Tomorrow – Outing the Past

Tomorrow the lovely folks behind LGBT History Month will be holding a virtual symposium on, you guessed it, LGBT History. This one will be all about history and creative production. My good friend Dan Vo is hosting a session at 13:00, and I will be one of his guests. There might be Romans, and mosaics, and Greek theatre.

The event is free, and you can find full details here.

The Smithsonian Discovers Kush

Every so often White Media discovers ancient Black civilisations. (Don’t worry, Black folks, they will forget you again soon.) Today it is the turn of The Smithsonian Magazine, which has allowed a Sudanese-American journalist to tell the story of the African kingdoms to the south of Egypt. The tale includes Taharqa and Amanirenas, whom I have probably talked quite a bit about here already. It also includes an interesting piece of queer history.

In the New Testament the Acts of the Apostles includes a story about how St. Philip met a foreign dignatory on the road south of Jerusalem. The man was a treasury official from the court of the Kandake of Meroë, probably Queen Amantitere given the dates. This fellow, named as Simeon Bachos by the 2nd Century writer, St. Irenaeus, had an interest in Jewish religion, and had been to Jerusalem to learn more. He had obtained a copy of the Book of Isaiah which he was reading on his way home. He asked Philip for help interpreting the words of the prophet, and by the time the Apostle had finished Simeon was eager to convert to Christianity.

One obvious point here is that as a foreigner it seems unlikely that Simeon would have been welcome to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jewish elders of the time were a stuffy lot. The New Testament also describes him as a eunuch, which would also have counted against him. Philip may have been reminded of the time, reported in Matthew 19:12, when Jesus spoke of how eunuchs were welcome in the Kingdom of Heaven.

But what exactly does “eunuch” mean in this context. Jesus describes three types. There are those who are made eunuchs by others. Simeon might have been an ex-slave who won his freedom thanks to his skill at accountancy. There are those who make themselves eunuchs for religious purposes, such as the Roman transfeminine priestesses of Cybele, but this seems an unlikely explanation given our man’s interest in Judaic religion. Finally there are those who were deemed “natural eunuchs”; that is, men who have no desire to have sex with women. This has lead some people to claim our African accountant as the first gay Christian.

Whatever the explanation, as a eunuch Simeon would have been regarded as neither male nor female by the cultural traditions of his time. Even if he didn’t identify as queer in some way himself, he would have been seen as such by others.

To the best of my knowledge, the people of Meroë were still following Egyptian religion at the time. It would be interesting to know what the Kandake thought of Simeon’s conversion. But there has been a thriving Christian church in Ethiopia since at least 333 CE, so presumably our man made some converts among his people.

There is a painting of the baptism in the Amgueddfa Cymru, the National Museum of Wales. I believe that it is part of the LGBT history tour that Dan Vo put together for the Museum. I know Dan and I talked about it as a possible inclusion, but I missed my Guide training session thanks to COVID.

HFRN 2021, Also Virtual

Another academic conference that I’m a regular at (and now a Trustee of) is the annual meeting of the Historical Fiction Research Network. The conference is normally in February, and that’s now definitely uncertain as far as in-person events goes, so we are going virtual. Hopefully that means we’ll be able to pull in people from all around the world (though in fairness a bunch of lovely Aussies are regulars and we had two Russians last year).

Anyway, in keeping with the times, our theme for 2021 is depictions of catastrophe. It was the end of the world, or at least it seemed like it at the time. From the Great Flood in Gilgamesh to the Heat Death of the Universe, humans have always imagined disasters. There’s so much to talk about. Here’s the Call for Papers, and the link to buy memberships.

HFRN 2021- Online
Theme: Remembering Catastrophe

Please submit papers to the Paper Proposal Form:
Deadline 30th September.

We welcome paper proposals from Archaeology, Architecture, Literature, Media, Art History, Cartography, Geography, History, Musicology, Reception Studies, Linguistics, Museum Studies, Media Studies, Politics, Re-enactment, Larping, Gaming, Transformative Works, Gender, Race, Queer studies and others.

We welcome paper proposals across historical periods, with ambitious, high-quality, inter-disciplinary approaches and new methodologies that will support research into larger trends and which will lead to more theoretically informed understandings of the mode across historical periods, cultures and languages.

This year we are using a form. Please submit papers to the Paper Proposal Form.

Deadline, 30th September.
Tickets from Helm: £40/£15

Outing the Past Goes Virtual

Outing the Past is an annual academic conference on the subject of queer history. Normally I attend, but this year it got scheduled for September 12th, and I had already accepted an invitation to go to Augsberg in Germany for a science fiction conference organised by the wonderful Sabrina Mittermeier. Of course that isn’t going to happen now. Sabrina and her colleagues have already put some of the proposed events online, including my chat with Sabrina and Maria Turtschaninoff. You can find that and several other events, on the covention’s YouTube channel. (And let me tell you that I’m seriously chuffed to be on the same programme as the Chancellor of the Klingon Empire.)

So what about Outing the Past. Obviously it is going virtual too, and that means you can all join in the fun. There will be a special one-day event on September 12th called Completing the Past. It will be all about LGBT+ History and Creative Production. There are a lot of great speakers lined up, and in particular I would like to draw your attention to the panel titled, “Heritage at home: Connecting and engaging with the LGBT+ past through creative production.” That will be hosted by Dan Vo, and it will feature a bunch of guests talking about works of art that open a door on the LGBT+ past. I can’t tell you any more about it than that now, but you know that if Dan is involved then it is goign to be awesome, right?

Meet Saint Wilgefortis

In Castle Park in the centre of Bristol there is a small, bombed out church called St. Mary Le Port. The current building is Norman dating from work in the 11th century, but archaeologists have discovered a Saxon site beneath so it is presumably much older. Because it is a useful landmark in the park, the church has effectively been a gathering point for the Bristol Pride March for a few years, and before that Pride itself took place around the church in Castle Park.

Via an article in today’s Bristol 24/7 I discovered that the church contains a chapel to Saint Wilgefortis.

Saint who, you may well ask? Well, she is apparently the patron saint of Unhappily Married Women. Her legend is that her father arranged for her to marry someone she did not like, so she prayed that she might be made repulsive so that he would reject her. The next morning when she woke up she had a full beard. That put paid to the marriage, but her angry father had her crucified as a punishment.

Wikipedia (yes, I know) lists a whole bunch of names by which Wilgefortis was known around Europe. She seems to have been particularly popular in Northern Europe, but she has found her way as far afield as Panama and Argentina.

These days historians tend to assume that the legend is entirely made up. After all, teenage girls don’t normally sprout a full beard overnight. However, there are a range of biological variations that can lead to people assigned female at birth growing beards. That can range from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome all the way to 5-ARD, an intersex variation that also leads to the young person growing a penis. It is entirely possible that young Wilgefortis knew that she was developing facial hair and had been hiding it from her parents, but decided to come clean about it in the hope of getting out of the marriage.

Just as fascinating is the fact that the worship of Wilgefortis involved the image of her being crucified, which led to some very androgynous iconography. My friends who study gender in the Middle Ages are all over this sort of thing, but Christian theology is a minefield I try to avoid playing in because you need a lot of basic knowledge before it is wise to say anything.

What I can say, however, is that the existence of a chapel to Wilgefortis in the very church that has such a close connection to Bristol Pride is a delightful piece of serendipity. I have no doubt that the local chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence will take this to heart.

Queering the Classics

Today is International Non-Binary People’s Day (neatly positioned half way between International Men’s Day, which does exist, and International Women’s Day). I am rather pleased that today is also publication day for volume 49 of the CUCD Bulletin, in which I have an article.

CUCD stands for Council of University Classics Deparments, which is a professional forum for all teachers of classical Greek and Roman subjects in British Universities. That makes the Bulletin a pretty serious academic venue, albeit one that will cover issues of pedagogy as well as research. My article is titled “Queering the Classics”, and it is primarily a review of this book, Exploring Gender Diversity in the Ancient World.

However, in order to explain the importance of the book, I had to do the whole thing of talking about understanding gender and sexuality in the ancient world. And it is this that makes publication on International Non-Binary People’s Day so appropriate. The short version is that gender is a social construct, and every society constructs it differently.

Huge thanks are due to the Bulletin‘s editor, Professor Susan Deacy, who has been very supportive of my baby steps in the Classics world.

Coronavirus – Day #85

Well, what a day!

Things began overnight with a certain very rich writer of dubious children’s books spouting transphobia over her Twitter feed. I had to unfollow and block one person, but in general I was very proud of the way my own personal social media bubble rallied round. Good show, people!

Just about when that was starting to die down, the Black Lives Matter demo began in Bristol. I wasn’t able to attend, and indeed many of the Black people I know stayed away because of health fears. Cleo Lake and some other community leaders organised an online protest with the hashtag #BristolTakeTheKnee, which I participated in. And then I got on with some work.

The next thing I knew, people had toppled the statue of Edward Colston and dumped it in the harbour.

For those of you who don’t know, Colston made an huge fortune from slave trading. He did pay some of it back by donating money that helped the city, but that’s no excuse for all the lives he destroyed. However, because of that philanthropy he had various things in the city named after him, and a statue erected in his honour. Much, if not all, of this was done in late Victorian times long after the slave trade had been abolished and when the white population of the city had managed to forget its horrors.

The Black people of Bristol did not forget. For decades now they have been campaigning to have Colston’s name removed from the city. Many of my friends from Ujima have been involved in that. Members of the white establishment have fought them every inch of the way. Last year the concert hall agreed to change its name, but attempts to even acknowledge Colston’s unsavoury habits on the plaque on his statue were ferociously resisted. We all know what happens when attempts at calm and reasonable protest are blocked.

A couple of things are worth noting. Firstly the actual act of toppling the stautue seems, from the video I have seen, to have been done by young white men. When Tim Maughan wrote about the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft in Infinite Detail he wasn’t joking, and didn’t make it up. Secondly, while Avon & Somerset Police maintained a presence at the demonstration, they did not attempt to intervene or attack the crowd. Those responsible for actually toppling the statue will be investigated, but public safety was maintained and there was no violence. This sounds very different from what police in London and Manchester have been up to.

The government is, of course, livid. I would not fancy being Marvin Rees (the Mayor) or Sue Mountstevens (the Police Commissioner) tomorrow morning.

I understand that the BBC has given air time to both David Olusoga and to my friend Olivette Otele, both of whom are more than capable of explaining just why so many people in Bristol want Colston gone.

And now I have to make a radio show. It will air on Wednesday, but I should deliver it by the end of tomorrow. And I won’t have time to do any interviews. I have been collecting civil rights songs to play.

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.

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.

New Book on Angela Carter

It is a big week for local history on Bristol. A new series of David Olusoga’s popular A House Through Time starts tonight, and this time he’s come home to look at a house built by a wealthy slave trader.

In addition to that the lovely people at the Bristol Radical History Group have published a new book. Mostly I wouldn’t bother telling you about such things, but this one should be of interest. Angela Carter’s ‘Provincial Bohemia’ is an examination of the radical counterculture communities that flourished in Bristol and Bath when Carter lived in the region between 1961 and 1976. Author Stephen E Hunt hopes that the book will shed light on Carter’s influences during these formative years. The book even has a rave recommendation from Eugene Byrne. You can buy it direct from the lovely people at Tangent Books.

Coronavirus – Day #63

Well that was an exhausting day. And I have five more to go. Of course it didn’t help that I had the #QBLockdownHunt thing to do as well.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it all. Please to tell your friends if you did. There must be some more people out there who would be willing to give a few pounds to help One25.

Here’s the link to the fundraiser.

I have no idea what is happening back in the UK. I hope Bozo doesn’t manage to destroy the country before I get back.

Life in Pompeii #GiveItUp125

As promised in my last video, here are some pictures from the Last Supper in Pompeii Exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. In case anyone is worried, that’s not a real dormouse in the pot.

If you want to learn to cook like a Roman, here is a modern edition of Apicius. Or you can get the original for free from Project Gutenberg.

And before I forget again, here is the Delia Smith recipe for zabaglione.