The fabulous Gigi from A New Normal asked me if I would mind doing a little chat for LGBT+ History Month. I suggested maybe a bit of a teaser to encourage people to attend my M Shed talk on cross-dressing in the theatre. So we did. Now it is online and you can watch it below.
And if that sparked your interest you can catch the whole talk here. It is on February 24th, and it starts at 7:00pm so it is convenient for some of you folks across the Pond too.
Last week I recorded an an interview with my Radical Feminist pal, Finn Mackay. Finn has written a book with the intriguing title of Female Masculinities and the Gender Wars. The lovely people at Bristol Ideas wanted to do a feature on it, and I got asked to host.
Finn and I talked about an awful lot of stuff. It is an absolute delight to be able to have a deep and nuanced conversation about feminism and gender without some idiot fauxminist yelling “Penis!” at us. Hopefully the conversation will be illuminating for people who have hitherto only been exposed to the nonsense in the media.
If you would like to take a listen, you can do so here.
I have just been listening to Guy Gavriel Kay give this year’s JRR Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature. It was, as with every lecture that Guy gives, very amusing, and well worth listening to.
The topic that Guy settled on for the evening was that of how much light an author should shed upon the workings of magic in their books. Guy, of course, is famously reticent in such matters and, while he defends the right of others to write as they wish, he nevertheless wishes to advocate for his own approach. He loves to leave things to the imagination, to make, as he said, his books a dialogue with the reader, and not just a monologue by the author.
The entire lecture is available to watch on repeat on YouTube. Here it is.
Personally I am a big fan of ambiguity. One of the examples Guy used is probably my favourite scene from any of his books, that alarming encouter with a force beyond the ken of mortal men on a country road in Sailing for Sarantium.
I also like ambiguous endings, and to show that they have a place in fiction, and perhaps as a gift to Guy if I might be so bold, here is an example. It is taken, not from modern fantasy fiction, but from the work of the 16th Century playwright, John Lyly, a man much beloved of the sort of gender-bending that Shakespeare would later use, much toned down, in his own comedies.
The plot of Gallathea tells of a village that has offended Neptune and, to avoid destruction, must offer up its fairest maiden every five years to the god of the sea. As the fateful day arrives, the fathers of the two most obvious candidates disguise their daughters as boys and send them off into the woods to hide.
Both girls, Gallathea and Phyllida, are very frightened, and nervous that their disguise might be insufficient. Both are therefore delighted to meet a handsome young man from whom, they hope, they can learn how to behave as a man should. Before long, both girls are deeply in love with each other.
Woods being woods, the gods are about. Diana is hunting, and Cupid is looking for mischief to make. Seeing what has happened with our heroines, Cupid decides to make Diana’s nymphs fall in love with the “boys” too. The nymphs, of course, are supposed to remain virgins, so Diana is furious, and she summons Venus to put things right. Eventually all is revealed, and even cruel Neptune is mollified.
There remains the question of our two lovers. “How like you this, Venus?” asks Neptune.
“I like well and allow it,” she replies, “they shall both be possessed of their wishes, for never shall it be said that Nature or Fortune shall overthrow Love.”
She does, however, offer to change one or other of the girls into a boy, that they might be married. The girls’ fathers immediately start arguing over who shall lose a daughter and who gain a son. Seeing a problem, Venus suggests that the girls need not decide until such time as they present themselves at a church door. Her solution is acceptable to all and there, save for the resolution of a subplot, and an epilogue about the need for ladies to surrender to love, our story ends.
Who becomes a boy? Is it Gallathea? Is it Phyllida? Or do they choose to both remain female and eschew the strictures of heteronormativity? We are not told, and nor should it matter. As Venus knows well, all that is important is that Love shall conquer all.
I should add that the play was first performed in front of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, on New Year’s Day, 1585. No one lost their head, and therefore we can perhaps infer that the Queen was as well pleased as Venus with the ending.
If you would like to know more about John Lyly and his amazingly queer writing, you can do so via this fine podcast.
Well, that’s over for another year. History Month is great fun, but exhausting.
A lot of people have been asking about recordings of my talks. There aren’t any. There are two reasons for this. The first is copyright. If you are giving a talk to a small audience then it is generally OK to use images that are of uncertain provenance. If you make something available for free online that’s very different, especially for places like museums and heritage properties. So we err on the side of caution.
Reason two is the transphobia that is rampant in the UK these days. At least one of the events I was involved with this year had people try to shut it down. A recording that is freely available online is a magnet for anti-trans trolls, and I’m not surprised that organisations don’t want to have to deal with that.
However, if you missed everything, then there is one recording that you can watch. The lovely people at A New Normal wanted to do an interview with me, so I sat down with Theo, their social media guru, and we recorded this.
There is one more video yet to come. Dan Vo has been doing some work with National Galleries Scotland on their Ray Harryhausen exhibition. There will be three videos, but there’s a lot of editing to be done and currently only the one with John Johnston is online. He’s talking fairly generally about Harryhausen, including the Sinbad films and Jason and the Argonauts. It is worth a watch.
My film (assuming that Dan can find something useable in the material we recorded) will be about Medusa, who is totally a feminist icon (and possibly a trans one too).
Finally while I am here, the Call for Papers for next year’s Historical Fictions Research Network conference is available. The theme is Communities, and we very much hope to be in person in London. Full details here.
In September Maria Turtschaninoff and I were supposed to be guests at Imagining Alternatives, an academic conference in Augsburg, Germany. The event had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, but the organisers have been busy putting stuff online. Last week Maria and I recorded an interview with Dr. Sabrina Mittermeier. The conversation was pretty wide-ranging, but if there’s one thing I said that I want to highlight it is this: if you like the books of Ursula K Le Guin then you should check out Maria’s work as well, because I think you will like it. See here for some reviews.
Here’s the final video in the travelogue series that Kevin and I have been doing for the One25 fundraiser. In this one Kevin climbs the Eiffel Tower. I miss meeting Diana Prince but do find that lesbian-owned bookstore. And I visit the Home of Comics.
Here we are folks, the final stage on my virtual world tour. France, of course, is famous for its food. In this video I have breakfast and lunch. The latter includes far more cheese than is entirely sane, and a plate of escargots. Enjoy!
In case you were wondering, I did eat all of the snails. So much garlicky goodness.
As always, if you have enjoyed these videos, please donate to help One25. Every little helps. I’m only on 68% and today is the final day of the challenge.
A quick break from the fundraising here because over lunch I had the opportunity to listen to the Tolkien Symposium, the online event that replaced this year’s Tolkien Lecture. A fine job was done by all. You can listen here.
Author Nalo Hopkinson was born in the Caribbean but spent much of her life in Toronto. Weather-wise it was a huge shock, but she still loves Canada’s largest city. Here we talk about ethnnic diversity and tourism opportunities. I make a geographical error of such magnitude that I had to leave it in so you could all laugh at it.
It is time for another Cheryl & Kevin Go To video. This time we are in Finland. There’s quite a bit of history so we get nefarious Russians, nefarious Swedes, and inevitably the nefarious British. There are also Moomins, Lenin, and of course sauna.
Hello, and welcome to Virtual Finland. I’ve had a busy morning in the kitchen. You can see the results in this video.
The recipe that I used for the Karelian Pies is this one. I’m not hugely impressed with it. There seemed to be rather too much filling for the amount of pastry. But I did have to improvise quite a bit along the way.
In the video I promised you some photos. Here are the Karelian Pies:
And here is the cream tea with cloudberry jam:
For the benefit of folks from Devon and Cornwall who care passionately about such things, I put the cream on first because the cloudberry jam is a lot more liquid than a traditional English jam, and if you put the jam on first the cream will just slide straight off.
A quick break from Virtual Italy to note that there’s another charity campaign going on today. Queer Britain is a wonderful project that aims to create an actual bricks & mortar exhibition of LGBT+ life in the UK. Today my friend Dan Vo is running an awareness campaign on Twitter and is asking people to find t-shirts and fliers that relate to queer history and post about them. He’s also interviewing a whole bunch of fabulous people. I have rather a lot of material, so I decided to channel my inner Dan and make a video. This covers a lot of my work with OutStories Bristol, how I got involved in doing LGBT History Month Events (sorry Sue, you are stuck with me now), and a little bit about the tragedy of the UK’s lost trans history archives. The latter is an excellent example of why Queer Britain is so badly needed. There’s also a little bit of science fiction in there.
For my contribution to #MuseumFromHome I decided to talk about a particularly wonderful museum object that I travelled all the way to Vienna to see. It looks small and uninteresting, but it has a huge amount to say about Roman religion. My apologies for the crappy video. I am an audio person at heart and totally useless when it comes to pictures.
I forgot to do a post yesterday, didn’t I. Not that I had a huge amount to report. I was busy.
Today has been much of the same. I have recorded an interview, made a Museum From Home video, and done some Day Job work.
Video editing is hell. So is being in a video. I am so not television material.
Today’s big news, other than Bozo claiming that over 40,000 people dead was a great success on his part, is that doctors in the US have had an idea as to how to help male patients survive the virus. They are going to try dosing them with oestrogen.
This isn’t quite as mad as it sounds. We’ve known for some time that mortality is higher among men than women. This has led to the anti-trans brigade on social media crowing that C-19 is a Y Chromosome Plague that will somehow wipe out all trans women because we are “really men”.
Now there are reasons why having XX chromosomes is good for your health. Having two Xs is a backup strategy. If a gene on one chromosome has an unhelpful mutation, the chances are that you’ve got a correct version on the other. This makes XX people somewhat more disease resistant than XY people. But equally oestrogen is good at helping your immune system and doctors in China have speculated that it might help protect against C-19. It is also possible that it is testosterone weaking the immune system that is the issue. This paper suggests that might be the case (thanks to Julia Serano for the link).
So there’s a whole bunch of different biological reasons why XY people might be more susceptible to C-19 than XX people, and that’s without starting on gender-based issues such as men being more likely to be heavy smokers, work in high-stress occupations, spend more time on crowded communter trains, and so on. But this is a crisis, and we should try everything. Maybe the estrogen trials will work.
Some people on social media have been worrying that if the trials do work then there will be an even worse shortage of estrogen than there is now. That’s certainly likely, though it is easy to make and the recent shortage in the UK was caused mainly by government stupidity rather than a real shortage.
Of course if oestrogen does turn out to be an effective treatment then the anti-trans brigade will start yelling for all trans women to be arrested because we are using valuable medicine that is needed by their menfolk. And despite having spent years complaining that hormone treatment for trans women is untested and dangerous, they will want immediate deployment of it to save people from C-19. Consistency has never been their strongpoint.
In better news the UK has now had a whole week of the number of deaths being lower than they were on the same day in the previous week. That’s a good measure of progress because it eliminates daily patterns in the data. It isn’t over yet by any means, but it looks like we are getting there. Now we have to resist the temptation to all rush back to “normal” before it is safe to do so.
I did my thing with Dav Vo earlier today. It was a lot of fun. Indeed I was enjoying it so much that I went a little bit over my alloted 15 minutes.
The star of my talk is the goddess Cybele who rides around in a chariot drawn by lions. It so happens that at this time of year the Romans would have been celebrating the Megalesian Games in her honour. There would have been theatre, chariot racing, and of course much feasting. Cybele’s main temple in Rome was on the Palatine Hill next to the Imperial Palace, and directly overlooked the Circus Maximus.
I illustrated my talk with pictures from museums around the world. Hopefully it looked OK on screen, but if not you can download the slide pack here. In the Notes section of each slide I have put a link to a web page about the object. Sadly Italian museums don’t have much in the way of online catalogues (that I can find in English, they may have them in Italian but Google isn’t finding them) so I have had to resort to Wikipedia.
Dan will be putting all of the talks on YouTube eventually, but for now you can watch via the link below. I note that I was helped by my leonine friend, Augustus, who is alright for a lion, despite being a fan of Imperialism, Patriarchy and English rugby. I see that we’ve had 777 views already. I hope I wasn’t too embarrasing.
When Kevin and I were in Canada for the Moving Trans History Forward conference this year, one of the people we met was Charles Ledbetter. It used to be the case that I was pretty much the only person talking about trans characters in speculative fiction, but now there are at least three people doing PhDs in the subject, all of them trans identified. Charles is one of them.
A unique feature of Charles’ research is that they are looking, not at works that get wide distribution (which up until recently meant works written by cis people, for cis people), but at works published by independent presses, in fanzines, and self-pubished material. Charles rightly surmised that they would find much earlier examples of trans-authored works this way. Consequently, even though they are based at the University of Tübingen in Germany, Charles is spending time in Victoria going through the archives looking for material.
If you happen to know of anything that would fit the type of work Charles is looking for, I’m sure they would love to know. Bogi Takács and I have both been corresponding with Charles, and Kevin has suggested a bunch of webcomics, but there’s bound to be more out there.
In November, to mark Trans Day of Remembrance, the folks at UVic asked Charles to give a public lecture. I have finally found time to watch it, and it is good stuff. (And I don’t just say that because I get cited.) I was particularly pleased to see the Transvengers comic mentioned. Hopefully some of you will find it interesting too.
Bristol University has many fine academics on its staff, but undoubtledly one of the best is Professor Ronald Hutton. Here he is giving a lecture on the origins and purposes of fairy stories.
In the Q&A I discoverd that “trow” is an Orkney/Shetland word for “troll”. Local opinion has it that the town where I live was originally called Tree-bridge (treow-brycg in Old English), or True-bridge. From now on I am going to assume it is actually Trollbridge, because that’s much more cool.
Thanks to John Reppion for the link to the lecture.
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.