On Recent “TERF Protests”

Recently we saw a protest at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park where a group of transphobic self described “radical feminists” and a group of trans protesters came to blows. It seems that the trabsphobes were meeting up and then planning to walk to a venue to, well, share tips on transphobia and whatever else it is they do when they get together. A group of trans activists decided to protest them. The transphobes started shoving cameras in peoples’ faces. A camera was grabbed, a trans protester was put in a headlock, their friend hit the person holding them in the headlock and … well, it ended up all over the papers.

Sadly the papers printed a version of events which clearly identified trans people as the agitators, while ignoring the transphobe dragging someone around in a headlock while repeatedly kicking them. It seems likely that the transphobes were hoping something like this would happen, as their first response seems to have been to call not the police, but Fox News.

Zoe has more detail here

All in all, it’s a bit of a mess. This morning a similar protest occurred in Brighton. A group of transphobes had spent the last couple of days hanging around outside the Labour Party conference and were planning to meet up in a public park to swap transphobic anecdotes and stuff.

Once again they were met by trans protestors. This time nobody got punched.

I’m no stranger to protesting these people. In 2007 and 2008 I attended and even organised a number of protests against transphobic individuals and practices: outside a music event where a transphobic performer was playing; outside the Royal Society of Medicine when they were hosting Dr Kenneth Zucker, who many of us feel practiced reparative “therapy” on kids; outside Stonewall’s awards ceremony when journalist Julie Bindel, never one to shy away from provocative articles about trans people in the press, was shortlisted for an award (she didn’t win).

But I think what we’re currently seeing is different, and probably unhelpful. The events that used to get protested featured transphobic elements, but crucially, transphobia was not their primary focus. The canonical example of this is probably the now defunct Michigan Women’s Music Festival. Most of the attendees were not transphobes and so the presence of a protest outside embarrassed the organisers, who would have rather focused on the music and had the trans thing go away, and raised awareness amongst attendees, who would then bring pressure to bear on the organisers.

Similarly when I, and a few others, protested Dr Zucker. We wanted the other attendees to know about what he was doing to trans kids. Most of them didn’t.

These new protests aren’t like that. These events aren’t ones where the transphobic element is something that the organisers don’t want to be embarrassed by, and which the attendees would likely find distasteful. These events are gatherings of out and proud transphobes where the primary focus is their transphobic agitating. There are no organisers to embarrass, because they’re true believers in what they’re doing, and there is no chance of winning over attendees because people going to these things, by and large, are already committed to their transphobic worldview.

There’s always the chance that you could interest a few random passers by, who might be won over, but you don’t need transphobes to be there to accomplish that. You can just hand out leaflets on a busy city street, or set up a stall for the same effect, and that has the advantage that there is no nearby gathering of people who wish you harm.

The effect, and as far as I can see, pretty much the only effect of protesting gatherings of transphobes doing transphobe stuff is to bring two groups who hate each other into close proximity, thus massively raising the chances that things will turn physical.

Such a protest doesn’t really do anything else. It’s literally just two opposing groups who hate each other facing off in public.

I think it’s fair to say that when we protested back in the day, we never lost sight of why we were doing it and what we wanted to achieve. Protest wasn’t an end in itself, but a tool to try and advance our own equality and build support. I have spoken to numerous people involved in these recent protests. At times it has got rather heated, but none of them seem to be able to articulate what they are for, beyond “we must not let these people go unchallenged”.

Why not? If they’re confining themselves to their own echo chambers, this is a good thing. It means they aren’t normalising their message of hate in the wider population. Drawing attention to them serves only to give them the publicity they want to spread their hatred. If there had been no counter protest at Speakers’ Corner, and thus no physical altercation, the plethora of stories in the press about “violent” trans people “beating up” little old ladies would simply not have happened, and these saddos would have had their little circle jerk of hate in obscurity.

By all means, if there is tactical advantage to be gained, protest, but I implore anyone thinking of confronting these people to first ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will this help advance trans equality?
  • What’s the upside for us?
  • What’s the downside for us?
  • What’s the upside for the transphobes?
  • What’s the downside for the transphobes?

And if you can’t answer them satisfactorily, maybe consider staying in with a good book or Netflix instead.

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