I spent the afternoon in Bristol so that I could attend the Egyptian Stories event at Bristol Museum. While it was billed as being in the Egyptian gallery, that clearly wasn’t going to happen because there are too many display cases full of interesting artifacts. Instead it took place in the Assyrian gallery which contains little save a bunch of magnificent wall carvings from Nimrud, a city located just south of Mosul. They show King Ashurbanipal II (that’s him with the bow) and some attendant supernatural beings that the museum calls “demons” and I prefer to call “angels” because they are clearly protecting the king. Being an Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal was doubtless busy plotting how he could conquer the puny Egyptians, but he refrained from killing anyone so presumably he approved of the stories.
The four readers are (left to right) Piotr Świetlik, Amanda Huskisson, Jean Burnett and Justin Newland. Piotr and Jean read short stories, while Amanda and Justin read extracts from novels. Amanda tells me that she’ll be performing at BristolCon Fringe in November, so you’ll get to hear some of her work once I have that podcast.
The event was well attended, but could probably have done with an audio system. Reading and projecting at the same time takes practice. Having a microphone means people have one less thing to worry about (provided that they remember to use it).
Trevor Coombs, who is on the museum’s staff and also an historical fiction writer himself, hosted the event. He says that he’s hoping to do more events like that in future. I do hope so. I’m sure that Ishtar wants me to read about her in that room.
Last night and this morning my Twitter mentions have been full of outrage about a High Court judgement to remove a child from the care of their mother because of concerns that said child was being abused by being allowed to present as female. There’s news coverage here.
I’ve had a chance to look through the official judgement this morning. It doesn’t make for pretty reading. I have an awful lot of questions, some of which may be answered as more information comes to light.
To start with, this case seems to be part of an acrimonious dispute between the biological parents of the child who are now separated. The case seems to have revolved entirely around the question as to whether the father or mother was correct with regard to whether the child is a boy or a girl. A child’s welfare should never come down to taking sides in such a case.
I note also that there appears to have been zero consideration that both parents might be correct. There is good evidence these days that children can have strong cross-gender identification at a very early age. However, many children are ambivalent about their gender. Forcing them to choose one or the other can be just as harmful as forcing them to make the “wrong” choice between binary genders.
I am wondering where the expert testimony is. A “Consultant Clinical Psychologist” was employed to assess the child, but there is no suggestion that she is an expert in gender issues. The child is apparently a patient at the Tavistock gender clinic, but no one from the Tavi is mentioned as giving evidence. Mermaids have stated that they have been supporting the mother and child for over two years, but there is no mention of them being asked to give evidence.
I’m struck also by the way in which the mother’s attempts to protect her child have been used against her. When the child was bullied she tried to keep them away from the bullies, and was accused of isolating the child. When she tried to allow the child to start social life again in a new environment where the child was known only as a girl, which is standard practice for raising trans kids, this too was condemned by the judge on the grounds that someone might find out. He described it as:
an arrangement that was fraught with potential for real harm to J if his true gender was inadvertently discovered
I submit that in referring to the child’s “true gender” the judge is showing obvious bias.
What is most disturbing about this case, however, is the way in which the judge gives equal weight to the opinions of people who know nothing about trans issues to those of the mother and the various agencies attempting to help her. A local authority report is quoted as saying:
It is evident that some agencies do not have a full understanding of gender non conforming children and have therefore contacted Children’s Service, sometimes when they have not met [J].
The judge responds to this with:
The two remaining passages of the conclusion make very disheartening reading indeed. They combine both naivety and professional arrogance.
I can see no basis for this comment other than that he feels he knows the “true gender” of the child. There are lots of attempts to appeal to the views of other agencies, all of which have a lot of experience with children, but none that appear to have much awareness of trans issues.
As anyone who has worked with trans children will tell you, there is a vast amount of ignorance out there. Schools, health care professionals, government agencies and voluntary services of all sorts are full of people whose view of trans people have been shaped by reading tabloid newspapers. They will often “raise concerns” solely on the grounds that they don’t believe that being trans is a real thing, or in the case of schools because they are unwilling to deal with the complications that having trans pupils entails.
Much of this reminds me of when I was a kid. My brother had very severe dyslexia, and my mum spent a great deal of her time fighting against schools and other agencies. At the time she was accused of being taken in by a popular fad that everyone with any common sense knew wasn’t real. The same sort of thing happens to parents of trans children today.
It is deeply concerning that the judge has used this case to attack the social workers who attempted to support the child’s mother. This sort of thing could easily end their careers, and it will have a chilling effect on every similar case around the country. All it will take is for some transphobic doctor or school teacher to “raise concerns” that a child is being raised in an inappropriate way and social services will have to react for fear that they too will be accused of abetting “child abuse”.
There is a petition about the case here. I make no claims to knowing how the child should be raised, but I think it entirely wrong that such issues should be decided in court, and am horrified at many of the comments by the judge.
Update: From Susie Green of Mermaids on Facebook
There have been 2 independent gender specialists who have reviewed the family and agreed that Mum is not responsible for her child’s gender expression.
As I noted earlier today, one of the panels I am on at BristolCon is about how small presses can publish books with much more diversity in them than those of mainstream publishers. We aren’t trapped by the need to find bestsellers so that we can continue to pay people’s salaries. If there was ever an example of such an effect in action it has to be Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time. No mainstream publisher is going to risk money on an anthology by and about LGBT people of Native North American descent.
And yet, here one is. And not only does it have some good stories in it, it also has some fascinating history as well. Beautiful cover too. If you want to know more, my review is here.
</a>It is a rare thing to read a book by a young author new to you and think, “wow, here’s a superstar in the making”. It is also a rare thing to read a book and think, “wow, this is a really good book about trans issues”. If you can say those two things about the same book, well, that’s pretty special.
I’m not entirely without reservations about When the Moon was Ours. The more YA I read, the more I come to think that real YA — books that YA fans would recognize as YA rather than books with teen characters that are written by adults for adults — is not for me. I’m much too old and cynical. Also I had quite enough teenage angst to last me a lifetime when I was a teenager. I don’t need any more of it now. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate writing craft, and there is plenty of that on show here.
If you would like to lean more about this book, my review is here.
The Bristol Festival of Literature is now underway. The first events took place last night. This is therefore a good opportunity to remind you of where I will be next week.
Tomorrow I’ll be popping into Bristol Museum to hear “Ancient Egyptian Storytelling”. A group of writers will be telling stories about Egypt in the Egyptian gallery of the museum. They will include Justin Newland, Piotr Świetlik and Amanda Huskisson, all of whom have read at BristolCon Fringe. It’s free and a 3:00pm start. Get there early, it may be busy than the museum expects.
On Monday I am chairing “Ageing in the LGBT Community” at Bristol University. That will feature Alan Clark talking about Rory’s Boys, his comedy novel set in a retirement home for gay men (something that may become a reality soon), and Dr. Jane Traies talking about her history book about the lives of older lesbians. With them will be Dr. Paul Willis of Bristol University, and my colleague Berkeley Wilde of the Diversity Trust, who will provide a local and practical view of the problem. There are (free) tickets available here.
Tuesday is my day for getting the day job done, and on Wednesday I’m doing a guest lecturer slot for a gender course at Bath Spa University. Then on Thursday morning I will be part of a panel discussing “Stories of Strong Women”. That is apparently sold out, but as it is a free event some people may not bother to turn up so if you have the time free you might drop by Arnos Vale and see if you can get in.
With me on the panel will be my good friend Lucienne Boyce. In the afternoon she and Mike Mason are running a workshop on writing historical fiction. I have signed up for this. So if you want to see me making an idiot of myself by trying to write, that should be some good entertainment. And you’ll learn a lot too. Tickets are £20 and are available here.
On Friday night and Saturday I will be at BristolCon. I’ll be reading at the Open Mic, and I’m on two panels: “SF&F On the Margins” will talk about using small presses to create diversity where mainstream publishing won’t go, while “It Takes A Village” is all about the journey of a book from idea to finished artifact. I will also, of course, be selling copies of Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom. Juliet will be on hand to sign your copy. And Pete Sutton will be selling Fantastically Horny which has my story, “Camelot Girls Gone Wild”, in it.
Sunday I start packing for Barcelona.
Of course there is lots of other good stuff going on. If you are in the Bristol area, do check out the Festival website for more information.
I was hosting the Women’s Outlook show on Ujima again yesterday. The entire show was devoted to the Bristol Festival of Literature, which starts today.
The first half hour was devoted to the panel that I am chairing on Monday 24th. This will be on ageing in the LGBT community. We have some excellent guests speakers. Full details here. In the studio with me was one of those speakers, Dr Paul Willis of Bristol University, who has done a lot of research on the issue.
At 12:30 I was joined by Pete Sutton and Gavin Watkins of the Festival of Literature. They talked through many of the events that will be taking place next week. At 13:00 Jo Hall joined us, which was a good excuse to talk about the panel I’m doing on Thursday 27th on Stories of Strong Women. That one is sold out, I understand. We also talked about BristolCon.
In the final half hour, Jo and I talked about her latest novel, The Summer Goddess, which I very much enjoyed reading.
The playlist for yesterdays show was as follows:
- Old Folks Boogie – Little Feat
- Emma-Jean – Amazing Rythym Aces
- Dark Moon, High Tide – Afro Celt Sound System
- Captain Dread – Dreadzone
- Sun Goddess – Ramsey Lewis & Earth, Wind & Fire
- Farewell, My Summer Love – Jackson 5
- Thieves in the Temple – Prince
- Big Cat – Afro Celt Sound System
My next show will be on November 16th when, if all goes according to plan, I will be talking to Rebecca Lloyd and Tade Thompson about their new books. There should also be more talk about pirates.
Some excellent news for trans people in Wales this week. Stonewall Cymru reports that the Welsh Assembly has put aside £1 million for two new services: a gender clinic and a service for people with eating disorders. Currently all Welsh trans people have to travel to the massively-subscribed Charing Cross clinic in London, which is a huge financial burden on then.
What isn’t clear is how the new service will work. If they put it in Cardiff that will be great for folks in South Wales, but probably little better for someone living in Llandudno. A little thought is required in this respect.
Sadly it probably won’t be of any help to people in Bristol, even though it is just over the bridge. As it is being paid for by the Welsh government you will probably have to be resident in Wales to use it.
My colleagues at The Diversity Trust have produced their autumn newsletter. There’s not much about me in this one, you’ll be relieved to hear, but there is a lot of information about the work that we do in the field of mental health. I’m also really pleased to see us doing work in the field of clear and simple communication. You can find the newsletter here.
Want more Caribbean science fiction and fantasy in your life? Now you can, because Tobias Buckell has created a wonderful portal site to showcase the region’s genre writers. You can go here, and find lots of lovely reading suggestions. And because the Caribbean is not a wholly English-speaking region, some of them are translations (I presume some from French and some from Spanish).
I think I have read 18 of the 25 novels listed on the site, and they are all good. I should read the others. In particular I hope to discover new Caribbean authors (and one day I want to see you on that list, Gabby Bellot).
I spent Friday in Cheltenham where the Festival of Literature is in full swing. The main reason that I went is because David Barnett (who should be familiar to you from his Guardian articles and the Gideon Smith books) was going to be there. He has a book coming out next year from Trapeze, a new imprint being launched by Orion. The fiction editor is Sam Eades, whom some of you may remember from her time as a publicist.
David’s book, Calling Major Tom, is not being marketed as science fiction, despite the fact that it involves a voyage to Mars. Nor is it being marketed as alternate history, despite the fact that it involves a British space program. It isn’t exactly being marketed as comedy, though it does appear to be very funny. Mainly it is about people. If you want to know more, I bagged an interview with David which I’m planning to use on Ujima nearer the publication date.
The other two Trapeze authors on show were Sarah J Naughton whose Tattertale is a move from YA into psychological thrillers, and Peter Dunne whose 50 Things is derived from a blog he wrote giving fatherly advice to his children.
They made for a very interesting bunch. Sarah is very much a “writing novels is my job” person who religiously produces 500 words a day. David is much more of a “journalism is my job and I’ll write fiction when the muse strikes” person; while Peter was all, “I wrote a blog, and to my surprise someone offered to publish it”.
Anyway, it was a fun day out. It was great to get to meet David at last, and lovely to catch up with Sam. It was also great to spend the day hanging out with book people.