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That Was Trans Pride

Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

Photo by Sarah Savage
That’s another Trans Pride successfully concluded. Well, concluded for me, anyway. Lots of people are still enjoying the evening gig, but my feet have given up on me as I spent all day wandering round the event talking to people and getting interviews.

The photo above is from the march. Having outgrown yet another park, this time we were in Brunswick Gardens. For those of you who know Brighton, that’s the park just off the sea front which is surrounded by a huge Georgian terrace, just west of the Metropole. It was a great location, and it meant that we got to march a long way along the sea front in full view of lots of tourists. Everyone seemed either bemused or was very supportive.

I got a lot of great interviews with people, including a group of Buddhist trans people who are from the same order that Michael Dillon joined all those years ago.

As usual there were lots of stalls, mostly promoting support services for trans people. However, we are starting to see more celebratory activities as well. My favorite new stall was E-J Scott’s Museum of Transology, which bills itself as, “A mobile museum that collects and exhibits trans peoples’ stuff.” E-J is encouraging trans people to donate things that have a personal connection to their lives. Of course he’ll end up with the biggest collection of used fake boobs in the world, but hopefully he’ll get other stuff too.

This year the music was interspersed with spoken word performances, which meant we got a full set from the amazing Alice Denny. However, my favorite bit of the stage entertainment was Ren Stedman. He’s a great singer-songwriter in the classic tradition of the angry young person with a guitar. And he’s a lovely bloke too — gave me a great interview.

Also on my interview list is the fabulous Sophie Cook who is the news anchor for Brighton’s community TV network. I consider myself now well and truly out-classed in terms of trans local media stardom. Hello, Made in Bristol TV, we are behind the curve. Get yourselves a trans presenter pronto.

The weather was good. Early on it was bright and sunny, and I was a bit worried it would be another day of heatstroke and sunburn. However, it had misted over by midday and the sun didn’t get out again until late in the afternoon. I got a light touch of sun walking back to my hotel because I was going east and there are bits of my back that I can’t reach with the sunscreen, but it was much better than it might have been had the sun been out all day.

Sarah Savage tells me that numbers are up at least 50% on last year. They should be OK in Brunswick Park for another year, but after that they might have to move again. I bumped into a friend from Bristol who is now living in Essex and she told me that Brighton’s Trans Pride is a bigger event that Essex Pride, which caters for the whole LGBT spectrum.

Mostly the day was very positive, but the reality of trans lives is never too far from the surface of the party. While I was having lunch two women came and sat next to me on the bench. At first I thought they might be mother and daughter, but it soon became clear that they were therapist and trans girl. You try not to overhear, but emotions get loud and it soon became obvious that this was a conversation involving family abuse and self-harm. At least one person had come to Trans Pride looking for help. I hope she found what she needed.


National Diversity Award Shortlists

Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

Ujima’s time as a reigning National Diversity Award champion is coming to an end. In 8 weeks time new winners will be crowned for 2016. The shortlists have just been announced and once again I know some of the people involved.

In LGBT Role Model we have Lee Gale, who is a fantastic trans awareness trainer. Lee works much harder than I do, traveling all over the country to do training. He’s a lovely bloke too.

In LGBT Organizations we have Mermaids (who are awesome), Gendered Intelligence (whom Lee works for), and Trans Pride Brighton, which is the event I am attending this weekend. Lee is here, of course, and he’ll doubtless be helping with the GI stall tomorrow. It’s all happening here.

Finally in the Multi-Strand Organization category we have Off the Record Bristol. They are the people who run Freedom Youth, our LGBT youth group. My friend and colleague, Henry Poultney works for them. Of course they do other stuff for young people too, which is why they are multi-strand. I can’t comment on that, but their LGBT work is awesome.

Best of luck to everyone.

Activism is Work

Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

A lot of people these days think that “activist” means someone who sits at home monitoring social media all day and making angry tweets about the state of the world. Of course a lot of good activism can be done online. The campaign to get Tara Hudson moved to a women’s prison was done mostly that way (plus a lot of phone calls), and it was a lot of hard work. But you also have to get off your arse and do things occasionally.

Case in point. Last night, after the radio show, I attended a meeting at the offices of Bristol City Council. It is part of an ongoing initiative in Bristol and surrounding areas to draw up what is currently being called an “LGBT+ Manifesto”; that is a statement of the particular needs of LGBT citizens, and ideas as to what should be done to meet those needs. Along with a couple of other trans folks (hello Henry & Lexi), I have been asked to be on the steering committee.

This morning I headed into Bristol and gave a trans awareness course to teachers at a local school. They were lovely people, very keen to help trans kids. Berkeley and I have been invited back in September to do some more work with them.

Immediately after the course I went back to Temple Meads and took a train to Brighton, where I am now. Tomorrow I am attending a conference run by Brighton & Hove City Council. This will report on their groundbreaking Trans Needs Assessment, which grew out of Trans Pride and has now been going for a couple of years. We’ll hear how the city is responding to that survey, what various agencies like the local police and health services are doing, and where it will be going next. I’ll be bringing all of that information back to the LGBT+ Manifesto group in Bristol.

And on Saturday I’m attending Trans Pride, which for me means doing interviews, and chatting to various people about ongoing projects. Hopefully I will get time to hang out with some friends too.

Two Magazine Crowdfunding Campaigns

Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

Two magazines that I am very fond of are currently doing fund raising campaigns.

First up there is Holdfast Magazine. I have a personal interest in this because some of the money raised will go towards paying me for my story, “Experimental Subjects”. Of course there are lots of other fine people who will benefit as well. You can donate to Holdfast here.

Also there is Uncanny, which has been remarkably successful in its short life. Given how well they have done in just a few days I suspect that most of you space unicorns out there have already signed on for year three, but just in case you haven’t you can do so here.

Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

Sorry about the weird company, Cat. That’s the way it goes with radio some days.

Today’s show began with an interview I did with Cat Valente at Finncon. As usual with such things, I was only able to broadcast about half of it. All of the in-depth writerly stuff got cut. The full thing will appear on Salon Futura in a few weeks. Cat and I seem to have done a lot of giggling in that interview.

In the second half hour I was joined by Charlotte Gage from Bristol Women’s Voice to talk about the “R U Asking 4 It” fiasco, in which members of Avon & Somerset Police were taken to task by a group of Bristol teenagers for entirely inappropriate comments on rape prevention. I should note that following the initial disaster the response of the police has been fantastic. Very senior people have got involved, and I understand that today another email went around the force reminding officers of the need to be on message over such issues.

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

Next up I spoke to Jennie Darch from SARI about the rise in hate crime following the Brexit referendum. SARI is a charity that specializes in helping the victims of hate crime, and there is no doubt that their case load has increased dramatically since the vote. Charlotte also mentioned women talking to BWV about a sudden upsurge in racist harassment.

I was delighted to see that during the music breaks Charlotte and Jennie were busy comparing notes and thinking of ways in which their agencies could work together to tackle this problem.

The final half hour was given over to vox pop interviews about Brexit that I collected at Finncon. My thanks to the many lovely people from around the world who were willing to share their views.

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

The music this week was mostly on the theme of immigration. That included “Get Back” by The Beatles which was very much on an immigration theme before the Fab Four thought better of it and re-wrote the lyrics to be more politically safe (including some casual transphobia). The full playlist is as follows:

  • Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On?
  • Jama – No Borders
  • Bob Marley – Buffalo Soldier
  • Horslips – The Man Who Built America
  • Tabby Cat Kelly – Don’t Call Us Immigrants
  • Maryam Mursal – Lei Lei
  • The Beatles – Get Back
  • Fontella Bass – Rescue Me

Awards at Finncon

Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

Being a national convention, Finncon has a number of award ceremonies as part of the program. Usually I manage to report on this at the time, but this year I managed to be way too busy. Thankfully the ever-reliable Tero Ykspetäjä has done the job for me and all I need to do is to point you to his fine (English language) blog.

First up Atorox Award for Finnish short fiction went to Magdalena Hai. If you don’t remember her name you may remember her fabulous blue hair from her photo in issue #3 of The Finnish Weird. The story that won the Atorox (“Beautiful Ululian”) is different from the one in The Finnish Weird (“Corpsemarsh”) so she’s clearly building up a good portfolio.

By the way, Toni Jerrman tells me that the ebook editions of the first two Finnish Weird magazines have been substantially re-worked, so if you have those and have issues with the formatting please download the new ones.

Next on the awards list we have the Tähtifantasia Award which is for fantasy novels translated from a language other than Finnish. This went to Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan. That’s quite an achievement for a graphic novel to win such an award. It beat out books by Haruki Murakami and Patrick Rothfuss among others. Well done Shaun!

Finally we come to the Kosmoskynä Award which is an occasional award given to people or organizations who have significantly advanced the cause of Finnish science fiction. This year it was given to my dear friend, Irma Hirsjärvi. This is so thoroughly deserved that I can only ask why it didn’t happen earlier. Then again, the Kosmoskynä is a really hard award to get. It has only been bestowed 13 times since 1985. Congratulations, Ipa!

Fringe Tonight

Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

For those of you within easy reach of Bristol, there will be a BristolCon Fringe event tonight. The readers will be Thomas David Parker and Tim Lebbon. We will get going at the Shakespeare Tavern (68 Prince St.) at around 7:30pm, but people will be there before then for food. Hopefully I will see some of you there.


Real Gods of Egypt

Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

The Pharaonic period of Egypt lasted for about 3000 years. During that time, much can change. It is therefore impossible to propose a definitive form for Egyptian religion. To do so would make as much sense as to say that there was a definitive form of Christianity that applied to both the early Byzantine church and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Egyptian religious belief and practice changed radically through time as one temple or another, one city or another, gained power. There were attempted revolutions such as that of Akhenaten. In the last few hundred years of the Pharaohs, however, the changes were much more radical.

In 525 BCE the Persians conquered Egypt. I’m not a great expert on their rule, but they were adept at absorbing many different cultures into their empire. My guess is that they will have left Egyptian religion mostly alone, though it will not have escaped unscathed. However, in 332 BCE Egypt was conquered by Alexander the Great. One of his generals, Ptolemy, was put in charge of Egypt and became Pharaoh in 305 BCE. His descendants ruled Egypt until the death of Cleopatra VII in 30 BCE which resulted in the absorption of Egypt into the Roman Empire.

Rule by a Greek dynasty caused major changes in Egyptian religious life. The Ptolemies were keen to show their commitment to local culture, but at the same time they wanted to bring in a lot of Greek ideas. Let’s start with the chap pictured above. You might think that he doesn’t look much like an Egyptian god, and you’d be dead right, but he is one. His name is Serapis. It is not clear whether he existed before the Ptolemaic period, but it is clear that his worship was either invented, or massively promoted, by the Ptolemies. He continued to be popular through the Roman era.

That’s a very imperialist approach to merging cultures, but there is another option. Syncretism is the process of finding links between two different religions and building on that basis. You could take the view that two cultures worship the same god, but each has their own prophet whom they deem the sole arbiter of that god’s word, in which case they must fight for all eternity to see whose prophet is right. But you could say, look, your god Khonsu is a bit like our god Herakles. Both of them are mighty young warriors who defend their people. Perhaps they are the same god seen through a different cultural lens. Let’s build a friendship based on that. This sort of thing happened a lot, both in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt.

I came home from London yesterday with a new goddess for my home. This one.

Isis-HorusThis is Isis and her son, Horus. Images of Isis nursing Horus were common in ancient Egypt (though Horus does seen a little big for breastfeeding — perhaps he grew very quickly).

The image of the nursing Isis is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, of course, it is very similar to the image of Mary and Jesus that is so well known in Christianity. Secondly, those of you who know a bit about Egypt will have spotted that Isis is wearing the horned crown of Hathor. By the time this statue was made the cult of Isis has absorbed that of the older mother goddess, Hathor the Cow.

What attracted me about this statue, however, is that it has a significant difference from most Isis and Horus images. In fact it doesn’t appear to have been taken from either of the Isis & Horus statues found in Thonis/Heraclieon and Canopus. Rather it is based on this one, which is in the Knust Museum in Vienna.

The difference in the statue is the throne on which Isis is seated. It is flanked by lions, and that’s something more often seen elsewhere. Here, for example.

That’s Cybele, an Anatolian goddess with strong links to Ishtar who ended up in Rome as their Great Mother. Cybele was the patron goddess of trans women in Rome.

I know very little about gender in Egyptian society, but I am starting to turn up some very interesting stories about Isis. Some sources I have seen mention that the Phoenicians connected Isis to Astarte, their local version of Ishtar. Others mention a connection between Isis and Cybele in Rome.

There is no temple to Cybele in Pompeii. There is one in Herculaneum, and there is a lot of evidence of Cybele worship in Pompeii, including a number of paintings in people’s homes. What Pompeii does have, is a big temple to Isis. A while back I came across this master’s thesis suggesting a syncretic relationship between Isis and Cybele in the Roman Empire. Images Isis seated on Cybele’s lion throne would seem to confirm this.


Well That Went Well

Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

The nice LGBT police people seemed to enjoy my talk. It was great to catch up with Surat Shaan Knan and see the new pop-up version of the Twilight People exhibition. There were at least two trans people (serving police officers) in the audience.

The conference was in the Guildhall in the City of London. It is a very impressive space. I haven’t had time to process my photos yet, but hopefully I’ll have some for you later.

We also had a lovely party last night. One of the advantages of hanging out with gay people is that they have no qualms about playing Wham. Whatever else you might think about George & Andy, “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” is a great dance track. (And no, I can’t hit that high, I don’t have that vocal range.)

Today I took myself off to the British Museum to see the Sunken Cities exhibition. This is material from the Egyptian cities of Thonis (called Heracleion by the Greeks) and Canopus. It is amazing, if you like that sort of thing, which I do. The quality of the artifacts is superb, because they have been preserved under the sea rather than out in the open getting weathered, smashed and stolen.

The exhibition traces the history of Egypt’s incorporation into the Mediterranean world from the first use of Greek soldiers by the pharaohs through the conquest by Alexander to incorporation into the Roman Empire. The religious history over this period is fascinating, with Egyptian gods first being mapped onto Greek religion and then incorporated into the religious use of the Empire. I’ll have more to say about this in a separate post.

And finally I paid a brief visit to Forbidden Planet and came away with a pile of books. Chief among this was Seanan McGuire’s novella, Every Heart a Doorway, which is utterly delightful and thoroughly recommended.

Talking to the Police

Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

Sorry about another apparent clickbait headline, but that’s exactly what I will be doing.

This morning I RT’d the tweet below. Yes, there is such a thing as a police LGBT conference. The 2016 event is taking place in London tomorrow. I’m going to be one of the guest speakers. I’ll be telling them all about trans people in antiquity. Should be fun.