New Book – Contains Me

This is going to be a very busy week for book announcements. We’ll have something coming from Wizard’s Tower tomorrow, and an anthology I have a story in is being published on Thursday. Before that, however, there is this book.

As you can see, it is not by me, but I do have a short essay in it. The book covers a wide range of trans issues, including history. I get to write about transgender Romans. In a proper university text book. How cool is that?

Huge thanks should go to Ardel for including me. We met at the Moving Trans History Forward conference in Victoria, BC in 2016. As Ardel teaches in San Francisco, Kevin and I immediately bonded with them. We were all there again last year, and this year Ardel is over my side of the pond. We’ll both be on a panel about trans history at the Outing the Past academic conference at the end of March.

Anyway, enough about us. You want to know about the book. It is available now in the USA. It is very reasonably priced for an academic textbook. And you can get 30% off with the special offer mentioned here. UK people, you can probably buy from the publisher too, but postage may be an issue. The paperback won’t be available here until March 5th, but the Kindle edition is available now.

Trans History Workshops in Bristol

An exciting opportuity for young trans people is coming up in Bristol in March. As per the flyer above, there will be a series of workshops looking at the history of gender and science. The fabulous Jason Barker from Gendered Intelligence will be involved, as will the lovely people from the Rethinking Sexology project at Exeter University. The Wellcome Trust is providing the funding.

Given that this involves trans history, you might have guess that it could involve me in some way. You’d be right. I’m not exactly sure what I’ll be doing yet, but I have definitely signed up to help on the workshop on March 16th.

More information will be forthcoming in the next few weeks. Also Jen Grove from Exeter Uni should be at the LGBT History Month event I am curating at M Shed on the 16th to promote the workshops. In the meantime there’s a schedule and an opportunity to register interest here.

Today on Ujima – #LGBTHM Special

The whole of today’s show on Ujima was devoted to LGBT History Month.

I began with some interviews I made at the event in Taunton on Saturday. These were with Steven from the Taunton Gay Group Alex from Somerset Libraries, who organised the event; and finally with Caroline Paige, an absolutely amazing lady who transitioned while serving as a pilot in the RAF and continued on active service after her transition. Anyone who flies helicopters in a war zone has my utmost admiration.

For the second half of the show I was joined in the studio by two guests. Firstly there was former Bristol MP, Stephen Williams. We talked about his time as one of the few openly gay MPs, and also about our shared love of LGBT History. The blog post on LGBT+ heritage sites that he talked about is here.

Stephen will be the headline guest at our LGBT History Month Event at M Shed on Saturday Feb. 16th. The full line-up of speakers is available here.

My second guest was author Alan Robert Clark who has written a novel about Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Eddy, who was involved in a gay sex scandal. There’s a bit more about the book, Prince of Mirrors, on the OutStories Bristol website.

You can listen to the show for the next month via the Ujima Listen Again service here.

All of the music for the show was by black LGBT artists, except for the new Saara Aalto single which I played because it is a charity fundraiser for Mermaids. Here’s the playlist:

  • Titica – Ablua
  • Andy Allo – If I Was King
  • Prince – I Would Die 4 U
  • Jackie Shane – Walking the Dog
  • Tracy Chapman – Baby Can I Hold You?
  • Saara Aalto – Dance Like Nobody’s Watching
  • Janelle Monáe – Make Me Feel
  • Labi Siffre – Sparrow in the Storm

The 2019 #LGBTHM Tour

February is almost upon us. Here’s what I think is my final(-ish) schedule.

Friday 1st: Flag raising at City Hall in Bristol, followed by a reception in the Lord Mayor’s Chapel. All welcome.

Saturday 2nd: An event at the library in Taunton. I will be talking about Spartans. The OutStories Bristol traveling exhibition is on display, and my colleague Robert Howes is speaking as well.

Wednesday 6th: I’ll be doing Women’s Outlook on Ujima. It will be an LGBTHM special and will feature former local MP, Stephen Williams, talking about being gay in Parliament. I’m also doing a talk about Michael Dillon for some civil servants in the afternoon.

Thursday 7th: I’m doing a talk about Hadrian and his time at Bristol University. Not sure if this one is open or not. Update: yes it is. Also via Eventbrite.

Saturday 9th: I will be at the LGBTHM event at the Senedd Building in Cardiff, talking about Amazons.

Thursday 14th: I will be at Queens University, Belfast talking about trans people in ancient Mesopotamia. (And for potential Worldcon attendees, I’m traveling via Dublin and the Enterprise.)

Saturday 16th: The LGBTHM event at M Shed in Bristol. Full line-up here. I will be talking to performance storyteller, Rachel Rose Reid, about the Romance of Silence, a mediaeval Arthurian tale featuring a non-binary protagonist. If all goes well, Rachel will be performing part of the story in Bristol that evening.

Thursday 28th: I’ll be attending a book launch at Exeter University. The book in question is Sculpture, Sexuality and History, edited by my ear friends Jana Funke and Jen Grove. There’s also a mini academic conference that includes Mara Gold talking about actual Lesbians (as in ancient Greeks from Lesbos).

In amongst all of this I’m also attending Farah’s Historical Fiction Research Network conference in Manchester where I’m talking about steampunk.

I’d like to say that I will be spending March lying down, but LGBTHM has a habit of scope creep and I’m definitely planning to be in Belfast on the final weekend for the Outing the Past academic conference, always assuming that the country isn’t under martial law at the time, which is starting to look increasingly likely.

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.

The Graz Armoury

One of the highlights of my visit to Graz — indeed the one thing I desperately wanted to do before getting there — was visiting the Armoury. They have an incredible amount of mediaeval and early modern armour and weaponry on show. There’s enough kit, I was assured, to outfit an army of 5,000 men.

Quite a bit of it is unused. The large collection of infantry sabres in one of the pictures below was ordered for the Napoleonic Wars, but Napoleon conquered Austria so quickly that the blacksmith hadn’t finished them by the time the war was over.

The prize item in the collection is the horse armour. It was sold to the museum for two pints of beer by a nobleman who had no more use for it. Decades later it is worth millions.

If you want to visit the Armoury, it is best to go in summer. In the winter it is open only for tours on a select few days. I happened to get lucky in not only picking the right day, but also getting a personal guided tour. Thanks Cristoph, that was awesome!

Welcome to the Armoury

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Kunsthistorisches Museum Photos

My main interest in Vienna was the Kunsthistorisches Museum. I only had a few hours and of course I spent most of my time looking at ancient stuff. Frankly there was so much bling on show in the Hapsburg displays that it was rather overwhelming. I loved the automata though, and kudos to the museum for having tablet computers with film of each one working available.

Anyway, here are some photos. If you share my obsession with ancient history you’ll enjoy some of these. The gallery plugin I am using doesn’t allow for much descriptive text so do ask if you are interested in anything.

The museum is an exhibit in itself

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Graz Photos

Here are some more photos from my trip to Austria. These are all from the city of Graz, where the conference took place. They include the Schlossberg, the precipitous, fortified hill in the middle of the city.

Graz is 2 hours by train south of Vienna. Part of the reason for the time is that the railway has to wind through the foothills of the Alps. It is not far from the Slovenian border, and only a few hours from Zagreb by road. A lot of the big buildings in the city were built by Italian architects, which gives the city something of a Mediterranean feel. The courtyards are a particular feature of the old town.

City Hall lit up for Christmas

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Hutton on Fairies

Bristol University has many fine academics on its staff, but undoubtledly one of the best is Professor Ronald Hutton. Here he is giving a lecture on the origins and purposes of fairy stories.

In the Q&A I discoverd that “trow” is an Orkney/Shetland word for “troll”. Local opinion has it that the town where I live was originally called Tree-bridge (treow-brycg in Old English), or True-bridge. From now on I am going to assume it is actually Trollbridge, because that’s much more cool.

Thanks to John Reppion for the link to the lecture.

Hello From Vienna

I’m spending a little time in Vienna on my way to the Worlding SF conference. After all, goodness only knows if I will ever be in Austria again, and I can’t come here and not see one of Europe’s greatest capitals.

It had snowed a little before I got here, as shown by the view from my hotel window above, but it has pretty much all melted by now. I got rained on a little today, but mostly the weather has been merely chilly.

Vienna has an excellent subway system which is color-coded so you can’t get lost. I have been using it all day for the princely sum of a €8 day pass.

I spent a lot of time just walking around and gawping because there is so much great architecture on display, but my main objective was to spent time in the Kunsthistorisches Museum because I am a sucker for an ancient history collection that I haven’t seen. In particular they have a unique statue of Isis that I wanted to see in person. Hopefully more on that in a later post.

The Museum also has a incredible amount of bling from the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was really quite overwhelming. And the Museum itself is an exhibit in its own right. I kept stopping looking in the displays and looking at the ceilings instead.

I didn’t get to see the Bruegel exhibition because it is so popular you have to book well in advance and be there at your appointed timeslot. I do like his work, but I only had one day here.

In among the historical stuff I also managed to find a cat cafe run by a lovely Japanese woman. And I have been managing to get by despite my almost total lack of German. People still ask me for directions, even here.

Tomorrow I will be heading south to Graz. There will be train photos for Kevin on Twitter.

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.

Ujima Black History Month Special

I was in the studio today for a very special edition of Women’s Outlook. The entire show was co-presented by, and produced by, my good friend Olivette Otele.

If you have been following my tweetage you will know that Olivette has recently been appointed Professor of History at Bath Spa University. For non-UK readers, that’s a big deal, because here only the most senior academics can call themselves Professor. Olivette is the first black woman to become a professor of history in the UK.

Most of her work to date has centered on colonialism and slavery, but for today we chose to look further back in time to showcase some of the people of colour from Africa who interacted with Europe in the past.

The chap in the picture at the top is Joseph Boulogne, the Chevalier Saint Georges. He was a military man, an accomplished fencer, and also a brilliant musician. He was so good at music that he became Marie Antoinette’s music teacher, and we played one of his compositions during the show. I was delighted to discover that he once fought an exhibition duel in London against the famous French trans woman, the Chevalier d’Eon. Olivette also informed me that during the French Revolution he fought alongside the father of Alexander Dumas (hands up everyone who didn’t know that the creator of the Three Musketeers was black).

Also featured on the show were Saint Maurice, Jacobus Capitein, and my personal favourite, Queen Amanirenas, the one-eyed warrior who gave Augustus a bloody nose. Plus a whole lot more interesting people.

The Listen Again feature appears to be working OK again at the moment. You can listen to the first hour here, and the second hour here.

Olivette also selected all of the music for the show. I have to say that she has great taste. Here is the playlist:

  • Steel Pulse – Shining
  • Bob Marley – Get Up, Stand Up
  • Chevalier St. Georges – Overture to L’Amant Anonyme
  • Angelique Kidjo – Born Under Punches
  • Lady Nade – Waiting for You
  • Sade – Soldier of Love
  • Hamilton Cast – Immigrants
  • Eddy Grant – African Kings

I hope you enjoy the show. I’ll be back with a more regular slot on November 7th.

The OutStories Bristol AGM

Saturday saw the AGM of OutStories Bristol and the associated John Addington Symonds Birthday Lecture. The event is sponsored for us by the Institute for Greece, Rome and the Classical Tradition at Bristol University, which means we get the use of the lovely Wills Memorial Building for the event.

This year the lecture had special significance for us because it was actually about John Addington Symonds himself. Symonds was born in Berkeley Square, just the other side of Park Street from the Wills Memorial Building. He lived for a while in Clifton Hill House, which is now one of Bristol University’s conference venues. And of course some of his archives are held in Bristol.

It was archives that we were mainly concerned with on Saturday, in particular those pertaining to Symonds memoirs. They deal initially with Symonds’ coming to terms with his homosexual identity — something which there were no polite words for when he was young, so deeply had European culture supressed the idea. It was only later studying Classical Greece, and collaborating with the sexologist, Havelock Ellis, that he was able to write about how he felt.

That realisation, of course, brought with it the knowledge that his memoirs would be far too gay to publish. Or, to use the euphenmism of the day, “too Greek”. That’s the term his collegues at Oxford used when advising him not to apply for a senior post.

And so the memoirs were locked away, in a green cardbard box tied up with string. By the terms of Symonds’ will, they were bequeathed to his friend, Horatio Brown, with strict instructions not to allow anything embarrassing to be published, but neither to allow them to be destroyed. Through an Herculean effort of editing, Brown managed to produce a biography that was relatively complete, slightly suggestive, but free of any taint of scandal.

The rest of the story follows the heroic attempts of Symonds’ youngest daughter, Dame Katharine Furse, to gain access to the memoirs and have a more honest version published. It appears that Symonds’ proclivities were an open secret in the household, and younger generations were much less ashamed of same-sex liasions than their forebears.

All of this was related to us by Amber Regis, a scholar who has produced the most complete version yet of the memoirs. Amber was able to regale us with stories of adventures in the archives, and bring to life the voices of Symonds, Furse and other characters in the story.

I say “most complete yet” because there are still items under lock and key. Horatio Brown died without immediate offspring, and the rights to his literary estate passed to a pair of nephews in Australia. Those men, and their descendents, currently hold the rights to certain documents that Amber is not allowed to publish. So, Australian friends, if your last name is Brown, or you are descended from Browns, do check your family tree. There may be a lovely surprise in it for you.

By the way, the sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that Amber is based at the University of Sheffield. We did have a long chat after the meeting about the existence of aliens in they city. It has all been very exciting for the locals.

It was a very splendid day. My thanks to Amber, to the IGRCT, and to Chris Leigh who did all of the organising. I just chaired the meeting, and messed up thoroughly by forgetting to record Amber’s talk. Very sorry, everyone.

OutStories Bristol AGM

It is almost that time of year again. Long time readers might remember that a regular feature of the OutStories Bristol AGM is a talk by an academic on a subject from LGBT+ History. This year we are delighted to welcome Amber Regis who is probably the UK’s leading expert on John Addington Symonds, who in turn is probably Bristol’s most famous queer inhabitant.

As usual, the meeting will be in the Wills Memorial Building at the University of Bristol, thanks to our friends at the Institute of Greece, Rome, and the Classical Tradition. The IGRCT, of course, owes a significant debt to Symonds who was a noted Classicist as well as a leading Renaissance scholar, and the reason we have the AGM in conjunction with them, in early October, is to celebrate Symonds’ birthday (Oct. 5th). We can’t always hit the exact date, and this year we are on October 13th. I trust Mr. Symonds will forgive us for being a week late, and we promise to be extra queer to make it up to him.

Oh, and for those of you not interested in all of the queer stuff, Symonds’ other claim to fame is that Edward Lear wrote “The Owl and the Pussycat” for one of his daughters.

Full event details are available via our website. For those of you who can’t make it, we will be recording Amber’s talk and postcasting it in due course.

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.

Now That’s What I Call A Queen

It is time for a little light relief from all of that Hugo stuff. How about some Assyrian history instead?

Today I got notification from of a new paper upload from a friend of mine (hi Omar!). It was mainly about King Sennacherib and representations of masculinity in his depiction. However, along the way it also touched on his relationship with women. There’s a theory that Sennacherib was a bit of a feminist, or at least was responsible for making Assyria somewhat less macho.

The poor chap came to the throne in very unfortunate circumstances. His father, Sargon II, had been campaigning against the Cimmerians who must have actually had Conan in their army because they thrashed the Assyrians, killing Sargon and making off with his body. Clearly the gods were unhappy with Assyria.

Sennacherib had a rather better time of things militarily, though he did rather famously fail to capture Jerusalem. The Prophet Isiah claims a massive victory for King Hezekiah, but Assyrian sources just say that Sennacherib accepted tribute and went away.

The most famous thing that Sennacherib did, however, was to move his capital to Nineveh where he built a wonderously beautiful palace complete with fabulous gardens irrigated by the use of a technique that later became known as the Archimedes Screw. Stephanie Dalley believes that this palace was the original inspiration for the legend of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. (Sennacherib had conquered Babylon and put one of his sons on the throne there.)

In part of the palace there are lion guardian figures leading to a separate wing. On them is an inscription which reads:

And for the queen Tašmetum-šarrat, my beloved wife, whose features Belet-ili has made more beautiful than all other women, I had a palace of love, joy and pleasure built. … By the order of Aššur, father of the gods, and queen Ištar may we both live long in health and happiness in this palace and enjoy well-being to the full!

This demonstration of uxoriousness is highly unusual for an Assyrian king. We have nothing to back it up, and everyone would doubtless take it at face value if not for future developments, of which more later.

I was reading about Tašmetum-šarrat because Omar had cited a paper by Karen Radner which looks at a particularly famous seal. It is mostly famous because it is one of the few seals where we have both the seal itself and documents onto which it was impressed. The seal shows Tašmetum-šarrat and Sennacherib approaching a goddess (whom I shall assume is Ishtar). It is known to be the queen’s seal because it also features an image of a scorpion.

Yes, the official symbol of the Assyrian queen was a scorpion. Why? Well the theory is that the primary function of the queen was to produce and raise a crown prince. The female scorpion is known to carry her young on her back for protection, and she is of course a fearsome warrior. This is entirely appropriate for the queen of Ishtar’s chosen people. (Also scorpions have 8 legs and Ishtar’s star has 8 points, but that’s just me going off at a mystical tangent.)

But the reason I looked up Radner’s paper to begin with was mention Omar made about Tašmetum-šarrat having her own army. As best we can make out, Sennacherib had a lot of trouble with palace intrigue, and he didn’t much trust his senior advisors. So he gave one of his armies to his queen to command instead.

You may now imagine Ishtar smiling down happily at all this.

Sadly for Sennacherib, this cunning plan did not work. In 681 BCE he was murdered in a palace coup apparently involving some of his own sons. The plot was unsuccessful because the throne was eventually siezed by another son, Esarhaddon, who was governor of Babylon when his father died. The interesting question is, whose sons did the plotting?

Assyrian kings, as was the fashion, had several official wives, one of whom would be the official queen. We do not know if Tašmetum-šarrat and her sons were involved in the assassination plot. However, nothing is heard of Tašmetum-šarrat from then on. Instead we hear much of another wife, Naqia. She played a prominent role in the reign of her son, Esarhaddon (who conquered Egypt), and of her grandson, Ashurbanipal (shortly to be the subject of a major exhibition at the British Museum).

Scorpions, they are dangerous creatures.

New Venue for Queer Historical Fiction

Earlier this week Manifold Press announced a re-launch and change of management. Farah Mendlesohn will be the new Managing Editor, and the company is looking for works of historical fiction with queer themes. Knowing Farah, I’m sure this will be a great venture, and if only I a) had some time, and b) could write better, I know just the book I’d pitch her.

Those of you who fancy writing queer historical fiction, you now know where you can get a favorable hearing. That includes trans-themed historical fiction. If you need ideas for that, you know where to come, right?

OUTing the Past 2019 – Call for Papers

Fancy doing a presentation for next year’s LGBT History Month? Well you are in luck, because next year there are more hubs than ever. That means lots of opportunities. And it is great fun. Or at least I really enjoy it.

For more information about how to propose a talk, and an appliction form, see here. If you would like some advice on writing up your proposal, just get in touch. If they’ll let me do these things, anyone can do it. You have until Oct. 1st to submit your application, so there’s plenty of time.

If you are wondering where the hubs will be, as you don’t want to travel far, here’s the list: Bedford, Belfast, Birmingham, Bolton, Brighton, Derry/Londonderry, Leeds, Liverpool, London LSE, London National Maritime Museum, London Bishopsgate, Manchester, Taunton.

There will also be hubs in Bergen, Cork, Dublin, New York and Södertälje (Sweden), but I don’t think anyone will be paying international travel expenses. I’d love to do Dublin, but it clashes with other things.

You may have noticed that Bristol is not on that list. We do have plans, but the way that OutStories and M Shed likes to do these things doesn’t work well with how Schools Out operates, and in any case I have most of my speakers already lined up.

Today on Ujima – Trans, Music, Suffragettes & Coercive Control

Today’s show started with a first for me, a live phone-in. Ben has only done one before so he did very well getting it sorted eventually. I’m very glad he did because I had a great chat with Kate O’Donnell about her show which is coming up on Friday. Tom Marshman was in the studio with us providing cover when the phone wasn’t working, and talking about his own part in the evening.

My second guest today was the amazing local singer, Ruth Royall. She has an absolutely fabulous voice, does her own production and plays a lot of the music on her recordings, and is basically just hugely talented. I got to play a brand new song that has never been heard on radio before.

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

The second hour failed to record, which is annoying, because you will miss the great chat I had with Lucienne Boyce about the special day we are putting on at M Shed to celebrate 100 years of votes for (some) women. The good news is that you can still come along to the event. You can find out more on Farcebook, or download the programme here.

I will be playing hostess in the Studio Room all day, much as I do for LGBT History Month events. I’m also on the final panel which is pretty high-powered. It has belatedly occured to me that I need a costume, or at the very least a sash.

The final segment of the show featured Charlotte Gage of Bristol Zero Tolerance talking about a form of domestic abuse known as Coercive Control. Basically this is where one person in a domestic set-up tries to completely control the behaviour of another. There are various levels to it, but it can get very serious and anyone who is being victimised in this way can now seek help.

The playlist for the show was as follows:

  • I Am What I Am – Amanda Lear
  • Any Other Way – Jackie Shane
  • 4U – Ruth Royall
  • Heart on Fire – Ruth Royall
  • Wind in My Sails – Ruth Royall
  • Sister Suffragette – Glynis Johns
  • March of the Women – Ethel Smyth, perfomed by Plymouth Choir feat. Eiddwen Harrhy
  • No Man’s Woman – Sinead O’Connor
  • I Hate Myself for Loving You – Joan Jett & the Blackhearts

Trans History and Activism

On Tuesday night I was in London participating in a panel on trans history and activism. It was part of a series run by a group called History Acts who bring together activists in various fields and historians who study those fields. I’d originally been approached to be an historian, but they got some actual academic historians for that. However, one of the activists had to cancel, and I was able to step into that role instead.

The historians were all people I knew: Kit Heyam, Catherine Baker and Clare Tebbutt. They all have some sort of queer connection. In fact almost everyone who does trans history well is queer in some way. This, we were told, made the event somewhat unusual for History Acts, in that the historians and activists were very much of the same mind.

The other activist was Morgan M Page who does this podcast and is all-round awesome. She and I take very different approaches, in that I do serious academic history and harrange academics, whereas she takes the history to a much more general audience.

It was a good event, and lots of us got to hang out afterwards, but the most interesting thing I got from it was another great lead from Clare. Several years ago I heard her speak about the work of Lennox Broster who worked with a lot of intersex patients in the 1930s. Assigning the sex of an intersex baby is often difficult, and Broster’s patients generally came to him complaining that they had been wrongly assigned. As he was an expert in such conditions, he could help them change their legal gender.

Broster’s work tended to get reported in the newspapers as cases of people who had “changed sex”. The coverage was sensationalised, but generally supportive of the patients and presented as a scientific miracle. But these were not the only patients that came forward.

On Tuesday Clare talked about the work of a sexologist called Norman Haire. In 1948 he published a book called Everyday Sex Problems. Chapter 2 is all about “changing sex”. Haire details some of the types of cases that Broster worked with, but goes on to add that other are other patients who approach doctors but do not have the same symptoms. Haire notes that no actual change of sex takes place in the case of intersex patients. They simply have their legal sex re-classified. He goes on to say:

It is important to stress this fact, because quite a number of people […] read such sensational articles and apply to surgeons to change their sex for them. From what they have read, they firmly believe that such a change is possible, and it is often difficult to convince them that they are mistaken.

I have recently had requests from four such patients, and they were bitterly disappointed when I told them that no doctor in the world could bring about the change of sex they so desired.”

Haire seems unaware of the work of Magnus Hirschfeld, and the more recent work of Harold Gillies and Michael Dillon. Dillon’s book, Self, in which he describes treatment that he had actually experienced, was published in 1946, but even then was hard to get hold of. However, Haire’s testimony shows that there were people whom we would now class as transsexuals in Britain in the 1940s in much greater numbers than we previously knew. And they existed despite the fact that the gender reassignments that had been carried out before then did not receive wide publicity.