Dressing queer in the office

Carolyn Wysinger writes about fitting in with the office dress code when you’re queer while still staying true to yourself:

As fate would have it, my first week on the call-center floor fell on a weekend, which is a casual dress period. I made friends as soon as I hit the floor because c’mon, who doesn’t love me?! The very next day I came in and did all the dapper bois proud. Black slacks, white dress shirt with a pink/black/white silk tie. Hair freshly twisted up with my shades on. And yes I turned many heads. I walked in and saw all the women in the office look over to watch me walk down the aisle. I got to my group and nobody said a word. And then finally one of the women supervisors said “Ooh I like your tie.” And so my journey as the first boi in began.

Of course, the image she puts forward here immediately reminds me of:

That kind of gender separated dress code — or even having an explicit dress code — is somewhat less common in the Netherlands and you see as many women professionals in what y’all would call pant suits as in skirts. The other uniform, common to women in non-representative roles are the slightly too short white leggings, which seems to be the fuck you, I dress for comfort symbol of the (older) Dutch woman. It’s ubiqitous enough and annoys enough people that it has had facebook campaigns launched against it.

who chooses our required reading? We do

Ever since I read S. L. Huang’ post on who chooses sf classics I’ve been thinking about this:

I don’t understand how we can have a genre where “You haven’t read HEINLEIN (/Asimov/Clarke/Bradbury/Dick/etc.)??” are common and accepted refrains, and “You haven’t read BUTLER??” is almost unheard. Why aren’t we saying it? Why isn’t Octavia Butler considered “required reading” of the classics in order to consider oneself a True SF Fan? Why don’t people feel left out and incomplete if they haven’t read her?

I don’t really know what defines a classic, or who should get to say what one is. But I do know I find myself feeling deeply uncomfortable with any popular mentality that shames people for not reading influential white men while giving a pass to those who skip the influential black women.

Now ideally, as Damon Knight put it, “science fiction is that what we say it is when we point at it”, meaning that it’s an ongoing debate between writers, editors, publishers, critics, readers and fans that determines what the core of the genre is. Put simply, books that are written as science fiction, accepted by publishers as part of a science fiction line, reviewed as such and talked about as science fiction, are science fiction. And vice versa; The Handmaid’s Tale clearly is science fiction, but because Margaret Atwood has taken pains to deny this, it was published by a mainstream publisher and treated by critics as literature rather than sci-fi, it’s not part of science fiction in the same way “If This Goes On…” is.

Clearly if there is such a thing as a science fiction canon, a core group of novels, stories and writers that you should’ve read to be knowledgeable about science fiction, it should be determined in the same way, ever changing and evolving as science fiction changes and evolves, and yet it hasn’t much evolved beyond the holy “Heinlein/Clarke/Asimov” trinity and their fellow mostly male, mostly white, mostly dead Golden Age collegues. Why?

I blame it on the seventies.

The seventies was a watershed moment for (English language) science fiction. The genre as a genre was roughly half a century old and those who had grown up with it in the thirties, forties and fifties were now old enough to be nostalgic about it. Science fiction had grown up from paraliterature only found in cheap pulps into something halfway into respectability, for the first time getting sustained critical attention from outside of fandom. It was popular, but would only truly become mainstream in the wake of Star Wars and it was still barely possible in the early to mid seventies to read every science fiction book published in a given year. The seventies were also the decade where the centre of the genre switched from the magazines to the novel, with novels getting longer as they no longer needed to take into account serialisation.

Finally, there was also the backlash against the upheavals science fiction went through in the sixties and seventies. First there was the British New Wave, where writers like Aldiss, Ballard and Moorcock imported literary techniques into science fiction, which was exported by Judith Merril to the US leading to the American version, more explicitly taboo breaking and political, through Delany, Dick, Russ and LeGuin, to name but a few, which resulted in a new revelance in science fiction, a willingness to engage with the political, sociological and ecological issues of the day. For a lot of science fiction professionals and fans alike, these were not welcome developments and there was a strong, nostalgic backlash against it.

It’s in this climate that the science fiction “canon” got established, through a flood of popular histories and coffee table books, like Brian Ash’ The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction or David Kyle’s A Pictoral History of Science Fiction, as well as through publishing programmes like Ballantines/Del Rey’s The Best of… series, reprinting short stories by the best science fiction writers of the Golden Age. The rough consensus therefore that emerged was conservative and nostalgic in nature, created by people who’d themselves been around science fiction for decades, well read and knowledgeable about it, but perhaps somewhat blinkered to everything that falls outside it.

We’re still living with that consensus, that canon, forty years later; it’s high time we re-evaluate it.

The Old Iron Dream

It’s sad that something like this is still necessary and that the more sordid history of science fiction fandom isn’t better known, but David Forbes’ proposal for a long indepth article on this history is very timely, considering recent events:

Sci-fi’s popular history doesn’t mention John Campbell’s belief that race riots were caused by “genetic barbarians” or Robert Heinlein’s fondness for robber barons and military rule. It remembers Larry Niven’s creative alien worlds, not his advocacy of lying to immigrants to deny them healthcare. Jerry Pournelle is widely hailed as the dean of military sci-fi, his sympathies for fascists like Franco and Pinochet forgotten.

Rather than harmless eccentrics, the doyennes of the sci-fi far right advise the federal government, occupy important posts, head think-tanks and shape policy to this day. They’ve played a major role in creating an environment that, as shown in the case of Beale, can still make sci-fi hostile territory for women and people of color. Despite decades of courageous critical backlash within the genre, much of this impact and history remains unexposed.

The Old Iron Dream will drag this history out of the shadows, showing how sci-fi’s far-right has shaped not just its genre, but the larger culture and politics of America. It’s a turbulent, often horrifying story, ranging from coup plots and smear campaigns to shilling for Reagan’s weapons boondoggles and denying climate change.

The title is of course a reference to Norman Spinrad’s satirical novel The Iron Dream, aka “what if Adolf Hitler had become a pulp science fiction writer, then this would’ve been the novel he’d write”, written in the 1970ties as a rebuke to a particular toxic part of sf fandom.


This cat reminds me of Sandra’s stories of her old cat Maxwell, who was also a clever little bugger, who managed to first open the freezer to get chicken out, then open the childproof (but not catproof) lock put on the freezer to get a second chicken out and who once took revenge on her for some imagined transgression by pissing on her computer’s hard drive, which was only apparant by the next reboot, as the drive heated up and the odour was released…

Oenga oenga oenga

Gruppo Sportivo, punk as fuck in spirit, but always just a bit too strange, too Dutch for the real punks. Not just one hit wonders abroad, but rather know for just that one cult underground “hit”, still plugging away, still making albums and touring long after you’d written them off. It would never be as good or fun as in those late seventies though.

Women writers Wednesday — blogging edition

Part something in an irregular series.

So yeah, today I would like to spotlight some of the female bloggers I started reading in the past of couple of weeks, partially thanks to the whole ongoing SFWA kerfuffle. Everytime we’ve had an outbreak of sexism in science fiction fandom it also has brought new female voices to the foreground and this time hasn’t been any different.

Natalie Luhrs has been one of the most sensible voices during the SFWA controversy, as well as with the more recent Loncon Jonathan Ross fiasco. Beyond that, she also has a great ability to find interesting and thoughtful links.

S. L. Huang like Luhrs has been a voice of reason during the recent sexism scandals, is a new writer whose first book will be published this year and who keeps writing great posts on the same subjects I would’ve written about, but she does it better.

Susan Abernethy writes about history and her blog is a treasure trove of posts about well known and not so well known parts of history, especially British history.

Loretta Chase & Isabella Bradford also write about history, both in their dayjobs as bestselling writers of historical romances and on their blog. They seem to have a real affinity for the Georgian era, but roam wide and far and have a knack of finding links to other interesting blogs — like Susan Abernethy’s above.

And they thought I was weird not to go in the water

So on Saturday my eldest nephew celebrated his fifth anniversary and he wanted to go to the swimming pool, the same “subtropical paradise” we used to visit as kids in the eighties and which hadn’t changed since. I used to swim a lot as a kid, but have become grossed once I started to think too much about what was in that chlorine filled water and especially what people put in it. So I spent the afternoon in a beach chair catching up on my reading, which the family found hilarious and teased me about. Well, who’s laughing now:

While some people are disgusted by the thought of human pee in their pool water, others figure there’s no harm in letting loose a little urine while swimming. It turns out, however, that when urine reacts with chlorinated water, it may be creating chemical byproducts hazardous to everyone in the pool.

Cyanogen chloride (CNCl) and trichloramine (NCl3) are nitrogen-containing disinfection byproducts (N-DBPs) that are commonly found in swimming pools. In low levels, N-DBPs have been linked to eye and throat irritation, and in high levels, they have been linked to nervous and cardiovascular problems. It turns out that this toxic swimming pool environment may be caused, at least in part, by swimmers peeing in chlorinated pools.

So next time your eyes are stinging when you’re swimming in a public pool, it’s not the chlorine that’s causing it, it’s the byproducts of piss reacting to the chlorine…. (As my brother in law also pointed out on saturday)


To call a woman a kenau in Dutch is to call her a harridan, a bitch, harsh, strident, aggressive, taking on masculine qualities. It’s a slur that’s rooted in an actually existing, historical woman, Kenau Simonsdochter Hasselaer, a Haarlem born widow, woodsmerchant and shipbuilder who became famous due to her role in the siege of her hometown by the Spanish in 1573.

As you of course know, the Netherlands fought the Eighty Years War to liberate themselves from Spanish and Catholic oppression, a large part of which consisted of the siege and countersiege of rebel or loyal cities. Haarlem in the 1570s was one of the richest, most important cities in the north of Holland and when it rebelled the Spanish were quick to put it down. The siege ended in a defeat for the rebels, but not before Kenau’s role in it had become legend.

19th century painting of Kenau Hasselaer on the walls of Haarlem by Barent Wijnveld and J.H. Egenberger

As legend has it, Kenau Hasselaer was the leader of an army of women who fought together with the men on the walls of Haarlem, pouring boiling pitch and water over the Spanish troops attempting to climb the walls. How historical this is, has been disputed, but what’s undisputed was that she was involved in supporting the soldiers on the walls, organising repair works and the like.

But of course the idea of Kenau Hasselaer as the firebreathing leader of a monstrous regiment of women is much more interesting, something that was played up in Dutch propaganda after the siege and which ultimately led to her name becoming the synonym for an aggressive woman, with the connection to the historical figure forgotten. A new Dutch movie, which premiered only this week, seeks to restore that connection, to rehabilitate Kenau as a name of pride, not a slur.

Course, being a Dutch film it’s not likely to be much good, but the idea is interesting.

Books read February

February was dominated by one book and one book only: Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren, which I started at the beginning of the month and only finished in the last week of February. Very unlike me, I couldn’t read anything else beside it, because this was a book that demanded and got my full attention. I needed to concentrate to read it and when not reading it, I had no desire left for other books.

Fortunately Dhalgren is a masterpiece, one of the greatest novels ever produced as science fiction, so I didn’t begrudge its monopoly claim on my reading.

However, I did manage to squeeze one other book into my reading at the end of the month, K. W. Jeter’s Morlock Night which, as both Jeter and afterword writer Adam Roberts take great pains to tell you, is one of the books that created the steampunk genre back in the late eighties. I’m not actually sure I agree with that: there were steampunk books published before it that actually have more in common with the genre as it exists now than this book does. It’s also not as good a book as it thinks it is, glorified pulp ultimately.