The Great Gallifreyan Sex Change, part II

New_Doctor_Who_star_Jodie_Whittaker_shouldn_t_have_to_defend_her_genderWhen the Master was revealed to be reincarnated as a woman I wrote a long post about it. Part of the reason I wrote that was I never thought Who would actually have the balls to change the gender of the Doctor. And now they have. So what do I think about that? I’m transgender, after all. This should be pretty close to my heart.

Well, that’s a very good question. I encountered the news through posts on Facebook complaining that their entire f’list was now about the Doctor, so I scrolled a bit and googled a bit and then thought: Oh dear god, here comes the internet-feminism shitstorm. I was not wrong about that, but I’ll chuck peanuts at the failings of humanity  in the netwatch post.

I watched the five or ten seconds of footage that was causing this whole furore. Ten seconds doesn’t really say enough to judge a whole show on. Then I sat back and examined my own reaction to the news. It was a kind of full-body wince. It took me some time to realise that the wince was provoked by a horrible suspicion that nu-Who is going to spectacularly fail at dealing with the questions raised by this development.

I disagree with the people claiming that Who has been (a) ruined or (b) made perfect by the change. I think the Doctor belongs to everyone; not to women, not to men. Not to RTD or Moffat or this Chibnall fellow either, come to that. People explain to me how Chibnall is a huge fan of Who and they’re keen to see it in his hands, and I remember feeling the same excitement about RTD, who proved to be incapable of deep storylines, and about Moffat on the grounds he was the guy who gave us the Weeping Angels and maybe we’d get some real actual story now. But I was disappointed then and it’s perfectly possible Chibnall will disappoint too.

13149220-low-I mean I was complaining when Missy rolled round that the gender swap had to happen to the bad guy. It smacked a little too much of that era in media when gay characters always died. I should be deliriously happy that they’ve gone the whole hog, shouldn’t I? Dancing in the streets.

But I’m not. They still didn’t have the courage to make the Doctor the flagship of the change. They used Missy as training wheels because it would be easy to get rid of her if the change didn’t go over well. That’s still an attitude that treats representing me and people like me as abnormal and a risk.

They’ve also walked squarely into a bunch of gender stereotypes with Missy. Notice that it’s only the character’s female incarnation who is uncertain enough to question the character’s basic nature, and who shows vulnerability openly (as opposed to the Doctor who lies about his blindness until forced to tell the truth). That’s not challenging this stereotype we have that men don’t or can’t show certain emotions. It’s not going to educate young boys about having the strength to be a complete person. It’s still saying that emotions, inner change and personal development belong to girls, and that boys should just keep on pretending to be strong. What would John Sim have done with a script that demanded subtle and emotionally charged interaction with the Doctor? We’ll never know. He won’t get the opportunity because that stuff’s not for men.

The thing is, I’ve been waiting for Who to get good again since they cast Matt Smith. He was a gift in the part and has a colossal talent (I recommend Christopher And His Kind), but the scripts were consistently awful and let him down immensely. There was a catalogue of howling diversity gaffes on Moffat’s part, followed by someone having a quiet word with him about sensitivity and the resulting several seasons of unmemorable pabulum. In hindsight I honestly have difficulty telling the recent ones apart.

I still enjoy the asexuality of Capaldi’s Doctor, since it’s a pleasant return to Whovian tradition. To date the only time I’ve ever stopped watching Who completely was in the nadir of the Tennant era when the Doctor’s only ability was emoting and an unfunny comedienne was cast as the Companion. I also like the fact that we have a middle-aged man playing a character that is OK for children; sometimes I think that as a society we’ve slid so far down the men-are-rapists rabbit hole that we’ve forgotten men can be decent humans too.

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There were pansexual Roman legionaries at the bottom of Who’s most recent rendition of a rabbit hole, which I rather liked.

But given the way they didn’t challenge stereotypes with Missy’s personality, I’m not optimistic about how nu-Who will handle the Doctor’s gender change. They may choose the wish fulfilment approach in which the Doctor gets to do and say all those things that women want to – the trouble with that is that it’ll essentially turn the female Doctor into a sort of gender-swapped Bernard Manning and the Companions will all be scantily-clad ripped twinks. Certainly if they go with what the feminists on my Facebook are saying.

If, however, they choose to wave their authorial magic wands and have the Doctor’s gender switch make no difference at all, then it is highly likely I will break whatever screen I’m watching it on.  I have done changing my gender and it is years and years of misery and pain – and that, as transition goes, is having it easy. If I feel like that about the mere thought of the new Doctor trivialising my personal journey, what are the trans women going to feel when they actually see it? (And if you can’t figure out why this might bother me, imagine they cast a black person instead and then went on to have all other characters behave as if racism didn’t exist. Why might that annoy people who have to deal with racism every day?)

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot I’ve enjoyed in this year’s Who. The slew of gloriously political little digs – capitalism in space and so on. My left wing soul was delighted. But with the news that Moffat will be departing, those little digs look less like subversion of Auntie Beeb and more like someone who knows he can’t be fired because he’s already gone. Bill was a lesbian and working class, which is great, but if she’s ever sold as an action figure it will probably come with a sledgehammer that has I LIKE GIRLS carved into the business end. Another case of the scripting letting the cast down.

So yeah, Who hasn’t got good yet. I’m still waiting. And now it has a complicated and subtle change to deal with which is also one I’m very personally invested in.

I’ll give Who 2018 a chance, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

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Netwatch: Female Doctor Who

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The Doctor’s new look – airbrushed, apparently.

News broke on Facebook around 8pm last night that a woman has been cast as the next Doctor Who. I have been cataloguing the responses I see to the phenomenon and am including them here with my own commentary largely for my personal amusement.

“Who is now ruined forever”
These ones are not actually appearing on my friends list, mainly because I carefully maintain it to minimise the damage bigots, fuckwits and normal people can do to my mental health. I mention them here for completeness. Although for everyone complaining that Who has now jumped the shark I’d like to point out that what Who actually did with the shark was hitch it to a Victorian hansom cab and drive it through the skies of London.

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13th Doctor’s ideal companion

“Here is a list of all the horrible things I want to see happen to the female Doctor’s male companions. I want this because I am FEMINIST.”
Wow, you hypocrite.

“Waah leave my blissful communion with the Goddess alone, teh doktor belongs to teh wimminz now and you can’t be upset ever because GIRLS ARE BEST”
This response is fascinating. It occurs as a reaction to the slew of “Who is ruined” posts and it’s an extraordinary mixture of butthurt fragility and delusional entitlement. I could write an entire post analysing it alone. The irony that really shows for me, though, is that this is exactly the same emotional response behind the complaints men make when “equality” (or revenge feminism, the two being hard to tell apart without close questioning) breaks down yet another door. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the women coming out with this gem think they’re not sexist and have no idea why men would ever complain about equality moving forward.

“My six-year-old daughter wants to watch it.”
So far the only one that’s made me smile. By virtue of this casting decision Who has made itself part of the gender war the grownups are having, but at least for now the six-year-old daughters of the world will get to have the magic for themselves. And then they’ll grow up and start joining in with revenge-feminist group bonding between women, and I’ll stop caring about them getting to have magic any more.

“All the posts on my f’list are about the Doctor”
Yes, and now yours is too…

“The new Doctor will be a glorious world of perfection.”
Don’t worry sweetie, daydreams are normal at your age, you’ll grow out of them.

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If you’re going to jump the shark, do it right.

“Doctor Who is British and has British humour, you’re just not understanding the show correctly.”
Excuse me while I beat you to death with a pair of Union Jack Y-fronts, you smug colonial twat.

“The Doctor is fictional and doesn’t represent a real transsexual, don’t be stupid. Content yourself with the fact that the diverse new Who writers room has started doing female characters better.”
Sorry, what? Those female characters are exactly as fictional as the Doctor. You mean women deserve fair representation in fiction and people who switch genders don’t? Or do you mean people who switch genders are not real people?

The real kicker was that this whole “the Doctor is fictional” spiel actually came out of the mouth of a fellow trans man. I guess that’s what internalised transphobia looks like to other people.

Felix in print: Read This First anthology

readthisfirst_coverLadies, gents, and honoured readers of non-pedestrian gender, I am delighted to announce that an anthology featuring my short story “Ithaka” is now available in print! It’s available in full colour or black and white with beautiful illustrations by A. Cradduck.

This intriguing anthology is set in a post-apocalyptic world created by A C Macklin – the original short that inspired it all can be read online, along with many thought-provoking posts on the craft of writing. I first had the privilege of meeting Ms Macklin at a LARP event several years ago, where as a wide-eyed new character I was somewhat overwhelmed to find myself in the company of a coolly self-possessed, aristocratic fae who had among other achievements created a landmass. She’s one of those people I felt flattered to achieve as a Facebook friend, since she clearly has a sound idea of what she’s doing with her life and seemed unlikely to be keen on gathering moss; she regularly asks her friend list for prompts which she uses to produce evocative and quirky twitterature and is pleasingly nerdy about watching Supernatural.

Many of the other contributors – not all of whose stories I’ve read at the time of writing – are also LARPers, most of whom I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a field with. Possibly even all of them, although my memory for names is bad enough even when I don’t have to deal with a character name as well as a real one. The LARP experience – diving into someone else’s imaginative creation and fleshing it out to create a richer tapestry – is peculiarly well-suited to shared-world writing, and I’ve enjoyed both the process of creating this anthology and the community of people involved in it immensely.

Ithaka itself was inspired by the poem Ithaka by C. P. Cavafy, which I’ve loved for some time as a memorable distillation of one of life’s little nuggets of wisdom. It also feels very fitting somehow to create my own little tapestry of interconnections in honour of the larger one represented by Read This First itself – and indeed of the larger tapestry all fiction must be part of in the end.

I am, needless to say, overjoyed to be in print again (and for the first time in my current incarnation), and I sincerely hope you enjoy the book.

 

 

I Ate’nt Dead

vexzp1gGood grief, it’s been a year.

And what a f***ing year – I’m inclined to agree with the Facebook meme that suggests unplugging 2016, leaving it for a few minutes then plugging it in again. I knew my thirties would be when the deaths began, but so many of my childhood memories in so little time – although it confirmed my suspicion that the only thing I appreciated about Prince was his genderfucking image. I never could get on with the music.

And then there was Brexit, and I could write an entire post about that in itself. Reading Facebook on my phone this morning, without the insulating effect of Social Fixer, exposed me to all the real-time misery of yesterday’s  disappointment for the Remainers.  Thankfully, due to having kicked a number of contentious arseholes off my friends list in the last few months, I only got a small dose of obnoxious cackling by the Leave lot and no gratuitous racism at all. It’s blindingly obvious to me that the thing we really need to fix this is for some political party in the UK to really start engaging with the working class – I can only hope that the “Bregretters” (whose br-eakfast this morning was undoubtedly br-eggs, br-acon and br-oken sobbing) actually take from their experience of doing something stupid that voting *does* make a difference and don’t do it again in the next general election.13528888_10154203112711153_4236270297118222216_n

But the post I was going to write is something different; connected to what’s happening in my country, but not just cultural observation. It’s been a really hellish year for me; the reason there’s been no traffic on this blog is because I’ve spent most of it fighting the UK’s social security system. Like many disability benefit claimants I was found “fit for work” and have been trying to hold my mental and physical health together while coping with the fallout from that. I’m still here, and at present in the process of reapplying for the disability benefits based on the deeply unsurprising fact that all the stress I’ve been through has made me worse, but it’s been one hell of an experience and I’ve got very little in the way of inner resources right now.

Just the potential of light at the end of the tunnel, however, has triggered off that part of me which is always looking for the next step. I’m genuinely broken at the moment, barely capable of staying awake for six hours at a time and lacking the focus to concentrate on anything demanding, but I’m still trying to see where to get to. I always am. Feeling like I’ve got a purpose gives me hope.

And this is where the link I mentioned comes in. I realised a few months ago that a lot of the reason I’ve barely done any creative writing since I transitioned has to do with why I write. Before transition, it was almost always about exorcising personal demons; if I read back through the fiction I wrote over the years I can trace the development of my own identity and my relationship with it. Just before and during the time when I realised I was trans, I had an explosive few months of nonstop creating, most of which involved female characters who had really messed-up relationships with themselves. No mystery where that came from.2cced4b77715c0fb28038c145e8fd8e4437e3e48e64b29d7da6bab06aa5d8b3b_1

But then I transitioned, and solved that problem. Life is a hell of a lot less demanding in terms of dealing with my own identity now. So all of a sudden I don’t have a demon to exorcise, and I’ve found myself looking at a blank page and asking “but why?”. Why bother when all I’m doing is entertaining myself? Why bother when there’s no meaning to it? I always have to have a purpose.

And it’s true enough that part of good writing is to entertain. But it’s also about communicating; reaching people and touching them. Right now I’m living in a world where people need to be reached and touched in a huge number of ways, at least a couple of which I might well be able to achieve. And there’s no point in false modesty: I already know I have good enough writing skills to do that if I put my mind to it.

It took a while to filter through and click, but I realised recently that I’m so used to being driven by passion in my writing that I’ve never really learnt how to approach it from the bottom up. I’ve been relying on the 1% inspiration and omitting the 99% perspiration. And as soon as I figured that out I realised I already had a superb role model for how to do it the other way in the shape of John Ayliff, with whom I had the pleasure of sharing a flat some time ago. John was the model of a very old-fashioned and British sort of discipline; even at weekends he would Get Up, Go For A Walk, Sit Down and Write Words. And over the time we lived together I watched a debut novel go from a glossy new concept to a beaten-up draft, to a stack of manila envelopes and thence to acceptance and publication. More accurately, I peered at this process from behind the nearest door, struck with a sort of superstitious awe – how was he doing it? Where did all that stuff come from?

14agv3Well, Felix, he was sitting down and writing words, that’s where. For someone this intelligent I can be astonishingly dense at times. John is not alone, either – apparently there’s a well-known author (whose name at present escapes me) who has decorated his writing room with a poster in the much-overused “KEEP CALM” style. It says “SIT DOWN and WRITE BOOKS”. I think it’s very possible I should get one.

So I’ve identified my step zero, then. Learn how to write fiction by starting at the individual lego bricks, rather than at the picture of the pretty castle. As I said I’m a mess at the moment, and I’m going to be starting with things that are not destined to see any sort of formal light of day, but hopefully they’ll entertain a few people and on the way I can relearn my writing process better.

And then maybe, some time in the future, I’ll actually be able to say things that will reach people in the way they need, and have enough reach that those people hear it when they need it.

The value of rage: RIP Sir Terry Pratchett.

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Publicity shot from ‘The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents”.

Morbid? Yes, it is. Bandwagon-jumping? Absolutely. The sort of thing PTerry himself would probably despise? I doubt it not. However there are people looking at this blog apparently in the expectation that I’ll have said something about such a momentous event in fantasy as the passing of Sir Terry Pratchett, and far be it from me to disappoint my future readers.

I’ve got a when-I-met-Pterry anecdote I’ll come to later, but the best article I’ve ever read about the man is this one, written by Neil Gaiman: “Do not underestimate this anger. This anger was the engine that powered Good Omens.”  It talks about Terry having a deep sense of justice, and anyone who’s read Pratchett can appreciate the near-perfect balance he struck between acute social awareness, blackest irony, and an infallible sense of petty, stupid humanity and all its attendant farce. Continue reading