The photos above were taken at a protest outside Newcastle’s civic centre, which was organised as a counter-demonstration against a #LetWomenSpeak event. Centred around the abundant egocentrism of mumsnet radicaliser Posie Parker, her long history of anti-trans activism, as well as her notoriety and reputation for harassment and general bigotry, has culminated in what has been dubbed an “anti-trans hate tour” across the UK. Below, I thought I’d give an account of my experience of the day she visited Newcastle, which has since been the subject of some media attention.
I first heard about the protest a few weeks back, via the North East Anarchist Group’s Twitter page. When the day of the event finally came around, I jumped on the bus to Haymarket early with that usual mixture of pre-protest nerves and an acute anxiety over the possibility that maybe no-one else would turn up.
I got off the bus outside the Five Swans, a pub in town, and could see a small group of women in their cringe “woman, noun, adult human female” t-shirts through the window. I was surprised by how funny I found the sight of them as I passed. It has always been a peculiar banner to gather around online and even more so in reality. Not only were the t-shirts almost like a uniform — bizarrely coupled with hi-vis jackets and body cameras (yes, body cameras), which made this odd gaggle of gender cops blend in appropriately with the overall police presence — the dictionary definition was also held aloft on a big black banner, in front of which the speeches were made.
As the protest took place right opposite the grounds of Newcastle University, it felt all the more like a lazy “Webster’s Dictionary defines…” start to an undergraduate essay. Nevertheless, it featured prominently among the ranks of these middle-aged weirdos and pensioners, who insisted to the contrary on the immaturity of their opponents. (Citations needed…)
The ubiquitous presence of this dictionary clipping spoke volumes from the start. I tweeted something about this not too long ago, considering how this “definition” hardly clears anything up. Each word used in the definition is no less complex than the word “woman” itself, as each is understood by all of us within a complex intersection of social norms, legal categories and shifting linguistic habits, not to mention general life experiences. But as @phendetta put it a few weeks ago, this reductivism does not work in their favour, only becoming a sign of an unfortunate anthropological tendency that has been responsible for so much misery throughout history: “Human culture is obsessed with striating liminality out of existence…”
The TERF overreliance on reductive dictionary definitions of all kinds puts them at the sharp end of this tendency in the twenty-first century. But the joy of the protest on Sunday morning was that the crowd embodied its opposite. This was a crowd that, against all TERF intentions, could not be reduced to a single social group. The very presence of trans joy humiliated their position.
On arrival, the crowd was small but quickly grew. Initially, I joined a group of trans and non-binary students from Newcastle’s various colleges and universities. There was an anxiety that led me to believe that this was the first protest for some of them — and it may well have been, considering many spoke of being new arrivals at university and had probably spent the last few years far away from large gatherings of people, on account of Covid. But I say this not to patronise. In fact, it was notable to me only because I realised that it was my first protest as well, of a sort. I had never been to a protest that was specifically called in the name of trans rights. I’d been to plenty of other protests and I’d been to many a Pride, but this was a first for me. I wasn’t sure if this was something to be affirmed or something to despair over. It felt like a sign of the times.
Realising this, I felt more attentive to the make-up of the crowd present, as well as the narrative usually spun by TERFs online about those normally in attendance. That TERFs lie about these things is a given, but to watch the tweets that followed later, making fun of those protesting their bigoted gathering, it was shocking just how wrong they were and how presumptuous.
Firstly, it is worth mentioning the ages of some of the protesters if only because, for all the TERFs’ assertions that they want to protect children, much of the mocking online that followed was directed at the young people in attendance, some of whom were barely out of their teens. Indeed, by the wonky TERF metric, chaperoning or facilitating adults were all predatory, whilst the young people supposedly in need of protection were other sorts of pervert or headcase. Just another sad binary. Accordingly, TERFs mocked dances, masks, styles of dress, but rather than this being an indictment of the “weirdos” fighting for trans rights, in truth they poured scorn primarily on the people they claimed to be protecting: young people, whom this gathering of mostly middle-aged and elderly men and women would never understand. I found that very sad.
What was heartening, however, from the other side, was the sheer number of cis allies in attendance from other organisations — particularly local anarchist groups — who were happy to protest fascism in whatever form, giving up their time to facilitate and build confidence on the day. Thanks to them, and having arrived early myself and felt the nerves shared, it was lovely to watch confidence grow over the course of the morning and into the afternoon. This was all encouraged by the cis allies, who led chants, liaised with police, and loudly declared support for their friends and family members who were trans or non-binary themselves.
A perfect example presented itself in the form of a cis man who shouted down a megaphone as a “proud father of a trans man from Gateshead”, and his impassioned support endeared him to everyone. Later, he also loudly quipped that “not even the buses agree with you”, after a Stagecoach bus draped in all the colours of the intersex-inclusive pride flag stopped at traffic lights behind the TERFs and their entourage, which brought a deafening swell of laughter to the impressively consistent four hours of racket used to drown out the TERFs.
Another cis woman leading the chants did an excellent job of corralling support. But this was also where one of my only pet peeves from the day emerged. I don’t want this to be a criticism of this woman in particular, but one chant she led often collapsed into confusion, partly in response to a counter-chant from one especially sad man.
“Trans women are women, trans men are men” was shouted repeatedly, from early on in the day until its end. However, one individual, who was the first to arrival and stand in opposition to the LGBTQ+ crowd at around 10am, would repeatedly and furiously shout back “trans women are men”. This seemed to function as an odd conflation between the two sides of the chant, so that chants of “trans women are women” were redoubled and any mention of trans men fell away. Somewhat ironically, all the trans men — and I would say that trans-masc and non-binary people were in the majority on the day — succeeded in passing so well they were ultimately forgotten about.
This forgetfulness was in part, of course, a response to the TERF inability to take off their own blinkers. Later, on Twitter, as I perused tweets sent from the protest, looking at the TERFs’ attempts to dox and humiliate those in attendance, they spent a surprising amount of time using the correct pronouns for a number of trans men I spoke to.
On recognising this, I was left with a very strange sense of cognitive dissonance. I wondered how many present felt about this gradual forgetting. Is it hurtful, as a trans man, to be fully erased from a protest attended to fight for your right to live in peace? Or is the average TERF’s inability to “clock” a trans man, as they say, in this context at least, something of a blessing in disguise? I imagine many were as confused by this as I was, but I hope in future this blind spot is overcome. From tampons in men’s bathrooms to inclusive language around midwifery and elsewhere, TERF hysteria assumes immediately this is all to accommodate trans women, which is nonsensical and is a symptom of their own forgetting that trans men exist at all. Suffice it to say, protest chants cannot be dictated by TERF reductivism, otherwise even your allies can gloss over your own struggles.
That aside, it was a wonderful counter-demo. Flags were flown, placards held aloft, music was played, we smoked cigarettes and laughed and danced, people gave out free snacks, encouraged each other to live and converse and love one another. It was joyful.
As a result, “trans joy is resistance” was my favourite chant of the day, and clearly the most applicable. It also felt like a truly Spinozist sentiment, emboldening the philosophy student in me. I’m reminded of the entry for the letter J in l’Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze, which begins with Claire Parnet stating how “Spinoza made joy a concept of resistance and life”, insisting that we must “let us avoid sad passions, and live with joy in order to be at the maximum of our force; we must flee from resignation, bad conscience, guilt, all the sad affects that priests, judges and psychoanalysts exploit.” Deleuze follows up in the affirmative. Yes, he says, “joy is everything that consists in satisfying a capacity. You experience joy when you satisfy, when you effectuate one of your capacities.”
Capacity, Deleuze insists — puissance — must be distinguish from power — pouvoir. (Two French words that are often both translated as “power” in English; “capacity” feels like a slightly clunky alternative to me but will suffice.) He continues: “The confusion between powers and capacities is ruinous, because power always separates the people who are subjected to it from what they are capable of. That is where Spinoza starts. You said that sadness is linked to priests, to tyrants, to judges, and these are perpetually the people who separate their subjects from what they are capable of, who forbid any enacting of capacities.” Trans joy, in my view, is the affirmation of some of the most radical capacities we are capable of — not least our capacity for self-transformation.
TERF power, on the contrary, is stifling and it is partly why their own version of joy looks so sad from without. Deleuze continues:
I think that every power is sad. Even if those who have the power are overjoyed to have it, this is a sad joy. There are sad joys. It’s a sad joy. Conversely, joy is the enactment of a capacity. Once again, I know of no capacities that would be evil. The typhoon is a capacity, it must rejoice in its soul. But it does not rejoice in blowing down houses, but in existing. To rejoice is to rejoice in being what one is, that is, in having reached the point where one is. It’s not self-satisfaction, joy is not being pleased with oneself, not at all; it’s not the pleasure of being pleased with oneself. Rather, it’s the pleasure of conquest, as Nietzsche said, but the conquest does not consist in subjecting people; the conquest is, for example, for a painter to conquer color. Yes, that’s a conquest, that’s joy, even if it goes badly, because in these matters of capacities when one conquers a capacity or conquers something in a capacity, there is the risk that it is too powerful for the person who conquers.
TERFs do not understand joy, do not understand the power they wield, even if they may understand their lack of capacity and blame those who self-actualise for their own failings through ressentiment. It was all too predictable, in fact, with this resistance to power in mind, that the Newcastle TERF demo welcomed right-wing local councillors, members of the English Defence League, and even some sad detransitioners into their ranks — it was a crowd defined by sad joys and failed conquests of life and self.
This was taken to extremes, however, by one of the speeches over in the TERF camp, delivered by a crank hypnotist, brazenly affirming Hitler’s antisemitic “big lie” conspiracy, even citing Hitler’s Mein Kampf on the principle of “credit where due”. The gist is that Hitler believed Jewish people perpetuate the lie of their own marginalisation, when in fact they run the world. According to the woman Twitted dubbed “hypnoTERF”, trans people perpetuate much the same thing. After going viral on Twitter, this clip received a fair amount of mainstream press attention, although the most comprehensive article was written by Sophie Perry for Pink News. It was a shocking “mask off” moment, but again, there is room for some joy in all this.
Whilst the microphone for the speeches seemed primarily there for online broadcast rather than amplification on the ground, I am so happy that every moment of their bigoted speeches was accompanied by the constant drone of vocal opposition. The four hours of noise we managed to make, as well as the TERFs’ own relative quietude, felt significant. They had no interest in being heard beyond their insular audiences, both in person and online, but the whole of Newcastle heard those of us opposing their bullshit.