show to talk about the crowdfunding effort that we have launched to help raise the money necessary for venue hire, printing publicity materials and other incidental costs of putting on the Festival. You can find that campaign (and a video of Amy) at the Fundsurfer website.

Along the way I talked about the SF&F events that we’ll be having. The BristolCon Fringe event will feature new novels from Jo Hall and Jonathan L Howard. And I’ll be chairing a comics event featuring Mike Carey, Paul Cornell and Cavan Scott.

Amy stayed with me for the second half hour to talk about social media and blogging. Amy is running some courses in Bristol next month, and I figured this was a good opportunity to talk about life online. A great deals of nonsense gets talked in the mainstream media about what goes on online, and while what happens to people like Briannu Wu is indeed terrible, the wailing and gnashing of teeth that follows any (usually thoroughly justified) denunciation of white feminism’s media darlings is quite ridiculous. People need to know how to stay safe online, and much of it revolved around “don’t be an idiot”.

Anyway, you can listen to the first hour of the show here.

Interesting though my conversation with Amy was, I hope she will forgive me for saying that the second hour was spectacular. My guest on the studio was Christina Zaba, a local journalist of Polish extraction. Christina has been heavily involved in Bristol’s Holocaust Memorial Day. As a result of this she has visited Auschwitz. This has led her to discover some family history, and also the stories of two remarkable men. Kazimierz Piechowski was a young man during the war. He escaped from Auschwitz disguised as an SS officer and is still alive (he’s 95). Witold Pilecki was an officer in the Polish resistance who volunteered to get himself arrested so that he could help organize the prisoners and perhaps stage a revolt. He too later escaped from the camp, but was executed by the Russians after the war.

Both Piechowski and Pilecki were also members of the Polish Boy Scouts. The Nazis regarded the Scouts as a paramilitary organization and singled them out for special persecution, which of course led them to becoming a key part of the Resistance. Christina also talked about the Girl Guides who helped smuggle messages, food and tools into the camps.

Christina is writing a book about the Polish Resistance and the part they played in the history of Auschwitz. I’ve already told her that I want her back on the show when it comes out. Gut-wrenching though it can be at times, we do need to keep talking about this history. Auschwitz was both a slave camp run by Nazi businessmen and a giant factory dedicated to murder on an industrial scale. This sort of thing should not be allowed to happen again.

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

Being on air also allowed me to give a mention to various Jamaica-related stories. Tomorrow (August 6th) is Jamaican Independence Day. The past week has seen Jamaica’s first ever Pride. And of course Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, a novel based on an attempted assassination of Bob Marley, has found its way onto this year’s Booker Prize long list.

Today’s playlist was as follows:

  • I Want Your Love – Chic
  • Thriller – Michael Jackson
  • Computer Blue – Prince
  • Are Friends Electric – Tubeway Army
  • The War Song – Culture Club
  • Redemption Song – Bob Marley
  • No Borders – Jama

A Lesson in Crowdfunding

A couple of days ago I saw a tweet from Neil Gaiman promoting a crowdfunding campaign for a play about trans people. I went and had a look at the campaign page and sent back a concerned tweet to Neil. As it turned out, the project is indeed a good one, but the causes of my concern make for an interesting lesson, so I thought I’d blog about them.

The first thing is nothing to do with the campaign itself, but rather the Indiegogo website. These days I get most of my news from Twitter, and I normally access it via my phone and tablets, not via a PC. With the phone I am often doing that when I’m on a train, in a cafe, or otherwise away from my home network. Bandwidth is an issue. But when you click an Indiegogo link from Twitter on a phone you don’t get the website. You get an ad for their bloody app. When you have just spent several minutes waiting for the page to load (on a train, remember), this is enormously irritating. Companies should not do this.

However, eventually I got through to the campaign page, and I read the blurb. With crowdfunding all of the advice pages talk endlessly about the importance of the video, but if you are on a train with limited bandwidth you are not going to watch a video. You just read the text, and in this case it was problematic in two ways.

Firstly there was this:

People like actress Laverne Cox, model Andreja Pejic, celebrity Chaz Bono, director Lana Wachowski have led the charge, but it was Olympic legend Bruce Jenner whose declaration sparked a media frenzy and forever thrust transgender identity into the light of day.

That immediately sounds alarm bells for me. Laverne Cox has done a huge amount of work for the trans community (as has Janet Mock). It was Laverne appearing on the cover of Time that started everyone talking about a transgender tipping point. Jenner, in contrast, has spent most of the last few months in “no comment” land. A focus on Jenner suggests to me that this is a campaign aimed mainly at well-to-do cis white people, not something that will help the trans community.

Anyway, I read through the text, and what I saw was a lot of talk about using the stories of real trans people, but nothing about their involvement beyond that. What I was looking for was how trans people would be involved in the production and staging of this play. I saw nothing.

When I tweeted Neil he asked me about the video. Of course I hadn’t watched it. (On a train, remember.) When I got home I fired up a laptop and checked it out. Immediately I saw trans people, including some who were fairly obviously in the cast (Calpernia Addams, for example). There was much relief in my corner of the world.

So the lesson here is that if you are doing a crowdfunding campaign, don’t put important information in the video, and leave it off the text (or vice versa). You need people to get the whole message, no matter how they end up consuming it.

And now, if you’d like to back the Trans Scripts campaign, that would be a fine thing. If you happen to be very rich and a big Neil Gaiman fan you can get a personal Skype call from him. If you live in Edinburgh, or are going to this year’s Fringe, I’d love to hear a report of the play.

In Which I Learn A New Word

Social media is a rapidly evolving space, and not just because of changes in hardware and software. We monkeys are learning new ways to interact, and devising new rules for it. Part of this involves coining new words. We are probably all familiar with “trolling” and “derailing”. We may be less familiar with the term “gaslighting”, though use of both the technique and term are quite common in posts I see. Yesterday I learned a new word: “sealioning”. There’s an explanation here. Again the technique is very common, so I’m not surprised that it has acquired a name.

What interests me about this is that these are all forms of rhetorical device. It is almost as if we were back in Athens learning the rules of public discourse once again. I suspect this is a very fertile area for research.