I am a cis man. For those who haven’t come across the term that means, very basically, that when I was born someone said “It’s a boy!”, and I’ve never seen any particular reason to argue with that assessment.
As a cis man, I am fairly clueless when it comes to issues of gender identity, on an almost Peter-from-Fist-of-Fun level (“ladies… they’re the ones with like, eyes, on their chests?”). However, rather amazingly, it seems there are a lot of people with even less Clue than me. The only thing I can think, since there are many, many, explanations of all this stuff online, is that those people are waiting for an explanation from someone “like them”.
Therefore, a guide for the clueless, from the very-slightly-less-clueless. What follows will undoubtedly be full of inaccuracies and wrongness, and will probably make those with actual Clue cringe, and I apologise for that. But the idea here is to hammer some basic points into people who are even wronger than I am, but who are more used to hearing things from straight white cis men than from anyone who isn’t that.
1) Trans men are men. Trans women are women.
2) No, really. I know you’re about to say “but by definition and then go on to talk about genitals or chromosomes. It’s you, not them, who’s using the wrong definition, because when we talk about men or women in normal conversation, we’re not talking about genitals or chromosomes. I have never run a DNA test on any of my friends, and the number of them whose genitals I have personally inspected is very small (and I’m sure the rest are very grateful for that). Nonetheless, I can tell which ones are women, because they’re called things like Jennie or Emily or Debi, and they look like women, and they sometimes say things like “I am a woman”. Similarly, the ones who are men are called things like Dave or James or Richard, and often have beards or male-pattern baldness or say “I am a man”.
If you’re at all honest, you’ll admit that that’s how *you* tell men from women as well. If the chromosome or genital-configuration tests give a different result, so much the worse for those tests.
3) No, you don’t need to play devil’s advocate about this. While the precise boundaries of gender definition may be of great academic interest to you, arguing that trans people aren’t “really” who they say they are leads to greater prejudice against them. Given the horrific rates of attempted suicide among trans people, and how much lower those rates are when the people in question are in a supportive environment, maybe you could just shut up about your thought experiments for a while?
4) Some people are neither men nor women. If you don’t understand that, just take their word for it. They know better than you who they are. This does not, however, negate point 1 above. Trans men are men, trans women are women, non-binary people are non-binary people.
5) No, “cis” isn’t a slur. It just means “not trans”. On the other hand, pretty much any term you’ve ever heard for a trans person, other than “a trans person”, *is* a slur. Generally speaking, if you learned a word from porn, you probably shouldn’t call someone it, unless you’re in the kind of interesting situation that this post does not cover.
6) No, no-one wants to make you feel bad about being cis. Most trans people don’t care about you one way or the other. If you act like an arsehole, though, they probably do want you to feel bad about that.
7) The fact that some prominent feminists say trans women aren’t women doesn’t make it the case. Having a column in the Guardian doesn’t make you the repository of all truth, and just because someone is left-wing doesn’t make them immune from bigotry. Arguments should be examined on their own merits, not on authority, and so saying “but Julie Bindel/Germaine Greer/Cathy Brennan says…” doesn’t make the argument any less fallacious.
8) No, you shouldn’t ask someone if they’ve had surgery. Among the things that most human beings consider the most private are their genitals and their medical history. Asking a question about both at the same time is rude and intrusive.
9) No, you shouldn’t ask what their name used to be, either. For many trans people this can be a very, very sore subject.
10) Most important of all, you should NOT BE LIKE ME, AND NOT LISTEN TO ME. Seriously, did you even read the bit at the beginning about me being clueless? I wrote this out of frustration that I see the same stupid arguments being made over and over again by clueless cis people who are completely unaware of their privilege or of the harm they’re doing, partly because I used to be one of them myself until I got clued in by knowing some actual trans people.
And I do think the half-joking stuff about being a straight cis white male and therefore OK to listen to has something of a point, and that sadly there are people who will read this who wouldn’t read it coming from an actual trans person.
But fundamentally, I don’t have a fucking clue, and neither do you. And the only decent thing to do in those circumstances is shut up, listen to the opinions of people who know what they’re talking about, and not give opinions unless they’re asked for. Advice which I shall now take myself.
Sorry this has taken a little longer to write than the “tomorrow” implied in the last part. Like I said there, I have a whole ball of different ideas to untangle, and it’s going to take me a while to sort everything out into individual posts.
Because two weeks ago I saw a lot of different things, all of which seemed to me to be making points about a set of connected ideas, but it’s taking a little time to figure out the connections between them. The first thing I saw, though, was a line in a (surprisingly mostly sensible) article by Helen Lewis in the New Statesman:
Take the story of Sherlock Holmes: stripped of gas lamps and horse-drawn carriages, it’s a story about how the world accommodates a difficult genius, and what it means to care about someone who refuses to listen to good advice.
This, to me, seems so staggeringly wrongheaded it’s almost hard to know where to begin, but it’s fairly typical of the way that the idea of characterisation before all has distorted the way we look at texts these days. Because if there’s one thing the Sherlock Holmes books aren’t about, it’s any of that stuff.
The Holmes books are, fundamentally, not about Sherlock Holmes at all. Holmes is an excuse to tell the stories, which are often told in flashback by someone narrating them to him, and in which he often barely figures at all, except as a kind of deus ex machina, coming in at the end and tying up the plot threads. He’s not an active detective like a Poirot or any of the other later classic fictional detectives (although he is somewhat like Nero Wolfe in this respect, at least). Holmes never, at any point, changes significantly, and his characteristics are only those which would enable him to solve crimes.
Now, it’s true that he is nonetheless a well-drawn character — Doyle was a good enough writer that he created characters that work rather better than his plots do, and indeed the characters are rather better sketched than Doyle himself realised. Doyle’s own statements about Holmes and Watson often seem to contradict the portrayal of them in the books, but both Holmes and Watson are drawn well enough that one can certainly *place* them into active situations, and imagine their reactions to the kind of situations that turn up in more character-driven stories, but the stories themselves aren’t about that.
The typical form for a Holmes story is, roughly: Holmes says or does something unusual or exasperating because he’s bored, then does something staggeringly impressive with his intellect, at which point a client arrives. The client then tells a complicated story, which makes up the bulk of the narrative. Holmes either immediately solves the problem or does some cursory investigation and then announces the solution. Very occasionally he will confront the miscreant who created the plot he was investigating.
At no point are the stories *ever* about “how the world accomodates a difficult genius” — by the time we get to know Holmes he has already found his perfect niche, in which he remains for the entirety of Doyle’s work — and the bits about “what it means to care about someone who refuses to listen to good advice” tend to consist of about two sentences per story, along the lines of:
“Dash it all, Holmes,” I expostulated, “is it really necessary for you to inject cocaine while lighting your pipe at the same time? It’s dashed distracting, and it can’t be good for you.”
“Oh Watson,” replied the great detective,”what I would not give for a problem worthy of my intellect, so I did not have to distract my mind with cocaine, but sadly the crime pages of the newspapers are full of trivia.”
(That’s not an actual quote, but it might as well be).
These scenes are not “what the story is about” — they’re there as scene-setting, a way of showing that one of our two characters is a rather conventional medical man, and the other is a bohemian with a great intelligence. To say that these tiny framing sequences are what the story is about is to fundamentally misread the whole structure of the stories. One might as well say that the 60s Batman TV series is about a millionaire persuading his ward to keep up with his studies, or that Right Ho, Jeeves is about whether a white mess-jacket is acceptable evening attire.
So what are the Holmes stories actually about? That will have to wait until the next post (possibly tomorrow)…
Later today, in an hour or two, I’ll be posting the first excerpt of the first draft of my novel to Patreon, for those on the $5-per-month or higher bands to look over. This is mostly because that group includes a few people whose opinions I really value — I’m doing it as much for feedback to improve the novel as anything else.
I will then, immediately, be deleting it. If you’re configured for email notifications, you should receive the full thing as an email, but I’m planning on shopping this round traditional publishers when it’s done, so I’m not going to leave any portions of it online as that may interfere with the contracts.
(If I *don’t* get a traditional publishing deal with this, I’ll eventually self-publish it and serialise it on this blog, but that won’t be for a while yet).
I’ll be doing this as I get each chunk of the first draft in a semi-coherent state. I’ve finally got enough of the research and the background done that these should happen relatively often.
For the rest of you, there’ll be a proper blog post tonight.
There’s six weeks to go, give or take, til the Hugo nominations have to be in, and so I’m thinking quite hard about who I should nominate.
Here’s what I’m going for so far:
The Pendragon Protocol, Philip Purser-Hallard
If I can’t find four better novels in the next six weeks — Lock-In by John Scalzi (not a great book, but a good one)
Don’t think I read one last year.
Best Short Story:
The Adventure of the Professor’s Bequest by Philip Purser-Hallard
The Adventure of the Decadent Headmaster by Nick Campbell
Wandering Stars by Ian Potter
City Of Dust by Aditya Bidakar
Iris, Chess-Mistress of Mars by Simon Bucher-Jones
Best Related Work:
The Annual Years – Paul Magrs
The Viewer’s Complete Tale – Andrew Rilstone
TARDIS Eruditorum Vol 5 – Phil Sandifer
Best Graphic Story
Cindy & Biscuit by Dan White
Loki: Agent of Asgard by Al Ewing/Lee Garbett/Various(
(I was going to nominate Multiversity and Sandman: Overture (the latter purely for the art) but neither finished in 2014, so they’ll have to be held over).
Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)
Nunkie Theatre – The Time Machine
Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)
The Brenda and Effie Mysteries: The Woman in a Black Beehive (Bafflegab)
Best Professional Editor (Short Form)
Best Professional Editor (Long Form)
Don’t think I know who edits most novels. I would nominate Stuart Douglas, who’s editing my own novel at the moment, but I don’t think he meets the criteria.
Best Professional Artist
J.H. Williams III
Not read any of these
Not read any of these
Best Fan Writer:
Best Fan Artist
Calamity Jon Morris
Now, I have three problems with this list so far. The first is that it’s not full yet — there are a lot of empty spaces. The second is that there are almost no women, which *needs* to be rectified. And the third is that with the exception of Scalzi, Quitely, and Williams, these are all people with whom I’m at least friendly on the internet, and several are quite close friends. Now, it does happen that I count among my friends and acquaintances some ridiculously talented people, but it seems vanishingly unlikely that I know everyone who wrote anything decent last year.
So given my tastes, which *strongly* prioritise ideas over everything else (with plot, prose style, and characterisation coming in that order), and prefer humorous, clever, formally-experimental stuff to anything else, what came out last year that I should read before making my nominations, especially if it’s by a woman?
(I know about Ann Leckie. I keep bouncing off Ancillary Justice because it requires more concentration than I’ve been capable of in the last few months. I do intend to finish it at some point, but I can’t even *start* on Ancillary Sword until I’ve finished the first one…)