Notes from dispatches
“Are you a man or a woman?” he shouts at me.
He’s about 15. And he’s cocky.
“A woman!” I say back.
He splutters. He doesn’t expect me to respond. His comeback is weedy and thin. But I’m defiant. He is shocked because I’m not supposed to talk back. I’m supposed to be afraid of him. I’m supposed to bear his abuse in silence.
I flashback to 1985, walking through Leeds in a tight-fitting jumper, makeup and stretch-fabric jeans. A van pulled up at the traffic lights. “Is that a man or a woman?” the passenger says to the driver. Then he jumped out of the passenger side and punched me in the face. He spat on me. And they drove off laughing.
“Do you agree with the Prime minister, Sir Keir? That a man is a man and a woman is a woman?”
“Of course,” he says. “A woman is an adult human female.”
It’s the 31st of October. 6 years ago, the anarchist bookfair ripped itself down the middle over trans people like me. And I lost a lot of friends because it turned out they didn’t have my back after all. They were lining up beside people who aim to erase my existence.
I still miss some of them, but that happens when you cross the line. When you say ‘No, I will not live in silence any more’. When you refuse to be crushed any longer, then violence happens: emotional, physical, verbal, political.
I’m not feeling coherent. I’m feeling emotional. I refuse to be rational or scientific when the rules of the public sphere and cisheteropatriarchal rationality are being used to squeeze my life, to erase me. I cry in the street after he’s gone because I can never be sure that when I talk back to these nasty young men – they won’t punch me in the face, too.
Anyone who thinks being a trans woman and being a nonbinary fem is just a fad, or it’s just young people being trendy, or it’s just a fetish, should come walk with us—the trans femmes. You should navigate our daily lives as we walk through the streets. As we live month to month on tyrannically long waiting lists as we grieve for our young, murdered in parks. As we grapple with being endlessly misgendered in shops, taxis, cafes, dentists, or just being stared at in the queue for the toilet.
I was 53 when I got my referral to an NHS gender clinic after a lifetime of denial from everyone. From my 1960s primary school to the lesbian and gay rights movement. When Julie, Sheila, and Linda were holed up in Leeds, writing the tenets of Leeds Revolutionary Feminism. (Terfs, Swerfs & SMerfs). Calling sadomasochists fascists, bisexuals traitors, sex workers victims and trans people liars and rapists, demanding that heterosexual feminists identify as political lesbians as proof of their commitment to the fight against patriarchy. Heterosexual women living with their male lovers were called traitors. Women with small sons were told they had failed as women. This is not hyperbole. I was there in Leeds in 1984. I remember.
Those same women celebrated when Gillick Competency was undermined by politically motivated activist lawyers funded by anti-abortionist American right-to-life campaigners. The Guardian editorial congratulated the court for what the Appeal Court later called legal illiteracy. And the same people financing those lawyers, funding anti-trans campaigns that Linda Bellos flew to Washington DC to support in 2019, are now jubilant at the overturning of Roe vs Wade. The same people advising Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak that trans people can be thrown under the bus are now turning their focus on cis lesbians and gay men.
How long have we been telling you that they wouldn’t stop with trans and nonbinary people? Now, Suella Braverman says that simply being discriminated against for being lesbian, gay, or a woman is not enough to claim asylum. She’s positioning herself to be the next leader of the Tory party once Rishi loses the election in 2024. On the backs of black and brown bodies. On the backs of LGBTQ people. On the backs of women and children. She’s a fascist, and she’s looking at cis people now, too.
Meanwhile, Brianna Ghey hasn’t even been dead a year, and Keir can’t wait to jump on the bandwagon that would misgender children in school and force head teachers to inform their parents if a child is expressing ‘gender dysphoria’. What sort of man is Keir Starmer? I really don’t know. More importantly, what sort of people are the cis lesbian and gay members of the shadow cabinet? Those who stay silent when their leader, the likely next prime minister, compares trans kids to children who play act being a cat. Right across Parliament, there are cis lesbian, gay and bisexual people sitting on their hands, silent, complicit with the abuse and violence dished out by the leaders of their parties. Shame on you, you scum! Your trans and nonbinary forbears filled the ranks of LGBTQ activism over decades; we won you your rights, and you spit on us.
Does anyone think Sir Keir has ever been abused in the street over his sexuality or gender? Do you think he’s ever had cocky teenagers shout abuse at him in the street? Do we think the future prime minister has ever been punched in the face? Does he ever wonder why any trans or nonbinary person should get out of bed and vote for his party when he treats trans and nonbinary people as collateral damage in the Tory led culture war?
In new guidance, kids are to be told they will only be able to access puberty blockers if they take part in academic studies. And that only a select few will be eligible. What sort of academic signs off on a study where participants are only taking part because it’s the only way they can access life-changing medication? Is that even ethical? Not that we need to look to the front bench of either government about ethics. The current one is driving asylum seekers to suicide, and the likely next one can’t even say the word ceasefire in the face of a genocide taking place in full view of the entire world.
I walk to the tube station. Today is my fortnightly electrolysis session. I can’t shave for a week before the session because there has to be stubble. She electrocutes the root of each hair and then plucks it out of my face. For an hour. Without anaesthetic. And for 7 days in every 14, I must navigate the streets and public transport with stubble. It’s fucking scary getting onto a packed tube with a stubbly face, especially after you’ve been verbally abused in the street by an angry young man.
I will not be bowed, though.
I spent over 50 years of my life being silenced by everyone from teachers and doctors to radical feminists and anarchists – I walk the streets defiant. Yes, of course, I’m afraid. But I will not hide ever again.
It’ll be Transgender Day of Remembrance in a couple of weeks when we come together to remember our dead. And not just the ones murdered in parks but those that took their own lives too. When we think of all of our siblings, niblings, all the trans elders who live in silence, crushed by the dead weight of transphobia, stunted and blunted by the ongoing violence of a cistem that refuses us validity for short-term political gains.
If ever there was a clear demonstration of why people should turn their backs on representative democracy and give anarchism a go – it’s this. We fund each others’ hormones through GoFundMe and benefit gigs. We fund each others’ top surgeries through GoFundMe and benefit gigs. We share knowledge on how to tuck and how to use binders. We write the documentation and zines and make the TikTok and reels that help our community survive in a hostile environment. The trans community is a living, breathing example of Mutual Aid.
Meanwhile, the leader of the opposition, the likely future prime minister, and his cis lesbian, gay & bisexual allies have turned their backs on us. Denying us rights, education, medication and a future. AND yet he still wants us to vote for him.
There ain’t no justice, Mr Starmer, just us!
~ Kell w Farshéa
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Kell w Farshéa (they) is a nonbinary intersex trans woman. They have been an anarchist for 43 years. From Orgreave to Section 28, trade unionism to the Camberwell Squatted Centre, the Poll Tax to Trans Liberation – they have been involved in many anarchist and anti-authoritarian activisms for over four decades.
They were press officer for ACT UP London (89-92), co-founded the UK Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in 1990, founded the Spanner campaign (1992-1997), SMPride Marches (1992-2003), The Spanner Trust (1996- ), and were co-founder of Institute of SM Studies in 2019.
They live in London with a companion animal.
Image: Guy Smallman