Coming Soon: #LGBTHM 2019

Yes, no sooner have I got the New Year out of the way than it is time to think about February. And in the UK February means LGBT History Month. As usual, OutStories Bristol will be partnering with M Shed to put on a day of talks. It is on Saturday, Feb. 16th. There’s more information about that here. The full list of talks will be available soon. I’m very excited about some of them. Especially the one about the non-binary character in a mediaeval romance.

Meanwhile my calendar is filling up with other engagements. On February 2nd I will be at Taunton Library talking about the Spartans. And then there’s this:

Yes, the Amazon Horde is back in the saddle for 2019, and we are going to Cardiff. I get to give a talk in the Senedd Building. It’s the first thing I have done in my life that I wish my mum and dad could be there to see.

Other dates are currently being negotiated.

Not exactly LGBT History, but on Feb. 22/23 I will be in Manchester for the Historical Fiction Research Network conference where I am giving a paper on steampunk.

And finally at the end of March I will be in Belfast for the Outing the Past conference where I will be going into some detail on some of the research that came out of the Amazons paper. Actual Latin analysis! Thank goodness for Liz Gloyn who is so much better at this stuff than I am. And Margaux Spruyt who understands horses.

At UVic: Trans Speculative Fiction in Independent Media

When Kevin and I were in Canada for the Moving Trans History Forward conference this year, one of the people we met was Charles Ledbetter. It used to be the case that I was pretty much the only person talking about trans characters in speculative fiction, but now there are at least three people doing PhDs in the subject, all of them trans identified. Charles is one of them.

A unique feature of Charles’ research is that they are looking, not at works that get wide distribution (which up until recently meant works written by cis people, for cis people), but at works published by independent presses, in fanzines, and self-pubished material. Charles rightly surmised that they would find much earlier examples of trans-authored works this way. Consequently, even though they are based at the University of Tübingen in Germany, Charles is spending time in Victoria going through the archives looking for material.

If you happen to know of anything that would fit the type of work Charles is looking for, I’m sure they would love to know. Bogi Takács and I have both been corresponding with Charles, and Kevin has suggested a bunch of webcomics, but there’s bound to be more out there.

In November, to mark Trans Day of Remembrance, the folks at UVic asked Charles to give a public lecture. I have finally found time to watch it, and it is good stuff. (And I don’t just say that because I get cited.) I was particularly pleased to see the Transvengers comic mentioned. Hopefully some of you will find it interesting too.

Thank You, Worlding SF!

As most of you will know, I spent the first third of December in Austria. Part of it was tourism, of which much more later, but the main purpose of my trip was to attend the Worlding SF conference at the University of Graz.

I had an absolutely amazing time. Vienna and Graz are both beautiful cities in their own, very different, ways. I’ll have more to say about them in later posts. This post, however, is all about saying thank you. That’s thank you to the organisers, to the University, to my fellow keynote speakers (Mark Bould & Gerry Canavan), to all of the great presenters whose papers I heard, and to everyone who said such kind things about my keynote.

If you’d like to get some idea of the sorts of things that were discussed, Julia Grillmayr has an excellent report on her podcast, Superscience Me.

And if you want to see what all the fuss was about with respect to my keynote, you can watch the whole thing here. Inevitably it begins with film of me tweeting.

Mark and Gerry gave great speeches too. There was apparently an issue with the sound on the film of Mark’s talk, which the film crew are trying to fix, but Gerry’s talk and some other great videos are available here (Farcebook login required by the looks of it).

The Kindness of Strangers

You don’t get many men turning up at the Women’s Equality Party conference, but Jon Skeet is one who was there. What’s more he was very supportive of the LGBT group and our advocacy for trans people. That’s how I met him. We’ve chatted a bit on social media since. We are, after all, both coding geeks, so we have something in common there too.

Yesterday Jon mentioned that he was thinking of doing a Christmas fundraiser and he asked if there were any trans groups with a specific link to IT. I mentioned that Trans*Code could always do with a few quid to put on hack days. I didn’t think any more of it until this afternoon when Jon got in touch to say that the appeal was online, and he was hoping to raise £1000.

For context, that’s more than my entire budget for LGBT History Month in Bristol, and I don’t crowdfund that because I don’t think I could raise that much money.

We are now 6 hours in on Jon’s campaign and the total raised stands at £1820.

So it looks like one of the things I have to do next year is run a Trans*Code hack day in Bristol. Any young trans folks who are interested in programming, do get in touch. And if anyone knows of a company that would donate some office space on a Saturday, I’d be very grateful.

Details will be sorted out in due course. In the meantime, if people could share the campaign on social media that would be great. I’m sure we can find things to do with additional money.

Looking Back on TDoR

I haven’t written anything about this year’s Trans Day of Remembrance before now, partly because I have been ridiculously busy, and partly because there has been a whole lot going on that I’m not at liberty to discuss in public yet. However, there is one thing that it is important that I get out there.

One of the problems with TDoR as an event for us is that the vast majority of the victims live outside of the UK. We need the event to center on those people, not on the relatively privileged white people attending the ceremony. Also my language skills are practically zero, which means that I tend to mangle the names of the departed. It isn’t very respectful.

This year I was pleased to have the assistance of my friend and colleague, Aaron. He’s a trans man from Texas, and he offered to read the names from the USA and Mexico. That took a significant chunk out of my work load, and got those names done right.

This year, as last, around half of the victims were Brazilian. I was absolutely delighted to have the assistance of a Brazilian trans woman, Andie, who is visiting Bristol, to read the list. That was especially kind of her given how personal this must be for her.

Andie is going to be in the UK for a few months. She’s here, among other things, to raise the profile of Brazilian trans people and their plight. If anyone out there is interested in talking to her (looking at you, Fox, Paris, Jane) do let me know and I can put you in touch.

The picture above is a selfie of Andie and myself that I took at the flag-raising ceremony outside Bristol City Hall.

Trans Pride South West Programme


The full programme for Trans Pride South West is now available as per the image above. Further information is available through the Events listing on their Facebook page, or from their website.

As usual I will be helping out with the Trans Day of Remembrance service at the University of Bristol Students’ Union. That’s on Wednesday 21st in the evening.

I will also be staffing an OutStories Bristol stall at the Community Day at The Station on Saturday the 24th during the day.

Given the way this year has gone, it is entirely likely that some of these events will be picketed by anti-trans activists. The two above are the most likely for them to target. People planning to attend should be aware that attempts may be made to photograph them for use on social media. The TDoR event should be relatively safe as the venue is inside the Students’ Union and lots of people will be going in and out for other purposes. The Community Day will be more complicated to protect, but the venue is very close to Bristol’s main police station so if there is trouble it shouldn’t take long to sort out.

Yesterday on Ujima – Maternity, Careers and Mental Health

Yesterday’s show was supposed to start with my interviewing fellow Ujima presenter, Sandra Gordon, about a maternity rights event taking place in Bristol soon. Unfortunately circumstances intervened and I had to spend half an hour talking about maternity all by myself. It isn’t a subject I know a huge amount about, having never been pregnant myself. Fortunately I was saved by my friend Laura Wood because I could talk about her amazing book on the mental health issues that can arise from childbirth.

Sandra did arrive in time to get on the show briefly, but I had to hurry her up as it was time to talk to Ben Shorrock of TechSpark who is trying to get a grant to help diversify the tech start-ups being created in Bristol. The article we discussed can be found here, and if you want to vote for Ben’s project you can do so here (but you only have until Noon tomorrow, UK time). Inevitably Ben and I ended up talking about women in tech, and why women make better programmers than men.

You can listen to the first hour of the show here.

Next up I welcomed Jenny Stringer, a local journalist who has been doing a project to highlight opportunities for women in the construction trade. That doesn’t just men being a brickie. Women can also be electricians, or plumbers (like mine, hi Penney!). Anything men can do, women can do too. And more importantly you can earn twice as much as an electrician than as a beautician. Get to it, girls!

Finally I ran a pre-recorded interview with La JohnJoseph who was coming to Bristol to run a workshop on queer mental health. I went along to the event in the evening and it was a lot of fun. Huge thanks to JJ for doing this, and to the Wellcome Foundation for funding the project.

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

The playlist for the show was as follows:

  • The Intruders – I’ll Always Love My Mama
  • The Supremes – Baby Love
  • Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
  • Michael Jackson – Wanna Be Starting Something
  • The Housemartins – Build
  • Angelique Kidjo – Houses in Motion
  • Patti Labelle – Messin’ with my Mind
  • Jamiroquai – Music of the Mind

London Bound

In a week and a bit’s time I will be in London for a couple of decidedly Queer events.

On Saturday 17th I will be at the Fringe! Queer Film Festival for a showing of TransGeek, a documentary film about trans people who also happen to be geeks. I’m one of the people interviewed in the film. Roz Kaveney and I will be on hand to answer questions afterwards, as will the film’s Director, Kevin McCarthy.

On Sunday 18th I will be at the National Maritime Museum as part of their Lost in a Book literary festival. Roz and I, together with Sacha Coward from the NMM, will be hosting a discussion on Queer Futurism. As the blurb says: “This is an informal chance to talk about LGBTQ+ representations in science fiction and fantasy. We want to imagine what a queer-inclusive future might look like.”

If you happen to be in the area and fancy popping along to either of these, I would love to see you.

The Mere Wife on Tour

You only get to be on the Tiptree Jury for one year, which given the amount of work is just as well. However, one book I would have looked forward to reading this year would have been Maria Dahvana Headley’s feminist re-telling of Beowulf, The Mere Wife. Maria lives in the USA, but she’s doing a short UK tour this month, so you’ll have a chance to meet her.

On Nov. 6th she will be at Foyles on Charing Cross Road where she is being interviewed by Neil Gaiman, who knows a bit about Beowulf himself. Tickets are £15 but include a copy of the book.

And on Nov. 12th she will at at St.John’s College, Oxford where she is being interviewed by Professor Carolyne Larrington who knows one heck of a lot about literature from the Norse sagas all the way through the high Middle Ages. Prof. Larrington is also someone I’d love to meet, so I’m going to be wending my way over to Oxford for that one. I hope to see some of you there. It’s free.

GRA Reform and Non-Binary People

When I did the explanatory post on single-sex exemptions I briefly mentioned the issue of non-binary people and said that it deserved a post all of its own. Here is that post.

I should start off by reminding everyone that there are more than two genders. Most cultures throughout history have recognised this, and many governments around the world today recognise non-binary people in some way. The list includes, but is not limited to: Australia, New Zealand, parts of the USA and Canada, Germany, India and Pakistan.

Also there are more than two sexes. Biological sex is a social construct which, in theory, is based on a collection of physical characteristics (some of which are fairly recently discovered). While most cisgender people exhibit the full collection of characteristics associated with their gender, many do not. Nor do a large proportion trans people. In practice, biological sex is assigned to babies on the basis of their external genitalia; and assumed in adults on the basis of gender presentation and secondary sex characteristics. Neither of these methods is very scientific.

So non-binary people definitely exist, both socially and medically. But in the UK they do not exist legally. This is a problem, both for them, and for the rest of society. We need to fix this, and we can’t do that by pretending that they don’t exist.

The argument for providing spaces that cater to non-binary people should be obvious. Just like men and women, they need spaces of their own. In some cases that can be solved by having all-gender facilities, and we do that quite happily with toilets in our homes, and on trains and aircraft. In other cases, non-binary people might want, or need, separate treatment.

There is a particular problem with spaces like rape crisis centres and domestic violence shelters, because currently almost all of the burden for supporting non-binary people is being placed on women’s services. Those non-binary people who have more feminine physiology are sent to women’s shelters because they are seen as women, and non-binary people who have more masculine physiology, but more feminine presentation, also get sent to women’s services because it is assumed they won’t be safe in men’s services.

Obviously this is a very new thing for such services, and they will need to work out procedures for risk assessment and safeguarding, but at the moment non-binary people are being failed by the social services.

Provision of spaces for non-binary people can also be of assistance to binary-identified trans people early in their transition. Because it can take several years for hormones to work their magic, and to work your way through waiting lists for surgery, almost all binary-identified trans people go through a period of worrying about being accepted. Whether we like it or not, most people make judgements based on appearance. Going into single-sex space when you feel that you don’t look right can be a very scary thing. The advantage of non-binary spaces is that there is no stereotypical appearance for being non-binary. So people in the early years of transition may feel safer using non-binary spaces.

Non-binary spaces may also be of help to people who are gender-non-confirming. For example, if you are a butch lesbian you may present in a very masculine style. The current panic over trans women in toilets is causing significant problems for masculine-presenting women. While I think it is outrageous that people who have lived as women all their lives are being thrown out of women’s toilets because of a misguided moral panic, it may be that such people will find it safer to use non-binary spaces.

Finally I want to note that legal recognition for a non-binary gender may have potential benefits for intersex babies with ambiguous genitalia. The fashion for “corrective” surgery on such children is rooted in the erroneous belief that there are only two genders, and only two sexes, and that anyone who does not conform to that model is a deviant who much be “fixed”. Creating a society in which non-binary gender is recognised should lead us away from such harmful ideas.

Please note that I am not advocating that all gendered spaces become non-binary. While we still have patriarchy, women will always need space spaces to go. Women’s toilets in pubs and clubs, for example, are not just used as toilets. They are a safe space where women can go if they feel unsafe. Non-binary people will doubtless need their own such safe spaces.

Looking at the responses to the Scottish Gender Recognition Act Reform Consultation it is clear that almost all of the anti-trans lobby is also anti-non-binary. I’d expect this from the religious right, but it is very disappointing to see the same conservatism from self-identified feminist groups. Which just goes to show that such groups are not really interested in protecting women. What they are interested in is forcing everyone to conform to the gender they were assigned at birth.

So when you fill in your GRA response, which I hope you will all be doing, please encourage the government to start along the path of non-binary recognition. They are reluctant to do this, because sex/gender is deeply ingrained throughout our legal code. But, as other countries have shown, we do not have to change every law at once. We can make a start, and every little helps.

GRA Reform and Single-Sex Services

Much of the debate around reform of the Gender Recognition Act centres on interpretation of the relevant legislation (both the GRA and the Equality Act). There have been many claims in the media that changing the way in which Gender Recognition Certificates are granted would give trans people “new rights”, and that these rights are in direct conflict with the rights of cisgender women.

In response trans activists and their allies have pointed out that most of the rights that trans people currently have derive from the Equality Act, not from the Gender Recognition Act. The Equality Act already grants trans people rights on the basis of self-identification because a person acquires the Protected Characteristic of Gender Reassignment from the moment that they propose to undergo that process.

That interpretation appears to be clear from reading the Equality Act, and it is further reinforced by guidance produced by the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The document, “Provision of goods, facilities and services to trans people – Guidance for public authorities: meeting your equality duties and human rights obligations” was written to help public authorities understand their obligations to trans people.

On page 27 in the section on the health Service the EHRC says:

It is also important to note that determining the best way to accommodate a trans person:

  • does not depend upon them having a Gender Recognition Certificate or legal name change
  • applies to toilet and bathing facilities (except, for instance, that preoperative trans people should not share open shower facilities), and
  • should not be influenced by the views of family members which may not accord to the trans person’s wishes.

This makes the following points clear:

  • Trans people are covered regardless of whether they have a GRC;
  • Trans people already have the right to access gender-appropriate toilets, etc.; and
  • That the EHRC is aware that trans people who have not had genital surgery might reasonably be excluded from communal facilities where they would be seen naked.

In other words, the idea of trans women going into communal women-only spaces and “waving their willies about” had already been considered when the EA was passed, and reasonable accommodations were made.

It is interesting to note that the EHRC was as concerned for the welfare of trans people as for it was for cis people. In the section on education (page 46) they note:

Trans people frequently face unnecessary problems regarding single-sex accommodation and single-sex facilities.

Research conducted by the Equality Challenge Unit suggests that some trans students may not feel comfortable in single-sex accommodation where there are communal showering facilities.

This reinforces the claim that many trans people would be uncomfortable having people see them naked if they have not had the surgeries that they want. The idea that trans people are shameless exhibitionists who will flaunt their bodies whenever possible has no basis in everyday life.

As far as I can see, there is only one area where there is a possibility of a major issue resulting from the proposed GRA changes, and that relies on a contested interpretation of the Equality Act.

Currently the EA allows trans people to be excluded from single-sex services under certain, highly constrained conditions. The example given in the Act is:

A group counselling session is provided for female victims of sexual assault. The organisers do not allow transsexual people to attend as they judge that the clients who attend the group session are unlikely to do so if a male-to-female transsexual person was also there. This would be lawful.

It is important to note that this does not allow for a blanket ban on trans women using rape crisis centres. Specific conditions have to be fulfilled, and each exemption has to be justified on a case-by-case basis.

Confusion arises, however, in the case of a trans woman with a Gender Recognition Certificate. The GRA states that someone in possession of such a Certificate should be treated as a person of their acquired gender for all purposes under the law. The key question is: can a trans woman with a GRC be lawfully excluded from a woman-only service under the provisions described above?

Over the past 8 years in which the EA has been in force, most professionals in the equality business have assumed that the answer is Yes. Certainly in my own training I always advise that this is the case. Indeed, this has been a bone of contention for trans activists who feel that it is unfair to exclude someone with a GRC in this way. In his evidence to the Transgender Equality Inquiry, James Morton of the Scottish Transgender Alliance said:

The exception, as currently drawn, effectively has no limit. You could be decades transitioned, you could be fully integrated and you could still be turned away at your moment of need from a refuge or from a rape crisis service.

However, anti-trans activists have recently begun to claim that a trans woman with a GRC cannot legally be excluded from a single-sex service. The consequences of this interpretation are quite significant. Currently just under 5,000 GRCs have been issued. Around half of those will be to trans women. But the government believes that this represents only a fraction of the number of people eligible to apply for one. Furthermore, the proposed GRA changes will allow trans people to apply for a GRC earlier in the transition process, so there will be an initial bump in the numbers. It is not unreasonable to assume that the GRA changes will increase the number of trans women with GRCs by a factor of 4 or 5.

The anti-trans lobby claims that this is a an entirely new group of people who will not be able to be legally excluded from a single-sex space. But are they right?

It is important to note that there is no definite legal answer to this. A court could rule either way, and as yet there is no legal precedent. However, as I have noted, up until now there has been a consensus agreement that trans women with GRCs can be excluded from women-only services, under the limited provisions of the EA. It would be good if the government’s reform of the GRA clarified this point so that we all knew where we stood. I believe that they will, and I am confident that they will make it clear that having a GRC does not make you exempt from the single-sex service exclusion provisions.

To understand why we have to look at what the government is trying to achieve with GRA reform. Part of their concern is the UK’s obligations under international human rights agreements. We are falling behind other countries, and this is not good. My colleague, Bea Gare, from WEP Exeter is far better placed to write about this than I am. I hope she will do so.

The other thing driving the government’s agenda is consistency of people’s identification documents. When the GRA was first proposed it was expected that transition would be a fairly swift process, and that legal gender recognition would come at the end of that process when the transition was deemed to be complete. It was expected that this would take a little over two years.

I underwent transition in the 1990s, and it took me 5 years. A friend who transitioned more recently tells me that she was 8 years in the process. The government knew that people in transition would need some documents changed immediately, but were not too worried about this because they expected legal gender change to follow within few years. This is not happening.

In the comprehensive study of LGBT life in Britain published earlier this year the government revealed that only 12% of the trans respondents had a GRC. The idea that thousands of people in the UK have a driving licence and passport in one gender, but are legally a different gender, makes heads explode in the Home Office. This is no way to run a national bureaucracy.

The reasons for the lack of uptake of GRCs are many and varied. 34% of respondents to the government survey said that the process was too expensive, while 38% said that it was too bureaucratic. (There may be some overlap between these groups as respondents were allowed to give more than one reason).

If getting a GRC was really important, maybe people would be more desperate to get one. But the value of a GRC has declined since they were introduced. Most of the rights that trans people have derive from the Equality Act. Pension ages are being equalised, so there is no advantage there from being legally female. And if you are a heterosexual trans person without a GRC and want to get married, you can always get a same-sex marriage, though many such people would find that humiliating.

There is no obvious way that the government can make having a GRC more valuable, so instead they want to remove some of the barriers to getting one. The expectation is that only people who would eventually have qualified for a GRC under the current system will get one under the new one. (And the requirement for a Statutory Declaration will be maintained to help ensure that.) The government certainly doesn’t expect to be giving people new rights, just making it easier for them to get ones they are already entitled too.

But in making this change the government has opened itself up to the idea of granting GRCs earlier in the transition process. It has done so because it doesn’t want any gap between changing social gender and legal gender. After all, who knows how long the process will take? This is a shift from the granting of a GRC being the end point of the process, to it being the start point of the process. Given the way that the government thinks, that makes it far more likely that they will be minded to confirm that trans women with GRCs can be excluded from women-only services under the existing provisions in the Equality Act. They will reason that if you haven’t completed the process then of course having a GRC doesn’t change that.

That brings us to another wrinkle in the government’s plans. 44% of those people who had not applied for a GRC said that they believed they would not qualify. Partly that is a result of the reputation that the Gender Recognition Panel has of insisting on conformance to gender stereotypes. But mainly it will be because those people are non-binary and have no legal gender that they can transition to. That is complicated enough to have to be the subject of a separate post. For now I am concentrating on binary-identified people.

As someone who has gone through full binary transition, passing all of the obstacles that the government has put in my way, I am slightly miffed to know that I still won’t be regarded as fully female under the law even though I have a GRC. However, I am not too worried about this. I work a lot with women-only services, advising them on trans inclusion. Most of them are very keen to be welcoming to trans women. In addition, the reasons why a service might want to exclude me in some way, or rather provide me with a different type of service to cis clients, would either be for my protection or for reasons that would apply whether I was trans or not. Services do risk assessment on all clients, and will exclude clients from group activities for all sorts of reasons. These services are run by wonderful, understanding people, and I am confident that if I needed their help they would try hard to provide it.

However, there is a small possibility that the government will decide that trans people with GRCs cannot be excluded from single-sex services. One thing that the government does not like is being seen to be taking away people’s rights. If the anti-trans lobby succeeds in changing the consensus on this issue, and it becomes commonly accepted that trans women with GRCs cannot be excluded from women-only services, then the government might be reluctant to change that. So if I was anti-trans I would be very careful what I was arguing for.

(Once again I am closing comments on this post as I don’t have the time to deal with a hate storm. If you have questions, I am not hard to find.)

October at PROUDbristol

PROUDbristol is a network for LGBT+ professional people in Bristol. There are, unsurprisingly, a lot of LGB folks among lawyers, accountants and so on. Trans people are somewhat more rare, but we do exist. Shon Faye, for example, is a qualified solicitor, though I beieve that she’s a full-time performer and activist now. Anyway, on October 11th these lovely people are extending an invitation to trans people to talk about their lives. I am one of the invited speakers. If you are interested, the event details are here. As the other speakers are (ahem) much younger than me, I will doubltess end up talking about the old days when you had to go to the Temple of Cybele for your operation.

Trans Rights at the WEP Conference

I spent the weekend at the Women’s Equality Party conference. There was lots of good feminist discussion and I made lots of lovely new friends. We debated a lot of policy issues, most notably adopting a motion calling for a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal, and specifically asking for an option to remain in the EU. If I get time I will do a separate post about other policies, but the discussion I know that most people will be interested in is the one that took place around trans rights.

Before I start I would like to note that WEP is one of the best places in which to have such a discussion, because issues of gender are central to so much of what WE do. Also WE are the only party dedicated to Equality. On the other hand, WE are also one of the most difficult places to discuss trans rights, because so many of our members became feminist activists because of their experience of male violence. Those experiences cannot be ignored.

That said, here’s what went down as I understand it.

Prior to Conference, some well meaning cis members submitted a motion on the Gender Recognition Act. It was very simple, calling for an end to medicalisation, recognition for non-binary genders, and an end to the Spousal Veto.

Once the motions were published, Sophie Walker was deluged with emails complaining about the motion. While many were from the usual suspects, many were from ordinary members who were concerned about what WE were up to.

Sophie has been on a bit of a journey herself over the past year. That has included getting booed at an anti-trans meeting, and discovering the lovely people at TELI. So she could see that many of the concerns were based not in bigotry, but in confusion. She wanted to reach out to those members and try to bring some clarity to the discussion.

In the meantime, another member had proposed an amendment to the motion. To the untrained eye it looked fairly inocuous, but I could see that if we passed that amendment we would immediately lose the confidence of the trans community and its allies. Indeed, had the amendment been adopted as policy it would have been impossible for me to remain a member of the party.

So we had a situation where Sophie didn’t want a vote on the main motion, and I didn’t want a vote on the amendment. Both of us could see that a lot of members would probably end up voting without fully understanding the issues. Sophie came up with the idea that World Science Fiction Society members will recognise as a version of Committee of the Whole. Instead of debating the motion, we would simply have a discussion around the issue, with no vote. Unfortunately Sophie chose to call this a “Special Debate”, which lead some trans people to assume that she was calling for a debate on whether trans women are women. In fact she was doing just the opposite: saving us from voting on an amendment that would have been taken as decision on whether trans women are women.

Sophie and I chatted by phone before conference, and I offered to speak in support of having Special Debates in case anyone on the pro-trans side wanted to try to force a vote. Inevitably someone did, though she wasn’t part of the group that brought the original motion. Thankfully the Special Motion was passed, so when we got to discussing the GRA there would be no vote.

But I am getting ahead of myself. That didn’t happen until Sunday morning. On Saturday a lot went on. In particular the folks from TELI gave a great talk on the Gender Recognition Act consultation. Claire McCann was amazing: very clear and very authoritative. There was little opportunity for discussion, though it did throw up one very interesting point that deserves its own blog post.

Meanwhile the anti-trans lobby was busy having meetings and distributing leaflets. There appeared to be around 15 or 20 of them, which is relatively small in a conference with over 700 attendees. There were apparently several different leaflets — someone clearly put a lot of money into trying to influence WEP policy on trans people — so I didn’t see them all, but the one I was given was, in my opinion, very misleading. However, the anti- side did refrain from using the obnoxious penis stickers, and although some leaflets were apparently stuck in toilets there were no razor blades.

The leaflets did make the event feel very unwelcoming to trans people, but I think this was more of an issue for our supporters than myself and the other two trans women at the venue. We all agreed that we had seen far worse.

Thankfully we were able to forget our differences for the evening and enjoy the wonderful comedy night that Sandi Toksvig had put together for us.

On Sunday morning, then, we got to actual policy debate. In supporting Sophie’s call for a Special Debate I made the following points:

  • I wanted all trans members full involved in any discussion, not just those who could afford to go to conference;
  • I felt that the amendment was too coded for us to vote on safely;
  • I was concerned that most members had obtained too much of their knowledge of trans issues from dishonest newspaper articles; and
  • I wanted us to have a proper, feminist discussion of the issue, not an adversarial debate that could only have winners and losers.

When it came to the actual Special Debate it turned out that huge numbers of people wanted to speak. All sorts of views were expressed. Some, inevitably, were very anti-trans. Others were wonderfully supportive. Chris Paouros has posted her introductory speech on her Facebook feed, but that may not be public so I’m not linking to it at this point. Stella Duffy has posted the speech she wrote here. As she notes, she didn’t get to give all of it.

I’d also like to thank the following:

  • Toni for giving her personal perspective as someone in the process of applying for a GRC;
  • Tabitha for talking about her work ending violence again women and girls, and how this was not impacted by being trans inclusive; and
  • Madeline for pointing out that women in prison are in far more danger from male staff than from trans women.

There were other pro-trans speeches as well, but I can’t remember all of them, or the names of the people who made them. Bea from Exeter wanted to make a speech explaining that the UK has obligations under international human rights law that the GRA changes are, in part, required to address. But she was helping chair the session so was unable to speak.

The opposition were mostly respectful, sometimes confused, and on a couple of occasions flat out wrong. The only thing that really got me angry was when a speaker appeared to accuse a well-known athlete who was assigned female at birth, and identifies as female, of being a male cheat. Sadly I was so angry that I didn’t manage to raise a point of order in time.

Sophie’s speech was not what I was hoping for, but I understand where she is coming from. Too many members have attempted to engage with the issue on social media, said something unfortunate, and been dismissed as a transphobe. Sophie doesn’t like this happening, but there are reasons why it does.

These days my PoC friends on Twitter spend a lot of time complaining about about being expected to do the intellectual and emotional labour of explaining their oppression to white people. The same sort of fatigue affects trans people. We get very tired of people saying, “couldn’t you just be happy as a gay man?” We are fed up of explaining that our being trans is not the fault of our parents, and that no amount of more or less strict parenting would have made a difference. It is exhausting, and people tend to snap.

I’m in a somewhat different position. I’m a professional. I get paid for explaining trans people to a sometimes clueless audience. I give my labour to WEP for free because I believe in the party, but I have experience of dealing with this stuff. Other trans people may have less skill and/or resiliance.

This is probably the point at which I should talk about some of the confusion around the issue, and why it is so dangerous.

One of the points that people kept making is that there are biological differences between trans women your average cis woman. On the face of it, that is entirely true, and one speaker emphasised the importance of recognising those differences so that trans people can get the correct medical treatment. The problem is that as soon as you conceed that point it gets spun into being radically anti-trans. The existence of some biological differences is taken as proof that trans women are not, and never can be, women. The spin then goes on to claim that this means trans women should be excluded from all women’s spaces, that gender reassignment should be removed from the Equality Act, and that the Gender Recognition Act should be repealed.

That’s the situation for trans women. For trans men and non-binary people it is in many ways worse. Non-binary people get told biology proves that they cannot exist, while trans men are told that they must identify and present as women in order to access vital gynaecological treatments.

Most people citing “biological differences” in the debate had no intention of taking things so far, but because others use the “biological differences” argument as an excuse to completely deny trans rights, any trans person seeing that phrase is liable to jump to conclusions.

And this is why we should not have the discussion on social media, or in a short, adversarial debate.

So where do we go from here? WEP has promised that it will consult the membership, and that trans members will be fully involved in the process. I’m looking forward to that happening. I’m happy to give my time and expertise to help make it work.

But I think we need to address the PR issue as well. Trans people are still afraid of WEP. That’s partly because so much of the harrassment they suffer comes from people who identify as “feminists”, partly because of unfortunate public statements by party members, and partly because of stirring by members of other political parties. Anti-trans people are doubtless concerned about the party too, but that’s not something I can address as those people won’t be open to an approach from me. What I can do is address the trans side.

So if you are a trans person and a feminist, and have the time and energy to get involved, please reach out to WEP. We need more voices than just mine. You don’t have the join the party. Indeed, you can become a Supporter while still a member of another party. WE are different like that. If you are nervous about approaching people you don’t know, come to me, and I will find a supportive person that you can talk to first.

As for WEP branches, please reach out to your local trans community. Let us know that you care. Many branches already have trans members who can help. I have contacts around the country. And if there’s really no one local then someone like myself, Carol Steel (who is a member) or Christine Burns (who isn’t, yet) would be happy to come and talk to you.

I’m going to close comments on this because what went on on social media last night made it clear how many trans haters there are out there. Most of you know how to get in touch with me should you need to.

Priorities Askew

I spent today in Glastonbury as I had been asked to help out with an event being run by Feminist Archive South. It is part of a project called Hatpins to Hastags which charts the history of femimist activism. There’s a wonderful traveling exhibition of posters from women’s liberation activities over the decades, and two strands of workshops. Some of the workshops are on digital democracy, which I’m pleased to see is focusing more on communication tools and website building than on social media. Alison Bancroft has done a fabulous job building the website for the project so if you want to learn some of this stuff and are local do check out future workshop dates. There will be some in Weston in October as well.

The other stream of workshops is called Femimist Futures and it is intended to look at what feminism still needs to do, and where we go from here. This is what I was invited to help out with. There’s a lot that we could have talked about. I offer the WEP list of objectives as a starter. Unfortunately we didn’t get to talk much about any of that.

This being Glastonbury, we had a small group of people along from the Goddess Movement, and mostly what they wanted to do was complain about how words like “intersectional” and “non-binary” were too complicated, and how we had to simplify feminism by only doing the things they wanted us to do.

I think what offended me most about this was their ignorance of human spiritual traditions (I love Inanna/Ishtar precsely because her temple was always welcoming to queer folks of all types), and their insistence on imposing Western European notions of a strict gender binary on the rest of the world. If you are going to claim to tap into ancient spiritual traditions you can at least try to do a bit of research.

I’m also seriously unimpressed with their disingenuous approach. Rather than admit that they didn’t understand this stuff and ask to learn, they complained that we were making things too complicated for girls today. Given that the young feminists they were abusing had no trouble with being intersectional, but these older women clearly did, I think the problem lies elsewhere.

If any of you are worrying about me, please don’t. I’m mostly annoyed that an opportunity to have a useful conversation about the future of feminism was totally derailed by people whose only priority appears to be excluding trans people from feminism. When there is so much still to do, it infuriates me that we are wasting our time like this. Besides, they really didn’t care about me. Their main concern was telling off the young women who didn’t share their views. I might just as well not have been there for all they cared what I thought or felt.

I’m looking on it as good practice for next weekend, which I will be spending at the Women’s Equality Party conference. I expect that experience to be far more unpleasant.

Yesterday on Ujima – Films, Muslim Women & Hugos

I ended up doing a bonus show yesterday. As I had to go into Bristol for the TV appearance, and I have nothing else urgent on that day, I figured I might as well spend some time in the studio. That meant putting together a show at short notice.

The easiest way to do that is with phone interviews, though it does mean using Skype which can mean very variable quality. I badly need an alternative means of doing phone interviews, especially as the latest versions of Skype actively prevent the use of third party call recorders. (Why anyone would produce a digital phone system and now allow call recording is a mystery to me.)

Anyway, there were people I could interview. In the first hour I talked to Jake Smith of Tusko Films. Jake was the directory for Talking LGBT+ Bristol, the film about the city’s LGBT+ community that we made for Bristol Pride. I figured that if Jake and I were going to be on TV for 3 minutes in the evening, we should have a longer chat about the film as well.

I also recorded an interview with Rivers Solomon because there has been some really exciting news about their next novel project. Getting to write a novel with clipping has to be a dream come true.

The Listen Again system appears to have been fixed, so you can listen to the first hour of the show here.

I did manage to arrange one live interview. On Tuesday there was a flash mob demonstration in the city protesting Boris Johnson’s appalling comments about Muslim women. I was very pleased to have Sahar from Muslim Engagement & Development (MEND) to explain about the different types of headgear that Muslim women wear, and why they wear them. She was joined in the studio by Lisa from Stand Up to Racism.

I had half an hour to fill so I rambled on a bit about the women’s cricket, and about this year’s Hugo finalists. You can listen to the second half of the show here.

While the show is available on Listen Again I won’t put it up on the podcast. But once it has fallen off those interviews will appear there (and in the case of Rivers on Salon Futura). I will try to get an old interview or two up on the podcast in the meantime. And if anyone would like to become a patron of the podcast I would be very grateful. We only need 8 more people at $1/month to cover costs.

If you would like to know more about the Jimi Hendrix album that I was playing tracks from, you can find some details here.

The full playlist for yesterday’s show is as follows:

  • Jimi Hendrix – Jungle
  • Jimi Hendrix – Woodstock
  • clipping – The Deep
  • Bootsy Collins – May the Force be With You
  • Bob Marley – Get Up, Stand Up
  • Santana – Riders on the Storm
  • Janelle Monae – Sally Ride
  • Jimi Hendrix – Georgia Blues

Lobsters for Emojis

When I was at Trans Pride in Brighton I was rather confused by some people in the parade apparently dressed as lobsters, and carrying plastic lobsters, and flags with lobsters on them. I mean, I’m very fond of lobsters, but why at Trans Pride?

Being a good investgative jouralist, I looked for them in Brunswick Gardens and, having found their stall, asked them what this was all about. It turns out that it is all the fault of Google, Apple and Facebook. Bear with me.

Of course most things bad in the world are the fault of Facebook these days, but lobsters are not bad, and why Apple and Google as well? Well, because they are all voting members of an IT industry body called Unicode which is responsible, among other things, for regulating emojis.

You may have noticed that there are a lot of flags missing from the set of emojis available on your phone or tablet. There is no Welsh flag, for example. Almost as importantly for me, there is no trans flag. That would be very useful. Apparently it is one of the most commonly requested new emojis. But Unicode says there is no need for one.

And yet, when a small group of people petitioned Unicode for a lobster emoji, apparently on the grounds that having to use a shrimp or a crab would be confusing, this was quickly granted.

As a result, the lobster has become a symbol for the campaign for a trans flag emoji. And this, as the petition points out, is rather apt, because lobsters are one of the select group of creatures that can become gynandromorphs. That is, you can find lobsters that are male on one side of their body and female on the other side. Biology is way more complicated than the average anti-trans activist would like to admit.

So if you see me using a lobster emoji on Twitter in future, you will know what it means.

Trans Pride Happened

I appear to have had one of those weeks in which I had lots of good intentions to blog about Trans Pride, but ended up too busy or too tired to actually do so. Certain issues with Worldcon might have had something to do with this, not to mention some UK politics.

Anyway, Trans Pride in Brighton (the original, and still the biggest) happened last weekend, and give the state of the world I went along to show solidarity. It was great. The march appears to have had between 4,000 and 5,000 people, and Brunswick Gardens was buzzing all afternoon.

My favorite stall in the park was one being run by a group of midives from the local NHS trust. They were keen to help any trans guys and non-binary folks who wanted to get pregnant, and even had advice for trans women on breastfeeding. The things that can be done these days are just amazing.

One important announcement came from Jane Fae. On September 8th there will be a conference in London called We’re Still Here. There will be workshops on all sorts of interesting things. It looks like it will be very interesting.

I, however, won’t be there, because the date clashes with the Women’s Equality Party conference, and someone has to be there to defend trans rights. WEP has been fairly heavily targetted by the anti-trans brigade in the past, and I’m sure they’ll see this conference as an opportunity to futher their attempts to turn all cis women against trans people.

Life, it keeps coming at you. But sometimes it is fun, as proof of which here is the My Genderation film from last weekend.

Film Preview Night #LGBT247

Some of you may remember that the lovely people at Bristol 24/7 have been working on a film project about LGBT life in the city. I got asked to be it in, as did many of my friends. Tonight at the Arnolfini there will be a preview screening. I think there are still tickets left if you are interested. And if you can’t make it, the film will be screened a lot on Pride weekend.

Here’s a sneak peek.

The Popelei Naked Podcast

As promised, here is the link to my interview on Tamsin Clarke’s Naked Podcast. As you’ll see, it is Apple only at the moment. If, like me, you would rather sit in a nest of fire ants than install iTunes on a Windows PC, and you have no Apple device to listen on, that may be a problem. I’ll chase Tamsin about other formats.

If you can listen (and thankfully iTunes works fine on my iPad) you’ll see that we discussed getting naked in the sauna in Finland, and the process that strongly binary trans women like myself have to go through in order to get a body they are happy to be naked in.

I Get Royalties

It is always a pleasure to get royalties on a book you have been involved in. This time I am even more pleased, because I’m actually being paid for writing about trans characters in SF&F. My essay is part of a great book too: Gender Identity and Sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Francesca Barbini. It includes Juliet McKenna’s BSFA Award nominated essay on the barriers for women and minorities in the publishing industry. Clearly other people have enjoyed the book (and I know that Luna Press sold out of the copies they had brought to Worldcon in Helsinki), so why not get a copy?