Tomorrow I get to be part of a fabulous day of LGBT+ History being put on by Leeds Art Gallery. I’ll be doing a talk on Michael Dillon, focusing mainly on what was different about gender transition in the 1940s. There’s plenty of other great material as well. I’m particularly looking forward to the talk on Queer Nature. If you want to come along, registration is free and apparently still open. See here.
And for those of you on the far side of the Atlantic, my talk is at 3:00pm, which is Noon on the East Coast and 9:00am on the West.
Well, that got LGBTHM off with a bang. The presentation this evening, by Osman of Hidayah, went really well. I learned a lot, and the audience did too. Plus we got some Rumi poetry, which is always worth having.
If the person who asked the question about The 1001 Nights is reading this, here’s some useful background. There are some great queer stories in the Nights, especially those featuring Abu Nuwas (who was a real person).
Next up for me, a day in Leeds. More about that tomorrow.
The first part of our Bristol LGBT+ History Month festival is tomorrow. Osman, an outreach officer from the queer Muslim charity, Hidayah, will be talking to us about “Muslim views on queer relationships over time”. I’ve just seen a trial run-through of this, and there was lots that was new to me. It should be a great evening.
Booking is free, so if you’d like to join us, please register here.
I also spent part of the afternoon recording something with Dan Vo. It involved movies and Greek mythology and queerness and you’ll be able to watch it soon.
It being February, the Locus Recommended Reading List has been published. As usual, I had a part in selecting which long-form works appear on it. Also as usual, I am only one of a large number of people involved, so I am not solely to blame for anything you don’t like about it.
On the other hand if there are things that you think are missing, I’d be happy to hear from you. Liza guested on Coode Street the other day and they had an interesting conversation about known biases of the List. I think that things like the Nth volume on an ongoing series are always going to be at a disadvantage, because reviewers tend to shy away from such things. Getting people to notice books that are not easily available in the USA is also hard. But hopefully the list is getting more diverse.
February is here, and there are more talks I can tell you about.
On Thursday, February 11th at 5:00pm I will be part of an event titled, “What’s next for Queer Britain?” This is a seminar put on by the Law Department at Bristol University. I will be on a panel with the renowned civil rights lawyer, Jonathan Cooper OBE, and with two of the university staff, Dr Sandra Duffy, and Dr Peter Dunne (who helped write the Irish gender recognition act).
On Monday, February 15th at 5:00pm I will be talking about “Byron and the Lion King” on behalf of Christ’s College, Cambridge. This is my talk about Byron, Ashurbanipal and the strange story of Sardanapalus, Last King of Assyria. I did this a couple of times last year, but to very small audiences and Cambridge have given me more time so there will be new stuff.
On Thursday, February 25th at 7:00pm I will be part of an event being staged by Bristol Libraries. I will be interviewing Frank Wynne, who is the editor of Queer: LGBTQ Writing from Ancient Times to Yesterday. This is a great book. It has Homer, it has Sappho, and it has Catullus (translated by Roz Kaveney). It has Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Anne Lister. And it has modern writers including Lawrence Schimel and Juno Dawson. I’m looking forward to dipping into it and chatting to Frank.
All of these events are online and free, but you do need to register.
Twitter followers will have seen news of an event in Aberystwyth too, but I don’t have booking details for that yet. There’s at least one more public event to come, which is right near the end of the month. I’m also doing two talks for corporate clients, which are invitation only.
It is going to be a tiring month, but I am getting as much done as I can because I expect it won’t be long before doing this sort of public event, at least through councils, universities, etc., is banned. If you don’t know what Section 28 was, here’s a reminder.
Back in the day, Feedburner was a useful way for people to stay up to date with blogs. That was before Google effectivly killed off RSS. But it isn’t gone. Websites still pump out feeds, and slowly the infrastructure around them is returning.
Meanwhile the WordPress plugins that used to enable people to subscribe to FeedBurner have all gone. I have a dead plugin that I need to get rid of as it might be a security risk. But I have some 30 people still apparently subscribed to this blog via Feedburner. If you are still out there (and not just dead email addresses), I don’t want to lose you.
What I have done is sign up to a new RSS service called Follow.It. You can subscribe to my feed there. It looks to be somewhat more flexible that FeedBurner, which is nice. But I now need to close the Feedburner account for this site. I’d like to make sure I don’t lose the existing subscribers. I have all of your emails so I can transfer you over. If one of those people is you, please get in touch so I can check that the transfer has gone OK.
Greetings once more from Plague Island. I am pleased to report that Lockdown is definitely having an effect now. All of the major indicators are dropping. The national case rate is only 273/100k, and locally we are down to 137. Parts of Bath are being marked clear.
Of course this is normally the point at which Bozo announces that, thanks to his super-manly chromosomes (XYYY or something, I guess), he has personally defeated the virus and we must all go back to school, work, restaurants, pubs and so on. He’s never learned from any of his failures in life before, so I don’t suppose he will have learned from the “Saving Christmas” disaster.
The lovely people at the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at Glasgow University, in collaboration with the univeristy’s Games Lab, have run an online event about the origins and history of Dungeons and Dragons. It was fun, and really heartwarming to see so many young people who love RPGs watching the event. As history, however, it could have been better. That’s one of the things about having been there when it happened. You remember stuff.
John D Rateliff, who was the principal speaker, used to work for TSR, and for the company we tend to refer to as Wizards of the Cost, so he knows his stuff. But he didn’t start playing D&D until 1980 so he missed a lot of the frenzy of development in the early years. Heck, Runequest was two years old by then.
Rateliff did mention a book by Jon Peterson, The Elusive Shift, which chronicles the early history of the hobby with some reference to fanzines. A quick scan through shows that the fanzines referenced were mostly American (many of them from Bruce Pelz’s collection), but I did see a few names that I recognised. Peterson does mention postal Diplomacy quite a lot, and En Garde!, all of which is very familiar.
When it comes down to it, there are basically only two main debates about RPGs. The first one is about whether the game should be set in a closed world (e.g. a game based on Tolkien’s Middle Earth, or on the Arthurian legends), or in an open one where GMs are free to create their own world. D&D started off open-ended, went through a phase where the owners were trying to lock people in, and has now apparently gone back to being open-ended again. Given that Tékumel is older than D&D, you can argue that this debate has been raging from the start. I was pleased to see Rateliff cite flexibility as D&D‘s key selling point. Back in the 1970s we all used say that we played “D&D“, even though most of us had tossed those first edition rulebooks and made up our own rules.
The other main debate, which has absolutely been with us from the start, is the narrative v rules debate. Those on the narrative side see the game as what we used to called Improvised Freeform Theatre (a term I think Paul Mason may have coined), and the rule-players see it as a form of wargame where knowledge of the rules is crucial to success. I’m delighted to see that the young gamers at the event were pretty much all on the narrative side. Maybe that’s because all of the rules-players have gone off to do Warhammer.
Rateliff, who is a highly-respected fantasy fiction scholar, was very solid on the fictional roots of the game. He seemed to know a bit less about the wargaming side. I was a bit surprised to see no mention of Tony Bath’s legendary Hyboria campaign. But the two elements have always been side-by-side. I bought my first D&D set thanks to an ad in one of my father’s copies of Minature Wargames. I played my first game thanks to friends who had discovered it through the Tolkien Society at St. Andrews.
With all this academic interest in roleplaying, I hope that someone will one day write a history of the early days of the hobby in the UK. Most of us are still alive. They could interview Steve Jackson, Ian Livingstone, Marc Gasgoine and so on, and a lot of us hobbyists.
In the meantime, you can watch tonight’s show below:
On Saturday, Feb. 6th I will be speaking as part of a day of queer history talks curated by Leeds Art Gallery. I’ll be talking about Michael Dillon again (well he is one of the icons of this year’s LGBT History Month), and I will do my best to make this different to the talk at M Shed on the 10th.
There are lots of great talks on the day, and attendance is free. You can register to attend here.
Here in Plague Island we have passed the milestone of 100,000 deaths. Bozo says that he is terribly sorry, but he’s done everything he can so it can’t be his fault. His loyal newspapers are saying that it is entirely our own fault that we are dying because we are too fat.
In other news, a new anti-trans organisation has been founded here. It’s stated objectives are to obtain the repeal of the Gender Recognition Act and to “eliminate transgenderism”. They have immediately received enthusiastic support from all of the usual suspects. I’m looking forward to seeing film of one of their rallies. I will be very disappointed if they don’t all chant, “ELIMINATE! ELIMINATE!!!” in silly voices. At least that will give them a good excuse to be on the BBC.
Once again I have been working with the wonderful Karen Garvey and her colleagues at Bristol’s M Shed museum. Our progrmme of events this year is designed to link in with the LGBT+ History Month theme: Body, Mind, Spirit. Due to the pandemic they are online Zoom events, but that means y’all can watch them. They are free, though you do need to click though to M Shed to book. Here’s what we have for you:
10th February: I will be talking about Michael Dillon – trans pioneer, one of the key figures in 20th century trans history. I have quite a bit of new Dillon research to share.
16th February: all the way from Seattle, the amazing Nicola Griffith will be in conversation with me about her novel Hild, and gender and sexuality in early medieval times. If you read and loved Hild, you need to watch this.
24 February: a panel discussion on the history of gender in sport. Can we do hot political topics? Yes we can. This one is early morning so we can welcome my pal, Prof. Noah Riesman all the way from Melbourne.
February is fast approaching, and all this week I will be highlighting talks that I am going to be doing as part of that.
One that I’m really looking forward is one I have been invited to do by Strawberry Hill House. That’s the former home of Horace Walpole, who was probably gay and definitely a Gothic novelist. You may have heard of The Castle of Otranto. He was also an MP, an art historian, a prodigious writer of letters, and most importantly for my purposes a wealthly man-about-town in Georgian London.
That, naturally, brought him into contact with other famous people of the time, including Charlotte de Beaumont, Chevalière d’Eon. Before arriving in London she had been a diplomat, spy and cavalry officer in the service of Louis XV of France. Her time in London will involve more spying, a gender transition, significant quantities of wine, the Hellfire Club, the American Revolution, Marie Antoinette, the French Revolution, Prince George and William Blake, to name but a few.
Dearest readers, a terrible tragedy has occurred. Late yesterday, President Biden signed a number of executive orders. One of those was an anti-discrimination order that gave LGBT+ people in the US some protections. They are similar to, though not as wide-ranging as, those we have here under the Equality Act.
This morning it was revealed that this action by the incoming President had erased every single woman in America. (Well, the cisgender ones, I assume.) Just like that. Over 150 million people vanished, Thanos-like, from the face of the Earth. I know that it sounds unlikley, but just about every female member of the chattering classes here in the UK is repeating the same story, so it must be true, mustn’t it?
Anyway, our Thoughts and Prayers are with the American people. I understand that President Biden is planning a number of sweeping immigration reforms, which will be necessary if there is to be any hope of there being little Americans in the future. I can only hope that the effects of this executive order don’t linger, and that newly arrived women are not vanished as well.
In other news, Downing Street has denied reports that the Prime Minister wishes to rename our country Little Trumplandia in the East. Apparently there is already an existing town name of Trumpton that he feels would be appropriate for the country as a whole, and doesn’t include the word “little” which may cause offence in certain quarters.
Email has just landed in my inbox listing the finalists for this year’s Philip K Dick Award. That, you may recall, is for science fiction first published in paperback. Here they are:
Failed State by Christopher Brown (Harper Voyager)
The Book of Koli by M. R. Carey (Orbit)
Dance on Saturday by Elwin Cotman (Small Beer Press)
Bone Silence by Alastair Reynolds (Orbit)
Road out of Winter by Alison Stine (Mira)
The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Orbit)
It is a bit of a sausage-fest, but I’m not going to complain too much as three friends of mine are on the list. It’s great to see Adrian Tchaikovsky getting more attention across the Pond. Al Reynolds absolutely deserves recognition for his Revenger series. And best of all, a book that I had a small part in creating is up there. Well done, Mike. Fingers crossed!
And lo, Britain became a World Beater! There was much rejoicing in Westminster.
Yes folks, the word is that the UK now has more deaths per million of the population than any other country in the world. Bozo must be so proud of himself.
This achievement came courtesy of a couple of days of very high death counts. We are fast closing in on the 2000 a day mark. However, sad though this is, the long-term prognosis should be better as the death curve always lags a week or two behind the infections curve, and the latter has been dropping steadily for several days now.
Unfortunately the local situation is not good. Infections here are continuing to rise. There’s obviously some sort of local outbreak happening, and I’m planning on hunkering down for the duration. Even if that means having to do without a haggis for Burns Night.
Meanwhile, over the Atlantic, President Biden has been sworn in, as has Vice President Harris. Little Donny The Loser has thrown a massive sulk, and we are all waiting for him to finally be brought to justice for the significant number of crimes he appears to have committed. They got Al Capone for tax evasion. I’m sure something similar will work on Loser.
The word is that Biden will reverse many of Loser’s awful policies in his first week in office. Hopefully that means doing something about those poor kids in concentration camps. Both major UK parties have done the traditional thing of sucking up to the new US leader, but Bozo is doubtless distraught that his best buddy is no longer in power. Meanwhile Labour has accused Biden of being “woke”. Given that they are trying to reinvent themselves as the party of bigoted white men, this does not surprise me. We may have finally reached the point where both main UK parties are to the right of the Democrats, which is quite an achievement.
And finally, if anyone out there is a GP, or knows one who might be willing to take an elderly trans woman as a patient, please let me know because apparently I need a new doctor again. I’m willing to move home if necessary, but note that I can’t afford to live in Bristol, let alone London.
A piece of good news for once. I now have a new stock of hormone patches sufficient to last me another 3 months. Hopefully by that time the current surge of infections will have died away.
The not so good news is that I had to walk to Boots because, despite having been to Bath and back on Friday, my car would not start today. A battery should not drain from being fine to having zero charge in just 2.5 days. So there’s probably an electrical fault somewhere. The nice man from the garage is going to pick her up on Thursday and take a look.
The COVID data suggests that Lockdown is definitely biting at last. Trowbridge is still well below the national average, but the infection rate is still rising here so I’m in no hurry to go out unless I have to.
Politics is much of the same. I am looking forward to Andrew Lloyd Webber penning Brexit: The Musical, in which all of the cast are British fish suffering under the tyrannical rule of the evil giant squid, Cthul-EU, but are liberated by Brave Sir Boris and his Merry Men. It will, of course, end with a rousing rendition of Rule Britannia. Sadly the production will become embroiled in a massive lawsuit when it is discovered that all of the songs written for Rees-Smug have been filched from the catalogue of the HP Lovecraft Historical Society.
News broke last night that Storm Constantine has departed this plane of existence for pastures new. Lots of people have been posting about how lovely she was, including many of my collegues at BristolCon where she was a Guest of Honour in 2013. I didn’t see much of her then because that was also the year that Mary Robinette Kowal and Kevin attended, but the day all went very well.
My memories of Storm, however, go back a lot further. Back in 1996 I was in the middle of gender transition and trying to settle into Australian fandom. I went to the NatCon in Perth with some trepidation as Neil Gaiman was the headline Guest of Honour and we’d known each other for a long time; far longer than I had been me, so to speak. Neil had already assured me that he was cool about things by email, but the other writer GoH was Storm. She was a really big name at the time, and also fiercely feminist. I was a bit worried.
I needn’t have been. Storm turned out to be absolutely lovely, and considerably less Goth in real life than in her public persona. She insisted on having her photo taken with as many Aussie fans as she could find so as to have some pleasant souvenirs of the trip.
Despite having a lot of interests in common, we didn’t see each other much. I spent a lot of time in the USA, and Storm had her own group of friends that was somewhat tangential to UK fandom. But I did review more books by Storm in Emerald City than any other author than Kim Newman and Gene Wolfe (they are all tied on 12). She’s written some great books, and I know that the Wraeththu are very much loved by some sections of the trans community.
Storm was a year older than me, which means also a year older than Liz Hand and Ann VanderMeer. I guess that makes her the first of my cohort to wink out. But I’m sure she’s shining brightly in some other universe.
All of the publicity for our LGBT History Months events in Bristol in February is now live. I’ve curated this, along with Karen Garvey from M-Shed. Obviously the events are virtual, but this has allowed us to pull in guests who would not otherwise be able to appear in Bristol. Here’s a quick list. Follow the links to the M-Shed website for more info and booking details. All of the events are free, but you do need to register.
February 4th, 6:00pm — Muslim views on queer relationships over time, with Osman, an outreach volunteer from Hidayah, a support group for LGBT+ Muslims.
February 16th, 7:00pm — Nicola Griffith in conversation, in which Nicola and I will talk about her book, Hild, and how an author can make decisions about the sexuality of people from the past.
24th February, 11:00am — The history of gender in sport, in which I chair a panel of experts on that issue: Dr Sonja Erikainen, Professor Noah Riseman (joining us from Melbourne), football player Samantha Walker, and rugby player Verity Smith.
I will be doing a number of other public events on behalf of other organisations. I’ll post booking details for this as soon as I have them.
Well this has been a week. As I mentioned on Wednesday, I was expecting to drive to Bristol today to get a new hormone prescription. It turns out that I hadn’t had a blood pressure test in a while, and the doctor wanted to make sure I was OK, even if that meant me risking a long trip in the middle of a pandemic. So yesterday I look the car for a run, so as to give the battery a bit of a boost to make sure it would start this morning. Also I needed fuel. And when I got home the oil and engine service warning lights came on.
Fortunately I have a very good garage. The boys took a look yesterday afternoon and pronouced the car probably OK to drive. I came up with a new plan which was to drive to Bath and get the train from there. That way I would only be 10 minutes each way on a train rather than 45. It worked, and I note that the trains were practically empty. They may be busier in peak hours, but I very nearly had a carriage to myself both ways.
I don’t quite have the hormones yet. Boots didn’t have any in stock, but they put in an order and it went through, so presumably there are supplies in the country.
Meanwhile the FT, which is much more reliable than the government when it comes to COVID data, says that the number of cases in the UK is coming down at last. Where I live is still fairly safe. Our last reported number was 283 cases per 100,000 people, which is a lot less than the national average of 555, but well up from just over 100 at the turn of the year. Many parts of London are over 1,100.
Of course I still have to go out to get the prescription when it arrives, and to drop off the car for a service, but at least I don’t need to go to Tesco again for a couple of weeks at least.
Also in the FT is news that the government plans to rip up all of the UK’s employment protection laws. This, like the move to allow bee-killing pesticides, is definitely in breach of the withdrawl agreement that Bozo signed with the EU just before Christmas. Interesting times, eh?