Every November Schools Out, the charity which founded LGBT History Month, has a showcase event to launch the following year. I’m not entirely sure why it is so far in advance of February, but I’m guessing that in January people are busy with preparation and the weather is bad, while in December everyone is tied up with Christmas, so late November is about the earliest they can do it.
This is my first year attending the event. It took place at Queens’ College in Cambridge, which is very nice. During the afternoon there was a marketplace where various LGBT-friendly organizations had stalls. Then in the evening there was entertainment. Being a hopeless party girl, I was mainly there for the latter. The theme of this year’s event was religion, belief and philosophy.
The evening was bookended by Rev. Razia Aziz. While her family background is Muslim, she’s a non-denominational minister, making her an ideal person to do the blessings. She’s also a singer and voice coach, which was very obvious from her performance. Sufi mystics have produced some of the best poetry ever.
There was a fair amount of civic stuff to get through. The university, city and county had all signed up to the following Equality Pledge:
We believe in the dignity of all people and their right to respect and equality of opportunity. We value the strength that comes with difference and the positive contribution that diversity brings to our community. Our aspiration is for Cambridge and the wider region to be safe, welcoming and inclusive.
There was a variety of speakers on religious and philosophical issues. Robert Brown (proudly wearing his King’s Cross Steelers rugby shirt) talked about equality in Nichiren Buddhism. My friend Surat Knan gave a great talk about being trans and Jewish. Terry Weldon took on the near impossible task of representing Catholicism to LGBT people, which he did best by regaling us with scandalous tales of gay popes. Dr. Lucy Walker played us some of Benjamin Britten’s church music. Dr. Alison Ainley, from Anglia Ruskin’s philosophy department, talked about some of her favorite LGBT-friendly philosophers.
We had a little bit of film, in the form of two really great animations produced by Bobby Tiwana. They don’t appear to be online anywhere, so if you do see Bobby advertised for an event locally go along and see his films.
Another South Asian contributor was Manjinder Singh Sidhu who became an internet celebrity all over the subcontinent thanks to this amazing YouTube video in which he talks to his mum about how parents should deal with a child who comes out to them as LGB or T.
Music was provided by Mark Jennett who sang “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”, a Rogers & Hammerstein song from South Pacific. Take a look at the lyrics. It is rather depressing that people could write such things in 1949 and we don’t seem to have learned anything from it.
Topping the bill was Labi Siffre, who performed his massive hit, “So Strong”. It is as much about being gay as it is about other types of civil rights. Labi also gave a short talk from a rationalist point of view, asking religious leaders who condemn LGBT people to provide evidence that we should believe in their invisible friends, and that they speak for such beings.
What a trooper too. When I was chatting with Sue on email earlier in the week she told me that Labi was unwell and had needed to go into hospital. She wasn’t expecting him to be able to make the event. And yet there he was.
Thanks are due to Sue Sanders, Tony Fenwick and the rest of the Schools Out team who put on the evening. Thanks also to Tony for starting off the evening by stressing the importance of intersectionality to LGBT rights. As he said, if you suffer from intersecting oppressions, difficult choices do have to be made. I have some sympathy with Terry Weldon, because there are times when I have to defend feminism to trans people. I can’t not be a feminist, but sometimes what is done in the name of feminism by others is utterly abhorrent.
After the event a bunch of us headed back to the hotel where the Schools Out crew were staying for a drink. And that’s how I ended up in a hotel bar chatting to Labi Siffre about science fiction. It turns out that he was a huge fan as a kid, and read just about everything that was going. These days he’s more into song writing and poetry, and doesn’t have much patience for long, rambling novels, but I shall hit him up with some recommendations anyway.
To finish up, here’s Labi, doing pretty much what I saw him do last night (except that I think last night was better).
A few days ago Buzzfeed ran an interview with Eddie Redmayne which suggests he has tried really hard to be respectful in his role as Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl. It’s not like he doesn’t know trans women, after all. He had a major role in Jupiter Ascending, so will have spent a lot of time with Lana Wachowski. The interview was conducted by a trans woman as well, so full marks to Buzzfeed for giving us access there.
However, no matter how good an actor is — and Eddie is very good — he can only work with the material he has been given. This article, written by someone who has seen the script, suggests that the film is going all out for the gone-too-far-fetishist angle. That’s going to make it very uncomfortable viewing.
Of course the film is based on a fictionalized version of Lili’s life, not a biography, so goodness only knows how the narrative has been twisted to fit the requirements of the cis gaze.
I don’t know what first hand accounts are available, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to read the originals. It is possible that we’ll never really know what Lili and her wife, Gerda, were like, or what they thought of each other. What we do have, however, are Gerda’s portraits of Lili. You can see some of them, and some of Gerda’s lesbian erotica, here. Bear that in mind if you find the film portraying Gerda as a betrayed heterosexual wife.
Yeah, I’m over the other side of the country again. I am in Cambridge for the annual LGBT History Month Showcase, which is a sort of preview event for the following February. It is being held in Queens’ College, and I’m just catching up on the email before getting changed for the evening festivities. I shall report back tomorrow once I have got home.
Of course with it being Thanksgiving weekend nearly all of my clients are on vacation so things are nice and quiet, which is just as well. Also spending a couple of days on trains is good for catching up with the reading. I am happy to report that Nnedi’s The Book of Phoenix is just as good as I expected.
So, I may have been a little distracted this year as far as SFnal stuff goes. I really didn’t pay a lot of attention to the World Fantasy Awards, except when a bunch of cry-babies threw a tantrum about the change of trophy. But I was listening to the latest Galactic Suburbia this evening and (after a brilliantly epic rant from Alisa) they said a few things about the finalists. Suddenly I heard the words “Rebecca Lloyd” and “Tartarus”.
Rebecca Lloyd? Our Becca Lloyd. For a book I interviewed Becca about on the radio? And went to the launch party for?
Ye Gods, I feel so stupid. Sorry Becca, I totally spaced on that. WELL DONE!!! And sorry you didn’t win, but then look at the competition. Rob Shearman didn’t win either.
This is a very belated squee. Mercy and Other Stories. It is very good, promise.
The Trans Atlantic Fan Fund has published its latest newsletter. It includes a brief report on Nina Horvath’s adventures in the USA. It also has the announcement of the 2016 race. Unusually the administrators have taken the decision to hold another Europe – North America race next year. That will allow a European fan to attend Worldcon 74 in Kansas City, and a North American fan to attend Worldcon 75 in Helsinki in 2017.
By the way, the Kansas folks have announced their Hugo Award Base competition, so if you are up for designing one you need to check out the submission guidelines here. The deadline is January 18th.
Various things have conspired to make me think a lot about mental health issues this week, by far the most important of which is the sad news that David J Rodger, one of the authors who has read at BristolCon Fringe, took his own life on Sunday. I didn’t know David very well, though the one time I met him he seemed like a fascinating bloke whom I would have liked to know better. Other Bristol writers did know him better, and report that he had been struggling with depression for some time. There are some great obituaries online from Jo Hall and Tom Parker.
Depression is something that I know well. So is the mental unease that comes from gender dysphoria. These two combined might easily have killed me a little over 20 years ago. Instead, thanks to some good drugs, an improving medical climate for trans people, and people who loved me, I was able to embark on the journey that is gender transition.
For many people, however, mental health problems are something they feel that they can’t talk about, and perhaps can’t even ask for help over. Judging from what Jo and Tom say, David was one such person. Suicide is one of the leading killers of men, and I wish that there had been rather more talk about it last week on International Men’s Day, instead of all the MRA nonsense about the pain of being denied sex by uppity feminists.
I have just done an interview with the wonderful Emma Newman, part of which will feature on Women’s Outlook next Wednesday, and all of which I intend to put on Salon Futura in due course. Given the nature of the lead character in Planetfall, we talked about mental health issues, and the stigma surrounding them, quite a bit.
I greatly admire the courage Emma has in talking about her anxiety issues online. We are still very much in a world where any suggestion of weakness of that sort is liable to be held against you. These days, if you are applying for a job, prospective employers will comb social media for any suggestion of character flaws. HR departments, it seems, are less interested in finding someone who will be good at the job, and more interested in screening out anyone who might be seen as “difficult” in any way.
For trans people it is even harder. The medical profession might have (partially) moved away from the idea that we are all crazy, and towards the understanding that transition cures most of our mental health problems. Society has not taken the same leap. For example, this report from California shows how trans pilots are required to prove themselves sane each year, even though the FAA’s official guidelines say it is not necessary. I have similar problems with GPs, all of whom seem to be convinced that I am likely to be Overcome With REGRET! at any moment.
Of course if you are subject to regular harassment as part of your daily life, and many trans people are, you can still have mental heath problems post-transition. Last night we had the Annual General Meeting of LGBT Bristol, of which I am a trustee. The staff spoke eloquently about how many of the people they helped had complex and multiple problems to face in their lives. Not just trans, but trans, depressed and homeless, for example. I have tremendous admiration for the people who make it their day-to-day business to help such folk.
Help is available, and hopefully is improving in quality. Shortly after talking to Emma I got email inviting me to a one-day conference in Bristol in January. It is being run by Mind, and it is focused on suicide prevention for LGBT people. If it helps just one person, it is absolutely worth a day of my time being grilled about what it is like being trans.
My thanks to Caroline Mullan for pointing me to this article on the BBC website. It is reporting on the results of a DNA study by the Museum of London on human remains dating back to the founding of the city by the Romans some 2000 years ago.
By the time of the Roman conquest of Britain, the Roman Empire already stretched all the way around the Mediterranean. It included Egypt, Carthage and other African countries. The racial make-up of the soldiery, and of the slave community, was highly diverse. The people who built London, therefore, were anything but monochrome white.
And that’s not all. One of the skeletons studied, the so-called Harper Road Woman, was very unusual indeed. She was a native Briton, but although her bone structure clearly showed a female body she had a Y chromosome. This suggests that she had an intersex condition, probably Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Given the time in which she lived, she would not have known this. She would just have wondered why the gods had cursed her with infertility.
There’s another great story for my history of gender variant people.
Every so often I remember that I run a publishing company as well as being a trans activist, a diversity trainer, an historian, and someone with a day job she needs to get done to pay the rent. Last night I sent I proof copy of this off to Juliet. Northern Storm, book 2 in the Aldabreshin Compass series, should be with you in a few days time.
This is not a good time to be seriously busy. What I want to do is sit on the sofa and binge-watch Jessica Jones, which is an extraordinarily good piece of psychological drama.
But I also want to watch The Man in the High Castle, even if Tim Maughan did tweet an article saying that the TV series removes all of the ambiguity of Phil Dick’s novel.
And the first episode of The Expanse is supposedly now available, though my attempt to watch it on syfy.com this evening ended in failure. I should be broadcast soon anyway.
Thankfully I can totally do without sleep. Can’t I?
I wanted to post this to make it clear that the Trans Day of Remembrance is a worldwide event. India has a tradition of trans women in its society stretching back at least 2,000 years. It is hard to say how well accepted they were throughout that period, but they were most definitely there. What we do know is that the British conquest made their lives much more difficult. There were 6 trans murders in India last year, and 7 in Pakistan. Britain has to take some of the blame for that.
That picture is taken from this article on the fine Indian feminist blog, The Ladies Finger. The article, by Nadika Nadja, makes the very good point that we need a day to celebrate trans lives as well as one to mourn them. That, in theory, is what the Trans Day of Visibility is all about, but of course so many trans people have no desire to be visible. Maybe next year we can find a way of celebrating it that doesn’t make those it is supposed to be helping uncomfortable.