Cover Reveal – The Green Man’s Heir

Something else I need to do on International Women’s Day is celebrate living women, and who better to chose for that than my friend Juliet E. McKenna whose books I am honored to publish. Here, therefore, is the cover of her new novel, The Green Man’s Heir, which will be available once I have got a proof back from the printers and checked that it is OK.

Juliet has written about some of the inspiration for the novel here.

And while I am mainly talking about women today I should add that Ben Baldwin, who provided the art for the book, and for Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom, is an absolute joy to work with.

Posted in Art, Books, Wizard's Tower | 1 Comment

For #IWD2018 – Artemisia Does Snark

For International Women’s Day I want to feature one of my favorite women from history, the hugely talented 17th Century painter, Artemisia Gentileschi. This picture (currently owned by the Queen) is probably a self-portrait. Much more importantly than that, however, it is a response to this picture by another Italian, Cesare Ripa.

That is from Ripa’s famous work, Iconologia, and it is intended to represent an allegory of “painting”. The woman in Gentileschi’s picture is a physical embodiment of that allegory, sharing many of the iconographic elements. But there is one symbol that she has chosen to omit. I think you can probably spot it.

Well played, Artemsia, well played.

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Punished Twice: Trans in Prison

Next week is very busy for me, but aside from a radio show all of the things I am speaking at are for clients. The following week, however, I will be at Bristol University as part of an event called Punished Twice: Being Trans in the Prison System. The event is put on by the Howard League for Penal Reform, and I’ll be accompanied by several other guest speakers, all of whom probably know more about the prison system than I do. I’ll be there to talk more generally about trans politics and medical treatment. I’m also going to make sure that we talk about trans guys being prosecuted for “fraud”, because that tends to be forgotten in all of the media fuss about trans women. The event is free to attend.

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Champagne Time

In amongst the misery that always accompanies snowfall in Southern England, here is something that cheered me up. Yesterday I was doing the month end accounts for Wizard’s Tower and I noticed that The Thief’s Gamble by Juliet McKenna had become the first book of ours to sell over 1000 copies. I am, of course, very pleased. Go pour yourself a glass of something, Juliet, you’ve earned it.

Posted in Wizard's Tower | Comments Off on Champagne Time

Queen

I love this so much.

By the way, if anyone has a copy of the clean version, please get in touch. I know it has been made available to larger radio stations, but I don’t have a copy and I very much want to play it on my next show.

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Another February Done

LGBT History Month seems to be going from strength to strength. Or at least I seem to be busier every year. I’m glad it is over. I’m glad we didn’t have all of this snow during it. But equally I had a wonderful time yesterday at Bath Spa University (thanks Ceri!) so I’m definitely doing it again next year.

Of course March is no more sane. We have International Women’s Day coming up (see here). I hope the weather is rather better on Saturday. I’ve also got the Schools Out Academic Conference in Liverpool coming up soon, and I’ll be in Canada for part of the month. Not to mention that the Tiptree Jury has to come up with some decisions this month, so I have lots of last-minute reading to do.

Oh well, at least the training I had scheduled in Bristol tomorrow morning has been cancelled due to the snow. With travel time that’s a whole 8 hours extra I have in my life. I may do that thing that all smart cats do in weather like this: sleep. Or I may get on with doing stuff on The Green Man’s Heir, because people seem to be itching to buy it.

Posted in Where's Cheryl? | Comments Off on Another February Done

International Women’s Day in Bristol

I have already posted about the film event on Saturday night, but I will be in Bristol all day because Bristol Women’s Voice has a huge International Women’s Day event happening at City Hall. You can find the full program here.

If you looked at that you will have noted that I am on a panel about women in the media from 2:15pm to 3:00pm. There are loads of other good things happening too. I am particularly looking forward to the Goddess in Prehistory talk. Also I have a radio show next week so I need to get some interviews. Hopefully I will see some of you there.

Posted in Conventions, Feminism, Where's Cheryl? | Comments Off on International Women’s Day in Bristol

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.

Posted in Academic, Comics, History | Comments Off on HFRN – Day 2

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.

Posted in Academic, Conventions, History | 1 Comment

I, Film Critic?

Next Saturday (March 3rd) the Watershed cinema in Bristol will be hosting a screening of the Oscar-nominated films, A Fantastic Woman, followed by a panel discussion. The film, which was made in Chile, is up for an award in the Best Foreign Film category. There was some hope that it’s star, Daniela Vega, would also get a nod. She didn’t make it, but the Academy was sufficiently impressed to make her the first openly trans person to get to present an Oscar.

After the screening, there will be a panel discussion about the film, and about the wider issue of trans visibility. It will feature Shon Faye, my Ujima colleague Yaz Brien, Jo Bligh, and me. I don’t expect to have too much to say about the film as I’m not as well versed in film criticism as some of the others, but I will have plenty to say about visibility, gaze and so on if that’s required. Hopefully I will see some of you there.

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Graz in December, Anyone?

Here’s a cat that is now out of the bag, so to speak.

This December (6-8) the University of Graz in Austria is putting on a major international conference on science fiction. You can find the Call for Papers here. The reason I am telling you about it is that there are three invited keynote speakers, one of whom is me.

I have been keeping this one quiet since before the Holidays so I am delighted it is now public and I can stop exploding. I’m very pleased to be sharing the platform with Mark Bould whom I am sure will give a great talk. I don’t think I have ever met the third keynote, Gerry Canavan, but he’s an expert on the work of Octavia Butler so I’m sure we’ll have lots to talk about.

Everyone else (well, those of you into academic conferences), I’d love to see you there. Graz sounds lovely. It has a funicular railway and a museum of medieval armor; and it is very close to the Lipizzaner ranch.

Posted in Academic, Conventions | 1 Comment

Hugo Myth Season Again

Voting is open for this year’s Hugo Awards, and consequently I need to get back to dispelling the strange ideas about the Hugos that seem to proliferate at this time of the year.

This post has been inspired in particular by the latest episode of the Coode Street Podcast where Gary and Jonathan do their usual fine job, but don’t quite get everything right.

Something that they do get right is the “I haven’t read enough” myth. Every year people trot out the idea that if you haven’t read “everything” then you are not eligible to nominate. This is nonsense. Jonathan and Gary make two very good points. Firstly they talk about some categories in which they feel they don’t know enough, but that isn’t stopping them from nominating in other categories. Nor will it stop them from looking at the nominees in those categories once the finalists are announced.

Secondly Gary notes that he has not yet read a number of very high profile novels, including the latest books by Ann Leckie and NK Jemisin. Gary is a novel reviewer for Locus, and has been for decades. It is his job to read novels. But there are so many that he hasn’t had the chance to read these two obvious contenders. I have read them, but because of the Tiptree reading I haven’t yet read the 2017 novels by Cat Valente, Jeff VanderMeer, Kim Stanley Robinson or Nick Harkaway (sorry guys, I have bought them). Both Gary and I will still nominate in the Novel category. No one can read everything.

There is some discussion in the podcast of the Series category and the question of how many words have to have been published for a series to qualify. That limit is 240,000 words. I’m afraid that Nnedi will have to write at least one more Binti book for the series to be eligible.

The other new award is the YA Book. There is no word limit for this. That decision was made deliberately because many YA books are much shorter than books aimed at the adult market. Jonathan mentions the possible overlap between the YA award and Hugo categories. Yes, we know. One of the main reasons why the YA Book Award is not a Hugo is precisely because there was potential for overlap. That was done deliberately. So I’m afraid saying that you won’t nominate a book in both the YA Book Award and a Hugo category is a bit pig-headed.

Where there may be a possibility for overlap is between Novel and Series. NK Jemisin’s The Stone Sky is in line for Novel, and the Broken Earth trilogy is eligible for Series. It would be an amazing achievement if Nora was to win Hugos for all three books in a trilogy and for the series as a whole, but it is possible.

Finally we come to the bit where the podcast goes totally off the rails. Jonathan resurrects one of the best known zombies of Hugo lore, the idea that the Hugos were once for science fiction only and were later changed to include fantasy. This is not entirely Jonathan’s fault. He got the story from Justin Ackroyd. I have had this discussion with Justin before. He was wrong then and he is still wrong now.

The usual “proof” of this myth is that the Hugos used to be known as the “Science Fiction Achievement Awards”, and also affectionately as the Hugos. WSFS made the official name of the awards the Hugos because it was not possible to register a service mark for “Science Fiction Achievement Awards”. Quite rightly that was deemed too generic by the US mark registration people. The phrase “Science Fiction Achievement Awards” was later mostly eliminated from the WSFS Constitution as it was no longer relevant. (The official renaming was ratified in 1992 and, according to the Business Meeting minutes, was passed without objection.)

However, this change does not mean that the Hugos were once “officially” only for science fiction. The oldest version of the WSFS Constitution that we have available is from 1963. You can read it here. If you look at the definitions of the categories (Section 2) you will see that they use the phrase “science fiction or fantasy” (or, in the case of Amateur Magazine, “science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects”). This was long before “Science Fiction Achievement Awards” was dropped from the Constitution. There was, as far any anyone can remember or records show, never a time when the Hugos were exclusively for science fiction.

Of course this doesn’t stop people from nominating only science fiction if that is what they want to do. However, it is a bit disingenuous to compare the Hugos to things such as the World Fantasy Awards (which are exclusively for fantasy) or the Locus Awards (which have separate categories for science fiction and fantasy novels). The reason that those awards are able to make such distinctions is that they have management structures in place that can make those decisions. There is no “Hugo Committee” that is empowered to decide whether a work is science fiction or fantasy. The Hugo Administrators are just administrators and would run a mile from any suggestion that they should make such a decision. To have an award just for science fiction you would have to institute a process for deciding what qualifies, and that process must not devolve down to a popular vote.

Posted in Awards, Science Fiction | 12 Comments

Crawford Award

As many of you will have seen, the winner of this year’s Crawford Award was announced this week. The book in question is Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, and it is one of the most remarkable debuts I have seen in a long time. Machado’s work has appeared in venues such as The New Yorker, Granta and Tin House. The collection was also a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award, the USA’s top literary award. You will guess from that that the stories are very literary, and you would be right, but they are also fascinating. I am seriously impressed.

However, I would also like to draw your attention to the short list which contains many more good books. Here it is:

  • City of Brass, S.A. Chakraborty (Harper Voyager)
  • Winter Tide, Ruthanna Emrys (Tor.com Publishing)
  • The Art of Starving, Sam J. Miller (HarperTeen)
  • The Tiger’s Daughter, K. Arsenault Rivera (Tor)
  • Spellhaven, Sandra Unerman (Mirror World)

I’d like to direct particular attention to The Tiger’s Daughter. The basic set-up is as follows: Shizuka is the heir to a fantasy version of imperial China; Shefali is the daughter of the queen of the nomadic Qorin; they are brought up together, fall in love, and together they fight demons. Rivera isn’t as accomplished a wordsmith as Machado, nor as off the wall, but this is a beautifully constructed novel and just the cutest lesbian warrior love story ever. I cried. I can’t wait for book two.

Both of these books have been recommended for the Tiptree, but the remit of the Crawford and Tiptree juries is very different and I have not said anything about the books’ treatment of gender.

Further details of the Crawford Award announcement are available from the IAFA website.

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Return of the King


It was great to have T’Challa in the last Avengers movie, but giving him his own movie was always going to be a whole new level, and one Marvel could easily have botched.

I can’t pretend to understand all of the political issues that the film has to deal with. Africa is not a country, and African-Americans are not the same as Africans. I could see some of that being played out, and I know it will be impossible to please everyone. From my point of view, as a Black Panther reader from way back in the Don McGregor days, and a cat person, this was a fine movie. I also understood and enjoyed the parts where it made comment on wider political issues.

The film isn’t perfect. I’ve been seeing people online complaining about lack of queer content. But all things considered it could have been so much worse. Or it could not have existed at all, which would have been terrible. I very much hope that other people enjoy it as much as I did.

Oh, and stay right to the end of the credits. You always do that in Marvel movies, right?

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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.

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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.

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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.

Posted in Gender, History, Music | Comments Off on Discoveries from the Road

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.

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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.

Posted in Gender, History, Video | Comments Off on A Short History of Gender at UWE

Tomorrow on Ujima

In the midst of all this I still have to do my radio show. Naturally tomorrow I am devoting most of the show to LGBT History Month. I will be joined by Daryll Bullock, a local writer whose book, David Bowie Made Me Gay, has been receiving international acclaim. Darryl will be talking to me about the queer black roots of modern popular music. He’ll be followed by Ujima’s own Angel Mel who will bring us right up to date with news of the queer music scene in Bristol.

In the second hour Karen Garvey from M Shed will pop in and we’ll preview the rest of the entertainment we have planned for Saturday. If you are in Bristol there will be loads of great talks so do pop in.

I also have a short interview with Sophie Walker, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party, that I bagged when she was in Bristol on Sunday. Naturally we talked about the 100th anniversary of (some) women getting the vote, the gender pay gap and so on.

Finally I’ll be talking about plans to hold an anti-trans event in Bristol on Thursday and how the increasingly hostile media coverage of trans issues is leading to an increase in the number of hate crimes against trans people in the region.

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