Sunday, 7 February 2010

T is for Token

It's LGBT History Month, and here in Bristol, as in other places all over the country, it is marked by events and stuff. As the City Council mission statement says,

For many years the discrimination and hostility towards LGBT people has caused many lives and achievements to pass unrecognised. This has often meant that images of LGBT people and their contribution to society have been distorted and stereotyped. This ignorance has in turn led to prejudice that shows itself in homophobic bullying and negative discrimination. By presenting an honest appraisal of LGBT lives we hope to replace ignorance with knowledge and understanding.
Which is a very good thing, of course. I approve of replacing ignorance with knowledge and understanding. For instance, take Barbara Janke, Leader of Bristol City Council, who said "This month of events offers an opportunity for people, no matter what their own sexuality, to celebrate, discuss and re-examine the contribution made by lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people." She might learn that transsexuality is an identity thing, not a sexuality thing. Though where would she learn that? In a book? Hang on-

I was at the library the other day and picked up their list of Recommended Reads for LGBT History Month. (click on the images to make them larger)

The list might possibly be admired for its steering clear of the obvious... sometimes, anyway. Gertrude Stein's Alice B Toklas is jolly good stuff. Though I tried reading Herman Melville once and found him quite hard going; but no doubt Billy Budd has got something useful to contribute to our knowledge and understanding, as it was written in 1887 and has been suspected to have some homoerotic content, in there somewhere.

Patricia Duncker's historical novel about James Barry, the nineteenth century surgeon who was apparently born female, is presumably the T element of the list. Or can you spot anything else?

Meanwhile, over in Norwich.....


  1. Nope... that's the only Trans one in there.

    Wonder where they got that suggested reading list from?

    Stonewall, perhaps?


  2. when I see a reading list like this I realise how much I haven't read

  3. This reading list reminds me that, though I have read quite a few poems and books by or about LGB (and one T) writer, I have only scratched the surface of the possible canon.

  4. I was most concerned by the spelling mistakes - Geovannis' room, Evelyn Waughe. By chance (didn't know it was LGBT month) I've just published a little article on LGBT issues in Rome/Greece for Iris magazine Dru - a magazine aimed at schools teaching classics in the state sector - and I give full weight to T - Iphis, Tiresias and Caenis.

  5. I guess that one problem is that most books dealing with T stuff are either gender politics or transition biographies, so there's not that much literary lit, as it were. I had thought of suggesting Ovid and Woolf's Orlando, or even Apuleius, with tongue firmly in cheek.

    I hadn't heard of Iris, Sarah, though I have now, thank you! It hardly seemed worth picking up on the spelling, in comparison with the oddity of the list as a whole. I mean, Melville? I read Ali Smith's book because of the Iphis connection, by the way, but was a bit underwhelmed.

  6. Middlesex, as far as I recall, is about transexuality. I know you say that you'd only recommend Orlando 'tongue in cheek' but it's a great novel and in fact there are several explorations of transexuality in sf/fantasy which might have been included - Angela Carter's The Passion of New Eve, Bujold's A Civil Campaign has a transexuality sub plot and Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, although not precisely about transexuality, is wonderful. And - strangely - The Marvelous Land of Oz ends with the transformation of its boy hero, Tip, into Princess Ozma. Finally I'd add Georgette Heyer's The Masqueraders as its central characters are both transvestites (brother and sister) and, considering it's a light hearted Regency romance, it's quite subversive about gender roles. There are lots of girls dressed as boys in romances - but it's unusual to find a young man who enjoys dressing up as a girl and is good at it.

  7. Cal in Middlesex is physically intersexed, as I recall, and I know some IS people who get v stroppy indeed at being lumped in with the TS lot. Having said that, it is a very good book and covers similar ground in the gender role questioning stuff.

    The tongue was mostly in the cheek over Apuleius; I too love Orlando, and The Passion Of New Eve, too, even if they rely on magic for their transformations. Thanks for the other suggestions! There is definitely a place in the list for them; but I think that it's important to have some useful practical stuff about trans life as it is experienced, too.

  8. "even if they rely on magic"? -early in the day! We need magic in our lives!