Mermaids, poetry, Nine Worlds, and the Edinburgh Fringe

Other Voices will be on at the Banshee Labyrinth, Niddry St, 14:50 - 15:40 every day except Wednesdays. (Image from the Other Voices website.)

Other Voices will be on at the Banshee Labyrinth, Niddry St, 14:50 – 15:40 every day except Wednesdays. (Image from the Other Voices website.)

Hello, dear readers! Once again, doing all the things has left me with little time to blog about the things – so here is a quick flying update on what’s coming up in the next week!

Edinburgh Fringe Festival: this year I’m joining the cast of five-star poetry show Other Voices, and I am excited beyond belief about this. I’ll be sharing the cabaret stage with a number of very talented spoken word performers – catch me at The Banshee Labyrinth at 2:50pm on the 10th, 12th, and 14th. Expect queer-feminist rage, mythology and fairytales as you’ve never seen them before, and a dash of wit and witchery. I’m also hoping to make it to various open mics while I’m there!

Nine Worlds Geekfest: I’m not at Nine Worlds myself this year, but my work will be! (I hope you like mermaids. If you don’t like mermaids, what are you even here for? :p ) After The Mermaid’s Wish was listed as a source material for the Nine Worlds Game Jam, I wasn’t sure what could top that in terms of artistic collaboration/cross-pollination – but Eithin is giving it a go! Jewellery based on my poem ‘Washed Up’ (yes, that’s another take on The Little Mermaid) will be available from the Eithin stall at the convention, 9am-5pm on Saturday, and costing £15 per piece. Seeing my poem cut up and turned into jewellery feels really interesting – I like the way that it focuses the attention on certain juxtapositions of words that perhaps are less obvious in the complete poem. I’m absolutely in love with the use of colour and texture (images of a type of seaweed mentioned in the poem), and frankly thrilled at the idea of people wearing something I’ve had a part in making.

'Washed Up' jewellery, available from Eithin at Nine Worlds. (Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/ravenmagic/14657327498/in/photostream/ )

‘Washed Up’ jewellery, available from Eithin at Nine Worlds. (Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/ravenmagic/14657327498/in/photostream/ )

#RefugePoetry 100-poem Challenge: on August 15th I’ll be joining poet Claire Trévien and a number of others for a day of high-intensity creativity, to raise money for domestic violence support service Refuge. The 15th is the day after I get back from Edinburgh, so I plan to spend the day in a  caffeine-fuelled haze of writing! Can I write 100 poems in one day? No idea, but it’ll be fun finding out! I’ll be taking inspiration from postcards, random word generators, and prompts from whoever wishes to give them – including YOU. If you’d like to make sure I write something for your prompt, you can sponsor me here – but you’re welcome to prompt without sponsoring, sponsor without prompting, or indeed do neither (though I’d love it if you did). Our team page is here; you can read more about how Refuge is under threat here. I’ll be posting the results online!

(A note about the fundraising: transphobia/transmisogyny is endemic in some women-only services, and is backed up by a loophole in the 2010 Equality Act that allows women’s crisis services to discriminate against trans women. To the best of my knowledge, Refuge does not exclude trans women from their services. I telephoned them on Monday and the person I spoke to said it was her understanding that trans women were welcome as staff and as service-users, and offered to check through their Equality & Diversity policy and confirm this. I have not heard back since; if it does transpire that Refuge operate a transmisogynist policy then I would welcome guidance from trans women on what to do next.)

That’s all for now – thank you for reading!

A statement pendant made from the first three lines of 'Washed Up'. I love this so much - hope it finds a good home at Nine Worlds! Image by Eithin.

A statement pendant made from the first three lines of ‘Washed Up’. I love this so much – hope it finds a good home at Nine Worlds! Image by Eithin.

 

The Mermaid’s Wish – recording now online!

After longer than I’d like to admit spent wrestling with audio software, I’m very pleased to present a listenable version of my fairytale “The Mermaid’s Wish” – a response to and retelling of the Anderson classic. Content warnings: blood, sexual violence, gendered oppression, death.

Autumn to winter

It’s been a while since I updated with what’s going on in my life, so – for anyone who might have been wondering – here comes an abridged account of the past few months. (I’d like to talk in more detail about many of the things below, but perfectionism means that I’ve been putting off posting anything until it’s just right, which means this blog has carried on being empty! So for the meantime, a whistle-stop tour of what’s been happening since August.)

Nine Worlds was an absolute blast – I was shattered by the end of it, but I had an amazing time. I spent most of my time in the Queer Fandom track, with forays into various others, and loved performing at the Bifröst cabaret. The “Better History = Better Fantasy: Writing Outside the Binary”  panel that I spoke in was an incredible experience: the audience, the chair (Alex Dally MacFarlane), and the other panellists (Koel Mukherjee and Rochita Loenen-Ruiz) were all bursting with information and enthusiasm, and the discussions sparked were so valuable. I took a lot of notes and really should write about this properly at some point, but, yeah, it was such an awesome space – and I was really pleased that even though this wasn’t a panel “about” race, the other two panellists were women of colour (because structural racism/sexism still exists in queer spaces, and definitely exists in SFF, and can only be addressed by empowering marginalised voices). I enjoyed every session I attended, was wowed by the beautiful things for sale in the vendors section, and briefly cosplayed as Queen Chrysalis. And the geeky disco was great. (Absurdly, I think a favourite moment was when I realised that every time I was a speaker (and one time I wasn’t), I had managed to get the room briefly and intensely angry about all the inherent misogyny in Steven Moffat’s oeuvre. Seriously, he’s all over British television right now, and there’s insidious sexism oozing out of everything he creates.)

If you’d like to read more about Nine Worlds right this minute (as opposed to waiting for me to write more, if I ever get round to it) there are some lovely reviews up on blogs Serenity Womble  and Ferretbrain – I’m linking to those because even though I didn’t go to all the same sessions as those bloggers did, their experiences and perspectives (as feminist and/or queer people who felt welcomed) are pretty close to mine. Oh, and following my talk in the Academia track about Margaret Cavendish as an early writer of (or precursor to) SFF, I was invited to contribute an article on this topic to the first issue of Holdfast Magazine: it’s available to read online here.

If Nine Worlds was intense, the Edinburgh Fringe was… well, perhaps a new word needs to be invented to describe how intense it was. I’d been in Lashings show-runs before (Oxford Fringe 2012 and 2013), so I’m used to them as distinct from our more variety-show style gigs; I’d stayed in the Edinburgh Lash-flat before (as a guest) so was prepared for the delightful ‘queer feminist vegetarian commune’ vibe of life there; however, combining the two for a week of performances was new and challenging, particularly as someone with unreliable health (I was unwell for quite a bit of my time there). The packed auditorium of radical queers on the last night was the perfect reward. As well as performing in the Lashings queer panto Fanny Whittington, I managed to do some poetry at Flea Circus‘s 3-day slam and Other Voices’s alternative spoken word cabaret, and saw some great shows (highlights included Sophia Walker’s poetry, Rachel Parris’ musical comedy, and Lisa Skye’s highly individual one-woman show Ladyboner).

My costume for Transpose as The Queer Agenda - a hand-lettered t-shirt (reading "To Do: - Feed cat - Buy soy milk - Smash heteropatriarchy and cissexism") and a rainbow bustle. I wore this with rainbow galaxy leggings!

My costume for Transpose as The Queer Agenda – a hand-lettered t-shirt and a rainbow bustle. I wore this with rainbow galaxy leggings!

Staying with the topic of performances, my absolute favourite thing the past few months was the Hallowe’en edition of Transpose. There were readings from Kat Gupta, Jacq Applebee, Sandra Alland and myself; films by and about trans disabled people (introduced by Sandra Alland, who was given funding to mentor them in making these films); and music from Squid and the Krakens (moonlighting as They Came From The Sea) and of course CN Lester. Everyone was, pardon the expletive, fucking brilliant – and €385 was raised for Transgender Equality Network Ireland. I also loved how creative the costumes were – CN came as the Gender Binary, which led to a number of similarly conceptual costumes such as the Lavender Menace (a superhero/ine in delicate shades of purple) and Fifty Shades of Grey (an all-grey outfit strung with housepaint colour sample sheets) . My costume was the Queer Agenda (see picture!) and there was also a contingent of Lashings villains: Dick and Osbourne from Fanny Whittington; and from Cinderella, the eeeeevil Baroness Scratcher and her son Boris (who, along with Dave, comprised the Snotty Stepbrothers). The auction was full of highly tempting items, including a year’s supply of CN’s baking (!!!) and a cross-stitched “Don’t be a dick” sign. Again, I really want to write more about everything, but for now – there’s an review of Transpose (written on Facebook by a long-time fan of the events) reproduced in CN’s link above: there’s also a review (with pictures!) on Jacq’s tumblr, and another review here.

At Transpose I read one of my fairytales, “The Mermaid’s Wish” – a response to the Andersen story, rather than a retitling of my other mermaid-related fairytale – and, honestly, I’m really proud of how it went. As I said in my post about Verse Kraken, I find it interesting that I’m moving away from my initial model of expressly not-doing responses/retellings to specific stories, in which I was more about making use of prevalent tropes/themes/motifs as “ingredients” for new stories. I think it’s partly because the more research I’m doing, the more I want to engage actively with specific source texts as well as the genre as a whole. (I also keep meaning to blog about what I’m researching  – maybe soon…)

Related to this, I’m doing a workshop on fairytales at the upcoming LaDIYfest Sheffield this Saturday. It’s an all-ages workshop (by request of the organisers), and will hopefully get people thinking about gender and sexuality in fairytales and even inspire them to get writing their own. I’m very excited to have been invited to do this, and am really looking forward to it. The whole event looks like it will be fantastic – check out the full workshop timetable here. (If I feel up to it before LaDIYfest, I’ll write a longer post about fairytales – and I’ll definitely try to write something on here summing up the workshop, as I imagine it will be really productive and interesting.)

And on the topic of workshops, I also facilitated a workshop about transgender representation in student media at the recent ULU Autumn Liberation conference, using as case studies pieces published in student media in the past few years. Unfortunately it was the day after I received news of a good friend’s death, so I didn’t manage to cover everything I’d hoped to do. The group were forgiving, though, and I hope it was still more valuable than if I’d simply dropped out.

I’m currently unwell again – apparently grief lowers your immune system – and so have been spending a lot of this month indoors  and at something of a low ebb. I’ll admit I’m scared that this could be a health relapse, even though I know it probably isn’t. Most of this post was drafted a few days ago – before I went to the third in the Trans Seminars series at the University of Warwick, and in further advance of LaDIYfest, which is now tomorrow! So, I’ll leave discussion of the seminar for another time, and finally post this entry. 😉 I hope you’re all well, friends and readers, and I’ll try to get into the swing of updating more regularly!

Transpose: London Pride Edition

This is another one of those flying updates along the lines of “hey, I’m doing some stuff – come see it!”

This Friday is the biggest and most packed Transpose yet – see above for details, and if you’re able to make it, then please do come along.

And while you’re checking out CN’s blog, there’s a lot of writing from me in the “Beyond the Binary” panel answers – we’re over half way through now…

a gentleman and a scholar

Transpose poster

 

 

Just in case you’ve somehow managed to avoid my constant chattering about this, I’d like to invite you (ever so cordially) to join us this Friday, June 28th, for the London Pride edition of Transpose. It’s everything that Transpose normally is, but BIGGER – but still for charity, and only £5 on the door.

 

 

We’re back in the gorgeous Cinema Museum with videos from My Genderation, storytelling from Roz Kaveney, Jacqueline Applebee and Hel Gurney, art and a videobooth from the Translations project, art from Claudia Moroni and Sara Moralo, poetry from Lyman Gamberton, AJ McKenna, Kat Gupta and Elaine O’Neill, and music from me and Wild. 

 

 

This time we’re raising funds for You Are Loved, the trans suicide prevention project – I don’t need to tell you how important that is. The more people through the…

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Flying update + last day to register for ‘Being Ourselves’

Hello, world!

A very quick thing – I’m speaking at ‘Being Ourselves’ in London next Saturday (June 1st), a free Albert Kennedy Trust event aimed at young trans and/or intersex people, and their friends and supporters. If you’d like to attend, today is the last day to register (which you can do by emailing studentlondon@akt.org.uk with the subject line “Being Ourselves”).

As a more general update, the gloriously hectic month continues – I’ve been to #roles2013, #qfpraxis, #transseminars, and #troublinggender – all academic conferences to do with gender and/or sexuality, where I’ve listened to some fascinating ideas and research, delivered papers of my own, performed radical queer feminist burlesque twice, and (in one particularly surreal instance) heard a paper which examined my project The Cutlery Drawer as an example of the “cut-and-paste” and “DIY” nature of the trans music scene (which, the paper, concludes “isn’t”, in the same way that punk “isn’t”). On top of this, I’m continuing with my very exciting internship working on All About Trans with On Road Media, and am in rehearsals for the premiere of Lashings’ newest endeavour, queer lefty pantomime Fanny Whittington. Oh, and I’m still writing, of course.

If the long list of academic conferences above has whetted your appetite for hearing people talk about transgender and/or genderqueer things, then you’re in luck: the videos from the Spotlight on Genderqueer conference are now appearing online! The YouTube playlist currently has Zowie Davy’s keynote speech, my own talk ‘Approaching Genderqueer Historiography’, and James Hooper on anachronism and ‘transvestite monks’. (I am, of course, desperately wanting to go through the video and correct all the little slip-ups, as well as add back in five minutes’ worth of the material that I excised to be sure of coming within the time-limit – but as a good friend informs me, unchanging perfection is the death of creation, so I should be glad that there’s an imperfect talk of mine up on the internet. 😉 ) For anyone who is interested in my work on Woolf, the Prezi from my more detailed discussion of Woolf at ‘Troubling Gender’ is available here.

That’s all for now – see you on the other side! (And perhaps either at ‘Being Ourselves’, or the opening night of Fanny Whittington at the Oxford Fringe…)

Adventures in trans advocacy

So, I’m suddenly doing a lot of speaking and writing about trans things, in new and exciting contexts – and here’s a blog about it!

In short: I went on the radio, met some BBC executives, spoke at a conference on genderqueer, and am participating in an online education project! For the longer version, read on…

I’ve started interning with On Road Media, with the remit of working on Phase Two of their ‘Trans Media Action‘ project. Phase One was hosting ‘Trans Camp’, where media professionals and trans people spent a day workshopping ideas on improving trans representation – one of the things that came out of it was the Trans Comedy Award, which is offering up to £5000 for a comic script that portrays trans people in a positive light. I know some really talented trans people who have submitted their scripts to this, and I’m excited to see what comes of it – the scripts are being judged by trans people, so I’m confident they won’t let anything hateful slip through the net.

Phase Two is titled ‘All About Trans’, and as such, there’s a new website (and the Twitter account has been renamed). ‘All About Trans’ involves facilitating interactions between media professionals and trans people, in a friendly and low-pressure environment, allowing them to collect on a human level.  So, I’ve been doing research and writing for the site, as well as some photography and design work. You can look at the site and see pictures I’ve taken! Also, you can see my face. (I did a double-take where there was a picture of me and other volunteers as one of the (cycling) header images. I’ve no idea how long it’ll be there, but… yes. There we go. I’m the one with the really long hair.)

As part of working with On Road Media, I’ve already had some amazing opportunities to talk about genderqueer identity. On my first day, I accompanied Alana (from On Road) and Jamie (from The Test Shot) to a radio interview on Resonance FM! We were interviewed by Rosie Wilby on ‘Out in South London’, and I answered some questions about genderqueer, language, and feminism. You can listen to it here on the Out in South London site, or directly on SoundCloud (we’re 37 minutes in). And last Tuesday, I went on the very first interaction – meeting BBC executives in the London Aquarium. It’s been written up on the On Road site, and I might write about it myself at some point. I feel really pleased that I got to speak about genderqueer to someone who’d never encountered the term before, and who was so willing to listen – and I think we also got along pretty well, chatting about poetry and mythmaking and the world of performance. (He quoted T.S. Eliot at me – I finished the line. That was probably my favourite non-trans-related moment.)

On Road Media work aside, I also was delighted to be a speaker at (and ad-hoc assistant organiser of) the ‘Spotlight on Genderqueer‘ conference at the University of Warwick. I gave my paper on genderqueer historiography as the first paper after the introduction and keynote (you can read the abstract here), and then spent the rest of the conference frantically live-tweeting, and doing tech support and organisation in the background, having been drafted in to help with setup and operation the day before (alongside Kat Gupta, who was an absolute hero). It was an utterly brilliant day, with some fascinating and thought-provoking papers – and if you wish you could have been there, despair not! There’s a comprehensive Storify put together by Dr Caroline Walters, and videos (recorded by Alex Drummond) with transcripts will eventually be available on the website. In the evening, we went straight into the  corresponding arts event ‘Fork the Binary‘, put together by me and conference organiser Ruth Pearce under the aegis of our various promoter labels, The Cutlery Drawer and Rolling Head. It was a night of diverse acts from trans, queer, and (predominantly) genderqueer artists, and I bloody loved it. (I did at one point nearly collapse from a combination of tiredness and a bump on the head, but still, it was excellent.)

Finally, I’m taking part in the next of CN Lester’s Q&A projects – this time, with questions being directed to a panel of people who identify in ways other than uncomplicatedly ‘male’ or ‘female’. Please go and ask us questions here – it closes on May 8th!

(As for NUS LGBT Conference – well, it had some very proud moments for trans people, and some very dark moments. I’ll leave that entry for another time!)

* I spent perhaps too long working out whether to say ‘advocacy’ or ‘activism’; I do consider myself a trans activist (and a queer activist, and a feminist activist), but I think the contents of this blog come more under ‘advocacy’.

Weekend wondrousness: Nine Worlds party and ‘Transpose: Cinematic Edition’

So, last weekend was amazing. I went to two fantastic events in London – the Nine Worlds end-of-Kickstarter celebration, and the latest iteration of Transpose.

The Nine Worlds celebration was held in the same venue as the launch – a friendly warehouse crammed with sofas, mattresses, and rope lights, with table of donated drinks and snacks. The Kickstarter aimed to raise £10,000 – it ended up with over £23,000! I’m so excited about attending Nine Worlds, and it looks like I’ll be speaking about early science fiction there on one of the panels. I loved the convivial atmosphere, and left feeling like I’d made a lot of new friends – which is always a sign of a good evening. We were treated to a double-set from Oxford-based ‘space folk’ band The Mechanisms. The Mechanisms have a very special place in my heart – they played their last gig as ‘Dr. Carmilla and the Mechanisms’ at the first Transpose. After Dr. Carmilla left to pursue her solo career, they played their first gig as ‘The Mechanisms’ at the first ever Cutlery Drawer event, Moulin Rage. I’ve followed them with adoration and interest for a long while, and I’ve been proud to book them or share the stage with them at various events. At the Nine Worlds gig, they played a full run-through of their album Once Upon A Time (In Space) – which I’ve actually discussed at length in an essay about queerness and orality in modern fairytales – before playing the second ever run-through of their new album, Ulysses Dies At Dawn. They’re currently raising money via IndieGogo to produce a studio version, but you can have a listen on their website to the recording from the first live performance (which I was also at – and yes, it was fantastic). Where Once Upon A Time situates a number of altered fairy tales in an intergalactic war in the futuristic dystopian world of the Mechs, Ulysses Dies At Down revisions Greek myths and places them on a single planet, which has been taken over by a single sprawling city. I recommend both very highly.

On Sunday, there was Transpose: Cinematic Edition. It was absolutely incredible. I spent most of the evening either smiling so widely it was almost painful, or on the edge of crying, or both. It was held in the atmospheric Cinema Museum, which is fast establishing itself as a new hub of trans and queer culture, having hosted the album launch of night organiser CN Lester’s project ‘Dark Angels‘ and initiated a series of ‘Transculture‘ arts events. As befitting the venue, the ‘cinematic’ theme of the night meant that rather than the usual mix of music and spoken word, it was instead music and film. Jason Elvis Barker opened with two of his short films: one comparing his trans puberty with that of a younger cis male relative; one documenting his partner’s struggle with cancer and their attempts to conceive a baby. Both were raw, tender, and funny. Next up was a film from The Devotion Project – ‘a series of short films celebrating LGBTQ love ‘ – presented by Neil Young (who answered questions afterwards). It was a portrait of a heterosexual-appearing couple and their young child: only once their personalities and the loving, stable nature of their family had been established did we learn that the man was trans, the woman was bisexual, and both continued to consider themselves part of the queer community. It was incredibly sweet: and as I said at the time, it was wonderful to see documentary representations of trans people living their lives happily, and presented without sensationalism or fetishising. Finally, we saw three pieces created and presented by Fox and Lewis, who made their names on Channel 4 documentary ‘My Transsexual Summer’: firstly, the first two short episodes of a ‘catch-up’ show about the stars of MTS, and secondly, the first episode of their exciting new project ‘My Genderation‘. It was joyous and sad and beautiful and amazing – in particular the first episode of My Genderation, looking at the life of a trans guy in Brighton, was at once heartwrenching and hopeful.

And then there was the music. The immensely talented CN Lester played a set combining requests, classics from debut album Ashes, and two songs from the in-progress album Aether. I was honoured that the set commenced with my request – a slow, sad rendition of the wistful song ‘Between Us There Is Nothing‘, as written by Clive James and released by Pete Atkin. (Incidentally, I sometimes fear I am the only fan of Pete Atkin under 40: so please, check out his albums, they are pure lyrical brilliance.) The Ashes songs were beautiful as always, and the two new ones from Aether – well, I was almost in tears. The last act of the night was singer-songwriter Wild, who treated us to guitar music in the tradition of folk and blues: I’d never heard Wild sing before, but I was instantly converted into a fan.

Both Saturday and Sunday daytimes were spent working – rehearsing, writing, and plotting with Lashings of Ginger Beer Time, and writing and submitting an abstract and performance pitch for an academic conference. On the second note, I found out just this evening that they’ve both been accepted – so if you happen to be at the Troubling Gender conference in Sheffield, you’ll be able to hear me talking about Virginia Woolf and androgyny, and singing with Lashings of Ginger Beer Time about our usual range of queer-feminist topics. (I’ve just made an Academia page for this blog in celebration, as I’ve now got four conference papers to my name!)

So that was my weekend. It was bloody brilliant. And in the process of just describing the things that were on stage, believe me that I haven’t properly captured the warmth and friendliness and general wondrousness of both events: old friends, new friends, friends I’d not seen in years, people I’d heard of, people who’d heard of me (?!), all in a dreamy melting-pot of camaraderie. I do love socialising in London. Stay tuned for more on my incredibly busy week – attending NUS Women’s Conference and giving a talk on the history of the interaction between trans and feminist discourse at Sussex University…

Article, workshop, book!

Another flying update for you, dear reader! Here are three things which you might find interesting:

I’ve co-written another piece about the Burchill/Moore mess with Sussex PhD researcher Lizzie Reed, which has now been published at academic blog Re.Framing Activism.

I’ll be running a workshop this Sunday, at StudentFems2013. It is amazing to see something like this coming out of the grassroots student feminist movement, and I’m honored to be a part of it. As well as providing the usual “Trans 101”, I’m hoping to facilitate a productive discussion about the points of intersection between trans and feminist thought, and the different ways that gender is envisioned and constructed in culture.

Finally, I’d like to alert any LGBTQ Brightonians to Queer in Brighton – it’s an awesome multimedia project about Brighton’s queer history, and the deadline for short written submissions for the printed anthology is the 1st of March. If you have a memory of being LGBTQ in Brighton that you want to share, then do consider sending something in – it looks like it’s going to be amazing.

Genre, commercialism, and why I’m excited for Nine Worlds Geekfest

To a greater or lesser extent, I’ve been a fan of science fiction and fantasy for most of my life. I was raised on Tolkien and had read my way through the entire YA fantasy/sci-fi section of the village library by my early teens. I have since pursued a love affair with fiction that is in some way speculative or fantastical – and frequently get annoyed with the arbitrary genre distinctions forced upon it, wherein Huxley’s Brave New World and Woolf’s Orlando are respectable “literary fiction” while other works dealing with similar themes – politics, identity, the impact of magic and/or technology upon culture – become ghettoised away from mainstream literary culture and further fragmented into various genres. I recently encountered this fantastic quote  from Deepa Dharmadhikari:

In discourses around genre there are two common dividing lines. Authorial identity separates the atheist straight white dudes writing SFF and the erotica-peddling white women writing paranormal romance from the translated brown people who believe in ghosts and multiple gods and write magical realism. Narrative agenda meanwhile claims that escapism via soul-bonding animal companions is fantasy, allegory via dystopian cyborgs is literary fiction and social chastisement via talking parrots is post-colonial literature. And […] “horror” is only applied to books about zombies and not, say, genocidal pogroms…

So – genre distinctions. I find them something of a pain in the neck, and I’ve tried to approach books and film and television without much regard for how they’re being marketed. I adore stories set in worlds other than our own because they are fascinating arenas for sociopolitical critique and thought-experiments, and because (perhaps more than any other genre) they can make vividly real a plethora of experiences which are far beyond what readers experience in day-to-day life. (Also, spaceships and dragons – come on!) If a work does that, then I’m interested – no matter what label has been slapped on it, or which shelf it’s kept on in the shop, or whether the cover is just the title in a minimalist font or a brightly-coloured space battle. Still, I think it’s inevitable that with this interest in the speculative and fantastical, I’ve ended up being (more or less) a part of SFF fandom and ‘geek culture’.

But while I buy into that culture, in that my shelves are full of fantasy and sci-fi, the accompanying sphere of merchandise leaves me cold. For example, I really don’t enjoy going to Forbidden Planet. It’s cool to have a tonne of books, DVDs, and graphic novels of related interest all in one place – but also gathered together are all the figurines, badges, posters, collectors’ editions which will halve in value if someone unwraps them… It makes feel queasy. I don’t like the idea I need to reify my love for a work of art – whether book, film, graphic novel, or TV series – by collecting scale models of the characters or buying Doctor Who branded stationary or whatever. And that’s not to pooh-pooh the choices of people who do love to collect things – I’m writing this from a room containing my dad’s collection of rare Tolkien imprints, for goodness’ sake – but for me, I’d rather engage with a work by talking and thinking and writing about it. (I realise I’m setting up something of a dichotomy here, which perhaps isn’t fair – I realise that critical engagement and buying merch aren’t mutually exclusive, but from my perspective they feel like very different types of fan activity. I’d be really interested to hear from people who feel otherwise!)

I do wonder if part of the artificial boundary between “literary fiction” that just happens to deal with magic or the future of technology, and the ghettoised genres of science fiction and fantasy, is at all related to the way the latter are marketed and merchandised. As far as I’m aware, there aren’t figurines of Jeanette Winterson’s talking demon from Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit or officially-sanctioned Ministry of Love ringbinders and lunchboxes. Sometimes, it feels like the dividing line of genre is created (or at least sustained) by what people think they can sell to the fans.

The one convention I’ve been to – MCM Expo in London – was like my least favourite parts of Forbidden Planet, writ large. Rows upon rows of stalls hawking fan merch, a couple of samples for new computer games, a few celebrities signing autographs. Nothing that requires creative or intellectual engagement – just the requirement to buy more stuff. Consume, consume, consume. I wandered the aisles for a while, but most of the interest came from the other fans there – getting chatting over costumes or overheard fragments of conversation.

Now I’m out of university – where thinking critically about cultural production with groups of other people and then writing about it was essentially my ‘job’ – I’m champing at the bit for opportunities to do that again, about books and films that I love. So this year, I’ve decided to check out some of the less commercial, more fan-run conventions out there. I know quite a few people who have enjoyed Redemption – unfortunately I can’t head up to Coventry for it because it’s at the same time as the Tolkien Spring School! (Yes, £160 is a wince-inducing price, and not once I’m paying myself: my dad is celebrating a significant birthday this year and is taking the rest of the family out to a big fancy sports thing; as his nerdiest progeny, he’s taking me to Tolkien Spring School instead…)  There’s also EasterCon, which, again, is one that various friends have attended and enjoyed – definitely on the list. (And if I’m ever in a position where I can jet over to the USA, then I’d love to attend WisCon – the feminist sci-fi convention where Moment of Change was launched.)

But the big one that’s getting me excited is Nine Worlds – it’s a new convention, organised by some people with an excellent track record of events in the LGBT community, and it ticks a bunch of my favourite boxes. It has some fabulously diverse content being planned – as well as tracks on things like “Tolkien”, “Whedon”, and “Harry Potter”, it’s got “SF & F Academia”, “Geek Feminism”, and “Queer Fandom”. Oh my, yes please. Fan-run, fan-centred, and looking like it’ll be full of the sort of creative and critical engagement I’m craving. And there’s a robust anti-harassment policy, which (having heard from American friends about what some of the stateside conventions are like) is music to my ears. They’re raising money on Kickstarter right now – early bird tickets are £65, and if they don’t get enough by the end of the month then the convention won’t be going ahead. If anything on the site looks good to you, then do consider them backing them: I’ll be very sad if this doesn’t happen!

… so, something of a rambling post this time. I realise I’ve more gestured towards ideas than explored them, but I’d be very interested to hear more thoughts on genre, the relationship between commercialism and nerd culture, or indeed which conventions I should be setting my sights on.

(Finally, here’s a related thing I found interesting: librarian Jessica Zellers on bridging the divide between fantasy fiction and literary fiction.)