Can’t Do Everything

Being British, I feel very guilty whenever I say I can’t come to someone’s event because I am too busy. Practically, however, doing everything just isn’t possible. Today is a case in point.

I would love to be at CN Lester’s book and album launch, but it is in London and I have many local things I could be doing.

Skunk Anansie are playing at the O2 Academy in Bristol.

The Bristol Bad Film Club are showing a truly terrible science fiction movie, Space Mutiny!.

The Bristol Festival of Ideas has several events on tonight, three of which are of interest to me. We have Angela Saini on how science has failed women; WEP parliamentary candidate, Nimko Ali, talking about vaginas; and trans man Thomas Page McBee doing a book launch.

I’m going to do the Angela Saini event, and may stay on for Nimko depending on how tired I am by then and whether any work emergencies come in today.

Posted in Books, Feminism, Gender, Music, Science | 3 Comments

Gendered Voices – Day 1

With apologies for the delay, here’s a look back on some of the things that I heard about during the Gendered Voices conference last week. This post is about the first day’s papers. I’ll do one for the second day later.

The first session was all about stereotypes, and began with Sauleha talking about Muslim women in Frankenstein. I had entirely forgotten about this. There is a character in Mary Shelly’s book called Safie who is initially presented as a veiled, cowed Eastern woman, but who throws off her patriarchal shackles and becomes a character with a fair amount of agency and something of a happy ending. It is revealed that her mother was a Good Christian woman who was kidnapped by a Vile Oriental, and intimated that her ability to escape her situation is only because of her Christian blood.

One the one hand, headdesk, Mary, what were you thinking? On the other there are apparently signs of progressive thinking. One of the dafter things that 18th Century Britons believed is the idea that in Islamic theology women have no souls. Goodness only knows where they got this idea from. Apparently Mum (Mary Wollstonecraft) had swallowed this one whole, but Mary Jr. wasn’t so sure. She was, after all, writing about an artificial being, the Monster, whose claim to having a soul was far more dodgy than Safie’s.

Gender and theology and science fiction: I could not have asked for a more interesting start to the day.

Paper two from Leonie was about Vita Sackville-West and the book review program that she had on BBC radio, complete with actual audio from one of the shows. My goodness, that woman had a cut-glass accent. I can quite see where the idea of the Sackville-Bagginses came from. On the other hand, I ended up quite liking her. Vita shared her reviewing duties with a male colleague (whose name I have shamefully forgotten), each doing a show every other week. She listed the books she was going to cover in the Radio Times in advance, and encouraged readers to write in with their own views. She also managed close to a 50:50 gender split on authors. He just turned up for his shows and talked at his audience.

Finally in that session, Sam told us all about her research into gendered attitudes towards pain relief. I am going to be one of her test subjects in early June. Work like this is badly needed because there is very little understanding of how the various aspects of health care are different for women.

On then to session two which was all about religion, kicking off with our first male presenter, Alun, who was talking about the Song of Songs. This is a particularly intriguing part of the Old Testament, because it is basically about sex. Alun is interested in it because of the possibilities for sex-positive theology, which some parts of Christianity could badly do with. I’m interested in the possible origin of these verses.

Other parts of the Old Testament, specifically the tale of Jezebel, suggest that some people in ancient Israel worshiped other gods, including Baal and Asherah, who are of Mesopotamian origin. In Mesopotamia kings have a tendency to legitimize themselves by describing themselves as the Beloved of Ishtar (or some other version of the goddess). It is possible that the Song of Songs was originally a religious rite in which the goddess, in the form of the High Priestess, confirms the king’s right to rule because of his sexual appeal to her and the Daughters of Israel.

Next up was Jade who was talking about female divinity in Catholicism. Specifically she was discussing the figure of Lady Poverty, who features in stories about Saint Francis. She is depicted as someone at least as old as Adam and Eve, and therefore a semi-divine figure of sorts. Of course this being Catholicism her femaleness has to be controlled by marrying her to Francis. Personally I am deeply suspicious of the idea of a man marrying a personification of poverty; it has way too many sexist jokes about it. Interesting paper nonetheless.

Our final religious paper was Chiara who is studying the works of the experimental novelist, Kathy Acker. Acker has a complicated relationship with just about everything, and religion is no exception. Chiara was looking specifically at Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula and My Mother: Demonology, both of which have strong religious elements. Personally I want to read Pussy, King of the Pirates because, well I think that should be obvious.

After lunch we began with a session on fertility. One speaker had to cancel so we were down to two papers, starting with Claire on the subject of pregnancy and childbirth in mediaeval letter. She focused on the famous Paston letters from Norfolk, and in particular the matriarch, Margaret Paston. It is lovely to see sane discussion of pregnancy between a mediaeval husband and wife, though I suspect that the idea that all men through history have been uninterested in “women’s issues” is yet another of those 19th Century lies. If anyone knows why the Paston women were obsessed with eating (presumably very expensive) dates while pregnant, Claire would probably love to talk.

Maria told us all about a fascinating French novel, Constance et la Cinquantaine (Constance in Her Fifties), which is all about a group of feminist friends who panic when going through menopause because their men are deserting them for younger women. Apparently the only thing that results in a happy ending is becoming a lesbian.

The final session was on various expressions of gender. It began with Di explaining the complex history of the image of Medusa from a scary, quite masculine version in Bronze Age Greece to a much more feminine version in later times. The Romans, bless them, used both. I’m particularly fascinated by the image on the pediment of the temple in Bath, which shows the snake hair on the head of a male Celt.

James entertained us with images of gendered behavior from Sparta, which is a fascinating place (and which got very bad press from the Athenians). He didn’t specifically mention non-binary gendered presentation, but we chatted a bit and I do have a few clues to follow up. He did mention the possibility that songs written to be sung by a girl’s chorus celebrated same-sex attraction between women.

The last paper of the day was from Lucy, a fellow fan of Romosexuality, who introduced us to an amazing mosaic from a villa in Spain. On the one hand it is a stunningly beautiful piece of art. On the other it is obvious that it depicts only people (female and male) whom Zeus is said to have raped, and is intended to imply that the man of the house is just as powerful and rapey as old Thunderbolts himself.

That’s it for day one. More later. And if you think the owner of that Roman villa reminds you of Trump, just wait for the next Roman paper.

Posted in Academic, Feminism, Gender, Health, History, Radio, Religion, Science Fiction | Comments Off on Gendered Voices – Day 1

A Trip Into The Past

Today I have been in Southampton. I was there because I needed a university library to do some research, and that’s the only one I can get into easily these days, due to being an alumnus.

So I spent a happy day browsing the stacks for books about Roman eunuchs, and duly found a number of them, which was very useful.

I also got to see how the place had changed in the 35 years or so since I was last there. Parts of it were still very familiar. The library, the student union and the chemistry building are still where they always were, but the bookshop has mysteriously migrated up onto Burgess Road near where the oceanography building used to be. There is also a lot of new build. This has had the effect of diluting the maritime theme of the campus, and I think removing a lot of green space. Still, time can’t stand still. It was good to see the place thriving (and to see a lot more women and non-white students than in my day).

While the day was very useful, it could have been so much better if it were not for the disaster that is academic publishing. No university library takes paper copies of journals these days. They are all online, and you pay for access per student and staff member. There are very strict controls over who can access them, even though they are all “in the library”. Even worse, they don’t seem to buy paper books any more. New books seem to be mostly held only in electronic form and on license. This makes it next to impossible for anyone who isn’t either a member of staff or a student to access anything in an academic library.

Fortunately I can get access to a lot of journals through J-STOR, though I often have to pay for them. Books are more difficult. These days new academic books go for between £80 and £100. I can’t afford that. I’d start to think seriously about Helen Marshall’s MA in science fiction because at least then I’d be a student, except I can’t afford £7k in tuition fees either (or the time to do the course).

Knowledge, we guards it jealously, my precious.

Posted in Academic, Where's Cheryl? | 1 Comment

Arrival – The Extras

Arrival winning the Bradbury on Saturday has reminded me to tell you that if you don’t have a copy of the film on disc then you should go get one, because the extras are great.

First up, of course, there’s an interview with Ted. This makes me absurdly happy. His stories are so good, and he deserves some time in the limelight.

There are also interviews with Stephen Wolfram whose software was used to create and display the alien language, and with the linguist who worked as a consultant on the film. Of course a whole bunch of the film crew are interviewed. I was delighted to hear that both Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner signed up immediately on reading the screenplay.

The topics for the interview range over linguistics, the nature of time and the complications of making science fiction movies.

The extras also made me think about how the film is put together. It has an actual infodump (Ian’s “what we know about heptapods” voiceover), and uses Dos Passos techniques in the TV news clips.

Finally it occurs to me how appropriate it would be for a film about language to win a Hugo at a Worldcon in a non-English-speaking country.

Posted in Awards, Movies, Science, Science Fiction | 1 Comment

Gendering The Past

One of the inevitable results of the greater media interest in trans people is an increase in interest in trans history. On the one hand this is good for me, because it means I get invited to conferences and taken seriously, whereas even five years ago I would have been laughed at by most historians. On the other hand it means that a lot of cisgender historians are writing about trans issues in past cultures, often with very little understanding of what they are doing.

Much of this comes from a set of behaviors that stretches at least back to Roman times and probably much further. Elite men are quick to seize on any male whose appearance, mannerisms, sexual tastes and so on deviate from the currently acceptable social standards for masculinity. Such people are deemed “girly men”, or whatever the local translation thereof is. Women, on the other hand, are quick to reject this as an invasion of their territory that must be resisted at all costs. Men are men, and can never be anything else. The one thing that both sides tend to agree on is that trans people don’t exist, and therefore cannot be considered as an option.

The same sort of thing happens when cis historians look at people from the past. Men make fun of any people from history whose behavior they see as effeminate, and women insist that those people are really men. That these past people cannot be trans is backed up by a firm statement as to what being trans means.

I’m getting a little fed up with cis people telling me what it means to be trans. I wish they’d tell me, because I’m damned if I know.

Trans people can’t agree among themselves what it means to be trans. India Willoughby thinks that non-binary identities are fake. Many non-binary people insist that they are not “trans”, usually because they don’t want any medical treatment. If you talk to a two spirit person from North America, or a fa’afafine from Samoa, they may tell you that they are not trans because being trans is a Western concept that doesn’t work in their society.

There are other issues at work here as well. Historically most hijra from India seem to have identified as non-binary, despite the fact that they live full time as women and sometimes marry men. They make this identification on the grounds that they can’t bear children, and therefore can’t be a woman. That’s a cultural definition of what a “woman” is, and one that TERFs like to throw at trans women today, but it is not a distinction that we tend to draw because we prefer not to shame cis and intersex women who are infertile.

Whether someone from the past is “trans” or not is therefore a very open-ended question, and one I tend to approach in two ways: firstly by looking for persistent behaviors outside of the gender binary, and secondly by taking a very broad and inclusive definition of what it means to be trans.

All of this came to mind today when I was reading this blog post about Peter Ackroyd’s new book, Queer City. Much of the post I agree with. The tendency of male historians to only recognize the possibility of lesbianism if one party in the relationship can be shown to be using a dildo is ridiculous in the extreme. You’d think that with the amount of lesbian porn men watch they’d have a better understanding of how lesbians have sex, but there you go. Clearly their minds (or more likely their eyes) are on other things.

Where the post goes off the rails a bit is when it gets onto discussing the famous 14th century figure of John Rykener. I should state up front that Rykener’s case is a very complex one whose interpretation is heavily dependent on an understanding of mediaeval English and the mediaeval mindset. I have a couple of friends who have made an in depth study of the case and I defer to their judgement for most of the issues.

What appears to be agreed upon is that Rykener was a sex worker, and often dressed as a woman while working. They (and I’m using non-binary pronouns for Rykener because that’s the right thing to do when there is some uncertainty) appear to have done very well out of this business and their clients seem to have accepted them as a woman. When not working Rykener spent at least some of their time as a man, and had sex with women while presenting as both binary genders.

There is, of course, much debate as to how Rykener may have identified. All of the possible identities from trans woman to drag queen are possible. I gather that the consensus favors the latter end of the possibilities, though goodness knows how one makes sense of people’s statements when many of them are from court transcripts in a case where the defendant’s life was on the line.

I’m not going to get into discussing how Rykener identified. Rather I want to talk about how Lucy Allen, the author of that post, interrogated Ackroyd’s treatment of the case.

Allen begins by highlighting this comment by Ackroyd about Rykener:

Rykener called himself Eleanor, and dressed in women’s clothing. He would sometimes be a male for males, sometimes a female for males, sometimes a female for females … He enacted all these roles quite naturally, and was never thought of as being particularly adventurous.

The word that she takes exception to is “naturally”. Now certainly it is a mistake for anyone to use that word in connection with sexual behavior. The idea that cisnormative and heteronormative behavior is “natural” while anything queer is not has been rightly ripped to shreds on far more occasions that I can count. I would have been happy with a simple statement to that effect, but Allen goes on at some length.

Part of my concern is the language used to describe Rykener. We have: “conning men” and “lucrative deceptions”. It is, of course, entirely possible, that Rykener did think that they were deceiving their clients, but this sort of language is very dangerous. The idea that trans women are engaged in a massive deception aimed at cis men is the number one reason for trans women being murdered. If you are going to make such allegations then you should make sure you are certain that is what is going on, and note that deception is not the default mode of trans women.

The other issue is that Allen attempts to prove that Rykener’s behavior is not “natural” by showing that they had to learn it.

Specific women helped in the process, each experts in her trade: Anna, a ‘whore,’ and Elizabeth, whose surname ‘Brouderer’ denotes her profession of embroiderer or seamstress. Rykener’s citation of these women’s names may partly be an attempt to spread blame (Elizabeth Brouderer crops up elsewhere in the London court records, and her name might easily have elicited knowing nods from an audience). But it’s also a subtle way of reminding that audience of the artificiality of the performance of femininity. Rykener needed to learn to dress and act like a woman; he may have fooled men, but the women who worked with him were under no illusions whatsoever.

And later:

But, in attempting to naturalise ‘queer’ London, Ackroyd instead erases all traces of artificiality from the performance of femininity, naturalising a very different type of gender politics, in which women’s awareness of things men do not notice is simply overlooked.

What Allen appears to be saying here is that Rykener’s femininity was not “natural” because they had to learn it from women, and that Rykener could only learn it imperfectly, as opposed to women who don’t need to learn such things. In other words, she’s saying that for women femininity is “natural”, but for men it isn’t and that therefore trans women can never be women.

In practice, of course, transition is a process, a very long process. No one taught me to dress and behave as a woman. I learned most of it myself through reading teen girl magazines and through observation. When I started living as a woman I thought I had it pretty much sorted, but of course I didn’t and I learned a lot more from experience. Twenty-odd years later I don’t think much about it, I just do it. Whether I do it well or not rather depends on who is looking at me and whether they know I am trans.

What I do know is that I have friends whose performance of femininity is not the same as mine. Some of them are much more feminine, but others are much less so. There are some for whom we might say that being feminine “comes naturally”, and others for whom it doesn’t. We are not using “natural” here in a way that suggests that all women are biologically coded in their chromosomes to be feminine: to love pink, frilly dresses and the latest Hollywood heartthrob. Rather we are using “natural” in the same way as we might say that someone takes naturally to swimming, or speaking French, or mathematics. There may be some biology involved here, but if there is it is a more subtle, less well-understood biology than simple chromosomes, and it may be strongly influenced by upbringing.

What stands out to me about Rykener is that they appear to have been very comfortable wearing women’s clothing, adopting feminine mannerisms, and having sex with men while doing so. Most men would run a mile rather than do any of that. Rykener, therefore, is a person to whom femininity seems to have “come naturally”, despite the obvious social pressures in 14th Century England for people assigned male at birth to behave in a masculine fashion. That doesn’t prove where on that continuum from trans woman to drag queen Rykener might have fitted, but it does show that there was something about them that was radically different to the typical mediaeval man.

Posted in Gender, History | 10 Comments

The Nebulas Do Diversity

I was way too tired when I got home to stay up for the Nebula Awards announcements. However, they were there for me on Twitter when I woke up, and very fine they were too.

The Novel category was won by Charlie Jane Anders for All the Birds in the Sky. Charlie is the first openly trans person to win a Nebula. (Tiptree won a few, but her identity was very complicated, to herself as much as to anyone else.)

Novella was won by Seanan McGuire for Every Heart a Doorway, which features a great trans character. The new book from that world, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, is due out in June and I cannot wait.

Novelette was won by William Ledbetter for “The Long Fall Up”. I know nothing about the story, but its only fair that white men get to win things too.

Short Story went to Amal El-Mohtar for “Seasons of Glass and Iron” from The Starlit Wood. Nice to see a woman of color on the winners list.

Moving into the Not-A-Nebula categories, the Bradbury went to Arrival, which is based on a story by Asian-American writer, Ted Chiang.

And the Norton went to David Levine for Arabella of Mars whose central character spends much of the book cross-dressed. I kind of wish that David had mentioned the very obvious thing that a woman disguised as a man on a long space voyage would have to deal with, but I guess the book would not have been published as YA if he did. Anyway, it’s a fun book and I’m looking forward to the sequel which is out in July.

To wrap up, there were two Solstice Award winners this year. They were Toni Weisskopf and Peggy Rae Sapienza. Both have done great work over many years and deserve to be honored in this way.

Posted in Awards, Science Fiction | Comments Off on The Nebulas Do Diversity

Bath Celebrates Dylan, with CN Lester

After the Stonewall event yesterday I stayed on in Bath to see CN Lester in concert at the Forum. Technically this wasn’t a CN gig. They were just a part of an event celebrating the work of Bob Dylan, but seeing as I love Dylan too this wasn’t too much of a hardship.

The evening was a mixture of chat and music. It was hosted by Danny Kelly (former editor of the NME) and featured rock journalists, David Hepworth and Dorian Lynskey, both of whom have written extensively about Dylan. Most of their discussion was about Dylan the man, not Dylan the musician or political activist. Dylan certainly is a fascinating figure, being so reclusive that even musicians who have worked with him can’t always claim to have met him.

Kelly had three stories that illustrate this. Firstly, during the Travelling Wilbury’s project, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty were often left waiting for Dylan to turn up so that they could record. Lou Adler, whose kids were friendly with Dylan’s kids, never once met him despite frequent visits to Dylan’s home delivering and collecting children. Raquel Welch reported having dinner with Dylan in Los Angles. She’d dressed up to the nines because hey, date with Bob Dylan, but he wore a hoodie drawn so tight over his face that there was barely room to get the food into his mouth.

Much of this is doubtless because when you are Bob Dylan you have little choice but to protect yourself from the public. I know a few famous writers and understand a bit about fame, but people such as Neil Gaiman and George Martin have only a fraction of the public profile that Dylan has. Back when I was a kid people tended to see Dylan as a messiah.

We did eventually get on to Dylan’s art in the inevitable discussion about the Nobel Prize. Lynskey noted that while Leonard Cohen was a poet first and musician second, agonizing over every line that he wrote, Dylan is a songwriter who chooses words as much for the sound they make as for the literary beauty of his lines.

Of course there was also music. That side of the show was managed by Justin Adams who is rock guitarist. If I tell you that one of his current jobs is playing lead guitar for Robert Plant’s band you shouldn’t need telling just how good he is. He was joined by Sid Griffin, a bluegrass player who was able to throw some light on Dylan’s influences and was very amusing. Also taking part was a young vocalist called Hajar Woodland. She’s got a great voice, though her Dylan covers were very standard.

CN got to play two songs. They were “Just Like A Woman” and “One More Cup of Coffee”. If you are familiar with CN’s music you’ll know that these will have featured amazing vocals and a haunting piano accompaniment. Pleasingly CN also got to talk a bit about why they were there. Growing up with parents who share a love for Shakespeare and Dylan is a splendid sort of formative experience to have. Kelly did manage to use the right pronouns, though he seemed rather uncomfortable with it. I suspect that there were a few false steps backstage.

The headline musical act was Barb Jungr who is apparently famous for doing Dylan covers. Her style is more suited to show tunes than to rock or Angry Singer Songwriter. I loved her as a person. She has great stage presence, told good funny stories, and as a bonus burned with contempt for Trump. Sadly her covers didn’t work for me.

Firstly it seemed to me that the accompanying piano didn’t sound right. It worked perfectly for CN, whose piano sound is deep and sonorous, but not for the lighter, frothier arrangements that Barb had. I have no idea how to express that in musical terms. Obviously with a bunch of different musicians involved, and a one-off show with little time to rehearse, getting things like this right is difficult.

Second, Dylan songs are very much about the rhythm of the words. If you mess with that then the words lose their power. Its like reading a poem and breathing in all the wrong places. Related to that, the words have to be the focus. You can get as fancy as you like in the instrumental breaks, but not with the words, otherwise it becomes all about you and not all about the lyrics. Barb has a great voice, and clearly loved Dylan’s lyrics, but for me her interpretations rather pulled the teeth of the words.

I’ve been chatting to CN about the Dylan covers. Apparently there are no recordings of them. Having heard how good those two were, I’d like to see an entire album of CN Lester Dylan covers. I have ideas. Doubtless that will remain in my imagination. However, the new album, Come Home, will be available later this week. It includes a cover of Bowie’s “Heroes”, which I am very much looking forward to hearing.

All in all it was an enjoyable evening, but there were a couple of sour notes. Firstly CN’s new book, Trans Like Me, was supposed to be available at the gig. Kelly encouraged people to buy it, but it wasn’t there. Whether this was the fault of the publisher, the shippers, or Waterstones, isn’t clear, but I know I wasn’t the only person disappointed not to be able to buy a copy.

Also CN was mysteriously absent from the finale in which all of the other musicians got together to play a few well-loved Dylan songs. Where trans folks are involved you tend to fear the worst, and I was very worried for a while. Thankfully I was able to tweet CN and discovered that they had to rush back to London. Kelly really should have mentioned why CN was absent.

Still, I had a good time. I would have had a better time if I’d had a few younger people there with me. The band tried hard to get the audience to sing along and dance for the finale, but frankly many of the audience looked like they wouldn’t have done so even if they had been 16 rather than 60+. Bath: it is what it is.

Posted in Music | Comments Off on Bath Celebrates Dylan, with CN Lester

Stonewall Visits Bath

Yesterday I attended a workshop in Bath given by Stonewall. This was the first event in a new initiative aimed at helping build activism capacity outside of major cities. Given that it was a first event, some of the course probably needs a little tweaking, but nevertheless I was very pleased with the day.

The main thing we learned is how to actually construct a campaign that has focus, stands a chance of succeeding, and will result in beneficial change. This is important. Too many of the things that LGBT activists spend their time on, and I include myself in this, is poorly focused and ill-thought out. Given how tiring activism can be, good use of your time is important.

Of course this does mean that you need a willingness to build alliances and accept when you have made a mistake. The Stonewall team chose to illustrate the process using the Rainbow Laces campaign which challenges homophobia in soccer. Because they needed money and good contacts within the UK soccer establishment, Stonewall initially chose to partner with the betting company, Paddy Power. While this did get them off to a good start, it caused a number of problems. It meant that they were unable to work with schools on the campaign. And it got them a lot of bad press in certain quarters because of Paddy Power’s horribly transphobic advertising. The partnership with Paddy Power no longer exists, but the campaign has continued to go from strength to strength.

Interestingly, the Paddy Power advert that caused all of the trouble had been developed in partnership with the Beaumont Society. This was a classic example of a group of cross-dressers not understanding that what they were doing would be very damaging to trans women. Issues of community cohesion got quite a bit of airing in the workshop. Kudos here to the lad who raised the issue. It is good to see a gay man taking the lead on such things.

Of course the issue is very much in the spotlight right now thanks to the frankly appalling behavior of celebrity trans woman, India Willoughby, in attacking non-binary people. Thankfully Stonewall is very much on point these days and is solidly behind the non-binary community. Unfortunately, given Willoughby’s high media profile, many organizations that claim to work for the LGBT community will continue to pay her to represent trans people.

For me the biggest benefits of the day were the number of people who attended and the new contacts that I made. I think I counted 28 people at the workshop. They came from Cheltenham, and from small towns in Somerset and Wiltshire, as well as from Bath. They came from universities, local councils and the private sector as well as activist organizations such as the Diversity Trust and Bath Gender Equality Network. I have a long list of things to follow up. If Stonewall offers to do one of these workshops in your region I recommend that you go along.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gender | Comments Off on Stonewall Visits Bath

March Fringe

Thanks to some great work by Tom Parker are very close to being caught up on the Fringe audio. Here we have the March readings.

For March our readings went all creepy and horrific, starting with local writer, Steph Minns. She read a story of a man (probably) coming to a sticky end on the narrow country roads of Darkest Somerset. Did he deserve it? Listen and make your own decision. Steph does a great Gollum voice.

Our headline guest for March was Paul Cornell, who should need no introduction. Paul treated us to a preview of his latest novel, Chalk (due for publication the following day). He read two excerpts, one of which introduces us to the landscape of the novel, and the other featuring an innovate form of divination based on pop singles. The book is set in the 1980s and Pauls’ publishers, Tor, have put together a great YouTube playlist to go with the book.

Finally for March we have the traditional Q&A session with our readers. I ask Steph and Paul about the dangers of the West Country landscape, adultery, who was the cutest member of Duran Duran and many other things. Did you know that the West Country is as full of supernatural horrors as Lovecraft’s New England? Given that I was born there, probably yes.

Paul plugs the Fairford Festival of Fiction, which has an amazing guest list. Sarah McIntyre! Emma Newman! Daleks! Some guy called Moffat. Tickets are still available. The date is June 3rd.

The April readings (including part of my Amazons in Space story) have been edited. I’ll post them for you next week.

Posted in Podcasts, Readings, Science Fiction | 1 Comment

A Word on Monitoring

I’ve seen a couple of organizations recently make a fairly bad mistake on their demographic monitoring in surveys. (One has apologized profusely and is fixing it, the other I haven’t had a chance to talk to yet). As this is clearly something people are confused about I thought it might be useful to write something.

The mistake that people make is to have a “gender” question with the options: male/female/trans.

This is going to get you bad data. Large numbers of binary-identified trans people (myself included) will opt for either male or female, so you will miss counting them.

Many non-binary people, for a variety of reasons, do not identify as trans, so they’ll probably get angry about being erased.

And binary-identified trans people will be angry too, because by phrasing the question in that way you are suggesting that we can never be accepted as male or female.

Phrasing the question in that way, therefore, gets you bad data and a whole lot of angry people.

The thing to remember is that being trans is not a gender. Being trans is a condition of not identifying with the gender you were assigned at birth. So giving gender options of male/female/trans is a bit like asking whether your food is meat, vegetable or cooked. That confuses categories with a process, which makes no sense.

Before anyone starts, I do not recommend having 71 different options for gender. The trouble with trying to include every option is that you will inevitably leave out some that you have not heard of. The more options that are available, the more hurtful it is for those who are left out.

A good starting point is to use: male/female/non-binary. That way at least all of the things you are comparing are genders of a sort. Non-binary is, of course, an umbrella term encompassing many genders, so it is useful to have a text box that people can write in. It is generally helpful to have options for Other and Prefer Not To Say.

If you want to get a sense of the size of the trans population responding to your survey you should ask a supplementary question of: Is your gender the same as you were assigned at birth? (Again with a Prefer Not To Say option.)

This isn’t rocket science. Plenty of people get it right, and plenty of organizations give this advice. The fact that so many people still get it wrong shows just how many people still get their information about trans people from the mass media rather than anyone who knows what they are talking about and wants to give you a good answer.

Posted in Gender | 3 Comments

The D Franklin Defying Doomsday Award

I’m a bit late on this one, but the lovely people at Twelfth Planet Press have launched an award for disability advocacy in SFF literature. The award is named after D Franklin whose support for the Defying Doomsday anthology made the award possible. I think that makes it the first SFF award named after a self-identified trans person (the qualifier being because we already have the Tiptree, and frankly Heinlein sets off my trandar).

The award is worth $200 each year. I’m assuming that’s Australian dollars because TPP is based in Australia. The jury for the first year will be Tsana Dolichva, Holly Kench and Alisa Krasnostein. For more information, including a link to a form to nominate 2016 works, go ye here.

This sounds like an excellent initiative, and well done D!

Posted in Awards, Science Fiction | Comments Off on The D Franklin Defying Doomsday Award

Promoting the Trans Mindline – Me on TV

Time for a good laugh, folks. Here’s me on Made in Bristol TV doing my best to help promote the Trans Mindline set up by the lovely people at Bristol MIND. Just look at some of those facial expressions. Clearly I find thinking very painful. Thankfully I loosened up a lot later on. My thanks to Steve LeFevre for making the experience relatively painless.

I wrote quite a bit about the experience and the issues discussed here. I guess I should also comment on today’s nonsense about gender-neutral school uniforms. Despite what you might have heard on TV, or in social media, having a gender-neutral uniform does not mean forcing all children to abandon gender. It means allowing all children to have the same choice of clothing. That means that girls are not forced to wear skirts if they don’t want to, and boy can choose to wear skirts if that’s what they prefer. This makes space for non-binary people, but also means that binary-identified trans people can wear the clothing they feel most comfortable in without fear of being punished for flouting uniform regulations.

Posted in Gender, TV | Comments Off on Promoting the Trans Mindline – Me on TV

February Fringe

This evening I will be off to Bristol for the May Fringe event featuring Emma Newman and Piotr Świetlik. Emma will be reading from her Clarke Award finalist novel, After Atlas, which is a fabulous book.

For those of you who can’t be there, I have the podcasts from February available. Sadly the audio quality is not great. I’m still learning the new venue. It is great to not have any background noise, but the speakers are up on the wall so it is hard to get a recording that focuses on the speaker rather than anything else going on in the room. Hopefully we’ll be getting some new tech soon that will allow us to record direct from the sound system.

Anyway, with profuse apologies to our readers for the poor quality, here’s what we have for you from February.

First up there is Gareth L. Powell. He read the whole of his short story, “Entropic Angel”, which is also the title of his new short fiction collection. It isn’t quite as sweary as an Ack-Ack Macaque book, but it does still get an explicit tag. Some of you may remember that the story was initially published by Wizard’s Tower Press in the anthology, Dark Spires.

Our second reader for February is another well-known local name, Pete Sutton. He read to us from his debut novel, Sick City Syndrome. It is more supernatural thriller than anything else (it has ghosts), but Pete managed to find a fairly science fictional bit to read for us.

Finally for February we had the Q&A. Gareth tells us more about what’s in the the short story collection, and Pete tells us more about what you can expect from his novel. We discover how “Entropic Angel” was inspired by pigeon poo, and we discuss whether science fiction is a better way of understanding the world today than so-called “realist” fiction.

Tom and I are managing to get caught up on the audio. Hopefully we’ll have March (with Paul Cornell) up soon. I have an incentive, because April is the open mic and therefore has me in it.

Posted in Podcasts, Readings, Science Fiction | Comments Off on February Fringe

Got Manifesto? WE Have

It is general election time in the UK. That’s means that parties have to produce manifestos. The Labour one was leaked in draft form yesterday, because Labour MPs can’t resist any opportunity to fight each other in public. The Conservatives haven’t issued one yet, presumably for the same reason that Theresa May is hiding from the public: they don’t want anyone to know what they plan to do. The only thing that the Tories think is important enough to want to announce in advance is that they want to scrap the ban on fox hunting. I think that tells you all you need to know about their priorities.

Today the Women’s Equality Party issued their manifesto. HQ came up with a great PR wheeze too. One of the core principles of the party is that WE want to put ourselves out of business. If the other parties were to care as much about women voters as they do about men there would be no need for a Women’s Equality Party. So our policy director, Halla, took copies of our manifesto around to the other major parties and invited them to steal the contents for their own manifestos. The LibDems and the Greens said thank you very much. Even UKIP, sorry, I mean the Conservatives who just happen to have policies to the right of UKIP these days, said thank you very much. Labour refused to accept their copy, because they can’t resist an opportunity for a PR disaster when one comes calling.

You can find our manifesto, and a brief summary of key points, on the WEP website. I just want to quote one small part of it. This is from page 3, where WE define who WE are:

Our policies aim to recognise and address the fact that many women experience additional inequalities due to the intersections of socio-economic status, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disability, immigration status and gender identity. WE also recognise that the binary words “woman” and “man” do not reflect the gender experience of everyone, and support the right of all to define their sex or gender or to reject gendered divisions as they choose.

I note that I had nothing to do with crafting that, other than giving workshops at Conference last year and chatting to part leaders while I was there.

There are, inevitably, a few bits of the manifesto that I would like to be slightly different. That’s inevitable. One of the things that many online activists don’t seem to understand is that if you want a political party to agree 100% with your views on all subjects then you will end up in a party with just one member. People refusing to vote for left-ish candidates because they are not ideologically pure enough is one of the things that has got us into the current mess we are in. (Lack of proportional representation is another major issue, but that’s a whole different blog post.)

On the other hand, by stating that WE are trans-inclusive from the start, WE don’t need to hedge about statements later on. All statements about gender equality automatically accept trans women as women, and include more than two genders. So well done whoever wrote the manifesto on that score.

The manifesto doesn’t make any explicit promises with regard to trans-related legislation. However, Labour, the LibDems and the Greens are all on board with that, and with only 7 candidates WE are not going to be forming a government. I’m sure our MPs will support such initiatives when they are brought forward, because the core philosophy of WEP is that equality is better for everyone. That means WE are beholden to support new equality legislation.

Posted in Current Affairs, Feminism, Gender | Comments Off on Got Manifesto? WE Have

Me on TV – The Post Mortem

Yesterday evening I did the TV thing for Steve LeFevre’s Crunch the Week show on Made in Bristol TV. I had a lot of fun. My colleague, Liz Sorapure, from Bristol MIND, was having her first TV experience so she was rather less relaxed about things, but I thought she did very well. As for me, I have now done the Watch of Shame to see how I actually did.

Had the interview been on radio I would have been very happy. Some trans people will doubtless be unhappy with some of Steve’s questions, but that’s his job. I’m happy to be tested with that sort of stuff in a relatively friendly environment. I’ll talk more about the content later, but this is TV we are talking about so I need to consider what I got wrong.

First up, I need to smile more. I clearly have a habit of frowning when thinking. This is very bad on TV. I look much better when I smile. I need to do more if it. Second, I need to lose weight. I’m not that overweight, but on TV you are almost always interviewed sitting down, and often without the benefit of a desk to hide behind. Sitting down makes you look much fatter than standing up. Not that there is anything wrong with being overweight, but people do judge, and if you want to make a good impression on TV you have to look good. It is hard enough making the case for being trans without having to make the case for weight not mattering as well.

The other thing I need to do well on TV is facial surgery. Lots of it. But I’m not going to be wasting any money on that at my age.

Now back to the content. One of the things that Steve brought up was a news story about Northamptonshire Police adopting unisex baseball caps rather than gendered headgear for their officers. Their press release spun this as being to attract trans people as officers. I call bullshit. I think they just said that to get a bit of publicity. There are plenty of good reasons for have simple, gender-neutral uniforms, including fairness to female staff and cost reduction. As my pal Bailey from Gloucestershire Police pointed out on Twitter this morning, regulations governing how female officers may style their hair are a real problem for trans-feminine officers. Far more so, I suspect, that the sort of hats they wear.

The most interesting thing about the story was unfortunately ruined by the headline ticker at the bottom of the screen. Steve had carefully positioned a copy of the Daily Malice so that an overhead camera could see the story, but the ticker obscured the associated cartoon. That’s a shame because it showed a policeman with a large trans symbol on top of his helmet. That’s the combination alchemical symbol thing. If you don’t know what I mean, that proves my point. When Berkeley and I do training we recommend use of the symbol to signal inclusivity to trans people, but warn that most cis people won’t recognize it. The Malice‘s cartoonist has clearly made a study of trans culture, and doesn’t consider that symbol to be obscure.

The other thing worth commenting on is the confusion Steve got into regarding sex and gender. That’s not his fault. The two terms are not well defined, and Cordelia Fine spends some time on the resulting muddiness of discourse in Testosterone Rex. I tried to clear it up with reference to a distinction between biology and social construction, but that’s complicated by a number of factors that I didn’t have time to explain.

First up, despite what lots of people seem to think is a “scientific fact”, there are more than two sexes. That’s because there are several different biological factors that go into gendering the human body. They all have to line up to produce someone who is 100% male or 100% female. Often they don’t. Between 1% and 2% of the human population has a recognized intersex condition. That’s about the same frequency as red hair.

As far as I know, I didn’t have an intersex condition at birth. Nevertheless, I do exhibit classic transsexual symptoms. That is, I know I’m female, but my body was apparently 100% male at birth. Now it is, of course, a complex mixture of male and female features. The fact that trans people like me can’t be “cured”, that they are apparently “born this way”, hints at a biological origin, but one (or more likely several) that has thus far eluded medical science.

Whether there is a biological cause is largely irrelevant. What’s important from a medical standpoint is that trans people tend to be very unhappy pre-transition, and much happier afterward.

How we express our identities after transition is, however, culturally contextual. That is, how you choose to express yourself as a woman (or any other gender) will be influenced by the social attitudes towards femininity that you experienced growing up. Evidence from vastly different cultures suggests that social conditioning doesn’t affect whether you will be trans, but it does affect how you express your gender.

And, because so much of gender is socially constructed, people are free to express their gender in new and inventive ways. They can also invent new names for genders, and sometimes those new names will overlap and be generation-specific (think “cross-dresser” and “gender fluid” for example, which have a lot in common).

Alongside this you have a drive toward gender equity. For women to be truly equal to men they mustn’t be forced into gendered behaviors that restrict their ability to function in society and compete on an even footing with men. Equally a reduction in forms of gendered presentation and expression will reduce the ideas that men and women are somehow fundamentally different and unequal. There’s nothing in (sensible) feminism that says women can’t express themselves in a feminine manner. It just says that it should not be obligatory, and does not define what it means to be a woman.

Because of all this complexity, there are many different ways to be trans.

  • You could be a classic binary-identified medical transitioner like me
  • You could be a non-binary person who wants some medical treatment, but not the whole package
  • You could be a non-binary person who only wants to transition socially
  • You could be a binary-identified person who only wants to transition socially
  • You could be an intersex person who was forcibly transitioned in childhood and wants to get back to a gender you are comfortable with
  • And doubtless many other things that I haven’t thought of

Hopefully this explains how we can have 70+ different categories of gender and have a move towards gender neutrality at the same time.

Posted in Gender, TV | Comments Off on Me on TV – The Post Mortem

On TV Tonight

This week is Mental Heath Awareness Week in the UK. Because of this the nice folks at Bristol MIND have been asked to be on local TV to talk about their new trans+ helpline. The TV people wanted an actual trans person to talk to, and as I had done all of the training for the helpline volunteers I got asked.

I will be on the Crunch the Week show with Steve LeFevre from 7:00pm tonight, along with Liz Sorapure of Bristol MIND. We are apparently the first item on. Made in Bristol TV is available on cable throughout the South West so you don’t have to be living in Bristol to watch, though you do need something like Sky.

Posted in Gender, TV, Where's Cheryl? | Comments Off on On TV Tonight

Yesterday on Ujima – Cricket, Music, Blood & Activism

I was in the Ujima studio again yesterday to do another Women’s Outlook show. Here’s what went down.

My first guest was Lisa Pagett who is Head of Women’s Cricket for Gloucestershire County Cricket Club and also General Manager of the Western Storm, out local women’s T20 franchise. Lisa was there mainly to preview the Women’s World Cup, which will see 15 matches in the South West, split between Bristol and Taunton. Bristol has the England-Australia and England-West Indies games, both of which I intend to be at. (Tickets are only £10, available here.) We also looked forward to the Storm’s campaign in this year’s Kia Super League, and talked more generally about getting women and girls involved in cricket.

Next up I had some live music in the studio. I was joined by saxophonist Sabrina De Mitri and guitarist Paul John Bailey who have a gig coming up supporting Jon Gomme at the Hall soon to be Formerly Known as Colston. They played live for me in the studio. Huge thanks to Ben, my engineer, for keeping on top of the tech for that.

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

The second hour began with Shai from No More Taboo, the menstrual health charity. We talked a bit about some of the issues surrounding period poverty in Bristol, and what No More Taboo is doing to tackle them. We also discussed what we would like to see prospective MPs commit to so we can get some action on this in Parliament. When I first talked to Chloe Tingle when she set up No More Taboo girls unable to go to school because they can’t afford sanitary products was problem in poor countries elsewhere in the world. That it has become an issue in the UK is evidence of just how badly the austerity policies of the current government have impacted British women.

My final guests were Deborah from Co-Resist and Joe from Solar Nest. Co-Resist is an organisation that does activism through art and public engagement, while Solar Nest is a start-up business based at the University of the West of England that aims to build more sustainable and affordable housing. Deborah is managing a public engagement event for the students so that they can get feedback from the people of Bristol as to what they want from such an initiative. She also has some other projects we talk about.

Obviously I’m interested in Solar Nest from an energy and environment standpoint, but the most significant part of this interview was when Joe commented that students today have no hope of ever being able to afford their own home, especially in somewhere like Bristol.

Oh, and Deborah assures us all that clowns are not scary, not one little bit, promise.

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

The playlist for the show (excluding the songs that Sabrina and Paul played live) was as follows:

  • Boney M – Dreadlock Holiday
  • David Rudder – Rally Round the West Indies
  • Lianne la Havas – Tokyo
  • Parliament – Children of Productions
  • Pretenders – Sense of Purpose
  • Parliament – Mothership Connection

If you are wondering about the predominance of Parliament, it is because George Clinton & co. are playing Bristol on Monday and I can’t go because I have a previous engagement to host BristolCon Fringe starring the fabulous Clarke Award finalist, Emma Newman.

Posted in Cricket, Environment, Feminism, Music, Radio | Comments Off on Yesterday on Ujima – Cricket, Music, Blood & Activism

China in Bristol

On Friday evening China Miéville was in Bristol to promote his newly published history of the Russian revolution, October. Naturally I, and many of the Bristol SF crowd, where there to see him, even though he barely mentioned SF.

Despite his background in academia (he has a PhD in Marxist theory of international law from LSE), China has written this book using his novelist brain. There are, he says, no footnotes. This sounds like a smart move. Popular history, that is history made accessible to the general public, sells very well. Also, by focusing on people and events, China will hopefully dispel the fear that his book might be full of Marxist theology, debating which comrades have the right to dance on the head of a pin and which should be executed as traitors. While some description of the disputes and demarcation lines between the various factions that created the revolution is inevitable, I trust China not to make this a work of hagiography or demonology.

One of the reasons that China gave for taking this approach is that he has a truly remarkable story to tell. Indeed, he joked that if it he had presented the plot as a novel he might have been told by his editors that it was too fantastic, even for him. Personally I am not surprised that the revolution was kickstarted by a women’s strike. After all, the French revolution was kickstarted by the women’s march on Versailles, and the Stonewall riot was begun by trans women. When it comes down to actual revolution, as opposed to just talking about it, it is always those who have nothing to lose who throw the first stone. However, some of the stories that China has found in the letters from revolutionary soldiers to the party leadership sound really interesting. I wish I had time to read the book, but of course I have a huge pile of Tiptree reading to get through.

Despite our politics often being seemingly poles apart, China and I tend to find ourselves agreeing on quite a lot. He made a point during the talk of distinguishing between those liberals who actually adhere to the principles of Liberalism (“a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality” according to Wikipedia) and those who simply support the instruments of the so-called Liberal state. He also thinks a lot about his politics. One of the questions he was asked was whether he thought it was inevitable that the revolutionaries resorted to terror tactics. His lengthy answer covered the fact that the Whites used terror tactics too, that in such situations terror may well have been inevitable, and that this doesn’t mean we should glorify it. I might have added that the original suffragettes did a lot of things that would be counted as terrorism today.

China’s view of the success and failure of the revolution appears to be (on a very simplistic level which I am sure is addressed much more deeply in the book) one of Lenin v Stalin, and in particular Stalin’s disavowal of the project of internationalism in favor of building a Communist state in Russia. You can read more about his views, both on that and on why the story of the Russian revolution is still relevant today, in this Guardian article.

On Friday he also talked about the tension between those who feel that revolution is necessary, and those who prefer to work within the establishment for what they presumably hope will be a more peaceful transfer of power. That reminded me a lot of Ruth Hunt’s comments on Wednesday about how the previous regime at Stonewall adopted an assimilationist approach to LGBT rights, emphasizing that gays were people “just like anyone else” and eschewing anything deemed too outré (such as trans people). China, of course, is a revolutionary by inclination, and these days who is to say that he is wrong? I certainly accept his point that “revolutions always eat their children” is a trite and simplistic slogan, not a natural law. On the other hand, the more chaos a revolution generates, the easier it may be for someone to sell the need for Strong and Stable Leadership.

I note in passing that internationalism is a core belief of the pro-EU movement in Britain today, and that some of the Labour support for Brexit appears to be based on the idea that revolution will be much easier to achieve in a small and isolated country than in the EU.

Politics can be really complicated.

It occurs to me, however, that most of you didn’t want me to talk about politics, you wanted to know if China has any fiction in the pipeline.

Before I get to that, there was brief discussion of his fiction during the evening. His interviewer asked whether there was any connection between his interest in fantastic fiction and his politics. China very wisely pointed that while he might be in the part of a Venn diagram that overlaps those two obsessions, the two circles are by no means congruent. Beyond that he would not commit, so allow me to propose a thesis.

Science fiction is often, though by no means always, about future history. The philosophical project of SF is to examine technological change (and other factors such as alien contact) and examine how that might change the world. Fantasy is often used to examine social issues through a framework of an alternate world (Juliet McKenna being a good example of this). Both of these things are of obvious interest to historians. And politics is, at least in part, the art of applying historical knowledge about how human societies work to try to create a better future.

As to new books, China told me that he does have a novel he is working on. However, October has eaten up two years of his life, and now he is on a book tour. He needs all of that to be over before he can get back to being a fiction writer again.

There wasn’t a lot of time to chat after the event because China had to catch a train back to London. He was, of all things, appearing at Blackwells in Oxford the following night. (That would be the bookstore with the famously pro-UKIP owners.) However, we did manage a brief catch-up. China, if you are reading this, I have checked out your pal and have read this. It seems pretty good despite the potentially incendiary headline, but he does need to think about trans identities outside of the modern Western cultural bubble.

Posted in Books, Current Affairs, History | Comments Off on China in Bristol

Queer Art at the Tate


The Queer British Art exhibition at Tate Britain is a major undertaking and something I am very pleased to have seen. I’m by no means an art expert, so this is very much an amateur review, but hopefully you’ll find it useful.

One of my main reasons for wanting to go is that the exhibition features several pieces by Simeon Solomon. They are very fine, but the thing you see as you go in is another work by an unfairly ignored Pre-Raphaelite artist Evelyn De Morgan. The image above (which has rather poor color rendering – sorry) is “Aurora Triumphans” and represents Dawn escaping the bounds of sleep. Which is all very interesting except that the model for Aurora was a woman who was believed to have been De Morgan’s lover, and who she was fond of painting tied up.

The collection includes a number of well-known pieces including Charles Buchel’s portrait of Radclyffe Hall and William Strang’s portrait of Vita Sackville-West. There are also several Aubrey Beardsley pieces, for those of you who like priapic art. (Personally I love Beardsley’s style, but the prevalence of giant penises is a bit much after a while.)

Another of my favorite pieces (though not so much for the quality of the art) is this one by Walter Crane. It is titled “The Renaissance of Venus” and it looks like a fairly standard mythological picture. It only becomes obviously queer when you know that the model for Venus was a young man called Alessandro de Marco. Crane’s excuse was that his wife would not allow him to use nude women as models, so he had to use men instead. Yeah, right.

Which brings me to the whole vexed question of trans inclusion. In my post on the Claude Cahun exhibition Andrew Butler mentions a feedback card that accuses the exhibition of not having any trans representation. Frankly I think that’s ridiculous.

To start with there is much trans imagery on show. There’s the issue of Picture Post with Roberta Cowell’s coming out story in it. There is a famous photo of Fanny and Stella (which is much sharper in real life than any of the digital versions I have seen). And there are some fascinating photos by John Deakin. One of them is from a series called “drag” which was once thought to be of drag queens but has since been discovered to be of women dressed as drag queens. Another is of a person known only as “Colin”. The originals are in the Getty Archive (e.g. this one) where they are labeled as being of a drag artist, but the Tate notes that we don’t know who Colin was, or how they identified.

There is also a very strange Hockney piece titled “Bertha alias Bernie” which could be seen as representing a trans identity emerging from the original body of the subject.

The curators have made a point of getting trans input on the show. There are cards giving input from people such as Juno Roche and Sabah Choudrey.

It is true that there are no binary trans artists exhibited. The show covers the period 1861-1967, a period in which male homosexuality was illegal in the UK. This was not a time when anyone who was openly and obviously trans was likely to become a famous artist, so I’m not entirely surprised at the absence. But there are at least two artists who identified openly as non-binary. One is Cahun, who is included because they lived in Jersey. The other is Gluck who is the face of the exhibition. Just look at this and try to tell me that this is not a trans person of some sort.

Gluck was assigned female at birth but eschewed that identity. They famously insisted on being known only as Gluck, with no prefixes or suffixes. Anyone who dared refer to them as “Miss Gluck” would be on the receiving end of a mighty strop. Being non-binary is not a new invention. There were people who were proudly non-binary at the beginning of the 20th Century.

There are two pieces by Gluck in the show. The other is “Lilac and Guelder Rose”, a painting of a flower arrangement. This was one of the paintings done for Gluck’s sometime girlfriend, Constance Spry, who was then the official flower arranger for the royal family. I’ve seen lots of pictures of it online, but none of them can capture the remarkable texture of the real thing. Gluck built up layers of paint to make each leaf and petal stand out physically from the canvass.

The painting is displayed in Gluck’s trademark frame style, which is supposed to be painted the same color as the background wall. It’s a shame that the Tate was unable to do that.

Where I will fault the exhibition is on deadnaming. Gluck and Cahun both have their birth names paraded as their “real” identities. I don’t think either of them would be happy about this.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the exhibition. I’m certainly glad I went. My thanks to Clare Barlow and her team for putting it on.

While I was there I had a look around the rest of Tate Britain. As an art gallery it is a bit limited by being devoted to British art. There’s quite a bit of Pre-Raphaelite material in there, but frankly most of them weren’t very good. Solomon was perhaps the best of them, and they treated him abominably when he was arrested for sodomy. De Morgan was also good, but she was a woman and has been passed over because of that. The best Tate Britain can do is John William Waterhouse’s “The Lady of Shalott”. Personally I much prefer Frank Dicksee’s “La Belle Dame San Merci” which is in Bristol Museum.

What Tate Britain does have is a huge Turner collection. If you have any affinity for the sea you should go take a look. Currently they also have a small William Blake exhibition which I also very much enjoyed. Alongside the Queer Art exhibition they have one devoted solely to David Hockney. I didn’t see that because you needed to book in advance to get in, but I presume it will be rather good. It is a shame, however, that so little of Hockney’s obviously homoerotic art found its way into the Queer Art show.

Posted in Art, Feminism, Gender | 3 Comments

Ruth Hunt Audio

The Bristol University folks have been very efficient in getting the audio from the Ruth Hunt lecture online. You can listen to it here (MP3).

Posted in Feminism, Gender, Religion | Comments Off on Ruth Hunt Audio