Susan Cooper Lecture on Video

Those of you who were unable to attend Susan Cooper’s Tolkien Lecture on Fantastic Literature at Pembroke College on Thursday can now enjoy her performance virtually. Huge thanks to Gabriel Schenk for getting this online so quickly.

Posted in Science Fiction, Video | 3 Comments

A Day at the V&A

The Siege of RanthambohrI spent most of today at the Victoria & Albert Museum in the company of some of their volunteer tour guides, in particular my friend Dan Vo with whom I have worked on various LGBT History projects. I was there to talk to Dan and his colleagues about trans terminology, and how to represent trans people in a respectful and authentic way when talking about them during LGBT-themed tours of the museum. We also took the opportunity to have a look around some of the galleries to see if we could spot some trans-themed exhibits. I’m pleased to say that I found a few. Nothing on quite the scale of a Grayson Perry Vase depicting April Ashley, which has to be their prize exhibit, but I was pleased with what I found.

I also found a mystery, which I’m going to talk about here. The picture to the left is in the South Asia gallery and is one of a series depicting the conquests of the Mughal emperor Akbar. It shows bullocks pulling cannon up a hill to attack the fortress of Ranthambhor in Rajasthan.

Most of the characters in the scene are depicted with facial hair, either mustaches or full beards, and they wear turbans. But my eye happened upon one character in the painting who is clean-shaven and is wearing what looks to be a more feminine style of head covering.

Possible hijraI know nothing about Mughal art, but I do know that hijra were common at the courts of the Mughal emperors. (They were, for obvious reasons, used in the harem as guards and servants, which gave them a place of honor in Mughal society.) So I am now wondering whether the artist has chosen to depict a hijra among Akbar’s army. Dan is going to make inquiries with the museum staff for me to see if anyone knows anything about this. If anyone reading this is an expert on Mughal history, I’d love to hear from you.

At the end of the day I got to see Dan in action doing one of his guided tours. The V&A has a wealth of LGBT+ material and Dan is very knowledgeable. If you happen to be in London on the last Saturday of a month I recommend popping along. You may even get to hear one of the guides talk about an item I found for them. Though of course the tours can’t be too long, there are several depictions of Roman emperors, and I could talk all day about them. Dear Goddess, Tiberius, what were you thinking?

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Susan Cooper’s Tolkien Lecture

Yesterday I took myself off to Oxford and made use of the fabulous hospitality of Juliet McKenna so that I could attend the 5th annual Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature. This year’s speaker was Susan Cooper, and a very fine job she did too.

Ms. Cooper will be 82 next month, and yet she is very sharp, witty and charming. She began by talking about her own time at Oxford, when there were colleges for men and colleges for women, and the thought of mixing the two would have struck horror into the hearts of the faculty. Having men and women in the same college, she said, seemed like a fantasy. And yet, here we are. Which just goes to show that if you live long enough fantasies can come true.

Cooper was at Oxford when Tolkien and Lewis were on the staff. She never met them, but attended some of their lectures. Lewis boomed; Tolkien muttered except when he was speaking Anglo-Saxon. Alan Garner, Penelope Lively and Diana Wynne-Jones were all students at around the same time. They didn’t know each other, but they all breathed the same academic air.

Professor Tolkien, with the support of Lewis, kept the literature syllabus firmly rooted in the past. 18th century novels were rarely mentioned; the 19th century was pushed far into the margins; and the 20th existed solely in the confused imaginations of students briefly cast out of lectures and needing to survive in the mundane world. They were taught Beowulf, and Arthur, and Shakespeare. They were taught about a world in which dragons existed.

All of this, of course, had been very real long before the students reached Oxford. This was the generation that spent its evenings huddled in air raid shelters listening to the sky crashing down around them, consuming the night with flame. Their childhood was a very literal battle between good and evil.

They were also, as Farah Mendlesohn noted during the Q&A at the end, children of winter. The period immediately after WWII saw some of the worst winters that England has suffered since good meteorological records began. This too found its way into their fiction.

Cooper articulated all of this in a focused and engaging fashion. The talk was filmed, so you should all be able to enjoy it sometime next week. I’ll embed the video once it turns up on YouTube. My thanks to the folks at Pembroke College for putting on a fine event, and especially for the Second Dessert and port.

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Testosterone Rex

While most of the reading I am doing at the moment is either history research or Tiptree-related, occasionally I have to read books because they are relevant to doing trans awareness training. This means that I get to read Cordelia Fine for work. Result!

The latest book by my favorite Australian feminist is Testosterone Rex, a scathing excoriation of the idea that everything about Patriarchy; from the supposed superiority of men over women, to the supposed innately violent nature of men; from the idea that men can’t look after children to the idea that trans women can never be women; all of this is explainable by one central fact: that men’s bodies are suffused with testosterone and women’s are not. The subtitle of Testosterone Rex is, “Unmaking the myths of our gendered minds,” and the book aims to deconstruct the idea of men being from Mars and women from Venus with the same ruthless efficiency that Fine’s previous best-seller, Delusions of Gender, destroyed foolish ideas about gendered bodies.

But wait, Cheryl, I hear you say, surely this does you no good. Surely the cause of trans people is crucially dependent on their being actual, fundamental differences between men and women. Shouldn’t you and Ms. Fine be enemies?

Well, no. Firstly there is the entirely practical point that I can’t think of anyone I’d less like to get into a philosophical debate with than Professor Fine. She has a mind like a laser cutter and I know I’d end up in tiny pieces. Besides, she doesn’t argue that men and women are identical; that would be foolish. What she does argue is that the differences between men and women are by no means as all-encompassing as is generally claimed, and that what differences that do exist are rarely explained solely by chromosomes and/or hormones.

What Fine argues against is biological essentialism. And it so happens that biological essentialism is also at the root of the TERF argument against trans women. Because we have Y chromosomes, they argue, and because our bodies have, at least for a while, been suffused with testosterone, we have an innate and inescapable violent nature that we can never shake off. That, they say, makes us a danger to women, and makes it important that we be excluded from women-only spaces. It is rather ironic that the arguments TERFs use to claim superiority over trans women are rooted in the same fallacy that men use to claim superiority over women.

So I see Fine as being on my side. She’s arguing that the biology of gender is much more complicated than most people think it is, and that’s fine by me.

She’s also not averse to poking fun at the whole nonsense edifice of gender mythology. Here’s an example:

Over the past eight years or so, I’ve taken part in a lot of discussions about how to increase sex equality in the workplace. Here, I would like to clearly state for the record that castration has never been mentioned as a possible solution. (Not even in the Top Secret Feminist Meetings where we plot our global military coup.)

Elsewhere in the book she explains how a biological catalyst called aromatase that exists in human cells is capable of turning testosterone into estrogen. She notes, “even the ‘sex hormones’ defy the gender binary.”

Talking of which, did you know they female gonads make testosterone as well as estrogen? Most women do have testosterone in their bodies, just at a much lower level than men. No one is entirely sure why. It occurs to me, however, that trans women are different. Those of us who no longer have testes are on hormone replacement regimes that only supply estrogen. Trans women thus eventually end up have less testosterone in their bodies than cis women.

The book is full of fascinating and very accessible explanations of cutting edge scientific research that blows gaping holes in the nonsense ideas of evolutionary psychologists and shows us just how weird the natural world can be. My favorite set of stories involves an East African fish called Haplochromis burtoni, a species of chiclid. In a series of elegant experiments various biologists have shown that large body size and high levels of testosterone are a product of, not the cause of, social dominance. You can take a “submissive” male chiclid from one colony, put it in a different tank where it has more chance of winning fights against the local males, and it will magically take on all of the biological characteristics of a “dominant” male.

Even better, one experiment identified a lone male chiclid who, despite the fact that he won fights more often than not, did not establish a territory or a dominant social position among the other fish. His testosterone levels were way down compared to his fellow bruisers. The scientist who discovered this fish suggested that he didn’t have sufficient self-confidence to believe that he was a winner, even though his fighting record was good. I suggest a possible alternative explanation: that they simply didn’t identify as that sort of fish.

There’s nothing in Testosterone Rex that specifically supports the validity of trans identities. However, the more evidence we have that biology, and in particular human biology, is way more complicated than tabloid newspapers pretend that it is, the better, as far as I’m concerned. Social inequality is based on the idea that certain groups of people are fundamentally superior to other groups of people. If such differences don’t really exist, and no one is better than Professor Fine as dispelling them, then the cause of equality is advanced.

I’d like to end with one more scientific anecdote. It is about the idea of “failure-as-an-asset”. Here’s Fine:

It turns out that presenting men with evidence that they have done poorly at something at which women tend to excel provides a little boost to their self-esteem, because incompetence in low-status femininity helps establish high-status masculinity.

Fine goes on to explain that men can increase their chances of getting a job by talking about how bad they are at “feminine” activities in their resumes and interviews.

Which is all very well if you are actually hunting for a job, but it just goes to show that sexist nonsense means that there are activities that men are effectively barred from because of sexism. If we get rid of the nonsense, the barriers go away. Equality: it is better for everyone.

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Fringe Tonight, And January Readings

Tonight sees the return of the legendary BristolCon Fringe Open Mic, at which a whole host of lovely people get just five minutes to wow us with their fiction. I have to catch a train to Plymouth tonight because I’m doing training first thing tomorrow morning, so the event will be primarily hosted by the fabulous Tom Parker. If he lets me go on early you might get a very rough piece from the space marine midwives story that I’ve been working on (also knows as the Amazons In Space story). We’ll be at the Volley from 7:00pm, with the first reading starting at around 7:30pm.

For those of you who can’t be there, I have instead the recordings from the January event. Our first reader that night was Amanda Huskisson whose work we have very much enjoyed at previous open mics so we got her back to read more from her Egyptian fantasy, Melody of the Two Lands. We get to learn a lot more about her characters in this.

The second reading came from Tej Turner who joined us all the way from Cardiff in Welsh Wales. Tej writes fix-up novels about mostly queer characters. The stories revolve around goings on at a night club in a small town. As you might expect, there’s plenty of sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, and a significant amount of magic too. It kind of reminded me of Charles de Lint. I have since read and enjoyed The Janus Cycle, and am looking forward to Dinnusos Rises which was launched a couple of weeks ago.

The Q&A was basically me showing off my knowledge of Egyptian history and investment banking. Sorry folks. At least I wasn’t showing off my knowledge of eating psychotropic mushrooms.

And because I love you, here’s an example of Egyptian flute playing so you can get some idea of what Neferu’s music sounds like.

Posted in Gender, History, Music, Readings, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

Queer Romans in London

I have had a number of conference acceptances over the last week. One is in Bologna, so probably out of reach of most of you, and one is more about the work of OutStories Bristol than about trans history. However, if you are in London in June you will have a chance to listen to my paper on Queer Romans. It will be essentially the same paper that I gave at the LGBT History Month Academic Conference in March. The conference is at Royal Holloway on June 10th. It is free to attend, and you can book a place here. Justin Bengry who runs the Notches blog is the keynote speaker and will be well worth listening to.

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Chairman Standlee Speaks – Naming the WSFS YA Award

As many of you will know, Kevin will be chairing the WSFS Business Meeting at Worldcon in Helsinki this year. One of the items that will come up is the naming of the proposed YA Award. Last year a motion to create the award was given first passage, and will therefore be up for ratification this year. At the time the name of the award was left blank to allow for consultation with fandom. This year’s Business Meeting will have to decide how to deal with that; in particular it will have to decide whether it is OK to just add a name without going through the whole two-year approval process.

The chances are that whatever Kevin rules there will be a challenge to his ruling. I say that because a) the whole question is quite complicated (Ben Yalow has his own view on how the Constitution should be interpreted), and b) those opposed to having a YA Award will doubtless use every excuse available to disrupt things because that’s the way politics works. However, so that the meeting can proceed as smoothly as possible without need for lengthy explanations, Kevin has set out his reasoning for how he will rule on his LiveJournal. If you have any questions, you can ask them there.

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Two Days in Assyria

I have been rather quiet here for a few days, though busy on Twitter. That’s because I have been in Oxford for a conference on Assyriology. I got to catch up with some of the great people I met in Barcelona, and made a bunch of new friends. I also got to hear some really great academic papers. Here are some highlights.

One of the strangest things I learned about was the Assyrian practice of appointing a “substitute king” when astronomical omens predicted the real king was in danger. Basically this meant that during an eclipse the king would retire to a safe place and a disposable person would be appointed to “rule” in his place. Then, if any magical attack happened, it would be the substitute who suffered.

Being a substitute king was no fun. All of the power still lay with the real king, who for the purposes of the interregnum was known as “The Farmer”. You got to live in the palace and eat nice food for 100 days, but after that you were killed so that the real king could have his throne back. You also got a wife, and she would be killed at the end of your reign too. This was not a nice custom.

Some of us got to chatting about the fictional possibilities, because this would make a great novel. The title even writes itself: The Substitute King. I’d set it during the reign of Esarhaddaon, partly because he was chronically ill for much of this reign, which adds plot possibilities, and partly because I could then have Taharqa and the Nubian Dynasty of Egypt in the story. Sadly I do not have the time to write this, but thanks to Adam Howe for a great paper.

Ashurbanipal's Garden Party

Talking of Esarhaddon, this is his rather better known son, Ashurbanipal, in one of his most famous reliefs. It was a subject of a paper by my new pal, Sophie Walker. (No, not that Sophie Walker; and yes, this will do my head in.) The relief shows a banquet in the royal gardens at Nineveh. If Stephanie Dalley is correct, then these were the famous Hanging Gardens, built by Ashurbanipal’s grandfather, Sennacherib. (By the way, Stephanie was at the conference.) The banquet was held to celebrate Ashurbanipal’s victory over the Elamites. However, the focus of Sophie’s paper was not the reclining king, but the seated person to his left.

That figure is believed to represent Liballi-Sharrat, Ashurbanipal’s queen. Analysis of her outfit suggests that she has deliberately adopted an Elamite style of dress. Sophie’s paper was all about why she might have done such a thing. This appears to have been a deliberate act of cultural appropriation by the Assyrian court. Exactly why they would have done so is unclear, but it is very obvious that a message is being sent to someone in this scene.

Given that the conference did not have a gender focus, I didn’t expect there would be much relevant to my own research. Little did I know that the most important paper for me would be the one by Alexandra Llado on the subject of bears in Sumer. (Despite that double-l, Alexandra is not Welsh, she’s Spanish.)

It turns out that bears were a big thing in ancient Ur. Bears are not native to the Tigris-Euphrates valley, but the Sumerian empire stretched north to more mountainous areas where bears could be found. Given the time of year most bears were shipped to the city, and the language used to describe them, it is pretty clear that bear cubs were being captured and sent to Ur for training. There was even an official job title, Aluzinnu, for someone in charge of bears. (Interestingly some Assyriologists translate this word as “jester”, presumably on the basis of context.)

It seems highly likely that the bears were being brought in for entertainment, not as fighting animals as might have been the case in Rome. This is supported by the fact that, in some of the records we have, the Aluzinnu seem to have reported to the chief Gala, a person called Dada. Those of you who have seen my presentations will know that the Gala were singers and musicians. You’ll be hearing more about Dada from me in just over a week. For now I just want to thank Alexandra for saving me from a potentially embarrassing situation.

Mention of the Gala brings me to Michael Moore (no, not that Michael Moore) who had come all the way from UCLA to present. His paper was about the Hittites, who lived in Anatolia (Turkey) and were a very different ethnic group to the inhabitants of Mesopotamia. As far as I knew, they had their own religion (though one quite important to me because their homeland was the region later known as Phrygia, whence Rome claimed to have acquired Cybele). I was therefore astonished to hear Michael talk about court ceremonies in which musicians used “Inanna-instruments”.

Naturally I asked him about this. It turns out that the Hittites were using cuneiform and the scribes had chosen to use the Sumerian word for Inanna to represent something in their own language. Probably it would have been a local goddess. But equally the word might have been chosen because pictorial evidence suggests that the instruments in question may have been Sumerian in origin. Specifically, things like this:

Sumerian Bull Lyre

All of which goes to show that it is really hard to interpret ancient texts, even when the words they use are familiar to us.

There were lots of other really interesting papers. Many of them were, of course, deeply technical. Others, while brilliant, were not that dramatic. But I want to end with my favorite paper of the event which came from my Danish friend, Sophus Helle. It was a literary paper focusing on Babylonian attitudes to death, and it strongly featured the Babylonian version of the Epic of Gilgamesh.

The section that Sophus quoted is from the passage where Gilgamesh, grief-stricken after the death of his friend and lover, Enkidu, encounters an old man called Ut-napishti. Those of you familiar with the Epic will know that Ut-napishti is the character on whom the Biblical Noah is based. In Mesopotamian mythology he is chosen by the gods to survive the flood in an ark, and is rewarded with immortality. Naturally Gilgamesh questions him about death. The old man explains that death is something that sneaks up on mortals, unseen, and snaps off their lives as if they were reeds in the river. The passages below are from the A.R. George translation. Words in square brackets indicate unreadable signs whose meaning as been guessed from context. Ut-napishti says:

No one sees death,
No one sees the face of [death],
No one [hears] the voice of death –
Yet furious death snaps mankind!

He then goes on to illustrate this point in the next two verses.

At some point, we build a house
At some point, we make a nest,
At some point, brothers divide it,
At some point, hate between [sons] occurs.

At some point, the river rose, brought high water
A mayfly drifting on the river.
Its face looked on the face of the sun,
But in that very moment, nothing was there.

Between lines 2 and 3 of the first verse the man who built the house must have died, because his sons inherit it. Equally between lines 3 and 4 of the second verse the mayfly dies. The Babylonian poet has shown death without showing it: silent and invisible just as Ut-napishti described it. It’s beautiful.

My thanks to Monica, Lynn, Adam and Parsa for running a great event, and to everyone there for making me so welcome. I hope to see many of you again soon.

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Politics, Again

So, we have another general election, eh? Nothing like keeping the political journalists in business.

For those of you outside of the UK who are totally confused about the whole thing, the short version is something like this: a party with a very small majority is calling an election in which it hopes to gain a massive majority, even though its policies are hugely unpopular. It will achieve this partly because there is no effective opposition, and partly because it has almost all of the media on its side.

I’m sympathetic to the view that Mrs. May has called the election primarily because with a much bigger majority she won’t be beholden to the lunatic fringe of her own party, and can therefore negotiate with the EU in a sensible manner rather than by trying to pretend that she has a worldwide empire at her command. This may result in a somewhat softer Brexit than we might otherwise have got, but it may also result in the privatization of everything that’s left to be sold and a bonfire of civil rights legislation. In other words, the results will be disastrous for the majority of the population, rather than for everyone.

It so happened that my membership of the Women’s Equality Party was due for renewal, so I have renewed it. I don’t expect us to have many candidates because we can’t afford it. Also it would be irresponsible of us to further split the vote in some key marginals, so WE won’t do it. But I very much hope that WE’ll field a candidate against the obnoxious Philip Davies. That could end up being very entertaining.

More broadly I expect us to support the candidates who will do the most for equality. That probably means whoever has the best chance of beating the Tories in each particular constituency. There are some good Tory MPs around. I very much hope that Maria Miller keeps her seat because she’s been a far better opposition to the government than the Labour leadership for the past few years. Ben Howlett has done some good work for trans people as well, but his Bath constituency is very vulnerable to a swing towards the LibDems, and Bath is fairly strongly anti-Brexit, so I think he may go. But at least he’ll last longer than Thangam Debbonaire whom I expect to be purged by Labour in advance of the election. Last time around Bristol West was a very tight race between Thangam, the incumbent Stephen Williams (LibDem), and the Greens. I’ve seen a suggestion that Molly Scott-Cato, our local MEP, might be the Green candidate this time around, and I think she has a very good chance if she does go for it.

Elsewhere around the region I’ll be keeping a close eye on Chippenham where Helen Belcher is the LibDem candidate. It is a seat that the Tories took from the LibDems last time, so Helen has a real chance of getting it back. If she does she’ll be the first trans person to be elected to the UK Parliament. (There may well be other trans candidates, but I don’t think any of them stand as good a chance as Helen.)

It is hard not be utterly depressed by the whole thing. Thus far the most interesting contests appear to be Labour v LibDems, Labour v itself, and the Greens v the BBC. None of this will do any good for the country. WE might be a very small and very new party, but at least WE are trying to do our best for the country. Here’s hoping WE can have some effect. If nothing else WE intend to get women’s issues talked about during the election, and that will be a major change to how politics is done here.

Posted in Current Affairs | 1 Comment


As those of you on Facebook will know by now, today is my birthday. It is also one of those birthdays with a zero on the end, which tends to prompt a bit of self-reflection.

I’m doing this post for two reasons. Firstly I’m not going to be online much today. I’ll be off to Plymouth to do some trans awareness training at the university. So I’m scheduling this post to go up tomorrow to apologize to people for not responding much to any well wishing that might be happening online.

Also at this sort of age you tend to get a bit morbid, so I’m working my angst out on you lot, OK?

Yeah, no. Who cares, right? I’m still fit enough (physically and mentally) to carry on working. I’m still enjoying life. And I have now lived for 10 more years than I expected to when I first decided to undergo gender transition. This is all a bonus.

OK, I might be a little more reluctant to take on new, long-term projects. And I do need to actually have plans in place, just in case my health takes a sudden turn for the worse. Other than that, I plan to carry on having fun.

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PKD Award Winner

Easter is a time when all sorts of award results are announced. The Aurealis Awards were handed out in Australia yesterday. Full details are here. I’m delighted to see a bunch of my friends winning stuff.

This morning by email included the announcement of this year’s Philip K. Dick Award winner. The PKD is for science fiction first published in paperback, and often turns up interesting winners. This year both the winner, The Mercy Journals by Claudia Casper, and the runner up (what the PKD called the Special Citation), Unprounceable by Susan diRende, came from small presses. My congratulations to Arsenal Pulp Press and Aqueduct Press respectively.

Oh yeah, and both books by women, which is maybe why they had to be published by small presses. It is good to see that the PKD jury doesn’t have any qualms about women writing SF.

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The Strange History of Hot Cross Buns

Easter is a time when all sorts of nonsense tends to get talked about religious history. For the record, the only evidence of a goddess called Eostre is a single paragraph written by the 8th century English cleric, the Venerable Bede. He does not mention rabbits, hares or eggs in connection with this supposed Anglo-Saxon deity. There are no known shrines to Eostre, no votive offerings, nothing.

Even more so, there is no known connection between Easter, Eostre and Ishtar, other than the fact that Ishtar’s main festival may well have been held in the spring.

I say that because Ishtar was, in part, a fertility goddess, and spring is the time when fertility festivals were held. In Rome the Rites of Attis, part of the cult of Cybele, were celebrated in late March. Spring is the obvious time to have a fertility festival.

One of the things that the ancients appear to have done at such festivals is make offerings of bread. These may have taken a phallic form. The most famous reference to this is an epigram by Martial

Si vis esse satur, nostrum potes esse priapum:
Ipse licet rodas inguina, purus eris.

You’ll rarely see that translated because it talks about eating a phallus. However, Martial isn’t extolling the virtues of oral sex. Rather, he’s probably he’s probably expressing the well known Roman abhorrence of that activity. The epigram is titled “priapus siligineus” which probably means “bread phallus”. Martial seems to be suggesting that, rather than engage in oral sex, it is much cleaner to eat a bread substitute.

So the Romans may have baked bread in phallic shapes (and frankly if they didn’t then bread might well be the only thing they didn’t make into phallic shapes), and these may have been associated with spring fertility festivals. I’ve found no firm evidence of this. What we do know is that this practice appears to have found its way into Christianity.


Exhibit one is the Russian Orthodox Easter tradition of baking Kulichi. These are tall, cylindrical breads traditionally topped with white icing. No doubt about the symbology there.

The 19th century French historian, Jacques Antoine Dulaure, reports that in the town of Saintonge phallic bread was still being baked for Easter in his lifetime.

The most obvious example comes from the Portuguese town of Amarante, but these magnificently phallic objects are now made for a festival in June, not for Easter.

The theory is that early Christian clergy could not stop people making bread for spring festivals. But they could ask them to make it in a different shape. And just for good measure they put a cross on top to prevent anything devilish going on.

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Susan Cooper to Give 2017 Tolkien Lecture

This year’s for the J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature at Pembroke College in Oxford will be Susan Cooper. I suspect that most of you know who she is, but just in case there’s a clue to the left.

As usual, the lecture will take place in the Pichette Auditorium at Pembroke. The date is Thursday, April 27th and the start time is 6:30pm. Attendance is free, but you will need to book a place via Eventbrite.

I’m hoping to be there. The end of April is getting very busy but it looks like it will all work out. Hopefully I will see a few of you there.

For more details see the lecture’s website.

Update: The folks at Pembroke tell me that they plan to have the lecture available as a video on their website a few days after the event. The 2015 and 1016 lectures, featuring Lev Grossman and Terri Windling, are up there, together with one by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins about Tolkien’s language creation that I really must watch.

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Yesterday on Ujima – Gareth, Fitness, Trans Theater & Stopping Violence

It was a very full show as always on Women’s Outlook yesterday. I started out talking to local author, Gareth L. Powell, about his latest book, a short story collection called Entropic Angel (after a story originally published by me in Dark Spires). We also talked about the differences between writing short fiction and novels, the forthcoming Eastercon, and Gareth’s forthcoming space opera series.

The second slot featured Phoenix Liberty Rain, who is a fitness trainer. April is Health and Wellbeing month on Ujima, so I’m doing my bit despite being one of the most unfit people you could hope to meet. Thankfully Phoenix is very unlike your average fitness trainer. She works entirely online (and has been doing that for 9 years, so it is clearly a viable business). She doesn’t insist on diets, and she doesn’t make you go running in the rain before dawn. She does, however, recommend weight training for women. And she thinks that the main benefit of her courses is the self-confidence they give people. She’s my sort of fitness trainer. And given that she works online, you can sign up for a course from anywhere. This is her website.

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

Hour 2 began with Alice Nicholas and Maddie Coward of Creative Youth Network talking about a play called Eclipse that they are staging in the same building as our studios later in the month. The play is about a young trans boy, and it sounds like Alice and her team have done a great job on the story. I’m hoping to get to see this one.

Finally I welcomed Nazand Begikhani and Gill Hague of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at Bristol University. They were going to be launching a book last night at Watestones, and they talked to be about their work around the world, and specifically in Iraqi Kurdistan, to combat violence against women and girls.

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

The playlist for yesterday’s show was as follows:

  • Cameo – Word Up
  • Savage Rose – Lonely Heart
  • Beyonce – Get Me Bodied
  • Daft Punk – Doin’ it Right
  • Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – Tears of a Clown
  • Amanda Lear – I Am What I Am
  • Tracy Chapman – Behind the Wall
  • Donna Summer & Barbara Streisand – No More Tears

Next week marks the debut of our new team member, Zakiya. She’s also heavily involved in Ujima’s environmental initiative, Green & Black. I’m looking forward to hearing what she does. Yaz will be back with more social campaign news at the end of the month.

Posted in Books, Feminism, Health, Radio, Theatre | Comments Off on Yesterday on Ujima – Gareth, Fitness, Trans Theater & Stopping Violence

GUFF Deadline Approaches

I’ve not had a lot of time to think about things like fan funds of late, but I did get a few hours off last weekend and I used some of that to catch up on episodes of Galactic Suburbia. This reminded me that there is a GUFF race in progress, and that I’m actually a nominator for one of the candidates. Originally I agreed to nominated Alisa Krasnostein and Alex Pierce, but Alisa has made the difficult decision to drop out because of the current insanity regarding international travel. If I had two very young kids I’d have made the same decision. Alex, however, is still running, and you have until April 17th to vote for her. There are other candidates as well, of course, but I’m a loyal nominator and want to support my candidate. Alex is awesome, vote for her.

Full details as to how to vote can be found here. See you in Helsinki, Alex.

Posted in Conventions, Fandom, Finland | Comments Off on GUFF Deadline Approaches

Hirschfeld and Hatshepsut

My friend Jen Grove has a post up on Notches, the history of sexuality blog, today. In it she talks about looking for trans people in the ancient world. As her main example she tells us that Magnus Hirschfeld was one of the people who has suggested that the Egyptian Queen, Hatshepsut, might be trans. I’ve said my piece about Hatshepsut before, and I’m pretty sure I have ranted to Jen as well. I’m not surprised that she’s cautious about the identification. When you are looking for trans people from the past it is really important to understand the culture in which they lived, and how that culture understood gender.

For me, of course, it is also important to maintain academic respectability. If I were to make a case for Hatshepsut being trans I would get torn to shreds by my Egyptologist friends. Jen can get away with slightly more because she can’t be accused of projection the way I can, but she still has to play the academic game.

There’s also the fact that claiming feminist icons such as Hatshepsut as trans is a sure fire way to turn feminists against the trans community. Politically it’s not wise.

Mainly, however, I want to echo Jen’s point in the Notches post about not relying on famous people from the past. It’s great that we have a few celebrities to talk about, Elagabalus being the most high profile, but there were very many ordinary people in ancient cultures who lived outside of the gender binary. We don’t need celebrities to make the case. And indeed the case is far more powerful if we can identify lots of ordinary trans people, rather than just a few high profile ones.

Posted in Academic, Gender, History | Comments Off on Hirschfeld and Hatshepsut

New Dimension 6

Issue #10 of Dimension 6, the free Australian short fiction magazine, is now available from download from their website. The contents of this issue are:

  • “The Other City” by Rjurik Davidson
  • “Glide” by Natalie Potts
  • “The Seven Voyages of Captain Cook” by Craig Cormick

Rjurik is probably the best known writer on the list, but I do like the description of the Natalie Potts story:

There are lots of species of Australian fauna that want to kill you. We just found one more.

I bet that whatever it is will be achingly cute as well.

Posted in Australia, Science Fiction | Comments Off on New Dimension 6

BristolCon Fringe November 2016

I have some more Fringe podcasts for you. We don’t have audio from September because I was Very Sick and no one else had any recording kit, so we move on the November, which was a Kristell Ink Special. Editor extraordinaire, Jo Hall, brought along two of her favorite acquisitions to delight us with their fantasy novels.

First up was author, podcaster, dyslexia activist and accidental political comedian, Joel Cornah. He read from The Sky Slayer, which is about pirates and curses and the like.

Our second reader for November was Jessica Rydill. Her Shamanworld series was part-released by Orbit several years ago, but it fell victim to the all too regular “you only get one chance to be the next JK Rowling” syndrome. Thankfully Kristell Ink has picked up the entire series so fans of the early books will get to find out what happens at the end. In the meantime here’s Jessica with a reading from the first book, Children of the Shaman.

At the end of the evening I put our two readers to the question. There is talk of giant penguins, Helsinki, nuclear power stations in France, the End of Civilisation As We Know It, and Jo’s plans to set up a resistance movement in the Welsh Marches.

The January podcasts are already done and hopefully I will have those for you next week. Huge thanks to Tom Parker for taking over the editing duties.

Posted in Podcasts, Readings, Science Fiction | 1 Comment

Diversity Trust Announces Major Trans Health Needs Survey

The spring edition of the Diversity Trust newsletter is now available. You can read and download it here. As usual there is plenty of good stuff in it, but the big news is all the way back on page 16. We have been commissioned by Healthwatch to undertake a survey of the health needs of trans people in the Bath & North East Somerset, Bristol, North Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire areas. Some person called Cheryl Morgan is quoted as saying:

As a trans woman I know just how badly this work is needed. I’m very grateful to Healthwatch for their support, and delighted that this project will involve trans people at every stage of its design and delivery.

Now I guess Berkeley and I have a lot of work to do.

Obviously there will be a survey at some point so we can collect people’s experiences. Also I will make sure that we cover non-binary and intersex people’s needs. If anyone has any specific ideas about what should be done please do get in touch, either here or via

Posted in Gender, Health | Comments Off on Diversity Trust Announces Major Trans Health Needs Survey

Stonewall Has a Vision for Change

This morning Stonewall released their long-anticipated trans rights campaign strategy. It is called A Vision for Change, and you can find the press release and document here.

The first thing to be noted is that this marks a sea change in British LGBT+ politics. The old Stonewall, before Ruth Hunt took over, was very much LG(b)-focused. If trans people were mentioned, it was more likely to be as targets for lesbian or gay transphobes as it was for positive reasons. The new Stonewall is very much trans inclusive. Indeed, it recognizes trans rights as one of the major issues facing the LGBT+ community at the moment. Ruth can take a lot of the credit for this turnaround, but she could not have done it without the backing of the Stonewall staff, or without the help of the group of trans people they recruited to develop their policy (some of whom I am honored to call friends).

It is also worth noting that this support is unconditional. The subtitle of the report is, “Acceptance without exception for trans people”. There is no, “we’ll help you as long as you conform to certain stereotypes,” as there has been in the past.

So what is Stonewall actually going to campaign for? The document lists six specific policy goals:

  • A reformed Gender Recognition Act (it needs a thorough overhaul)
  • A reformed Equality Act (to ensure all trans people are protected)
  • Removal of the infamous “Spousal Veto” from marriage legislation*
  • Action on the so-called “sex by deception” prosecutions which have led to trans people being sent to prison for having sex without disclosing they are trans
  • Legal recognition of non-binary people including, but by no means limited to, an X option on passports
  • Reform of the Asylum system (which is also a priority for LGB people)

Interestingly coverage in the national media has focused solely on the passport issue. This has been so uniform that I suspect it must be the result of a specific briefing from Stonewall (journalists are notoriously busy and will always prefer to be spoon-fed a story). There are potential banana skins here. No one wants this to be made mandatory for all trans people and for it to become a sort of trans id card. However, this is something that many other countries have done (including Australia, New Zealand, India and Pakistan) so it is easy to shame the government on this point. The government argument that it would upset the Americans is no longer valid because everything upsets the American border control people these days, and hardly anyone wants to go to the USA anyway.

There is, of course, a long way to go. However, Stonewall is a well-respected and highly effective campaigning organization that does have the ear of government and of the media. The trans community has badly needed someone like them to step forward and help for a long time. This is a real opportunity to make progress.

And yes, I am really looking forward to all of the articles in the Guardian and New Statesman complaining about what a dangerous, radical organization Stonewall has become.

* The Spousal Veto is a system that allows an existing spouse to block a change of legal gender, even if the person wishing to change gender has undergone full medical gender reassignment.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gender, Journalism | Comments Off on Stonewall Has a Vision for Change