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.

My #IWD2018 Ujima Show

A day early for International Women’s Day, I devoted most of my show yesterday to feminist issues. However, I started out in Australia by welcoming film critic, Tara Judah, to talk about Sweet Country.

Tara is from Melbourne originally, so we had a lot to talk about. However, we did our best to keep the discussion to matters of race relations in Australia. Things continue to be pretty bad there, and I very much hope that this film shines a necessary spotlight on the situation.

After the news I started playing the interviews that I had picked up at the International Women’s Day event put on by Bristol on Saturday. They included comments from Penny Gane, Eleanor Vowles, Leonie Thomas, Rosa Taggert, Sian Webb and Elizabeth Small of Ra Cultural Consultancy.

Normally I would tell you to go to the Listen Again feature for all of this, but for some reason only 10 minutes of the first hour recorded. It is still worth it for a few minutes of Tara who is an amazing guest, but the IWD interviews are not there. Thankfully I still have the originals, and I hope to post them as a podcast at some point.

The second hour kicked off with more IWD interviews featuring No More Taboo, Sandra Gordon and Alex Raikes. The singers that Alex refers to are Pitch Fight, the Bristol University a capella group, whom you can find more about here.

The African Queens project that I talked about with Sandra is a project photographic Bristol women of color cosplaying famous women from African history. It was done for Black History Month last year. You can find out more about it here.

Finally I was joined in the studio by a couple of people I met on Saturday. Charlotte Murray is a young student who was interested in finding out more about radio, to I invited her into the studio. Jane Duffus is the editor of The Women Who Built Bristol, a fabulous collection of stories about the famous, and not so famous, women from the city’s history. If you are interested in buying the book, please order it through Bristol Women’s Voice because if you do all of the proceeds go to the charity.

Thankfully the second hour recorded correctly, and you can listen to it here.

The music for the show was as follows:

  • Walking the Dog – Jackie Shane
  • Natural Woman – Aretha Franklin
  • Make me Feel – Janelle Monae
  • Independent Woman – Destiny’s Child
  • Our Day Will Come – Amy Winehouse
  • We Are Family – Sister Sledge
  • Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
  • It’s Raining Men – Weather Girls

Sadly I had to cut off Janelle after a minute or so because I did not want to bleep out the swears. Once I have a copy of the clean radio mix I will be playing that song regularly.

HFRN – Day 2

Yesterday began with a great keynote by Philip Morgan (no relation) on battlefields. He wanted to know how they got named (the Battle of Hastings took place at Battle, not at Hastings), whether a memorial was built on the site, and if so whether that was contemporary or long after the event. These are not simple questions, and hence they make for a great research project.

There were lots of good talks, including some that I missed due to being in the wrong stream. One of my favorites was by Greek historian, Ioulia Kolovou, on the subject of Anna Komnene. She was a Byzantine princess and a historian. If you would like to get a sense of the paper, Ioulia has a blog post about Anna up on the Dangerous Women Project blog.

My paper went well, which is a relief because I am giving that talk twice more this week. The first will be at the Diversity Trust event in Bristol tomorrow. The second, which will be an extended version, is at Bath Spa University on Wednesday.

Also in my session was new pal, Lucie Cook, who gave a magnificent paper on how the Victorians wrote about Anne Boleyn. My favorite bit was when a historian produced a new book critical of Anne and a clairvoyant claimed that she had been visited by the ghost of the angry queen who wanted the record put straight. For some reason the historian declined the opportunity to interview the ghostly Queen to find out what he had got wrong. Lucie noted that most historians of the era were men, that this book was deeply misogynist, and that the clairvoyant, as was typical for the era, was a woman.

The third paper in my session was by a long time friend, Tanya Brown, whom many of you will know from SF conventions. She did a paper on Christopher Marlowe in fiction, including coverage of Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age novels. This was every bit as entertaining as you would expect.

The wrap up session for the event was a panel discussion on how we remember history. This was inspired by things like the Rhodes Must Fall campaign and the removal of Confederate statues in the USA. I chaired it. Tony Keen, who when not at SF conventions is a Classicist, talked about how the Romans would sometimes erase mention of past emperors who had not been popular. Catherine Padmore from Australia talked about the Australia Day controversy. My friend Will Pooley from Bristol talked about the controversy surrounding Edward Colston, a local philanthropist who made much of his money from the slave trade. And finally Yasmen (whose last name I didn’t catch) from Turkey talked about a soap opera about the Ottoman Empire which gives a very positive view of the ancient Turks. Oh, and there was me. I talked about the World Fantasy Award trophy controversy.

Getting home proved a lot more difficult and expected. A bunch of us arrived at Stoke station just in time to see the line closed because of a “person hit by a train” incident. Understandably there was much chaos. It took almost two hours to get Lucie, Will and myself to Stafford where we could pick up the mainline trains from Manchester. Fortunately there is an alternative route south that avoids Stoke. I was greatly relieved to get to Bristol in time to catch the 10:15pm train home. I hope Lucie made it to Portsmouth.

HFRN Day 1

Hello from sunny Stoke-on-Trent where I have been spending the weekend at the Historical Fiction Research Network conference. I am, of course, an academic conference junkie, but I think there have been some great talks thus far.

The two keynotes from Saturday were Jerome de Groot talking about bioarchaeology, and Caroline Sturdy Collis on genocide archaeology. Jermome’s talk was all about how being able to do DNA analysis is changing the way we understand history, and how we tell those stories. People like Cheddar Man and Richard III are poster children for the new movement. Caroline does archaeology at the sites of Nazi death camps, and also collects oral histories from the few survivors. It is horrific work, but very necessary and also dangerous given the amount of harassment she gets from holocaust deniers.

I chaired a panel of papers by ancient historians, though one was actually presenting out of period with a look at the various versions of The Woman in Black. Tony Keen was his usual entertaining self on the subject of film and TV portrayals of Celtic Britons. However, the paper of most interest to me was Lynn Fotheringham talking about Kieron Gillan’s graphic novel, Three, which is a response to Frank Miller’s 300 on behalf of the Helots, Spartan slaves. The Spartans are a much misunderstood people and I’m hoping to do a paper on their for next year’s LGBT History Month (which of course means that they were very gay).

Today I get to give a paper and chair a panel discussion. Should be fun. I’d better stop writing and get on with it.

Beaumont as Athena

On the way home yesterday I shared a train with Jen Grove who showed me this image she had found in the archives of the British Museum. It shows one of the world’s most famous trans women as the goddess Athena. Given that I have been talking about Amazons all month, I thoroughly approve. Also it is great to know that she used that name. I understand that she went by Lea when she was working as a spy in France, but the name she uses here is far more grand so I shall use that in future.

I would love to see this picture on display as part of the BM’s LGBT+ Trail. It would also be nice to see a bit more respect in the official write-up.

Queering the Classics

Ha! As if Greece and Rome needed any queering from us. But we did it anyway.

I spent yesterday at Reading University at a conference on “LGBT+ Classics: Teaching, Research, Activism” organized by the Women’s Classical Committee. Given that I am not an academic and have no training in the Classics beyond a few years of schoolgirl Latin, I was deeply honored to be asked to give a paper. As they asked for Activism, I gave them Activism, and I am delighted to report that the talk appeared to go down very well.

It was only a small conference, but of such efforts big things can grow. I was particularly pleased to share the platform with Nicki Ward of Birmingham who is one of the authors of this superb guide to Queering the Curriculum. I have noticed that in the work I do training universities on trans issues, academic staff are conspicuous by their absence. Part of this is doubtless due to overwork, but we still hear the “I treat all people the same” excuse for avoiding diversity training. Classicists have absolutely no excuse for not including queer material in their courses, and if yesterday was anything to go by they are delighted to do so. It is a start.

Anyway, huge thanks to Katherine Harloe, Talitha Kearey and Irene Salvo for a great event. Hugs to Liz Gloyn who was unable to get there. Thanks to all of the speakers, especially the wonderful Jennifer Ingleheart. I learned a lot, and made some great new contacts. We should do this again.

Discoveries from the Road

Jackie Shane

For the past two days my Amazon Horde and I have been entertaining audiences in London and Bristol. But LGBT History Month is as much an opportunity to learn for me as for anyone else. The people I am on platform with always have interesting things to say.

On Friday at the National Maritime Museum I got to meet Max Carocci, who works for the British Museum and is an expert on Native American cultures. Max has a little to learn about trans culture in the West, but he knows a lot more than I do about the people we now lump together under the umbrella term, Two Spirit. I’m really looking forward to spending time learning from him.

What I learned from Max is that the Navajo are even more amazing than I thought. I knew that they had four commonly recognized genders, based on how you were assigned at birth and how you ended up as an adult. But, like most ancient cultures, they had a much better understanding of intersex people that we do. Max told me that it was also possible for a Navajo baby to be assigned intersex at birth, making for a 5th social gender. Of course by no means all intersex conditions are recognizable at birth, but considering how appallingly intersex infants are treated by other cultures (including our own) this is remarkable on the part of the Navajo.

By the way, Max tells me that the Navajo are not comfortable with the term Two Spirit because their traditional beliefs do not include spirits. Umbrella terms are hard, especially when you are trying to bring over 100 different cultures together.

I was very pleased with the speakers I put together for the event at M Shed yesterday. Jana Funke, ever reliable, taught me a lot about the lesbian history of the women’s suffrage movement. (And people, if someone is called Christabel by their parents but insists on being known as Christopher there’s a lot more than just sexuality going on there.) But my big discovery came from Darryl Bullock’s talk on LGBT musicians.

I like to think that I know a bit about queer black musicians. I’m familiar with the likes of Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Little Richard, Big Mama Thornton and Billie Holiday. Darryl introduced me to Jackie Shane. Mind officially blown.

For a long time Jackie has been known as an extravagantly camp gay man. As she vanished from the music business in 1971 no one knew any better. Even in Darryl’s book that’s how she’s written up. But last year Jackie resurfaced. Darryl, bless him, was on the ball and yesterday he introduced us to Ms Jackie Shane, pioneering trans musician.

Born in Nashville in the 40s, Jackie began wearing dresses and high heels when she was four years old. By 13 she considered herself a woman in a man’s body and started wearing make-up to school. Her gender wasn’t so much a question as it was a matter of fact; pragmatic to the core, she knew who she was and lived it. As Jackie told Rob Bowman in his essay on her life, “I could not be anyone else if I tried. It would be the most ridiculous thing in the world for me to try to be a male.”

That quote is from an i-D article about Jackie. Considering how trans women of color are treated in the US today, Jackie’s story is little short of miraculous. Things have gone backwards so far since she transitioned.

Anyway, I have bought a copy of the only album of Jackie’s work that it available. It is extraordinary. I will be playing tracks from it a lot on the radio from now own. The photo above was apparently taken in 1967. If I’d known about her back then I would probably have spent the rest of my life trying to be her.

Yesterday on Ujima – LGBT History & Feminism

Yesterday’s show was given over mainly to previewing the LGBT History Day that is happening at M Shed on Saturday. Full details are available here.

The first hour focused on LGBT music. I talked to Darryl Bullock about his book, David Bowie Made Me Gay, and about the queer black roots of modern popular music. Then I welcomed in my Ujima colleague, Angel Mel, who talked about what is happening on the music scene in Bristol today.

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

In hour two Karen Garvey and I previewed the rest of the day’s events. We also fangirled a bit over David Olusoga’s A House Through Time TV series.

Along the way I talked about the legal case underway in Trinidad and Tobago which hopes to overturn the islands’ homophobic laws. If you want to donate to the fundraiser to cover the legal costs you can do so here.

Next up I ran an interview with Sophie Walker, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party. With Tuesday having been the actual 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, it seemed appropriate to talk about women and politics.

Of course one of the big issues for feminism in England right now (the rest of the UK seems to be avoiding most of the nonsense) is the status of trans women. Sophie, as she always does, committed to intersectionality. However, there is a TERF* event planned for Bristol this evening and I asked a couple of young trans people from Bristol University to talk about it. Quite what the TERFs want is a mystery, especially as they call their event “We Need to Talk” but won’t tell anyone where it is and don’t want any trans people involved.

You can listen to hour 2 of the show here.

The music for the show was as follows:

  • No One Knows You When You’re Down & Out – Bessie Smith
  • Hound Dog – Big Mama Thornton
  • Jailhouse Rock – Vinyl Closet
  • Only God – Sarah Hansson
  • Good Golly Miss Molly – Little Richard
  • Cream – Prince
  • I’m Coming Out – Diana Ross

*TERF = Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist, a term invented decades ago by actual radical feminists to distinguish themselves from people who are neither radical nor feminist, but claim to be both as an excuse for persecuting trans women.

A Short History of Gender at UWE

The lovely people at UWE Feminist Society filmed my talk from last night and have put it on their Facebook page. Serious video skillz there. They’ve sent me the file and I’ll get it up on YouTube or Vimeo sometime, but in the meantime the Facebook version is available.

This talk is designed to give an overview of just how different attitudes to gender were in the past. None of it is in-depth history, though I’m quite happy to talk about parts of it in more detail, and I try to note where my knowledge isn’t very deep.

The video does include the Q&A, and one audience member asked for more information about African practices. I don’t know a huge amount about Africa, but someone who does in Bisi Alimi. Last night he wast tweeting about just the sort of things I would have mentioned had I known about them in time. I linked to the thread here.

Content note: inevitably I talk about castration, and about people having sex.

The talk comes in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2. Both are just over half an hour long.

Huge thanks to Tessa and her colleagues for making me so welcome.

On History Matters Again

I have a new post up on the University of Sheffield’s History Matters blog. This one is titled, How Not to Erase Trans History. It basically makes the case that trans people have always existed, albeit in culturally different forms at different times and in different places.

Those of you who are on the ball might remember that I have a talk with the same name scheduled for the Women in Classics Conference next Monday. However, the blog post is very much for public consumption whereas the Reading talk is both much more focused on professional historians, and much more focused on the Classical world.

On Roman Hairstyles

Friday’s history event at Bristol University was a lot of fun and I’ll be blogging later for them about the trans history that I learned that day. For now I want to catch up on the dinner conversation. I was sat opposite Cath Fletcher from Swansea University. She has written a book all about Alessandro de’ Medici which should nicely explode the brains of all those idiots who think that there were no people of color in Europe before colonization started.

We also talked a lot about issues of translation. Something she mentioned to me was that Roman descriptions of how to style women’s hair kept mentioning a piece of equipment that would normally be translated as a “needle”. No one understood this, so they got some hairdressers to try to recreate Roman women’s styles. They quickly discovered that the only way you could keep those elaborate updos in place was to literally sew the style together with thread. Here’s hairstyle archaeologist, Janet Stephens, explaining how one such style was created.

February Schedule

I think my schedule is fairly firm now. There are a couple of non-public things that I’m not sure I can talk about, but there’s plenty here.

Thurs. Feb. 1st — I’ll be on Shout Out Radio previewing local events.

Fri. Feb. 2nd — “Trans People in Sumer and Assyria”, The Bateman Room, Gonville & Caius College, Trinity Street, Cambridge, 18:00.

Wed. Feb. 7th — I’m hosting Women’s Outlook on Ujima Radio from Noon to 14:00. The show will be an LGBT History special featuring Karen Garvey (M Shed), Darryl Bullock and Angel Mel, plus some more things that aren’t firm yet.

Wed. Feb. 7th — “A Short History of Gender” for the University of the West of England Feminist Society. Probably students and staff only.

Fri. Feb. 9th — I’m at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. My talk will be “Die Young, Stay Pretty: Women Warriors in the Ancient World”, which is the Amazons talk. Caz Paige is speaking too.

Sat. Feb. 10th — LGBT History Day at M Shed in Bristol. I’m hosting the event and doing the Amazons talk again. Fabulous line-up of speakers.

Mon. Feb. 12th — The Women in Classics LGBT+ conference at Reading University. My talk is called “How Not To Erase Trans History”. Getting in to see me costs money, but you can see the amazing Jennifer Ingleheart for free.

Thurs. Feb. 15th — I’ll be at the University of Manchester Students’ Union. I’m talking about Romans. Roz Kaveney will be there too, which is cool because my talk has some of her work in it.

Wed. Feb. 21st — I am looking after Stuart Milk for the day. We’ll be in Bath visiting schools and doing the Guildhall in the evening.

Thurs. Feb. 22nd — Stuart and I are in Bristol. The evening talk is at Bristol University Students’ Union.

Fri. Feb. 23rd – Sat. Feb. 24th — I will be at the Historical Fictions Research Network conference in Stoke-on-Trent. I’m giving a paper called “If Your Past Isn’t Queer It Is Not Realistic”.

Tues. Feb. 27th — I will be appearing at the Diversity Trust event in Stoke Gifford. I’m giving a public version of the “If Your Past Isn’t Queer It Is Not Realistic” talk.

Wed. Feb. 28th — I’m at Bath Spa University doing an extended version of “If Your Past Isn’t Queer It Is Not Realistic” to their Creative Writing students. It is open to the public and you can book here.

After which all I can say is thank goodness February only has 28 days.

New Tour Dates, Including London

I have a few new speaking engagements for LGBT History Month to announce. And yes, I am thinking of this as like being on tour.

First up, if you are in or near London, please come and see me at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. I will be talking about Amazons, and the fabulous Caz Paige will be talking about her life as a trans pilot in the RAF. It is a little ironic that I’m covering cavalry and she’s covering aircraft when the museum really demands a talk about ships, but maybe the Amazons had a navy. If they lived on Paradise Island they would need one, right? Anyway, this will be on the evening of Friday, February 9th. I look forward to seeing some of you there.

On the 15th I am going to be at Manchester University Students’ Union. I don’t know if that is open to the public yet. I will let you know if it is.

And on the 27th I will be at Stoke Gifford just north of Bristol for an event that Berkeley is organizing in collaboration with the Alphabets Youth Group. On the bill with me will be the very wonderful Edson Burton, and Anna Bianchi who has written a lovely book on raising trans kids.

I’ll be doing the short version of my “If Your Past Isn’t Queer it is Not Realistic” talk. The long version will happen at Bath Spa Uni on the 28th and will have a whole lot of extra stuff for the creative writing students. We are still waiting for a room allocation for that one so there’s no booking info just yet.

LGBTHM Bristol Publicity Rollout

We have some publicity up for the LGBT History Day that I am organising at M Shed in Bristol on February 10th. My apologies for the relentless stream of publicity about this that I will have going between now and then.

As you will see, we have a great line-up of speakers. I’m really excited about all of them. There will be in-depth posts about each one coming up on the OutStories Bristol website over the next couple of weeks.

Those of you with an interest in human rights issues will be particularly interested in Jonathan Cooper’s talk. He’s one of Britain’s leading human rights lawyers and today he had a piece in The Guardian about the danger posed to LGBT rights by Brexit.

History at Bath Festival

Some details about events at this year’s Bath Festival have been released. There are a couple of interesting history talks.

On Monday May 21st David Olosuga will be talking about his book, Black and British: A Forgotten History. I’ve just watched episode 3 of his A House Through Time series on the BBC and continue to be impressed by his skill has a public historian. There ought to be a Fringe event on that date, but I am not certain yet whether that will happen, and if it does whether I will be involved in any way.

On Saturday May 26th Emily Wilson will be talking about her new translation of The Odyssey. It is the first ever translation of the Homerian epic by a woman, and it has been garnering a lot of praise for its fresh and innovative approach. I saw a post yesterday on Twitter where Wilson was talking about her work and noted, quite reasonably, that she decided not to read any other translations as guides. She worked directly from the original Greek. Then, to her surprise, she started seeing reviews mentioning how her presentation of the female characters was much more positive than in any of the translations by men. Gee, I wonder how that could have happened? This is a book I really want to read, and hopefully I will get to see Wilson talk about it.

Forthcoming Appearances

The LGBT History Month tour schedule is starting to firm up. Two more talks were announced yesterday. They are:

“Trans People in Sumer and Assyria” at Cambridge University on February 2nd

and, “If Your Past Isn’t Queer It’s Not Realistic” at Bath Spa University on February 28th.

You can’t book for the Bath Spa event yet because they don’t have a room allocated, but I’ll let you know as soon as you can.

Stay tuned for more talk announcements.

David Olusoga on Empire

For those outside of the UK, David Olusoga is a British TV historian. He’s charming, erudite and witty, which is exactly what you need for a TV presenter. He’s also black, which is a very rare thing among British historians. Yesterday he gave a talk at Bristol University as part of Bristol Museum’s winter lecture series. It was excellent.

The subject of the talk was the British Empire, a topic on which Olusoga is currently writing a book. It also ties in with the Empire through the Lens exhibition at the Museum. As a Nigerian-British person, Olusoga has a very different view on this history than your typical white male British historian. He’s not shy in expressing his political opinions, but equally he is very honest about the complexity of the subject.

Some of that complexity is, of course, historical. The British Empire as a project began in Tudor times. (It was, in large part, John Dee’s idea.) From there the British went on to found a vast empire in North America, lose half of it to revolution, found a new empire in the far east, go on to colonize large parts of Africa, and then give that empire away because it no longer had the means to hold it. As Olusoga noted, there are Nigerians who were alive before their country became part of the Empire, and who lived to see it free again.

The complexity also arises from how we teach and remember empire. If we did so well, surely idiots like Boris Johnson and Toby Young would not be able to get away with waxing all nostalgic about our supposed glory days, and dream of Empire 2.0 as an outcome of Brexit. Olusoga described them as being like some lonely bloke looking up his exes on Facebook and wondering if they might get back together again. He didn’t mention the bloke’s rather poor record of domestic violence, but then he didn’t need to.

Part of the remembering is about how we connect with Empire. As a man of black and of white working class ancestry, you might expect Olusoga to regard himself as morally above the whole “our Empire” thing. And yet he confessed that his genealogical research suggested that his white ancestors might have been involved in slave trading, and his black ancestors might have sold slaves to the British.

That willingness to confront complexity also came through in a brilliant answer that he gave to a young Bangladeshi woman who asked about Churchill. Her own family had been badly affected by the famines that Churchill refused to try to alleviate. Olusoga notes several other examples of Churchill being a deeply unpleasant human being. And yet there was that one moment when, had he not been there, the Tories would have made peace with Hitler and the world would be a very different place now.

Sometimes Nazis need punching, and you may need someone who is prepared to do that.

I was a lot kinder with my question. I tossed him what I hoped was a juicy half volley and he obligingly whacked it out of the park. I asked him about the ridiculous notion that the British Empire somehow brought “civilization” to the world. He noted that when the Empire began the Chinese and Mughal empires were far richer and technologically sophisticated than the Europeans. The Ottomans weren’t bad either. The idea that there is somehow a single strand of human civilization stretching from Greece through Rome to London is ridiculous. He didn’t mention, though I would have done, that one of the most egregious acts of barbaric vandalism wreaked by European colonialism on the world was the spread of homophobia and associated neuroses to previously far more sensible cultures.

Those of you who have access to BBC iPlayer are warmly recommended to try Olusoga’s current TV series, A House Through Time. I loved the first episode. The second was broadcast last night. I didn’t get home in time to watch it, but I’ll be catching up this evening.

Of Myths & Monsters

Myths & Monsters is a 6-episode, British-produced documentary series on Netflix which looks at a variety of mythical themes and the reality behind them. Numerous historians are used as expert commentators, including Liz Gloyn whom I have chatted with on Twitter and who is currently writing a book on Medusa (though the Classical version, not the Bronze Age version which is far more interesting to me).

I binge-watched the series over New Year and enjoyed it, though I didn’t encounter anything much new. There were times when I wanted to disagree with things they said, particularly when they strayed into psychological explanations for myths. On two occasions where they stated firmly that no Norse woman ever went viking, let alone fought. This was based in part on an assertion that there was a psychological function for the Valkyrie (a sort of reverse birth thing) and that therefore all references to women warriors must be purely mythological. Even more bizarrely they used Thor’s silence at Thrymm’s Wedding (for which he had the good reason that his voice would give away his masquerade as Freya) as proof that Norse women were not allowed to speak much at home.

That said, there was a lot of good stuff to the series. I was particularly interested in the bit in episode 5 on social change where they started to talk about the witch panic of the 17th Century being a result of harvests failing due to climate change. I still haven’t read the new Ronald Hutton book, but it did sound plausible and, rather more scarily, it postulated the general theory that people are more likely to believe fake news, no matter how bizarre, during times of economic stress.

Anyway, it is still up on Netflix, so if you have access why not give it a look and let me know what you think.

LGBT+ Classics in Reading

Here’s a bit of advance notice for an event that I am doing in February. LGBT+ Classics is taking place at Reading University on Feb. 12th. It will bring together academics and activists from around the country, including Jennifer Ingleheart, Beth Asbury, Jen Grove and Alan Greaves, all of whom I have had the honor to meet. My own talk will focus on the various excuses that have been used to claim that trans people did not exist in the past, and why they are all nonsense. The full program is available here.

Tickets for the conference itself cost £11.35 or £22.10 and can be booked here. The higher price includes membership of Women in Classics which I am guessing most of you won’t want. Jennifer Ingleheart’s keynote address is separately ticketed and is free to attend. You can book a place here.

I know it is a bit early to be thinking about this one, but the Eventbrite pages say that ticket sales will end in early January so you do need to get on and book.