It isn’t often that I get an opportunity to talk about a book because I’m in it, but there are a couple around at the moment. The book I’m currently reading is The WisCon Chronicles, edited by Timmi Duchamp. It is a collage of material taken from WisCon 30: interviews, panel transcripts and so on. I’m in it because of a panel called (rather pretentiously) “Is Reading Feminist SF a Theory-Building Activity”. (Wiscon, for those of you who do not know, is a feminist science fiction convention.) I have to confess that I was very nervous being put on that panel and didn’t have much a clue what to say beforehand. I also think I performed better at other panels at that con. However, I wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to be on a panel with Karen Joy Fowler, and if we really did need to talk about feminist theory I knew I could rely on my fellow panelist to do the business. As it turns out I seem to have ended up talking a lot about trans issues.
Anyway, Timmi and the folks at Aqueduct press have done a fine job putting the book together, and I’m sure that the content will prove fascinating. I’m particularly pleased to see Samuel Delany’s interview with Joanna Russ in the book. Russ is a fabulous writer, most of whose work I have greatly admired. However, one of her most famous novels, The Female Man, was published back in the 70s when transphobia was commonplace amongst feminists. The book set out the argument that trans people are an invention of the patriarchy before Janice Raymond made that idea famous. At the end of the interview, Delany invited questions from the audience, and the very first question asked went like this:
Q – I was just wondering, I know you mentioned that your opinions of gay men used to very different & traditional, I was wondering if your opinions of transsexual women have changed since you wrote The Female Man.
JR: Oh yes. Oh yes it’s almost as if my life as arranged itself to disabuse me of one prejudice after another. And all of these have gone because none of them were real really.
You can see the entire interview online here.
Not that this has stopped some feminists from continuing to trot out the same tired argument, but I was delighted to see one of my literary heroines come around.
Finally I guess I should note that I no longer attend WisCon. I’ve really enjoyed the ones I attended, but over the last few years it appears to me that the feminist SF community has become a lot less open to debate and a lot more focused on “either with us or against us” attitudes. You can’t have a theory-building activity in an atmosphere where dissent is discouraged. Of course I maybe wrong about the change in atmosphere, but from what I see online it certainly seems that way to me.
(Jeff and Ann, I will get around to the New Weird book, promise.)
Update: 35 pages in I find the first piece of transphobia. I’m not going to bawl Timmi out for including divergent opinions, but I do wish she’d managed to find something a little less rude.