Dear Kevin, 20 years ago today the Goddess gave you a cat for your 30th birthday. Unusually for a cat, she has stuck around, though she has wandered a long way from home. Thank goodness the Internet is the natural habitat of felines.
I’m very sorry I am not there to look cute and cuddly for you. However, I can at least assure you that there is life after 50.
Feed me tuna now?
I did warn you that there were a lot of anniversaries coming up. Here’s today’s.
Saturday August 26th, 1995. By this time I was living and working in Melbourne, but I had gone back to the UK to do some project work there and pick up some more of my belongings. The project work took me to Edinburgh. My friend Anabelle suggested that I attend the World Science Fiction Convention, which was taking place in Glasgow around the same time. I would know several people there, including Martin Hoare and Dave Langford, and Teddy whom I expected to be in the masquerade, so I figured I might as well give it a go.
One of the things I wanted to do there was see if I could find some Australian fans. At this time I was living as a woman at all times except for work, but the only people I knew in Melbourne were my work colleagues. I wanted some people I could hang out with socially as me. To my surprise and delight I discovered that Melbourne was fandom central in Australia, and that Melbourne fans were bidding to hold Worldcon there in 1999. I offered to help. They explained to me how Worldcon site selection works, and sent me off to vote on that year’s race to see the system in action. (Martin was supporting one of the two rival Boston bids, so he was keen for me to vote as well.)
Instant runoff voting wasn’t new to me — I’d seen it used a lot in student politics — but my diary tells me that I had a few questions and a very helpful American guy behind the desk answered them all for me. I thought nothing more of this, and enjoyed my day at the con, including watching Teddy and his colleagues take the masquerade by storm. Afterwards I had agreed to help my new Aussie friends run a bid party. Who should turn up, but the American guy from the site selection desk. And apparently he was there to see me.
I should note that at this time in history the standard advice to trans women was never to get involved with a man prior to surgery, because he will only be interested in you as a “shemale” and will drop you like a stone once you no longer qualify as such. I was mindful of that, but probably a bit giddy too. I had, after all, never been chatted up by a bloke before, let alone kissed one. I rather liked this Kevin fellow.
The following day he asked me for a date (dinner, the Hugo ceremony, and the firework display). I said yes. It is the best decision I have ever made in my life.
Yeah, I know I have a short piece in it, but it is a very short piece and the book is full of all sorts of fabulous things, including a whole bunch of Tiptree’s correspondence with Le Guin & Russ.
Alex has written a bit about the book here, including links to other pieces of Tiptree material that have been published recently. To that I’d like to add the academic paper I gave in Manchester this year which talks extensively about Alli Sheldon’s gender identity.
Details as to how to order the book can be found here. It is available as an ebook, so you don’t need to have paper shipped from Australia.
Oh, and someone should probably nominate the book for next year’s Tiptree Award. Lots of interesting stuff already recommended, I see. So many books…
This is a week of massive anniversaries. Here is today’s.
On August 25th 1975 Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band released an album called Born to Run. I can’t remember when I first heard any of it, but I do knew that I have loved Bruce’s music from that moment on. 40 years. That’s some relationship.
To mark the occasion, here is my all time favorite rock song, which also happens to be the opening track of the album.
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty but, hey, you’re alright
Oh, and that’s alright with me
Story of my life. I’m still waiting, Bruce. If I hear your Chevy pull up outside, I’ll be straight out.
It was perhaps not the best timing in the world to be spending last weekend in a hotel in Manchester. I was up in the middle of the night on both Friday and Sunday mornings for events at Worldcon. But there was no way I was going to miss the UK’s first ever academic conference devoted solely to the history of trans people. Thank you so much to Emma Vickers and Liverpool John Moore University for putting it on. Here are my impressions of the event.
The keynote speech was given by long-time trans activist, Stephen Whittle. He treated us to a personal account of the history of trans activism in the UK — some of which he was very much a key part of. Stephen is an experienced speaker with a wealth of entertaining and illuminating anecdotes. My favorite was the one about the UK branch of the Transsexual Action Organisation dissociating itself from the US parent organization, in part because they claimed that the Americans were “into the Occult”. I’m pretty sure that means that a lot of the Americans were neo-pagans.
There were seven papers in all, including mine. I’m going to highlight the three I found most interesting.
First up, Jacob Bloomfield, who like me went to great lengths to be there. He is performing at Edinburgh Fringe at the moment. He caught an early train down, and left immediately after giving his paper so that he could be on stage at 8:00pm. His paper was all about cross-dressing revues put on by military veterans after the two world wars. Apparently there were quite a few. Danny La Rue was the most famous graduate of them. It isn’t clear whether anyone involved actually identified as trans, but the circumstances under which they were permitted by the authorities were quite interesting. The fact that the performers were all military veterans was apparently a key issue here as it established their essential virility. There was to be, according to one censor, “no pansy business”. Fascinatingly Jacob suggested that some British people found the idea of Tommy watching men dressed (very convincingly) as women preferable to the idea that he might hook up with some foreign woman while busy saving his country overseas.
Clare Tebbutt had a great paper about “sex changes” in the 1930s. These were nothing like the gender clinic work we know today, though they did center primarily around Charing Cross Hospital. A South African doctor called Lennox Broster became something of an expert in what we’d now call intersex conditions. Many intersex people who had been assigned female at birth were treated by him and a significant number were legally reassigned male as a result. His most famous patient was Mark Weston. The media of the day, having little understanding of the biology, reported these cases as “sex changes” and put them down to the miracles of modern medicine. Reporting was almost always favorable towards the patient, with scare quotes being used for the birth gender rather than the new one. Because of Broster’s particular specialism, the vast majority of the patients were seen as female-to-male, so we don’t know much about how a perceived male-to-female would have been reported, but the media climate then was clearly very different to what we see today.
(By the way, the history of such cases is why Michael Dillon was able to get his legal gender changed so easily, even though he had no intersex condition. The doctors, and the authorities, were used to such cases.)
Finally, my favorite paper of the day, Juthathorn Pravattiyagul on the Thai trans diaspora. Juthathorn is Thai herself, and she has done a lot of research hanging out with Thai trans women in various European cities. Acceptance of trans women is seen as much better in the West than in Thailand, because we have laws protecting us and Thailand doesn’t. That, combined with the obvious economic incentives, has caused large numbers of Thai trans women to emigrate to Europe. Juthathorn has found that the reality of life in the West rarely matches up to their dreams. Partly that’s because of racism, but in addition she found that social attitudes towards trans women are far less accepting in Europe than in Thailand, despite our more supportive laws. I so wish I had known about her work before I put in my submission to the UK government’s Transgender Equality Inquiry as I would have cited her.
It was also great to hang out with friends such as Emma Hutson and Catherine Baker, and to make new friends. I can warmly recommend the 60 Hope Street restaurant that Emma Vickers found for the conference dinner. However, I do have a few concerns about the way trans history is being done.
The majority of the attendees were cis people. Some of them were great. Others clearly don’t quite get it, and it you are doing trans history that’s important. I absolutely accept the idea that we can’t know how people from the past identified. I opened my own paper by saying so. Even if they did, their self-conceptions are likely to be very different from those of a modern trans person such as myself. However, just because we can’t say for certain that person X from the past identified as trans, or as the gender in which they presented for most of their life, we can’t say for certain that they didn’t. To persistently use the birth gender for all subjects, and to characterize them all as cross-dressers, is to erase the possibility of people being trans in the past. Given that the idea that being trans is a modern invention is a key part of TERF ideology, this is deeply political position to take. It is not, as I suspect most of the researchers assume, simply a neutral and default position.
It gets worse too. People do cross-dress for all sorts of reasons. Just take a look at any stag party, Halloween party, Saturday crowd at a Test Match and so on. There are so many more cis people than trans people that my guess is that there were more people in history who cross-dressed and did not identify as trans than there were those who did. Even with eunuchs, who are physically trans, there will probably be more who continue to identify as their birth gender than as anything else. If your “trans history” is focused on the idea of cross-dressing rather than on the idea of trans identities, then you will end up writing a history of cis people and calling it a history of trans people. I do not want to see us go down that route. Hopefully most of the academics involved don’t want us to either.
Well that was fun. Some really great papers, and mine seemed to go down well too. I’ll write more about it tomorrow, but I have to be up at 3:30am for the Hugo Award Ceremony so I’m going to bed now. If you want more of a flavor of the event, check out the #HistTrans hashtag on Twitter.
Well look at that, I think we done got ourselves a Worldcon.
The results are technically pending until confirmed at the Saturday WSFS Business Meeting, but here are the numbers from the count:
- Helsinki 1363
- Washington 878
- Montreal 228
- Nippon 120
In a 4-way race, Helsinki wins on the first round of counting with 52% of the vote.
Thank you, fandom. See you all in 2017.
I am so very proud of all my Finnish friends right now.
By the way, it won’t be snowing in Helsinki in August. In summer Finland looks more like this:
I managed to wake up in the middle of the night to do the “Exploring Orientation and Gender in Fiction” panel at Sasquan. It was a lot of fun. Many thanks again to Cat Valente for inviting me and providing the Sasquan end of the tech, and also to Heather Rose Jones who is a fellow historian of things LGBT. She has a wonderful online resource here that I shall be spending a long time reading through.
The experience did remind me that 90 minutes is the ideal time for convention panels. Any longer and you’ll probably run out of steam, but any shorter and you’ll barely scratch the surface of the topic. I know an extra half hour doesn’t seem a lot, but when you take out 15 minutes for room change (i.e., a 60 minute slot means a 45 minute panel) and 15 minutes for audience questions you only have a half hour panel. A 90 minute slot doesn’t need to extend either of those, so you get an hour for the panel, meaning you have doubled the time available.
This morning Tero asked me about my experience of participating in a panel by Skype. It was mixed, but I’d still do it again.
The connection to Spokane was a bit spotty. A couple of times I got the dreaded “connection lost, trying to get it back” message. Thankfully the second time worked, but I lost quite a bit of the first half of the panel. Obviously if you are going to do this you have to have a good connection.
Microphone technique becomes much more important if you are using Skype. The mics that are provided in convention centers tend to be sensitive and highly directional. People who keep moving their head while speaking, or who wave the mic around as if they are on Top of the Pops (where, as you should know, everyone is miming) are a menace, because you only get to hear half of what they say.
That goes double for audience questions. Even if you provide people with a mic, the chances are they will mis-use it. Kudos to Cat for realizing this and repeating the questions for me.
Moderators who have one or more Skype panelists should probably keep an eye on the text window. This wasn’t really an issue for us, but if I’d had a problem then texting via Skype might be the only way I had to let the moderator know.
The thing I wasn’t expecting was how much I missed visual clues. I know Cat and Ctein so I could recognize their voices, but I had difficultly telling whether Julia or Heather was speaking, and it was clear that the panel was never quite sure if I’d finished, and was politely not jumping in too soon. Having video as well would probably have helped, except that no one would have wanted to see me at 4:00am.
If there’s anyone who was at the panel who would like to see my lecture at Liverpool University earlier this year, you can find it here.
The new Ian McDonald novel isn’t actually out for about a month, but he has been on Coode Street to talk about, and I wanted my review live today so that I can talk about it on the panel tonight. Yes, Ian has done interesting things with sexuality and gender in this book too. My review is a little spoilery, but I don’t think there’s anything much worse that what Ian has already said to Jonathan & Gary. I very much enjoyed the book, and am looking forward with excitement to future volumes, and with some trepidation to the TV series. You can find my review here.
I do hope that people take notice of this book. There are a lot of people out there asking for more diversity in SF&F. That’s a good thing. There are also people trying to deliver, but those asking for diversity often tend not to see it if it isn’t written by a woman and published as YA. I can understand why, but we need this diversity and we shouldn’t ignore any of it.
No, of course I am not in Spokane. That doesn’t mean that I won’t be involved in Worldcon. They can’t get rid of me that easily.
As most of you will know, on Saturday night I will be helping Kevin and Mur Lafferty co-host the text-based coverage of the Hugo Award Ceremony. Because of my travel plans, I’ll actually be doing this from a hotel room in Liverpool. The ceremony starts at 4:00am my time. Ouch. You can find information about how to watch the coverage here.
However, it appears that won’t be my only involvement. I may be on a panel too. Tonight Cat Valente is moderating a panel titled “Exploring Orientation and Gender in Fiction”. There are no obviously trans people on the panel, so last night Cat put out a call on Twitter for trans writers who might want to help out. I muttered something about not being there, and to my surprise and delight Cat offered to Skype me in. There’s no guarantee this will work. The tech might not be up to it, and someone at Sasquan may decide that fandom needs to be protected from a notorious Menace like me. However, we are going to give it a try. That means I have to be up for a 4:00am event tomorrow morning too.
Anyway, fingers cross, and huge thanks to Cat for making the offer.
It is a good job that all I’m doing on Friday and Sunday is catching trains.