Wales Stands Up For Trans Rights

With the government’s announcement on their planned rollback of trans rights expected next week, interesting political things are happening. Some I can’t talk about right now, but a couple I can.

Firstly there was a poll in Pink News today which revealed that 57% of women support the use of so-called “self-identification” in the process of changing your legal gender. (I use scare quotes because the phrase itself utterly fails to convey the extent of legal penalties that will fall on anyone shown to have made a false declaration.) Even more interesting from my point of view is the fact that obly 21% of women were against (the rest were “don’t know”) compared to 33% of men. So the anti-trans cause, which claims to be a women’s rights movement, gets more than 2/3 of its support from men. Odd that, men being so much more in favour of “women’s rights” than actual women.

But the really big news today is that the Welsh Government has come out firmly in favour of trans rights.

As you may remember, Scotland has a GRA reform bill in process. It has been shelved during the pandemic as the Scottish Parliament is busy with other things, but it does pretty much exactly that Theresa May’s proposals for England & Wales would have done.

Wales does not have the right to pass such a law, but it does have the right to complain to Westminister and that is what they have done. In their letter the Welsh government speaks of having consulted with the trans community in Wales whom they say are, “dismayed at the increasing likelihood of a regression in their Human Rights as trans people.”

Furthermore, the Welsh government states:

While the thrust of the Gender Recognition Act may deal with matters which are reserved, we will explore what actions may be open to us to support trans people in related areas which are within devolved competence.

It is unclear exactly what they can do, and will remain so until Westminster publishes its plans. What does seem clear is that if Westminister wants to roll back trans rights, as Liz Truss has promised, then it will have to fight both Scotland and Wales to do so. (For all I know they would have to fight Northern Ireland too, but those folks are way too busy with Bozo’s plans to set up customs posts between NI and mainland Britain as part of Brexit.)

They don’t call it the Untied Kingdom for nothing,

Forget the Carrot, Resist the Stick

News has been leaked that the government intends to abandon proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). Understandably, large numbers of people are up in arms and are demanding that the reforms be implemented. Certainly it is outrageous that the government choose to simply ignore the 70% of consultation respondents who were in favour of reform, and side with the 30% who were against. However, the best way to get reform may not be to campaign for it, but to resist the changes that the government will have to introduce instead; changes which will have implications far beyond the arena of trans rights.

To understand why we need to look at the reasons the GRA reforms were proposed in the first place. They are not something that the trans community was hugely concerned about. While there could have been real steps forward in reform, such as legal recognition for non-binary people, and for people under 18, the government has made it clear that such things would never be seriously considered. The primary beneficiaries of GRA reform would not have been the trans community, but the Home Office.

Legal gender recognition is the end point of a long process that trans people go through once they have sought medical assistance with transition. The government requires that anyone wishing to change their legal gender can show that they can live peacefully and effectively in the gender to which they are transitioning. The GRA requires that each applicant complete a 2-year “Real Life Test”, and obtain approval for their application from two doctors, to show that they are “really trans”.

The medical approval side is something of a formality, once you can get accepted for treatment. The medical profession has long since understood that the best way to find out if someone is “really trans” is to let them transition and see if they like it. If they do, then they must be “really trans”. That is, of course, a form of self-identification.

The government, however, wants an orderly society. They want to know, to steal some talking points from the anti-trans lobby, that trans women will not be peeping under toilet doors in the Ladies, or “waving their willies about” in communal changing rooms. We know that this doesn’t actually happen, because it would be all over the newspapers if it did, but the government wants to be sure before allowing a legal gender change.

However, in order for a trans person to be able to complete this test, it is essential that they be able to live their lives fully in their correct gender for those two years. That means they need to be able to change some paperwork. They might change their name, they’ll almost certainly need a new driving license, they may need a new passport as well. In other words, they need to change all the things that they need for day-to-day living.

Changing your birth certificate and legal gender are not necessary for day-to-day life. They are supposedly the cherry on the cake that you get at the end of the process. But you only need them in certain specific cases: if you want to get married, if you get send to prison, or if you die.

A combination of ever-increasing waiting times at NHS gender clinics, and the expense and humiliation of the GRA process, has meant that most trans people have simply not bothered to seek legal gender recognition. They have almost everything they legally need to live their new lives already. As a result of this, there are thousands of trans people in the UK who have changed all of their other ID, but have not changed their legal gender. And that is where the Home Office comes in.

If you are a Home Office bureaucrat, you want everyone to have their papers in order. What is happening with trans people simply will not do, from a bureaucracy point of view. It horrifies the Home Office that so many citizens have driving licences and passports in one gender, but are legally a different gender. The obvious thing to do was to make changing your legal gender easier and cheaper. After all, many other countries around the world, including Ireland, Portugal and Belgium, have done the same thing, and there have been no unpleasant consequences. This is why the likes of Theresa May and Amber Rudd were so keen on GRA reform.

The current government, however, has been seduced by the complaints of the anti-trans lobby, and by the supposed benefits of making persecution of the trans community a central plank of a “culture war”. They have scrapped GRA reform. That has not solved the problem for the Home Office, so something else must be done instead.

Quite simply, if you are not going to make it easier for trans people to change their legal gender, the only other solution is to make life harder for trans people and hope that they all go away.

What Liz Truss appears to have signalled via the leak to the Sunday Times is a new set of draconian curbs on the ability of trans people to live happily without a legal gender change. It will be made harder for them to access spaces appropriate for a person of their gender. So they will have no choice but to apply for a legal gender change or to detransition.

It should go without saying that forcing people to detransition is abominably cruel and is likely to lead to an epidemic of mental health crises within the trans community.

There are other problems with this approach too. How is a trans person to complete their “Real Life Test” if the government itself is making it impossible for them to do so? In effect this would be a ban on anyone beginning transition.

In addition, the anti-trans lobby is unlikely to be satisfied with this approach. They want nothing less than the complete repeal of the GRA, and will not be satisfied until they get it. Their friends in the media will support them in pushing the government to a retrograde step that would see the UK ranked alongside Hungary as one of the most transphobic nations on Earth.

However, all this pales into insignificance beside the danger to equality law posed by the anti-trans lobby. The basis of their argument is that (a small minority of) cisgender women are frightened of trans women (there is no evidence that we are an actual danger), and that because of this the “sex-based rights” of cis women must always trump those of trans women. This strikes at the very heart of equalities legislation, because once it is established in law that the rights of one (probably majority) group are more important than those of another (probably minority) group, there is no stopping the dominoes from falling. Everyone’s rights will be at risk. One obvious end point of this type of argument is that the “sex-based rights” of men be allowed to trump those of women.

The US Supreme Court recently argued that the rights of trans people, and indeed those of LGB people, are all protected by “sex-based rights”. That is because as a society our concept of “sex” is intimately bound up with how we perform gender, including our sexual preferences. Sadly, the UK is not subject to the rulings of the SCOTUS, but the same logic should guide us here. In any case, any attempt to argue that the civil rights of one group of citizens should include the right to oppress another group should be strongly resisted by everyone, not just trans people.

Ultimately this is what will usher in GRA reform. The Home Office still has a problem. If we do everything we can to prevent the government wielding its proposed stick, then the problem of trans people with mis-matched paperwork remains, and the government will have no choice but to go back to the carrot.

Coronavirus – Day #107

The big thing that I have done today is create a list of trans and non-binary writers, editors, etc. in the SF/F/H community. Why I have not done this before I do not know. But it is done now.

There will be people that I have forgotten. There will also be people that I have never heard of. There may also be people whom I have put on the list who don’t want to be on it. If you are in one of these groups, please get it touch. I’m also open to suggestions from non-trans folks as to who to put on it, but if you suggest someone please be sure that they are open abuout being trans first. And check to see if they are already on the list before suggesting them.

I also did my weeky Tesco trip. It was very quiet. There were no shortages. I only saw one other person wearing a mask.

Coronavirus – Day #98

I appear to have spent much of today watching TV. There was housework as well, and an online meeting, but lots of TV. Or, to be precise, Netflix.

So, yes, I have watched Disclosure. It is rather painful to be reminded of the many awful ways in which trans people have been portrayed in film and TV, but it is also quite powerful to be reminded of what the media has done to us. Because something that has been done can be undone.

After which, I needed a reward, so I binged the rest of season 4 of She-Ra. Tomorrow, season 5.

Wait, no, tomorrow back to work, what am I saying…


In the outside world, the 7-day rolling average of deaths in the UK ticked upwards again. Its only one day. We’ll be fine. I hope.

Coronavirus – Day #95

I made my weekly run to Tesco today. I was pleased to see that they are finally selling facemasks, though it is still the case that the vast majority of shoppers are not wearing one. The staff aren’t either, but I’m assuming that they have all been tested and are COVID-19 free which makes it less of an issue.

Talking of the virus, I’ve seen a few people posting in the last few days that they have had serious relapses. One was the TV historian, Dr. Janina Ramirez. I’ve been coughing quite a bit over the past week, which is annoying because I thought I was over that. Maybe it is something to do with the weather. Or perhaps it is just a case that if you get too tired the virus comes roaring back.

In Parliament today the Minister for Men and Inequality, Liz Truss, was required to take questions. Because none of the other political parties are prepared to stand up for trans rights, she got few questions on her plans for equality law reform. Those she did get, she bumbled past saying nothing of substance.

On the one hand that is good news. She could have said a bunch of awful things. It is also possible that yesterday’s letter-writing campaign had some effect. As of close of business today over 25,000 people had sent letters to Bozo via the Gendered Intelligence gateway that I wrote about yesterday. More people have written directly, or written to their MPs. Apparently some MPs experienced website crashes and overflowing mailboxes today.

I don’t expect that this will have any effect on the government’s plans. Truss did not come up with this idea by herself. Dominic Cummings will be patiently explaining to panicked Cabinet members that the whole point of leaking the plans ahead of time was to allow the public outrage to run its course so that by the time the plans are officially announced people will be tired of the subject and only those directly affected will complain. We will need to prove him wrong.

In the meantime there has been a public statement of support for the trans community from Angela Rayner, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. Not from Kier Starmer, of course. He is sticking to his policy of not getting involved least JK Rowling stop donating to his party, but at least we have got Labour a little bit rattled.

And yes, as you may have noticed, billionaires are a very bad thing all round, regardess of which political party they support.

Dear Prime Minister

There is a thing going around social media today to the effect that Downing Street will be making a decision tomorrow as to whether to back Liz Truss’s plans to roll back trans rights. Consequently we are all being urged to write to the PM. Personally I suspect that Bozo has already had his mind made up for him by Cummings, but you never know. Recently we have seen:

1a. A climb down over whether overseas staff in the NHS should be charged a £400 fee for using the service should they get sick.

1b. Except we learned today that the government lied and the fee is still being charged.

2a. Another climb down today over providing school meals to poor kids over the summer holiday, something that Bozo flatly refused to do until get got yelled at in Parliament over it.

2b. And I’m betting that come summer we will find out that this was a lie too.

So it is possible that we might squeeze some weasel words out of Bozo about bowing to public opinion, but come mid July when the proposals are published they will be exactly as outlined in the Sunday Times (if not worse).

Anyway, if you are a UK citizen and feel like writing a letter, Gendered Intelligence have provided a nice little template for you to use.

Here’s what I wrote.

I’m writing to you today as a UK citizen deeply concerned about proposed rollbacks to safeguards for trans dignity and safety in this country. On 14th June, The Sunday Times had as its front page an article on how the much-needed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act were being shelved. In the same article, plans were revealed that would restrict the access of trans people to single-sex spaces, and educe their access to medical treatment.

When your predecessor first proposed reforming the Gender Recognition Act we were told by the media that this would grant trans people worrying new rights that would put women in danger. The trans community patiently explained that the issues raised were covered by the Equality Act and not the GRA, so the supposed new rights were actually existing rights that had been in operation for 10 years without causing any problems.

Your government has now decided to scrap the reforms, despite an overwhelming majorty of people who expressed an opinion supporting them. But in addition to that you are apparently intending to remove rights from trans people on the grounds that they are a danger to women. How can that be, given that we were told that these dangerous new rights would only be granted if the GRA was reformed? And if these rights do exist, why are they being taken away given that they have been in place for 10 years without causing any problems?

As an active member of the Women’s Equality Party I am very much concerned with women’s safety. I know that between 2 and 3 women are killed every week by men that they know. I know that rape convictions are so hard to obtain in this country that the Crown Prosecution Service is now reluctant to bring cases. These are real and urgent issues facing the women of Britain. And yet your Women & Equalities Minister is instead wasting her time taking away rights from people who, as far as I can see, have done no one any harm. This is surely an inefficient use of government resources.

Please do something to protect women that will actual have a positive effect on our lives, and stop wasting time and effort on this ridiculous persecution of a tiny minority of the population.

Please Help Mindline Trans+

The last week has been particularly awful for trans people in the UK. I know a lot of people are very frightened and upset. Fortunately the lovely folks at Mindline Trans+, the helpline for trans and non-binary people run by the mental health charity, Mind, is looking to expand. They have a fundraiser going through the Aviva Community Fund and are hoping to hit £10,000 in donations by July 15th. The money will be used to expand their service from 2 nights a week to 3.

I should declare an interest here. The service started in Bristol and I did the initial training for staff from Bristol and Taunton. Also I see that the fundraiser is using a TV interview that Liz Sorapure of Mind and I did for Made in Bristol TV when the service first started up. But I very much believe that this is one of the best projects I have been involved in. And it is never more needed than it is now. Please help.

The Government War on Trans People Begins

Today’s papers have the news that the UK government is ready to move forward on reform of trans rights. The government has leaked to the Sunday Times that it will not be implementing the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), and will instead be introducing proposals to protect the British people from dangerous trans folks.

By far the most remarkable part of this is the revelation that 70% of respondents to the government survey on GRA reform were in favour of the proposals put forward by those notorious radicals, Theresa May and Amber Rudd. However, the proposals are still being rejected because the government believes that the Wrong Sort of People responded to the consultation.

If only they had been so sensible about the 52% of people who voted for Brexit, eh?

Also, given that trans people make up around 1% of the population, I find it hard to understand how we could have swamped responses to a public consultation, especially because almost every national media outlet, including the Guardian and the BBC, were encouraging people to reject the reform proposals.

But we are where we are. The government is determined to move forward as it sees fit, and it has made clear that even a supermajority of public opinion will not be allowed to stand in its way. So what does it all mean? Like most things pertaining to trans people, the announcement in the Sunday Times is full of coded language that can seem harmless but may hide all sorts of nastiness.

I should note, by the way, that I have no reason to believe that the Sunday Times has got this wrong. One of their reporters who led their campaign against trans people until recently was rewarded, after the General Election, with a post as a senior advisor to the Prime Minister.

One way in which we can try to decode what the announcement means is to look at what is already being done. Some time ago the government announced a legal inquiry into the operation of the Tavistock and Portman clinic in London, which provides the vast majority of health care for trans youth in the UK. The Tavi is well known to be deeply conservative in its practices. When asked to recommend international best practices for trans youth I normally point people to the official guidelines in the USA and Australia. However, a week and a half ago NHS England issued new guidelines for the treatment of trans youth that characterised the services that the Tavi provides as experimental and dangerous. This gives the inquiry no choice but to find that the Tavi is operating improperly, and to either order them to change their practices or close them down.

Those new guidelines also cast doubt on the safety and efficacy of treatment for trans adults.

One of the proposals listed by the Sunday Times is as follows:

There will be a crackdown on “quack” doctors to ensure that only reputable medics can give approvals.

This is obviously a direct attack on Dr. Helen Webberley and her Gender GP service, but the UK has a long and inglorious history of attacking anyone who sets up in private practice to help trans people. All of these people have been reputable medics with appropriate qualifications, but they have all been attacked (with the connivance of senior NHS doctors). Every single private gender expert that I have seen has been forced out of business. As I understand it, Dr. Webberley has moved her operations overseas.

The reason that private operations such as these exist is that waiting times for a first appointment at UK Gender Identity Clinics (GICs) were around 3 years as of before the pandemic. All services are currently on hold. Once services start up again that will have increased signifcantly. That’s 3 years before you see anyone at all, and probably at least another 6 months before a second appointment and approval for you to start treatment.

One of the ways in which trans people have navigated this problem is to initiate transition themselves. They transition socially. They may obtain medication from someone like Dr. Webberley. And until recently NHS guidelines suggested to GPs that they could provide a “bridging prescription” to tide people over until they could get officially taken on by a GIC. That guidance was withdrawn fairly recently. (Sometime last year, as I recall.) So one of the questions I am asking is, what if “quack doctors” include GPs who have provided treatment to trans patients who are not yet with a gender clinic? Will they soon be banned from doing so, under pain of being struck off?

It is rather ironic that a government that is hell-bent on privatising as much of the NHS as possible is also trying to prevent any private practice in the case of trans health.

The Sunday Times also talks about new national guidelines on access to toilets. They talk about how the general public does “not support transgender women with male anatomy accessing female-only facilities”. This is deeply disingenous of them. The current treatment protocols for trans people require that you show you can live full time in your correct gender for a period of time. The GRA states 2 years, though most GICs currently require less than that. This so-called “real life test” includes navigating public life. If trans women are not able to use public toilets, changing rooms and so on, they will fail the test and not be allowed surgery or a legal gender change.

The Sunday Times report also talks about a crackdown on the provision of gender neutral toilets. This does not protect cisgender people in any way. When asked to give advice on toilet provision I always note that gender neutral facilities should either be an addition for those who need them, or that they should be entirely separate cubicles such as you find on trains and aircraft. Gender-specific toilets can still exist alongside them. That way anyone who is unconfortable accessing a “male” or “female” toilet will have somewhere safe to go. That will include non-binary people, and butch lesbians, as well as pre-surgery trans women. It looks like this option will be banned.

Then there are the waiting lists. There are currently thousands of trans women in the UK who have transitioned successfully but have either yet to be accepted by a GIC, or are still waiting for a date for surgery. All of these women will be left in limbo by such regulations. Even going to work will be difficult for many of them. Thank goodness for Lockdown, because currently no one is surprised that we are afraid to leave home.

What about people like me? I successfully completed all of the required tests years ago when treatment protocols were much more stringent. I’ve had genital surgery and I am legally recognised as female. Will I be safe under these new proposals? Possibly not.

To start with, in the 20+ years since surgery I have had continual problems with GPs who have been unwilling to provide me with the hormones I need to stay healthy. There has been an ongoing spat between the GICs and the Royal College of GPs, with the latter pushing for a position that all health care for trans people should be conducted by GICs because it is “too complicated” for ordinary GPs. The GICs, being massively overloaded, have pushed back against this. They discharge people into GP care as soon as they have had all of the surgery they want.

Remember that I suggested that GPs might be banned from providing hormones to trans people before they access a GIC? What happens if they are banned from providing hormones after surgery as well? The government will say that there is no problem because people like me will be able to go to a GIC for prescriptions. But there will be at least a 4-year waiting list, and having thousands of people like me apply to be taken on will only make matters worse.

None of this will even require any legislation. All that is required is for the NHS to change official guidelines and threaten GPs with being struck off if they disobey. As we have seen with the changed guidelines for trans youth, they are already willing to do this.

Another point raise by the Sunday Times is as follows:

Safeguards will be put in place to protect “safe spaces” for women, reaffirming provisions in the Equality Act.

What does this mean?

UK readers will remember that the Tories have long been opponents of equalities legislation. David Cameron’s government spent a long time trying to find a way to repeal the Human Rights Act. The fact that they were unable to do so while still part of the EU was a significant driving force behind Brexit. The government does not want to do anything to equalities legislation except dismantle it.

A key feature of anti-trans arguments (for example Rowling’s recent screed) is that trans rights somehow take away rights from cis women. They want equalities legislation changed so that “sex-based rights” always trump the rights of trans people. This sort of thing appeals to the government because it can be endlessly extended. If they get this done, then they can argue that the rights of religious people trump the rights of LGBT+ people, that the rights of Christians trump those of non-Christians, that the rights of white people trump the rights of non-white people, and that the rights of men trump those of women.

The government knows that it is impractical to pass a law banning trans women from “women-only” spaces. It doesn’t want to be seen to be responsible for putting police guards on toilets and changing rooms. What they will do instead is to amend the guidance for the Equality Act to note that any person or organisation that allows a trans woman (whether she is legally female or not) access to a “woman-only” space is committing an act of discrimination against cis women. They will then sit back and wait for the rash of law suits that will force organisations to rescind their trans-inclusive policies.

In the USA a couple of days ago the *Unpresident changed legal guidance so that it is no longer an offence to refuse medical treatment to trans people. What I think the UK government is proposing is far worse. They will make it a crime for an orgnisation to be trans inclusive, even if it wants to be.

Finally there is the point about outlawing gay conversion therapy. This is generally being seen as a sop to the LGB community, and an effort to further divide them from their trans allies. “Don’t make a fuss over the trans thing,” the government is saying, “and we will give you this other thing you have always wanted.” But it could be much more than that, because the anti-trans movement has long claimed that gender reassignment is, de facto, gay conversion therapy.

Back when I transitioned, it was absolutely essential that I claimed to be sexually attracted to men, otherwise I would be deemed not feminine enough to be allowed to transition. Thankfully that wasn’t a problem for me, but others had to lie to get through. Suppose, however, that claiming to be sexually attracted to men was also taken as proof that I was “really gay”, because I was “really a man”. Anti-trans LG people firmly believe this is the case, and that “their people” are being stolen by gender clinics.

If the government listens to the anti-trans lobby, and they have shown every sign of doing so enthusiastically, then they could quite easily define gender transition as “gay conversion therapy” as an excuse to ban it.

Now of course none of this has happened yet. It is possible that the government is not in fact as devious and cruel as I think it is. But I’m not going to bet on that. We need to be prepared for the possibility that such changes will be introduced, and that they will be disguised by weasel words to make them seem harmless. The misinformation campaign over GRA reform has shown just how dishonest the opposition can be when it comes to trans rights.

The question is, will anyone care? Obviously vastly more people who do care are on our side than are not. The results of the consultation proved that. But the vast majority of the UK population did not respond. Nevertheless, they should care about what is being done to trans people right now, because we are the canary in the coal mine. Also we are running out of time.

Last week the government confirmed that they would not be seeking an extension to the Brexit negotiations because of the pandemic, and that they will be continuing their intransigent negotiating stance. This means that a very hard Brexit currently looks inevitable, and as a consequence the UK will suffer a massive economic disaster in January. We need to stop this. We need causes to rally around. The Black Lives Matter campaign appears to be one of them. I am hoping that the sheer cruelty of the government’s treatment of trans people might be another one.

The other interesting political wild card is Scotland. The Scottish government has published a Bill implementing the proposed GRA changes, and has promised to progress it once the pandemic is over. I have long wondered why Nicola Sturgeon has insisted on this, given that one of her main allies, Joanna Cherry, is violently transphobic. My assumption is that for the SNP independence always comes first, and that Ms. Cherry is privately prepared to accept a temporary increase in trans rights in Scotland if that provokes a massive row with Westminister.

We surely live in interesting times.

As usual with such things, comments are closed on this. You know how to find me if you need to talk.

Free Webinar on LGBT+ in the Workplace

On Tuesday next week (12:30 UK time) I will be a guest on a webinar run by Benefex, a company that helps employers make better use of their employees by treating them better. Given the current atmosphere in the UK, I have no doubt that it will be highly contentious. It might even get me on the front page of The Times again. We shall see.

Anyway, if you are interested, you can sign up for free.

The Dan & Cheryl Show

Today I did my thing with Dan Vo for the Queer Britain Lockdown Hunt. It was a lot of fun. I covered a range of queer history books ranging from the 20th Century back to the 2nd. I also mentioned four science fiction and fantasy books. They were:

  • Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
  • Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
  • Friday by Robert A. Heinlein
  • Triton by Samuel R Delany

Obviously there’s a huge amount of queer SF&F that I could have mentioned, and I tweeted about several others, but those four had interesting stories. To find out why I chose them, you’ll need to watch the show.

Coronavirus – Day #83

I’m sure I accomplished some things today, but almost none of them were things I had planned to do. There was unexpected Diversity Trust email, unexpected death of a friend, and two good TV documentaries that I had expected to be an hour long and were both two hours. Oh well, I have at least finished the Wizard’s Tower accounts for the month. Now I need to get to bed so that I’m awake to record an interview and to do the thing with Dan tomorrow.

The biggest news in the outside world is that the NHS has updated its guidelines on the provision of cross-sex hormones to trans adolescents. Current regulations say that these can be prescribed at age sixteen, generally after a long period of assessment by the youth gender clinic. The new guidelines are almost laughably unscientific.

They talk about how this treatment might have irreversible effects such as breast growth (in trans girls) or the voice breaking (in trans boys). You don’t say? That’s kind of like saying that cataract surgery can have the irreversible effect of better eyesight.

They note that such treatment might lead to infertility but should not be used as a form of contraception. Really? Who on earth would use it for that? I know that oestrogen is an active ingredient in the birth control pill, but would anyone seriously think of using testosterone?

And finally they talk darkly about the lack of knowledge of the long term effects of such treatment. Well hello! 26 years and counting. And I’m not the only one. There are plenty of us about, many of whom have been on hormones for far longer. But of course no amount of actual evidence will stop these people from scaremongering.

There are two things that we can take from this. The first is that the outcome of the the judicial review into the operation of youth gender clinic has already be decided at a political level. The clinic will be found to be operating unsafely, and it will be shut down, regardless of how much evidence to the contrary is presented, and how many young lives it has improved.

The second is that it won’t stop with kids. The idea that giving trans people hormones is “unsafe” clearly doesn’t only apply to teenagers. GPs now have a carte blanche to refuse to supply them to adults as well. It won’t be long before the adult gender clinics are threatened with closure as well.

On #QBLockdownHunt Tomorrow

Those of you who have been following the Queer Britain Lockdown Hunt on Twitter will know that each Friday Dan Vo has been getting people to search out particular items of significance in queer history. We’ve done badges, we’ve done postcards, we’ve done t-shirts and fliers. But tomorrow the object will be books.

As you can imagine, that’s right up my street. Dan has kindly invited me to join him at 3:00pm to chat about books. I’ll be showcasing some science fiction novels of significance, and also some books from much further back in time that are important to queer history.

Dan also has several other guests through the day, including the fabulous Diana Souhami who has written several books on the lives of famous lesbians. The full details are in the tweet below.

Coronavirus – Day #77

Another day, more stuff written. Today has been quite exciting from a local history point of view.

These days Fridays are Queer Britain Lockdown Hunt days. Queer Britain is a project that aims to build a bricks and mortar queer museum in the UK. Every Friday my lovely pal Dan Vo does a Twitter takeover where they focus on one particular type of queer memorabilia. Today the object was badges, of which I have plenty. So I did my bit and tweeted some photos.

During the day Dan does brief interviews with various queer celebrities, much as he has been doing for Museum from Home. His first guest today was Sue Sanders of LGBT History Month, who had some announcements to make.

First up, the LGBTHM theme for 2021 will be Mind, Body & Spirit. Sue also announced the five “faces” of 2021, one of whom will be Michael Dillon. That’s a perfect choice (if I do say so myself, ahem!). Dillon was an Oxford graduate, and keen thinker, a champion rower in his younger days, a deeply spirital person, and later in life the first Western European to become a Buddhist monk.

This means, of course, that I am likely to be rather busy next February. I’ve already started the planning process, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to bring you some as yet unknown Dillon facts when we get there. Watch this space!

Out in the world, the UK government continues to be a laughing stock (or laughing at us in the case of Matt Hancock, the Minister for Death). But events here have been overshadowed by the unfolding disaster in the USA. When I saw the rallies that Donny Little Hands did for the Police Union in 2016 I got the impression that he saw a heavily armed police force as his own private militia that he could turn to should he need military backup. It gives me no pleasure to see this coming true.

Anyway, my very best wishes go out to all of my friends in the Minneapolis/St.Paul region, and to all African Americans wherever in the country you might be.

Thank You, Australia #GiveItUp125 #IDAHOBIT

Being in Virtual Australia on IDAHOBIT Day is a poignant reminder that I did most of my gender transition while living in Australia. There were a number of reasons for that, but one of them is that the medical support for transition was better in Australia than it is here in the UK. That’s even more true now. I will always be grateful for the support I got from friends in Australia, in particular the folks at the Melbourne Science Fiction Club who accepted me without question.

One of the disappointments about not being able to travel to New Zealand for Worldcon this year is that a planned visit to Melbourne has had to be cancelled too. Maybe another year.

The photo above was taken at the Wilson’s Promontory National Park, which is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

The Queer Britain #QBLockdownHunt Challenge

A quick break from Virtual Italy to note that there’s another charity campaign going on today. Queer Britain is a wonderful project that aims to create an actual bricks & mortar exhibition of LGBT+ life in the UK. Today my friend Dan Vo is running an awareness campaign on Twitter and is asking people to find t-shirts and fliers that relate to queer history and post about them. He’s also interviewing a whole bunch of fabulous people. I have rather a lot of material, so I decided to channel my inner Dan and make a video. This covers a lot of my work with OutStories Bristol, how I got involved in doing LGBT History Month Events (sorry Sue, you are stuck with me now), and a little bit about the tragedy of the UK’s lost trans history archives. The latter is an excellent example of why Queer Britain is so badly needed. There’s also a little bit of science fiction in there.

Coronavirus – Day #45

I forgot to do a post yesterday, didn’t I. Not that I had a huge amount to report. I was busy.

Today has been much of the same. I have recorded an interview, made a Museum From Home video, and done some Day Job work.

Video editing is hell. So is being in a video. I am so not television material.

Today’s big news, other than Bozo claiming that over 40,000 people dead was a great success on his part, is that doctors in the US have had an idea as to how to help male patients survive the virus. They are going to try dosing them with oestrogen.

This isn’t quite as mad as it sounds. We’ve known for some time that mortality is higher among men than women. This has led to the anti-trans brigade on social media crowing that C-19 is a Y Chromosome Plague that will somehow wipe out all trans women because we are “really men”.

Now there are reasons why having XX chromosomes is good for your health. Having two Xs is a backup strategy. If a gene on one chromosome has an unhelpful mutation, the chances are that you’ve got a correct version on the other. This makes XX people somewhat more disease resistant than XY people. But equally oestrogen is good at helping your immune system and doctors in China have speculated that it might help protect against C-19. It is also possible that it is testosterone weaking the immune system that is the issue. This paper suggests that might be the case (thanks to Julia Serano for the link).

So there’s a whole bunch of different biological reasons why XY people might be more susceptible to C-19 than XX people, and that’s without starting on gender-based issues such as men being more likely to be heavy smokers, work in high-stress occupations, spend more time on crowded communter trains, and so on. But this is a crisis, and we should try everything. Maybe the estrogen trials will work.

Some people on social media have been worrying that if the trials do work then there will be an even worse shortage of estrogen than there is now. That’s certainly likely, though it is easy to make and the recent shortage in the UK was caused mainly by government stupidity rather than a real shortage.

Of course if oestrogen does turn out to be an effective treatment then the anti-trans brigade will start yelling for all trans women to be arrested because we are using valuable medicine that is needed by their menfolk. And despite having spent years complaining that hormone treatment for trans women is untested and dangerous, they will want immediate deployment of it to save people from C-19. Consistency has never been their strongpoint.

In better news the UK has now had a whole week of the number of deaths being lower than they were on the same day in the previous week. That’s a good measure of progress because it eliminates daily patterns in the data. It isn’t over yet by any means, but it looks like we are getting there. Now we have to resist the temptation to all rush back to “normal” before it is safe to do so.

Tribade Visibility Day #LDV2020

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.

Coronavirus – Day #36

So, birthday under Lockdown turns out to be much the same as any other birthday, but with a lot more (virtual) company.

I began the day by doing a trans history talk for a local LGBT+ group (adults this time), which was fun.

I have a fair amount of work of various sorts to do, but I decided to goof off for the day and do some baking. I don’t have a usable oven, so for Christmas I bought myself one of these (cheap in a Clark’s Village outlet store). I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had a chance to use it before today.

I decided to make scones (for cream tea) as they are fairly easy. They turned out suprisingly well for a first attempt. They were a little over-done, but machines like this are very precise and now I know to reduce the heat setting next time.

I had sport! Formula E has launched a sim series with most of the actual drivers taking part, plus a side race for other folks. It was actually the side race that interested me most as it had a combination of amateurs, profesional esports players, and young drivers hoping to break in to the big time. Charlie Martin has a seat in the Techeetah team. Sadly she didn’t do very well, but everyone is learning right now so I hope she’ll perform better in later races.

And of course there was WiFi SciFi 2. Only one panel this time, and it devolved into discussion of the writing business which is less of interest to me, but probably more what the punters want.

Next up: dinner, wine, cheese, TV or movie.

World, what world?

The Book of Koli

Mike Carey has a new science fiction trilogy underway, and book 1 was officially published yesterday. Normally I would be jumping at this and reviewing it immediately, but I can’t because, as Mike mentioned in the launch event last night, I had a small hand in creating the book. There are a couple of trans people in it, and I helped out with a few details of their characterisation and story arcs. Advising other people about trans issues is, after all, something that I do professionally.

Of course there’s a lot more to the book than just those characters. Indeed, of all the reviews I have seen so far, only one has even mentioned their existence. And in my humble opinion the rest of the book is amazing. Koli’s voice does take a little getting used to, but once you are into the rhythm of it reading becomes very easy. The whole thing about murderous trees is fabulous. The weird place names will probably mean more if you are British and have a vague idea of what the original names were, but if you are not they will just sound like fantasy names.

For those of you who love maps, Mythen Rood is the small town of Mytholmroyd in the Calder Valley, not far from Hebden Bridge. English places names are remarkably bizarre at times.

Of course with us all stuck in isolation and animals starting to wander the streets of our cities, the whole setting of the books takes on a new significance. The books are set a couple of hundred years into the future, so sufficiently far for the current crisis to be merely a small part of what has happened to the world. Nevertheless, the books are set in a world that nature has reclaimed. Asked for a playlist for the book last night, Mike mentioned my favourite Talking Heads song. I think you will see why.

Otherwise Award Winner & Honor List

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.