Trans at the Hugos


The Finalists for the 2022 Hugo Awards were announced today. Given the amount of shit being heaped upon the trans communities in the UK and USA right now, I figured a post about how well we have done (again) is appropriate.

Best Novel – Ryka Aoki’s wonderful Light from Uncommon Stars is a finalist, which makes me very happy indeed. Shelley Parker-Chan lists she/they pronouns on their website. I note also that Arkady Martine and Becky Chambers are married to women.

Best Short Story – José Pablo Iriarte is non-binary and Cuban. I know nothing about Blue Neustifter, but they have a story in an anthology of trans SF&F so… [confirmed as per comment below]

Best Graphic StoryOnce & Future, vol. 3 is coloured by Tamra Bonvillain.

Best Related Work – Charlie Jane adding to her collection.

Best Semiprozine – There are probably several trans folks on the Strange Horizons team, because they are good like that.

Best Fancast – Charlie Jane & Annalee both.

Best Fan Writer – Alex Brown is non-binary. Bitter Karella’s Twitter bio says, “Genderfluid transvestite goblin”.

Lodestar – Charlie Jane again.

Astounding – Shelley Parker-Chan again.

And there are probably a few I have missed because I don’t know everyone in fandom these days. It is a far cry from 2003 when there was just me.

Oh, and Jesi Lipp, who is one of the Hugo Administrators this year, is non-binary.

Introducing Outremer

It is late in 2003 and I am in Stafford in Middle England for FantasyCon. It is an up and down event. On the downside, it takes place on the same weekend as the final of the Rugby World Cup. The English win. That chap Wilkinson. I am unhappy. But I am at the convention, at least in part, for the awards. China Miéville is busy finishing writing The Iron Council and has asked me if I will stand in for him at the award ceremony where The Scar is up for Best Novel. So I get to make a speech on China’s behalf, and I get given an ugly little Cthuloid statue to take back to him. Ah well, at least it wasn’t a bust of Lovecraft.

At the banquet I am sat next to a lad from Newcastle called Chaz. We bond over a number of things, including a shared devotion to the San Francisco 49ers. “What have you written?” I ask. “Well,” says Chaz, “I have this fantasy series set in an alternate version of the Crusades, and it has just started to come out in America…”

It is 2003, two years since 9/11 and two years into George W Bush’s quest for vengeance. Crusader rhetoric is the order of the day. The West is cast as Christian, Iran and Iraq are obviously Muslim. Tony Blair has recently deployed the Dodgy Dossier; David Kelly is dead; and the invasion of Iraq is well underway. This man wants me to read a fantasy series based on the Crusades? It had better be bloody good.

Of course it was.

Outremer is the collective name given to the four Crusader kingdoms founded after the First Crusade. Their actual history is deeply fascinating, and some great historical novels could doubtless be set in them. Brenchley, however, is doing that fantasy thing where a thinly disguised version of real history, with added magical seasoning, allows him to talk about the real world without the associated baggage that readers are likely to bring to it. He can’t have known, when he started writing the books, how appropriate they would become. The first one was published in the UK in 1998. But sometimes we luck into things.

What Chaz didn’t luck into was recognition for what he had created. I did my best with reviews in Emerald City, but the books didn’t capture the imagination in the way I’d hoped. Maybe they were too timely. Maybe there was too much queer stuff for the audience of 20 years ago. Regardless, I am absolutely delighted to have been given the opportunity to bring them to a new audience.

I’m particularly pleased to have the first book nearing completion during LGBT+ History Month. The mediaeval world has been presented to us as relentlessly heterosexual for decades, but we now know that was far from the truth. Human beings have always been queer, and a lot of what actually happened in those days has been carefully excised from history. Slowly modern historians are undoing that erasure. There have even been questions asked of that most macho of men, Richard Couer de Lion. Brenchley is not writing about real people, so there can be no one to say that there is no proof they were queer. Having them in the book is simply portraying the period as it existed, which is a good thing to be doing.

There will be more publicity for Outremer in the coming weeks. I very much hope that the books manage to find a new audience.

One Night in Stratford #LGBTHM22

On Thursday evening I will once again be participating in the LGBT+ History Month event at the Shakepspeare’s Birthplace Trust in Stratford-on-Avon. Sadly I won’t be in Shakepeare’s birthplace this time, but a virtual event means that you folks can get to see me in action from all over the world.

The talk I’m doing for them is a short version of my “Girls on Stage” talk, focusing solely on the theatre of 16th and 17th Century England. So no Greeks or Kabuki in this one, but there is so much batshit genderqueer stuff in the plays of the period that there will be no trouble filling the time.

To give folks a flavour of what I’ll be talking about, I have done a blog post for the SBT website. You can find it here.

To book a free place for the entire programme, go here.

Girls On Stage: A Trailer #LGBTHM22

The fabulous Gigi from A New Normal asked me if I would mind doing a little chat for LGBT+ History Month. I suggested maybe a bit of a teaser to encourage people to attend my M Shed talk on cross-dressing in the theatre. So we did. Now it is online and you can watch it below.

And if that sparked your interest you can catch the whole talk here. It is on February 24th, and it starts at 7:00pm so it is convenient for some of you folks across the Pond too.

LGBT+ History Month is here

Yes, it is February again, which means I am going to be busy doing talks. There will be only two public ones this year, and both will feature my new theme for this year: crossdressing in the theatre. This was inspired by reading some great research on the boys who actually played women in Shakespeare’s plays. I hope that the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust would pick up on it, and they did. I will be part of an Outing the Past event on February 17th. See here for details.

One of the things that delighted me about this is that, in researching the talk, I discovered that our Will was really quite conservative. Other plays written by his contemporaries were much more queer, including some actual trans material.

I’m doing a related talk for my friends at M Shed Museum in Bristol. It turns out that they have a fine collection of Japanese prints, including a number of portraits of kabuki actors. Also they wanted a much longer talk, so this one will visit ancient Greece, mediaeval China and Japan as well as Elizabethan/Victorian England. It is on February 24th, and you can book here.

M Shed also has a bunch of other talks that I have helped curate, including ones by my friends Andrew Foyle and Norena Shopland, and one by a Chinese queer activist, Qiuyan Chen. Check out the What’s On listing for details.

There are, of course, talks happening all over the country. This year some of the hubs are doing in person events again, but I suspect that quite a few will be virtual still. You can find a list of all the events here.

I’m doing a bunch of talks for private clients too. That doesn’t mean I’m getting big bucks, it means it is for a local or company LGBT+ group and they want to restrict access to members. This is mainly repeats, but I’ll possibly be doing one for Trans Day of Visibility in March that might turn into next year’s public talk.

Dydd Santes Dwynwen Happus!

Or Happy Saint Dwynwen’s Day to you English speakers.

But who is Saint Dwynwen, and why should we be happy on her day? Well, she is the Welsh patron saint of lovers, so today is the Welsh version of Valentine’s Day. These days it is associated with almost as much ritual consumerism as the better known love festival.

Valentine was an early Christian martyr, executed for trying to convert the Emperor to his beliefs. He died on February 14th, 269 (according to Catholic Online). It is unclear how he came to be associated with being in love. Dwynwen has a much better claim to the job.

Dwynwen was one of the 24 daughters of King Brychan Brycheiniog, whose territory is the region we now call the Brecon Beacons. She was, naturally, the prettiest of them, and there was competition for her hand. A young man called Maelon Dafodrill was particularly smitten with her. What happened next varies a lot from one story to the next.

Some say that Dwynwen rejected Maelon’s advances and he became furious with her, perhaps even raped her. Others say that she loved him in return but she had been promised to someone else by her father. Whatever happened, she prayed to God for help and he proved remarkably willing to get involved.

There may have been a potion of forgetfulness, provided by an angel, which either erased the pain of the rape, or the pain of losing her love. Also the unfortunate Maelon was turned into a pillar of ice. And finally God granted Dwynwen three wishes.

For the first wish she asked that Maelon be unfrozen forthwith, which shows that she had a rather better understanding of compassion and forgiveness than God.

For the second wish she asked that God take good care of all true lovers, that their lives might prove happier than hers, which is where she got the patron saint job from.

And finally she asked that she be allowed to never marry. She lived out her life in a nunnery, and founded a small church on a little island near Anglesey.

So what are we to make of all this? Was Dwynwen a broken-hearted lover? If so, why did she not just ask God to allow her to marry Maelon? Was she put off men by Maelon’s bad behaviour? Perhaps, but she seemed willig to forgive him. Or maybe she just wasn’t interested in men at all.

What we do know is that she was a kind-hearted girl who wanted the best for others. (She is also the patron saint of sick animals.) And I rather like the idea that the Welsh patron saint of lovers might be lesbian or asexual.

Buy Me for Christmas


If you missed my HistFest talk on trans Romans first time around, you have a second chance. It will be available for a number of days over the holiday period. What’s more, for the ridiculously low sum of £8.68 (that’s £7.50 plus EventBrite fees) you get not just me, but five other great history talks by actual, genuine historians too. That has to be better than watching Christmas movies, right? If you would like to purchase access, you can do so here.

By the way, I don’t get a cut of this. I was paid a flat fee for creating the talk. But if you do watch my bit that will help encourage the lovely HistFest folks to commission more trans-related material, which would be a very good thing.

On Female Masculinity

Last week I recorded an an interview with my Radical Feminist pal, Finn Mackay. Finn has written a book with the intriguing title of Female Masculinities and the Gender Wars. The lovely people at Bristol Ideas wanted to do a feature on it, and I got asked to host.

Finn and I talked about an awful lot of stuff. It is an absolute delight to be able to have a deep and nuanced conversation about feminism and gender without some idiot fauxminist yelling “Penis!” at us. Hopefully the conversation will be illuminating for people who have hitherto only been exposed to the nonsense in the media.

If you would like to take a listen, you can do so here.

Life on Transphobia Island

It is fairly well known now that the UK has become one of the most transphobic countries in the world. We aren’t as bad as places like Russia or Hungary yet, but the situation is not good. Most of you will probably think that the bulk of the problem is lack of reform of the Gender Recognition Act, and the constant flow of anti-trans propaganda in the mainstream media. Some of you may be aware that there is now around a 5 year waiting list to get a first appointment at a UK gender clinic, and that in five years time that delay will be much longer. These are the things that hit the headlines, but they are not all that is going on. Behind the scenes, much worse is happening.

I’m writing this post today because today is the first time that I have resorted to ordering medication over the internet. I’m hoping that I won’t have to use it, and there are some helpful people within the NHS who are trying to get me a new hormone prescription. But without the cooperation of a GP local to me they will probably fail.

The GP services in the UK are currently organised through things called Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). There are lots of these around the country. While patients have a free choice of GPs within their local CCG, it is difficult to get care from anywhere else. A recent survey by Gender GP has discovered that 83% of CCGs in England do not have any policy in place regarding healthcare for trans people. That doesn’t necessarily mean no treatment. If you have a friendly GP whom you have know for years they will probably still prescribe. But increasingly GP services are run through large, multi-doctor surgeries where you never see the same doctor twice, and without an official trans healthcare policy from their CCG they will probably refuse treatment.

Note that I’m not asking for anything highly specialist here. The gender transition process is still handled by Gender Identity Clinics. But if, like me, you have had your gonads removed, you need an alternative source of hormones to stay healthy. In theory I should be getting a regular prescription of oestrogen. In practice GPs refuse to prescribe, even though they know I will get quite ill without it.

There are parts of the country that are not so bad. There’s that 17% of CCGs that do have a trans policy. Plus, if you happen to live in London, Manchester, Brighton or Liverpool there are specialist GP services you can go to. But for much of England there is a huge problem.

You might think that, in such a situation, someone in private practice would leap in to take advantage, but that doesn’t happen. I’ve tried three private GP services, including BUPA. All three said that they would not accept a trans person as a patient. Anyone who sets up in private practice specifically to help trans people is quickly hounded out of business by the medical authorities.

So healthcare is a problem, but a potentially far worse one is the removal of trans people’s civil rights through changes in police policy. The UK now has elected Police & Crime Commissioners (PCCs) for each local force. In England, inevitably, the majority of these are Conservatives. Recently there has been a coordinated push by these people to redefine the law as it applies to trans women. In a recent post on the right-wing website, Conservative Home, several PCCs stated their opposition to trans rights, and to the LGBT+ charity, Stonewall.

The reason for the complaints against Stonewall is that their training on the Equality Act correctly explains that trans women can only be excluded from “women-only” spaces if there is a good reason for doing so. This is in line with the official guidance regarding the Act produced by the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC). Earlier this year an anti-trans lobby group spent a large amount of money to bring a court case demanding a judicial review of the EHRC guidance. The claimed that, under the Act, trans women should always be excluded from women-only spaces. The judge described their argument as “absurd” and “wrong in law”. Nevertheless, the media continues to put forward this anti-trans position as if it is fact, and now several PCCs have done so too.

The most extreme example is Philip Wilkinson, the PCC for Wiltshire, which happens to be where I live. He stated that he does not believe that “biological men” should be allowed into women-only spaces. The term, “biological men” is a favourite of anti-trans campaigners. Its meaning varies quite a bit. Some people say it means people with a Y chromosome, others that it means people who do not have ovaries, and others also want to exclude anyone with above average levels of testosterone in their body. But all of them agree that the term absoutely excludes all trans women.

Currently in the UK the Gender Recognition Act allows trans people to change their legal gender. That should allow them to be treated as an ordinary person of that gender in almost all circumstances. Equally, the Equality Act says that it is illegal to discrimiate against a person on the grounds that they have undergone, are undergoing or plan to undergo gender reassignment. By saying that he will bar trans women from women-only spaces, Mr Wilkinson is saying that he wants the police under his command to ignore the Gender Recognition Act and Equality Act, and to act with prejudice against any trans women they encounter.

Of course this is illegal, but if there is one thing that the current government in the UK has shown it is that they have no respect for the law, and believe that they can break it with impunity whenever they wish. The same is apparently true of Conservative PCCs. And while a trans woman who is arrested for using a toilet, or trying to buy clothes, might eventually have her day in court and win, that won’t make up for the trauma of the experience.

It is probably no accident that Mr Wilkinson’s statement was quickly followed up by the launch of a campaign by Wiltshire Police to target “sex offenders”. How they are likley to be able to spot potential rapists before they commit any rapes is a bit of a mystery. But it is axiomatic amongst the anti-trans movement that they “can always tell” if someone is trans, and Mr Wilkinson clearly believes that all trans women are, by definition, sex offenders. It is pretty obvious who the Wiltshire police will be on the lookout for.

Sadly the “we can always tell” manta is nonsense. The vast majority of people who get harrassed in public toilets and other women-only spaces on suspicion of being trans are cisgender women. They might have short hair and a fairly masculine style of dress; they might be wearing a wig for some innocent reason; or their might have lost their breasts to cancer. Many trans women are quite safe in comparison, but it doesn’t feel that way when you know that you are being hunted by the police.

So yeah, life here on Transphobia Island is not much fun right now. My advice to young trans people is to get out if you possibly can. It will get worse before it gets better.

Bristol on Saturday

It has been a long time. The last public event I did in Bristol was, I think, February 25 2020. I have done one in-person training course for the NHS there last summer, and of course a whole lot of virtual events, but this is very different.

What am I up to? Well, the Palace International Film Festival is taking place at St. Anne’s House in Brislington. It is a festival of queer cinema, and as part of the programme Tom Marshman and I will be Queer and Indecent. Well, that’s that it says on the website anyway. The longer version is, “As part of our Queer & Indecent Exhibition, join curator Kate Fahy as she talks to two local queer Bristol artists for a conversation about queer history, spaces and community.”

If you are able to attend, it is a 12:30 start. You may want to book a place as COVID security will mean a fairly limited attendance.

If you are in Bristol this weekend you may also want to check out the Queer Bristol Audio Tour put together by Anna Rutherford and collagues. If you go on the tour you might hear a familiar voice talking about Michael Dillon.

Spider Divination and Divine Androgyny

“What on Earth do those two things have in common?”, you may well ask. It goes like this.

Having given a 2-hour webinar on trans issues this morning I took a little me time and spent the afternon watching a mini academic conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of Sir Keith Thomas’s legendary history book, Religion and the Decline of Magic.

The papers were from people such as my friend Will Pooley who know far more than I do about magic in the early modern period. That was fun, and I learned stuff, including that there are now academics who study magical thinking amongst fringe groups on the internet. This is just as well, given the amount of nonsense being spread by the alt-right.

However, the thing that got me to sit up and take notice was a mention by an anthropologist that some people in Africa do divination with the aid of spiders. Someone in the audience posted a helpful link to the chat, so now I know how it is done.

The method used by various peoples from Cameroon uses large spiders that live in burrows — presumably a form of tarantula. The diviner has a collection of cards that are scattered around the entrance to the spider’s burrow. The whole assemblage is then covered over. The spider, thinking that her burrow has collapsed, comes out and thrashes around for a while trying to work out what has happened to the sun. Eventually the cover is removed, and the pattern of cards left by the spider is read to produce the divination.

There’s more on this, and other forms of animal divination, here. Land crabs can apparently be used in a very similar way. But in reading the article I came across this:

Androgyny seems to be a common goal among the African cultures where diviners engage in cross-gender dressing. Examples can be found among peoples from West, Central, and Southern Africa. I have long thought that this might reflect an understanding of spiritual entities as androgynous themselves (as opposed to mere humans of single sexes), and that such a posture would have value for the diviner when dealing with male and female clients.

Anyone who has done a bit of anthropology knows that in various tribal cultures around the world, non-binary people are viewed as being especially holy and often as having magical powers. Similar beliefs are found in ancient cultures such as the Scythians and the Inca.

It is generally agreed these days that the idea of a world that is gradually progressing from a belief in magic, to a belief in religion, to a belief in science, is much too simplistic. But we can occasionally see shamanistic beliefs re-purposed in organised religion. Which brings me to this article, published today in The Independent, which looks at the Graeco-Roman deity known as Hermaphroditus. Classicists now mostly accept that statues of Hermaphroditus were not pornographic jokes, as has been assumed by cis male historians for the past couple of hundred years, but rather were expressions of a mystical union of male and female.

So bascially God is non-binary (which Michelangelo understood when he painted the Sistine Chapel). They are doubtless deeply unimpressed with the current fashion for anti-trans extremism.

That Finnish “Non-Binary” Burial

Last week the newspapers were full of stories about a supposed “non-binary” burial discovered in Finland. I got a few inquiries regarding my thoughts. It has taken a while to find the time to do more than make a few scathing tweets about the poor quality of the journalism. Here’s something a little more in depth. (And if you want to check what I say against the original academic paper it is here.)

First up, the actual facts. The burial is located near Hattula in Finland, which is a town roughly half-way between Helsinki and Tampere. The grave has been dated to about 900 years ago, which means during the Viking era (at which point someone will yell at me for using the word “Viking”, but if Cat Jarman can use it I can too.). It was first excavated in 1968 and appeared to contain a single person, two swords, and clothing/jewellery that has been interpreted as female-coded. There has been much controversy over the findings, with some people claiming that this is a grave of a woman warrior, and others claiming that there must have been two bodies in the grave, one of whom was male. The current research has tried to solve that mystery by analysing the DNA of the skeleton, but has only resulted in an even bigger mystery.

I’ll pause here to note that I said “interpreted as female-coded” very deliberately. The gendering of grave goods is an imprecise art, of which I’ll have more to say later.

The result of the DNA analysis suggest that the person buried in the tomb exhibited what we now called Kleinfelter’s Syndrome, which means that they had an XXY chromosome pattern. I am going to assume that the DNA analysis is correct, because I don’t have the expetise to judge it. However, the paper produced by the archaeologists does say that the analysis was difficult, and I am entirely prepared for an expert in genetics to tell me that it was bunkum.

The DNA analysis has led both archaeologists an journalists to talk about the body buried in the grave being someone who is “intersex” and “non-binary”. What does this mean, and are these statements correct.

Let’s start with “intersex”. What this means is people who are, “born with sex characteristics that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies”. XXY chromosomes very clearly do not fit the notion of a gender binary. You will see some people talk about strict definitions of “intersex”, which generaly refers to something to do with genitalia. These definitions tend to be produced by medical people. You may also see the term “DSD” used. It stands for “Disorders of Sexual Deveopment” and is deeply pathologising, partly by suggesting that all intersex people are “disordered”, and partly by suggesting that they can and should be “fixed” in some way. When talking about intersex people in training I try to be guided by the Organisation Internationale des Intersexués, and I defend the right of intersex people to be accepted as an ordinary part of human variability.

By the way, the “Gender Critical” movement tends to dismiss intersex people as being “very rare”. There are over 100 intersex traits known to modern medicine, and between 1% and 2% of the population will have one, though many will be unaware of this. The NHS web page on the subject says that around 1 in 600 men exhibit the Kleinfelter trait, which means over 50,000 people in the UK alone. Of course many will be unaware of this, because who has their chromosomes tested?

Note that the NHS said “men” there. People with XXY chromosomes will normally be assigned male at birth because they have penises. The effect of having XXY chromosomes on the body can vary significantly, but as far as gendered appearance goes the only common effect is enlarged breasts. Some XXY people also exhibit soemthing the medical people call hypospadias, which means there is an opening on the underside of penis. This can result in the person being assigned female at birth.

Back when I transitioned, being diagnosed as XXY was the gold standard for trans women, because doctors would see that extra X chromosome and decide that you were half way to being female already. This idea was strengthed when Caroline Cossey revealed that she had XXXY chromosomes, and we all wanted to look like her. But it seems that the majority of XXY people identify as men and are happy as such.

Now on to the question of non-binary identity. I’d like to start by saying that the idea that being intersex implies that you are non-binary is on a par with saying trans women are men, because it assumes that biological factors are the sole determinant of your gender. In all probability the majority of intersex people are happy being cisgender. Remember, many have no idea that they are intersex. Some intersex people, such as Caroline Cossey, will identify as trans women. There are also intersex traits that result in a baby being assigned female at birth but being more likely to identify as male. And there are some intersex people who identify as non-binary because of their biology, or because they would have been non-binary regardless of their biology.

So the idea that the person buried in the Hattula grave is non-binary because they happen to have XXY chromosomes is nonsense. What are the actual possibilities?

The archaeologists have tried to get this right. Their paper has references to work by the likes of Anne Fausto-Sterling and Judith Butler. However, they are hampered by a legacy of assumptions being made about the gender burials which tell us more about the people making the assumptions than about the person buried. The idea that anyone buried with a sword must be a man is taking a very long time to die.

In recognising that the subject is complex, the paper’s authors look around for possibilities and occasionally end up down the wrong rabbit hole. For example, they say, “An interesting aspect of the graves containing osteologically determined females and swords is that they often lack jewellery and other feminine accessories (Simniškytė, 2007; Price et al., 2019). This is seemingly in line with the idea that the Scandinavian gender system accepted masculinity as the only normative gender and allowed only some females to obtain masculine gender in certain circumstances (Clover, 1993).” However, this grave does contain jewellery and the person buried there would probably have been assigned male at birth.

The point this does make is that trans and non-binary identities are culturally contextual. You can only say that someone is non-binary if they behave outside the cultutally accepted norms of male and female for the society in which they live. Do we know what these norms were for early-mediaeval Finnish culture? Possibly not.

It seems likely that the person in the grave would have been assigned male at birth. Very few cultures assign anyone as neither male nor female at birth, and those that do (for example the Navajo) tend to require ambiguous genitalia for make such a pronouncement. If the person in the grave did exhibit hypospadias, then they may have been assigned non-binary at birth, or been assigned female, but we have no way of knowing.

The identification of the person buried as female is dependent on the grave goods. The items of interest are a small number of brooches, and the probable presence of expensive fur-trimmed clothing. As the authors of the paper note, this could mean that the person buried in the grave was a very wealthy and powerful man who liked using excessive bling to emphasise his status.

If the person buried exhibited hypospadias then they may have been assigned female at birth, but masculine biological characteristics would have asserted themselves at puberty and this could have led to the person acquiring a liminal identity. In our culture such people are normally deterined to have been the victims of a mistaken gender assignment, and are re-assigned as men. There are several well known cases in the UK from the 1930s. We appear to be better at gendering babies now. Early mediaeval Finnish culture may well have been more accepting of non-binary identities.

But probably the person buried was identified as male at birth. They may have developed pronounced breasts during puberty or, like Caroline Cossey, they may have had a strong female gender identity, or both. We don’t know how the local culture would have reacted to this. They may have seen the person as liminal in some way and required/allowed a non-binary identity. Or they may have allowed gender transition. Again, we can’t know.

So in conclusion, the person buried at Hattula may have been a cisgender man with a liking for bling, or someone assigned female at birth who “magically” acquired male characteristics in life, or someone assigned female at birth who “magically” acquired female characteristics later in life, or someone who was assigned female at birth who transitioned socially to live as a woman. All of these explanations could possibly have been seen as “non-binary” in some way by the local culture. One of them has the buried person strongly identifiying as a man, and one has them strongly identifying as female. How the person identified themself could be rather different from how the rest of their society viewed them.

Gendering burials is hard, folks. But the act of trying to do so can teach us a lot about the complexity of human biology and identity.

At the Movies with Lana & Lily

Recently I was honoured to be asked to make a guest appearance on the podcast, Women Make SF. It is a series about women in science fiction movies, which isn’t normally my bag, but in this case the subject was the Wachowski sisters so I did have things worth saying. Also Amy and Kyle, the hosts of the podcast, are huge fans of Jupiter Ascending, so we got off on the right foot immediately.

It was a lot of fun to record, and the episode is now live. You can listen to it below:

Time and the Romans

My HistFest talk on transgender Romans is coming up next week. Many of you have already booked up for it, which is lovely, but inevitably a few of you have had issues with the timing. Well I have good news for you: it doesn’t matter. Sure, if you can’t be there on the night, you will miss the live Q&A. But you know where to find me, right? Other than that, if you buy a ticket, you will get a link that you can use any time in the next 7 days, because the HistFest people are lovely like that. So if you were planning to go to the pub, have a D&D night that you can’t cancel, or live in Australia and can’t be up in the middle of the night, it is OK. You can catch up on replay.

Tickets available here.

By the way, I’m not hassling you on my behalf. I get a fixed fee regardless of the audience size. But if we can get a really big attendance for this then HistFest will see value in doing other trans-related talks. And that will be a good thing.

Non-Binary Translated Fantasy

I have just backed a Kickstarter for a book called Alia Terra by Ava Kelly. It is a short book of fantasy stories, based on Romanian folk tales, about non-binary people, by a non-binary writer, that will be in both Romanian and in English translation. The money is being raised primarily for the illustrations, which will be by an American-Romanian trans artist, Matthew Spencer. The project is being put together by the lovely people at Atthis Arts.

You can get the ebook for $7. That has to be worth doing, right? Pledge here.

Target Achieved #My125Miles

Well that’s a relief. My fundraiser for One25 hit the target today. Thanks so much to all of the lovely people who pledged. Of course I still have to finish the distance. I have 25.77 miles to go, and 7 days in which to do it. If it would just stop bloody raining…

By the way, you can still pledge. There are no stretch goals, but there’s nothing wrong with raising more money than I’d hoped. I’m sure that One25 can find uses for the money.

On the Big Stage


Today it was announced that I will be doing a talk for HistFest (June 17th, 7:30pm UK time, booking details here). This is huge.

No, seriously. The sort of people who get on that platform are TV historians, eminent professors, or people with books coming out. Often they are all three. Recent events have featured Michael Wood, Alice Roberts, Olivette Otele, Sir Michael Palin, David Olusoga and Janina Ramirez. And they want me to talk about trans people. It feels kind of like being a finalist for the Best Novel Hugo without having actually written a book. I am so grateful to Rebecca Rideal for asking me to do this, and of course to all of the professional Classicists and Assyriologists who have helped me get the skills to make this possible.

Now all I have to do is perform, and thanks to years of experience with LGBT+ History Month I know I can do that. What I’m hoping some of you will do is buy a ticket. I want this to sell out, not for me, but to show people that LGBT+ history has a market.

By the way, if you saw my talk at the University of Durham in February, this will be mostly the same material, but made a bit more accessible for a more general audience. However, there will be some new stuff about trans men in this talk.

Half Way #My125Miles

Well, this is proving challenging. Every morning I wake up wondering if I will have got fit enough that my calves won’t ache, and every morning I am disappointed.

That’s not the hard bit, though. It is the bloody rain that is the problem. Cats hate getting their fur wet, but finding time to go for a walk when it isn’t raining is proving challenging. That’s the main reason why I am barely up with the required rate of 4 miles per day. But up with it I am. I’m at 55% of the distance, in 55% of the time. Here’s hoping the weather doesn’t get any worse for the rest of May.

The fundraising is going a little better, being at 65% of target, but it is going very much in fits and starts. There’s a lot happening right now, and if you are deciding to spend your money on helping people in India, or Palestine, or Colombia, or any one of many other deserving causes, that’s entirely understandable. But if you can spare a few quid/bucks/whatever for One25 I would be very grateful, and so would the unfortunate women that they exist to help.

I’m told that the team has raised a total of £2,243, which is great news. I have been stuck on £226 for a while. I’m hoping to get to £350, so that’s only £124 more. If 25 of you could give just £5 each I’d be there. Here’s the link to donate.

Guy Kay’s Tolkien Lecture

I have just been listening to Guy Gavriel Kay give this year’s JRR Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature. It was, as with every lecture that Guy gives, very amusing, and well worth listening to.

The topic that Guy settled on for the evening was that of how much light an author should shed upon the workings of magic in their books. Guy, of course, is famously reticent in such matters and, while he defends the right of others to write as they wish, he nevertheless wishes to advocate for his own approach. He loves to leave things to the imagination, to make, as he said, his books a dialogue with the reader, and not just a monologue by the author.

The entire lecture is available to watch on repeat on YouTube. Here it is.

Personally I am a big fan of ambiguity. One of the examples Guy used is probably my favourite scene from any of his books, that alarming encouter with a force beyond the ken of mortal men on a country road in Sailing for Sarantium.

I also like ambiguous endings, and to show that they have a place in fiction, and perhaps as a gift to Guy if I might be so bold, here is an example. It is taken, not from modern fantasy fiction, but from the work of the 16th Century playwright, John Lyly, a man much beloved of the sort of gender-bending that Shakespeare would later use, much toned down, in his own comedies.

The plot of Gallathea tells of a village that has offended Neptune and, to avoid destruction, must offer up its fairest maiden every five years to the god of the sea. As the fateful day arrives, the fathers of the two most obvious candidates disguise their daughters as boys and send them off into the woods to hide.

Both girls, Gallathea and Phyllida, are very frightened, and nervous that their disguise might be insufficient. Both are therefore delighted to meet a handsome young man from whom, they hope, they can learn how to behave as a man should. Before long, both girls are deeply in love with each other.

Woods being woods, the gods are about. Diana is hunting, and Cupid is looking for mischief to make. Seeing what has happened with our heroines, Cupid decides to make Diana’s nymphs fall in love with the “boys” too. The nymphs, of course, are supposed to remain virgins, so Diana is furious, and she summons Venus to put things right. Eventually all is revealed, and even cruel Neptune is mollified.

There remains the question of our two lovers. “How like you this, Venus?” asks Neptune.

“I like well and allow it,” she replies, “they shall both be possessed of their wishes, for never shall it be said that Nature or Fortune shall overthrow Love.”

She does, however, offer to change one or other of the girls into a boy, that they might be married. The girls’ fathers immediately start arguing over who shall lose a daughter and who gain a son. Seeing a problem, Venus suggests that the girls need not decide until such time as they present themselves at a church door. Her solution is acceptable to all and there, save for the resolution of a subplot, and an epilogue about the need for ladies to surrender to love, our story ends.

Who becomes a boy? Is it Gallathea? Is it Phyllida? Or do they choose to both remain female and eschew the strictures of heteronormativity? We are not told, and nor should it matter. As Venus knows well, all that is important is that Love shall conquer all.

I should add that the play was first performed in front of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, on New Year’s Day, 1585. No one lost their head, and therefore we can perhaps infer that the Queen was as well pleased as Venus with the ending.

If you would like to know more about John Lyly and his amazingly queer writing, you can do so via this fine podcast.