To Kell and Back ‘dispatches from the front line’
Content note for discussion of transphobia and mention of suicide
On June 5th, in its 200th year of existence, The Guardian came out, finally, as intrinsically opposed to my existence. In an article, cis (white) people discussed the legitimacy of my existence as a woman (without including a single trans voice) and whether or not Stonewall has been “cornered into an extremist stance”. Which is to say that Stonewall holds it to be true that as a trans woman I am indeed a woman.
Responding to an article in The Times by Matthew Parris, former Tory MP and one of the 14 founders of Stonewall back in 1989, The Guardian showed that yet again it is not the liberal voice of social democracy but a newspaper that chooses to side with the forces of reactionary politics like it did over the aids crisis & gay rights in the 80s, the spanner case, sex workers and now the trans community. It has chosen to promote, unquestioned, the illiberal biologically determinist view that ‘gender critical’ feminism is legitimate and that this position has some claim to radicalism.
Throughout this masquerade of ‘listening to both sides’, ‘gender critical’ feminism is given equal status to trans rights advocates – even as the haters refer to trans women like me as ‘trans identified males’. Or as Sheila Jeffries, architect of political lesbianism, and founder of Women’s Human Rights Campaign which pioneered the shift to arguing for ‘sex based rights’, said in a speech in the Westminster Hall in 2018 – trans women “parasitically occupy women’s bodies” and that raising trans children is akin to child abuse. For Jeffries, misgendering trans women like me is “fundamental to women’s liberation”. She has also compared the Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic to a site of a war crime. As if, in effect, the main hospital for trans people waiting 5 years for a first appointment is on a par with Srebrenica.
Her allies and acolytes accuse us, without evidence, of being child sex abusers and rapists and suggest that my using the women’s changing room at the gym is a threat to other women. People under the moniker of GC feminism crowdfunded a legal case that has resulted in young people of 16 being refused access to prescribed puberty blockers to give them more time to think through their gender options in exactly the same way as children under 10 are routinely offered puberty blockers to delay early puberty. More scary than that, they have undermined gillick competency which could have horrific consequences for teenagers accessing contraception or abortions.
And The Guardian now quotes these people, approvingly, in a full broadside attack on the main LGBT charity standing up for trans and nonbinary rights in the UK.
Then there’s Liz Truss, the women’s and equalities minister, who has set out the government’s profoundly transphobic position – calling for groups and companies to leave the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme because of Stonewall’s explicit support for trans and nonbinary people. This has been cheered on by the likes of the LGBAlliance, another transphobic group that has now achieved charitable status to gain tax benefits. Which only goes to show that trans people are the canary in the coal-mine for Gillick Competency and lesbian and gay equality.
Add to this the new chairwoman of the Equalities and Human Right Commission. In an interview she said its is “entirely reasonable” for cis women to question trans women’s identities. Which contradicts the position of the appeals tribunal in the Maya Forstater case – where the original ruling of the judge at that time was that her gender critcial/ anti-trans views are “not worthy of respect in a democratic society“
This is not simply a matter of waving nylon flags and parroting ‘trans rights are human rights’ or the even more asinine “love is love”. The whole basis of ‘Human Rights’ are of liberal democratic legalism, part of the ‘tolerance’ exhibited by liberal capitalism and its ‘democratic values’, and a social construct anyway. There are no universalist ‘rights’ and there are no universalist social constructs. But on this rainy island – there are times when we, as radicals, anarchists, anti-capitalists and intersectional feminists are called to stand by people claiming various identities however constructed. Because like class, race, sexuality, dis/ability and other socially produced categories – sex and gender matter. And our task as anarchists and antifascists is to stand with those at the sharp end of intersectional dispossession, state power and capitalist discourse.
And like I said, This is more than getting your mates pronouns right, not assuming your partner’s auntie is a cis woman or thinking the ‘boy’ at the children’s birthday party is just a tomboy because you cant handle that some people are trans and you really need to get over it. In fact, its much much worse than all that.This is a battle for our very existence.
People Are Dying! Dying! In 2019, the waiting list for south west England Gender Identity Clinic moved only two places. Two places and over 500 people waiting. The cost of a top surgery is £9-11K. You wont see them for trans women because our surgery in the UK is £25-100K. Trans women pass least well, need more expensive surgery and even at TransPlus – the most well funded NHS gender clinic in the country – the waiting list for trans woman’s surgery is a three year minimum. Most trans women in the UK are waiting 3-5 years for a first appointment, just to be recognised and ‘approved’ as a legitimate trans person. Then a further 3 years for a second appointment just to get hormones. Surgery might take ten or fifteen years to achieve. Imagine anyone else having to wait ten years for life changing surgery. And then whilst you wait ten years for a surgical referral and 3-5 years more for the actual surgery – every day reading about how the body parts you so long to be removed are the reason one section of the left, of feminism, of anarchism consider you to actually be a man. And so women are actually killing themselves waiting. This is state sponsored femicide. Not just on the streets or in the bedrooms but by our own hands. And this femicide is indirectly cheered on and enabled by people like The Guardian, Women’s Place UK, JK Rowling, LGBAlliance, Matthew Parris, GC Feminism, Maya Forstater, members of the Shadow Cabinet and some who call themselves anarchists.
But this debate about us – not with us – wouldn’t be so bad if I felt that anarchist/anti-state/anti-capitalism had my back. If there wasn’t a slowly healing self-inflicted wound on the body politic of anarchism that led a section of my generation of anarchy to turn its back on the trans community. Instead of choosing and allying itself with gender abolitionism and radical reappraisal of sexuality – the some have chosen to side with the same people who are ganging up on Stonewall, on my allies and friends and me. When the people who should have been the next generation of anarchist elders sold themselves to the forces of reaction. Because whether its anarchist elders slagging off trans lesbians or anarchist gatekeepers protecting TERFs in anarchist spaces. It really is now well past the point where anarchism needs to Get Off The Fence.
You see, I’ve been an anarchist since the age of 14, in 1980 when I first read Anarchy by Malatesta. At 17 I was catching the coach to london on my own, knowing no one, to wander round the Stop the City actions and catch a bus home. Buying Wolverine the Class War lesbian and gay spin off. Living a life of desperation in a hostel for homeless teenagers, dressing every day as femme as hell, being “queer bashed” because concepts like ‘trans’ didn’t exist and suffering decades of epistemic injustice. Now, Here I am over 4 decades later and that world, the anarchist world, the anarchy I love, which sustained me as a femme camp queer through decades of gender and sexuality outlawry, against ‘leeds revolutionary feminism’, political lesbianism, separatism, SWERFs, TERFs and an unending hatred of SM, porn, sex workers, trans people, heterosexual women, boy-children and bisexuals. Of reactionaries dressed up as feminist anarchist socialist radicalism. And That world, of anarchy, barely seems to have my back after all. Even now I still on call on you, my co-conspirators, for your allegiance, your comradeship, your support.
Because here we are in 2021. My existence as a trans woman is being questioned daily by the state, the church, and the media. And I know on a personal level that anarchism can’t be trusted to have my back. But we, trans, nonbinary, intersex people need you like we’ve never needed you before. My sisters are literally killing themselves. My brothers are creating top surgery crowdfunders ever more regularly, my nonbinary siblings, my teen anarchist trans niblings, are being denied life changing puberty blockers. We are being demonised and my lesbian gay and bisexual siblings are turning their backs on us. And where is Anarchy now? Where is my world of co-conspirators and comrades? This despatch comes from the front line on a war against us across the USA, across Britain, across the world.
And let me remind you there are younger, much less forgiving, anarchist teens coming of age now, who don’t want the cake they want the whole damn anarchist bakery. They aren’t just furious that we, generations of activists, failed to do anything substantial to halt the climate crisis – they are appalled by the relentless trashing of trans and nonbinary lives. And when they ask where you were and what you did when the whole rotting edifice of liberal and left politics threw their trans elders, like me, to the dogs – you better come up with the correct answer because believe me, their judgement will be pitiless.
Kell w Farshéa
To contact the author of this column with contributions/ questions/ collaboration ideas send stuff to [email protected]dompress.org.uk and it will be passed on.
Kell, like many british anarchists, is a hybrid insurrectionary/anarchist-communist. She has been active as an anarchist since 1980, aged 14, and has participated in many important moments in radical/anarchist history. From Stop the City in 83, Mansfield, Orgreave, opposition to Alton Bill in 88, section 28, the first criminal justice act of 84 to the CJB ‘demonstrations’, the poll tax ‘demo’, the monopoly board mayday event through to the recent police crime sentencing and courts bill demo on mayday 2021. She has been an active anti racist, antifascist, vegan, LGBT/queer bdsm feminist anarchist for over 41 years (and counting). She identifies as a nonbinary trans woman, a FemmeDom and a trans-inclusive radical het. Her pronoun is she. She was spokesperson for ACTUP London (1989-92), Co-Founder of the London House (and UK existence) of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (1990+); Founded Countdown on Spanner/The Spanner Campaign (1992-1997), SM Pride (1992-2003) and created, and served as an initial founding trustee of, the Spanner Trust (1996-). In 2019 she co-founded the history archive project ISMS (the Institute of SM Studies). For 5 years she wrote a monthly column for trilingual Paris based magazine Projet X, she has also written for a range of radical, queer, anarchist and bdsm journals, websites and zines. She lives in London with a companion cat.
Anarchy Errico Malatesta (1891) Freedom Press
Armed Joy. Alfredo Bonano. (1977) Trans: Jean Weir, Elephant Editions
Anarchists Have Forgotten Their Principles Erriccoo Malatesta (1914) http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/errico-malatesta-anarchists-have-forgotten-their-principles
https://libcom.org/files/Come%20Out-%20V1%20I1.pdf the first issue of GLF New York Come Out whch shows that even at the cradle of the gay liberation front, the necessary destruction of sex and gender was seen as a requirement for (LGBT)(Queer/Trans) liberation
Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing Miranda Fricker (2009) OUP see also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemic_injustice
https://libcom.org/library/queer-ultraviolence-bash-back-anthology “In line with the Bash Back! tendency, for the uses of this anthology queer is trans because the gender binary is inherently oppressive “
Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue Leslie Feinberg (1999)
and for all of us who need some inspirational fiction in amongst the theory:
Woman on the Edge of Time: Marge Piercy (1976)