We Were Proud

Last week saw the 4th anniversary of Trans Pride South West (TPSW), our local celebration of trans pride which sprang from Sarah Savage’s visit to our LGBT History Month event in 2016. I’m not involved in the running of it, but I do get involved in various parts of it.

This year, for the first time, we had a march. That began with a gathering on College Green in front of City Hall, and that meant speeches. We had some political representation. Carla Denyer, the Green Party candidate for Bristol West, was there. She was accompanied by a bunch of young party members, and by Baroness Bennett, so the Greens really put some effort behind us. The Liberal Democrats sent along James Cox who had kindly stood down in Bristol West in order to give Carla a better chance of getting elected. Sadly there was no official representation from Bristol Labour, though Kaz Self from the TPSW committee did make a speech on their behalf. There was also a representative from the Women’s Equality Party, which was of course me. So yes, I did make a speech. No one laughed, except when I wanted them to, which I am taking as a win.

From there we marched up Baldwin Street towards the city centre. We had space in The Station, a former fire station on Silver Street for a Community Day. There were just under 200 people (and three dogs) on the march, which was very good for a cold and wet November morning. I was very pleased to count at least 16 people of colour among us.

The Community Day had a lot of stalls. I was representing OutStories Bristol. The photo above shows me at my stall along with Spencer from TPSW and Alex from the hate crime charity, SARI. The Diversity Trust also had a stall. The event was very well attended. Indeed, around 13:00 you could barely move in the room. I think the committee might need to look for a bigger venue next year.

I was somewhat worried that there might be some attempt by right-wing groups to disrupt the march, but everything went off very smoothly. Clearly the anti-trans fauxminists are easily put off by a little rain.

I had to rush off immediately after the event ended as I was giving a talk in Brighton on the Sunday, so I didn’t get to chat to people at thing were winding down, but I’m very happy with how things went and I’m looking forward to TPSW being bigger and better next year.

Queer (Romans) in Brighton

Here’s something I am doing this weekend, which I didn’t tell you about earlier because by the time I got the details it had sold out. Which is very pleasing.

Anyway, immediately I finish at Trans Pride in Bristol on Saturday I will be on a train to Brighton. It is a mad schedule, but Sunday morning trains are crap and I need to go on Saturday to make sure I get there in time.

On the Sunday afternoon I will be at Brighton Museum for their monthly Queen in Brighton LGBTQ+ History Club. I will be talking about being trans and intersex in Ancient Rome. There will be gender reassignment surgery; there will be gossip about the Imperial Family; there will be stand up philosopher contests; and being the Romans it will all be a bit gruesome.

What have the Romans done for us? They invented the dick pic.

If you want to know more, and be sad that you can’t get a ticket, the booking page is here.

Historical Fiction at Bath Spa

I spent yesterday at Bath Spa University (the beautiful Newton Park campus) at a conference on writing historical fiction. This is a brief report on the event.

First up I should note that this conference differs from the Historical Fiction Research Network conferences in that it is primarily for students of creative writing, and for working writers. I think I was the only speaker presenting as an historian as opposed to a writer, literary critic or publishing industry expert. Both conferences have value in their own way.

I knew that it was going to be an interesting day right from the start when the opening speaker, Alan Bilton from Swansea University, started talking about postmodernism and whether we can ever know what really happened in the past. We largely managed to avoid going down any Alt-Right rabbit holes, but it did lead to someone asking about authenticity, own voices and so on. And straight down another rabbit hole we went.

When these discussions start (and particularly when they start on social media) they tend to devolve into an argument with people on one side saying that writers should be allowed to write whatever characters they want, and people on the other saying that only people with lived experience of certain types of characters should be allowed to write those characters.

Repeat after me, please: All binaries are false.

As it happens, I’m a big fan of own voices work. If I’m going to read a book set in, say, Mexico City, I would much rather read one written by someone who has lived there (e.g. Silvia Moreno Garcia) than by someone whose knowledge of the city comes entirely from Wikipedia. (And yes, that is another false binary.) But this isn’t the entirety of the disucssion. When it was my turn to get up to speak I made the point that if only trans people were allowed to write trans characters then only around 1% of fiction would contain trans characters, and this would be a bad thing because we desperately need positive portrayals of trans people in fiction right now.

One of the ways around this is to employ a sensitivity reader. Of course that term is a red rag to the more conservative end of the industry, but it shouldn’t be. There was a good example to hand, because Alan had been talking about his forthcoming novel which happens to be set in Russia. He mentioned that he’d relied heavily on a Russian-born colleague for advice. That’s using a sensitivity reader. Most science fiction readers would applaud an author who had worked with actual astronauts, or actual astrophysicists, to get scientific details right. That too is using a sensitivity reader. It is no different from asking for help to make sure that you get Polynesian culture, or non-binary identity, right in your book. Except that if you are asking for help from someone from a marginalised group for help you should probably be paying them, rather than offering a few beers or a favour in return.

My talk, by the way, was a slightly rushed and less interactive version of my workshop on writing queer characters from history. A few folks on Twitter expressed interest in it. I’d be very happy to run it at other events in the future.

The final session of the conference was an industry panel featuring literary agent, Kate Horden; novelist and publisher Lorna Gray; and the historical fiction reviewer for The Times, Antonia Senior. It turned out that Antonia is related by marriage to Amal El-Mohtar and can therefore talk knowledgeably about the difference between the SF&F and historical fiction communities. I found myself nodding along to pretty much everything she said because every book critic has the same issues with too many books and the foolishness of the publishing industry. She had also read and reviewed Shadows of Athens, which made me very happy.

Because the attendees of the conference were almost all women, there was some interest in questions of author identity, use of initials and so on. If anyone wants to follow up on that, I warmly recommend Juliet McKenna’s essay, “The Myth of Meritocracy”, in Gender Identity and Sexuality in Fantasy and Science Fiction, the British Fantasy Award Winning book from Luna Press. Juliet goes through the entire pipeline of the publishing and bookselling industry and shows, with data and references, how it is stacked in favour of straight, white men at every turn.

If it were up to me I’d make that essay required reading on all creative writing syllabi.

There were other great sessions as well. I enjoyed discussing theoretical approaches to writing historical fiction with Melissa Addy (I hope you enjoy Guy Gavriel Kay, Melissa). I was delighted to meet British-based Serbian writer, Senja Andrejevic-Bullock, who had really interesting things to say regarding writing about recent wars when you are from a people who are regarded as the bad guys. I learned a lot about women at sea from Sarah Tanburn, and about the hidden meanings in Pieter Bruegel’s paintings from Lisa Koning. I even met someone who has written feminist science fiction. Hello Lania Knight!

Huge thanks to Celia Brayfield and Bea Hitchman for organising the event. I understand that there are plans to run the conference again next year, and it will be at the University of Gloucester. I’ll let you know when I have more details.

Today on Ujima – Books, Theatre, Trans Pride & Tobias Buckell

My first guest on today’s radio show was Kate MacDonald of Handheld Press, a wonderful local publisher based in Bath. Kate will be familiar to people on the UK SF&F circuit as she was at FantasyCon and BristolCon. She doesn’t just publish SF&F, but when she does it is pretty spectacular. You will have heard me enthusing about her Vonda McIntyre reissue, and she has had great success with a Nicola Griffith book. On the show we talked about a book by Rose Maculey which inspired Brave New World. John Clute gets a starring role in the story of how Kate got to publish that one. And if we’d had more time we’d have talked about the new Sylvia Townsend Warner book, Of Cats and Elfins, which has a Greer Gilman introduction and a Neil Gaiman front cover blurb.

That was hard to top, but for the second section of the show I welcomed Nick Young from Creative Youth Network and two wonderful young actors who will be performing in The Edge, a play about the dangers of reality TV. The play is written by my friend Edson Burton, and will be staged at Colston Hall later this month. As the advertising says, it will be an immersive live performance. You’ll have to listen to the interview to find out just how clever they have been.

In part three I welcome Lowie Trevena, the new LGBT+ Affairs correspondent of Bristol 24/7 to talk about the upcoming Trans Pride South West. Lowie did a preview of the event for the paper yesterday, and we went a lot more into detail on that. We also talked about what it means to be a non-binary person, and how non-binary does not mean androgynous.

Finally I re-ran parts of my 2014 interview with Tobias Buckell to celebrate his win (along with Paulo Bacigalupi) in the World Fantasy Awards last weekend. Their book, The Tangled Lands, won the Best Collection catageory. In the 2014 piece Tobias and I talk about hurricanes in the Caribbean, climate change, and some interesting regional politics that allowed Tobias to create a unified Caribbean state for some of his work.

You can listen to the show here.

The playlist is as follows:

  • Pipe – Christina Aguilera & Lewis Hamilton
  • World in Union – Ladysmith Black Mambazo (feat. PJ Powers)
  • Screen Kiss – Thomas Dolby
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – Gil Scott Heron
  • History – Shea Freedom
  • Sticks and Stones – Jackie Shane
  • Hurricane Season – Trombone Shorty
  • 007 – A Fantasy Bond Theme – Barry Adamson

Today on Ujima – LGBT+ History, Worldcon & Women’s Cricket

I was back in the Ujima studio today, and my first guest was friend and colleague, Dr. Jamie Lawson of the University of Bristol. Jamie has written a children’s book on LGBT+ history called Rainbow Revolutions. It is published tomorrow, and I’m very impressed with it. We had a great conversation about the use of the word “queer”, Section 28 and why people are worried it might come back, Ball Culture and the success of Pose, and so on.

Next up I dragged in Harriet Aston who roomed with me at Worldcon. It was her first big convention and understandably she was a bit overwhelmed, which makes her an ideal person to represent that first Worldcon experience. I was impressed that Harriet felt that she was swimming rather than drowning by day 4.

The rest of the show was devoted to women’s cricket and the triumph of Western Storm in the final year of the Kia Super League. I played my interview with Raf Nicholson, and passed on the latest news about the women’s part in the stupid new “The Hundred” series. It is possible that a new Western Storm might rise from the ashes of the KSL after all.

You can catch up on the show via the Listen Again service here.

The playlist for today’s show was as follows:

  • Gil Scott Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
  • Grace Jones – This Is
  • Thin Lizzy – The Boys Are Back In Town
  • Earth, Wind & Fire – September
  • Bob Dylan – Shelter from the Storm
  • Billie Holiday – Stormy Weather
  • The Impressions – We’re A Winner
  • Jim Steinman – The Storm

My next show will be on October 2nd and will feature an interview with Ellen Datlow that I recorded while we were in Ireland.

Writing Historical Fiction Symposium

This is very much advance notice. I’ll be pushing it much more once I am back from Ireland. But in November (assuming that the UK has not descended into full scale civil war) I am going to be giving a workshop on “Writing Queer Characters from the Past” at a symposium on writing historical fiction at Bath Spa University. The date is Saturday, November 16th. The fee including lunch is £85, though there are concessions available for students. Full details here.

Thinking Beyond – Transversal Transfeminisms

As you might have guessed, that is the title of an academic conference. It is a bit of a mouthful, but basically it was a feminist conference about trans issues. It look place at the University of Roehampton in London last week, and I was one of the speakers.

You can find the full schedule for the day here. Sadly UIrika Dahl was unable to attend due to illness, but the rest of the conference went ahead as planned.

Because the conference was advertised online it came to the attention of the transphobe mob on Mumsnet, who unsurprisingly lost their collective shit about it. If you want to see the nonsense that they come up with, just Google the conference title. This had two main consequences. Firstly the trans student group that was going to be involved had to withdraw because they were concerned about their safety. (One of the haters’ favorite games is to take unflattering photos of trans people and post them online accompanied by a sea of insults and, if they can get it, doxing data.) The other was that for the first time in my life I attended an academic conference that had a security guard on duty at all times. Thanks Pavel, you were great.

Interestingly, of the 8 speakers, 6 were cisgender women. The claim that the haters speak for all women is really utter nonsense.

I won’t go through all of the talks because much of it is fairly niche stuff, but Erzsébet Barát’s description of life in Hungary under the government of Viktor Orbán was chilling, and could prove a forecast of what the UK will be like should Boris Johnson still be Prime Minister at the end of the year. Sadly there are always women who are prepared to go along with far-right regimes and preach a form of “feminism” that puts women’s lives firmly in the control of men.

The really bizarre thing about right-wing Hungarian “feminists” is that they describe their views as being in opposition to that awful neo-liberal capitalist form of feminism known as “intersectional feminism”. The capacity of the far right to re-define words to mean what they want never ceases to amaze me.

The other country I learned a lot about at the conference was India. My thanks are due to Sarah Newport (I’ve found your thesis, Sarah, and look forward to reading it), and also to Antonia Navarro Tejero who introduced me to a work of Indian feminist science fiction.

Manjula Padmanabhan is an Indian SF writer who is working on a trilogy of novels about a young person called Meiji. The first book, Escape, is set in a country in which all women have been exterminated. As the title suggests, Meiji, who was assigned female at birth, manages to escape, and book 2 is set on The Island of Lost Girls. This, of course, is the place where women survivors have fled to. But, as all Suzy McKee Charnas fans will know, that doesn’t mean it is a utopia.

Listening to Antonia talk about the books, it is clear that Padmanabhan is in conversation with Joanna Russ and Charnas. My guess is that she has read both The Female Man and The Holdfast Chronicles. What is interesting and different about her books is that there are a whole lot of trans people in them.

Book 3 isn’t out yet, but I have bought the first two books to see what they are like. That wasn’t easy. Amazon appears to be deliberately hiding them. If you search for “The Island of Lost Girls” you won’t find Padmanabhan’s book even though that’s a full and almost-unique title. I had to search for “The Island of Lost Girls Manjula” to find it. And the two books aren’t linked either.

Anyway, I will read the books and report back. In the meantime, does anyone know anything about Manjula Padmanabhan? Mimi, Tasha, Aisha, Samit?

The Dublin Pride List

Earlier this year the Dublin Worldcon asked members to sumbit suggestions of good LGBT+ representation in SF&F as part of a project with Dublin Pride. That list has now been published and you can find it here (Google Docs spreadsheet). There’s a lot I could add (no Cat Valente!), but that’s my fault for being too busy to contribute. On the other hand there are books there I hadn’t heard of, which is an excellent indicator of the state of the field because years ago I could have named pretty much all of them very quickly.

Two Weeks of Pride

Bristol Pride isn’t just a party in the park these days. Daryn Carter and his team have a bunch of events planned over the next couple of weeks, and LGBT+ organisations around Bristol have chipped in with their own events.

Although Pride Fortnight is officially July 1-14, the schedule has leaked into the surrounding days. We kick off with a flag raising at City Hall on Friday at 5:00pm. I have to be at the Diversity Trust AGM that day and can’t into Bristol in time. Hopefully the weather won’t be too miserable.

On Saturday there will be a memorial service marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot. It will be held in the Lord Mayor’s Chapel at 13:00. There will be a number of speakers, including myself and Dr. Edson Burton, as well as the Lord Mayor and Bristol’s first ever LGBT+ Poet Laureate, Tom Denbigh. Full details including a link for (free) booking can be found here.

I will be on way way to Finland as soo as that’s over, but I will be back in time for Pride Day on the 13th. I should be on the radio quite a bit.

Book Review – The Poetic Edda

The nice people at Oxford University Press sent me a review copy of their new edtion of The Poetic Edda, as translated by Professor Carolyne Larrington. There’s not a huge amount I can say about the text, partly because the stories are so familiar, and partly because I’m in no position to comment on the quality of the translation, save to say that Prof. Larrington is an acknowledged expert in the field.

So instead I have chosen to focus in on a few small bits of the text where we have evidence for queer identities in Norse society. Naturally this involves Loki rather a lot. Again I’m not really in a position to talk authoritatively about translations, but I do have views on what we can and cannot say about ancient societies.

All of which means that the end result is less of a review and more of a short essay on queer Vikings. If you have been wondering about all this gender fluid stuff about Loki in comics, or in Rick Riordan’s books, I can point you at some of the evidence for that intepretation. If that is your cup of tea, you can find the review here.

Bologna Proceedings Published

Some of you may remember that back in 2017 I gave a paper at an academic conference at the University of Bologna. The proceedings of the conference have now been published, and I’m delighted to report that my paper is among them. That’s an actual, genuine academic publication credit.

The paper is titled, “Escaping the Cis Gaze in Trans-Themed Young Adult Fiction”, and it is published in Literature, Gender and Education for Children and Young Adults, Bononia University Press, 2019 pp 137-148.

Huge thanks to Raffaella Baccolini and everyone else involved in the conference for making me so welcome.

Thank You, Köln

I spent the past three days in Germany (and traveling too and from). The main reason I was there was to give a lecture at the Academy of Media Arts in Köln. However, I did pay for an extra hotel night so that I could do a bit of sightseeing. Hopefully there will be photos up here soon. I did take a lot, but I need to find time to process them (and I know I haven’t done the Ghent photos yet).

What I can say is that Köln is a lovely city. Obviously it is most famous for the giant cathedral which, when you are up close, really does look as if it reaches all the way to heaven. However, there are lots of Roman remains (the city was a legionary base and later capital of the Province of Germania) and twelve Romanesque churches. Sadly the two main museums of Roman materials were closed for rennovations, but I saw enough to want to go back when they are open.

I can recommend the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum which does a good job of being an anti-colonial ethnographic collection. It is also a themed collection. Anyone involved with the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford should take a look.

I can also recommend the Lindt Chocolate Museum and its most excellent cafe.

My talk seemed to go down very well. It was filmed and will be available on the Academy website in due course. We also had a reporter from a local radio station in attendance. If you can understand German you can tell me what he thought of it as his report is already online.

Today on Ujima – HIV, Time Wars & Art

Today’s Women’s Outlook show was one of those where it seemed mostly calm on the surface, but it was all frantic paddling underneath. Yesterday I had one of my guests drop out, so I had a half hour to fill. Thankfully the pre-recorded interview I had would stretch to three segments, and I had enough to talk about to fill the final one I needed. Also Ben, my usual engineer, was unavailable, and the replacement we had arranged was unable to come in, so I ended up with an emergency holographic engineer. Huge thanks to Mikey who did a great job for me.

We began the show with Aled and Acomo from Brigstowe, a local charity that specialises in HIV/AIDS issues. They are one of two charities in England who are running pilots with PrEP, the drug which can protect you from HIV if you take it before having sex. PrEP is already widely available in Scotland and Wales, but as Aled explains the English authorities have fought tooth and nail to prevent it being made available. Now that the courts have forced the NHS to do some trials, Brigstowe needs help getting them done.

They are looking in particular for women from marginalized communities who are willing to get trained on the use of PrEP and can then go out into their communities to srpread the word. They’ll be working closely with my pals at One25 to make sure the drug gets to sex workers, who are some of the people who need it most. They are also very interested in recruiting trans women.

The pre-recorded interview with was Amal El-Mohtar and was made while we were at Åcon. We talked about a range of issues, but obviously there was particular focus on the forthcoming book, This is How You Lose the Time War. I loved this book. There will be a review coming soon.

As I had a bit of time to fill I played a couple of songs with Nordic connections. I have probably enthused about the Swedish electrojazz duo, Koop, before, but I should mention that the particular song I played had guest vocals from Ane Brun who is Norwegian and Sami. She has also worked with Peter Gabriel, taking Kate Bush’s part on “Don’t Give Up” when he was touring.

I also played the Miike Snow song that Amal mentions during the interview. The core of that band is Swedish too. If you are intersted in the very gay video for the song, you can find it here.

Finally on the show I was joined by Cai and Amie from Paper Arts who are a wonderful organisation that helps young people start a career in the arts.

You can listen to today’s show via the Listen Again function on the Ujima website.

The playlist for today’s show is:

  • Salt ‘n’ Pepa – Let’s Talk About Sex
  • Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing
  • The Human League – The Lebanon
  • Fairuz – Li Beirut
  • Afro-Celt Sound System – Further In Time
  • Koop – Koop Islands
  • Miike Snow – Genghis Khan
  • Janelle Monáe – Crazy, Classic Life
  • Prince – Purple Rain

Introducing the Diversity Trust Podcast

As if to prove that work follows me everywhere, today saw the launch of the brand new Diversity Trust Podcast. This will see various people from the Trust interviewing famous civil rights campaigners. And it all kicks off with me talking to the very wonderful Christine Burns.

Actually, you are only getting part 1 of the conversation right now. If you put Christine and I together the chances are that we will rabbit on endlessly about things, and this was no exception. Part 2 will follow in due course, but right now you can listen to part 1 here.

Big in Germany?

Next month I’m going to be giving a talk at the University of Köln in Germany. This is something that grew out of the event in Graz last year. There’s a web page up for the event now. It is in German, but quite a few of the words should be recognisable. The audience will be mainly arts students. It should be fun.

Today on Ujima – Cervical Screening, Interculture, Mental Health Awareness & San Francisco

It was a busy show on Women’s Outlook today, and I didn’t cope as well as I might have done. Apologies again to Ben the Engineer for the various screw-ups which, hopefully, we managed to cover up during the show.

Anyway, we had guests, starting with Lynne from the NHS talking about their ongoing cervical screening campaign. As she explained, testing is very effective and the majority of cervical cancer cases can be cured before they get serious. Screening can help with other issues too. Of course there are all sorts of reasons why people might be nervous about the screening, but hopefully Lynne will have set people’s minds at rest, including those of trans guys. If you still have concerns or questions, Jo’s Trust are the people to talk to.

Next up we had Lisa Whtehouse from Interculture along with a lovely lady from the Ivory Coast whose name I think is Anamita, but I’ve not seen it written down (Lisa, please correct me if I’m wrong). Interculture is doing great work bringing cultures together. They are helping an empowering immigrant women, and I’m delighted that they want to do an event in Pride Week.

My third guest was Amran from CASS, a local mental health charity. She wanted to promote their campaign for Mental Health Awareness Week. The My Body Can campaign encourages people to think of positive things that your body can do, even if it is ony giving your friends a hug. The idea is to get people thinking positively about themselves, and to share that positivity on social media.

Thinking of which, my body can grow breasts naturally, given sufficient estrogen. I’m amazed at the number of people who think that trans women all have breast implants.

And finally, I ran an an interview with the fabulous Ardel Haefele-Thomas from San Francisco who is the editor of Introduction to Trandgender Studies, in which I have an essay. We talked about Ardel’s work as a lecturer at a community college, about the gentrification of San Francisco, and about the Orange Monster.

During the show I also did some plugs for events:

The latter includes Gareth L Powell and Virginia Bergin as well as myself; and Dr Sam Rogers from UWE who is a lecturer in English – my how the world has changed.

I also talked about a fundraising campaign I am doing for the lovely people at One25. I’ll be writing separately that very shortly. And I had a bit of a rant about the nonsense meted out to poor Caster Semenya today.

You can listen to the show via the Listen Again system here.

The playlist for today’s show was:

  • Pynk – Janelle Monáe
  • Sugar Walls – Sheena Easton
  • Lei Lei – Maryam Mursal
  • No Borders – Jama
  • Body & Soul – Amy Winehouse & Tony Bennett
  • Everybody Dance – Chic
  • I Left My Heart in San Francisco – Julie London
  • Dance With Me – Destiny’s Child

Greetings from GeMANE 3

Hello, I am in Ghent, which is in Belgium, though very close to the Dutch border and most people here seem to speak Dutch.

The reason that I am here is that I am attending the 3rd Workshop on Gender, Methodology and the Ancient Near East. It is basically a gathering for Assyriologists who are mindful of gender and intersectionality issues in their work. That means that they don’t assume that the people they are studying are all white, all cisgender and heterosexual, and all convinced of the primacy of the nuclear family as a basic social unit. I mean, really, why would anyone make those assumptions? And yet they do.

Much of what goes on is relatively specialist. Also, like any academic conference, sometimes we get talks from people who are early in their careers and don’t have a lot to say. But they’ll get better from going to events like this. And there have been several really great papers already.

Being me, I was particularly interested in the session on the Neo-Assyrian Empire. My thanks to Amy Gansell for continuing to expand my knowledge of Assyrian queens, and to Saana Svärd for a fascinating paper that hinted at a possible matriarchal culture, and maybe even women warriors, among the ancient inhabitants of Arabia.

For this post, however, I will concentrate on just one paper: Omar N’Shea & Sophus Helle on the gendered performance of Ashurbanipal.

Some of you will have seen the exhibition about the life of Ashurbanipal at the British Museum over the winter. He’s the guy featured in the reliefs of a lion hunt. All very macho. And yet up until the 19th Century our view of him was very different. Our only evidence for his existence came from the Roman writer, Diodorus Siculus, who called him Sardanapulus and said he was decadent and effeminate. The picture above by Delacroix gives a good impression of the image Diodorus protrays.

Diodorus claims to have got his information from a Greek writer called Ctesias, but the work he cites hasn’t come down to us and Greeks tended to be a bit biased when talking about anyone from the part of the world where Persia then stood.

Then we did archaeology, and discovered Assyrian records, and the lion hunt reliefs. Our picture of Ashurbanipal changed significantly.

But it isn’t that simple. Here’s the famous picture of Ashurbanipal skewering a charging lion.

That thing in his belt that I have highlighted, it is a stylus, for writing on clay tablets. The King is a scholar as well as a warrior, and doesn’t go anywhere without the means of writing down his exploits.

Omar (and Sophus but he couldn’t be here this week) then pointed to a message from the goddess Ishtar to Ashurbanipal. The Elamites were in revolt, but Ishtar advised the King not to lead his troops against them. She, the Goddess of War, had it all in hand. He should stay safe at home and enjoy a feast or two. Here he is enjoying a garden party along with his principal wife, Libbali-šarrat.

And yet this scene of domestic tranquility is not all it seems. To the far right of the picture Ashurbanipal’s bow lies resting on a table. To the left the head of Teumman, the Elamite king, hangs from a tree.

Ashurbanipal, then, sends very mixed messages through his royal imagery and statements. On the one hand he is a pleasure-loving scholar whose empire is so safe he doesn’t need to go to war himself; on the other he hunts lions for fun and glories in the defeat of his enemies. This contradiction may have led to a certain amount of character assassination by his enemies, and that may have given rise to the legend of Sardanapulus.

So that’s the sort of thing I have been listening to today. My thanks to Omar and Sophus for a great paper.

Today on Ujima: Section 28, Masculinity, Hugos & Silence

It was a radio day for me today. I barely got the show together in time having been away over the weekend and had much of yesterday hijacked by the Hugos, but I got there in the end.

In the first half hour I played an interview I did over the weekend with Sue Sanders, the founder of Schools Out and LGBT History Month. There has been a lot of talk here in the media about the need for a return to something called Section 28, which attempted to ban the mention of anything to do with LGBT people in schools. Thankfully Parliament has refused to turn the clock back, but lots of the people I get in training courses have never heard of Section 28 so I figured that having Sue, who was in the forefront of the fight against it, explain what went down, would be useful.

Next up I had a studio guest, Elias Williams of ManDem, an arts organisation for young black men. Last week I had been on a panel on the future of feminism at UWE (along with the brilliant Finn McKay). Elias had been on it too, and having heard him speak I knew I wanted him on the radio. Young black men are routinely demonised in the media, and it is wonderful to have someone so articulate and sensible standing up for them.

In the third slot I rambled about the Hugos. There are loads of black writers on the ballot this year, and people of colour in general. In particular 3 of the 6 Lodestar finalists are written by black women, and the Campbell finalists are mostly women of color, and one non-binary person of color. This is very promising for the future.

And finally I played part of my interview with Rachel Rose Reid from the LGBT History Month event in Bristol. This was about the Arthuian legend, Le Roman de Silence, which is basically 13th Century French feminist fantasy. It really is remarkable how modern the themes of that book are. I note that Rachel will be in Bristol again with the show on April 28th. Sadly I’m teaching one of Cat Rambo’s writing courses that evening. She’s also in Frome on the 12th, but that’s sold out. Phooey.

You can listen to the whole show via the Ujima Listen Again service here.

The playlist for the show is as follows:

  • School Day – Chuck Berry
  • We Are Family – Sister Sledge
  • It’s a Man’s World – James Brown
  • Word Up – Cameo
  • Pynk – Janelle Monáe
  • Crazy, Classic Life – Janelle Monáe
  • Mirror in the Bathroom – The Beat
  • Ali Baba – Dreadzone

My thanks as always to Ben, my engineer, and to all of my guests.