This was originally posted on the Warwick for Free Education blog who are currently occupying their university in support of free education and in protest at the brutal treatment they faced at the hands of the police and university staff last week.
It’s been an eventful three weeks. On November 19th I was at the Free Education demonstration in London, organised by NCAFC and I got violently arrested for ‘affray’. On November 26th I helped to orchestrate a successful occupation of the Aston Webb building on University of Birmingham campus, which was evicted by over forty police officers and I was chased down and detained by police officers who stopped and searched me, eventually releasing me after taking down my details. On December 3rd I went to help my comrades in Warwick peacefully occupy the Senate House and have a discussion about free education; police burst in and violently attacked, tackled, pepper sprayed and threatened us with tasers, three of my close friends were arrested.
I did all of this because I believe in this movement. I believe that education should be free, financially and socially, and that these protests, discussions and occupations are entirely necessary. It’s been an amazing few weeks with occupations all around the country in Manchester, Sussex, Lancaster, Sheffield and London. Solidarity demos everywhere for the violence experienced at Warwick. I’ve never felt so proud of us.
The way I relate to this as a non-binary trans person is important to my perception of the struggle. I am normally very open about it. I use they/their pronouns and do not identify as a woman, though I am mostly read as one. This is a very different struggle in some ways; I am taken down by bureaucracy, technicality, legal status, the strange-hold of medical care for trans people, the ignorance of the masses. But in many ways it is the same struggle. It is the same struggle against neo-liberal ideology which would have me as a token, or delegitimise my trans identity in the interests of simplification and convenience. It is the same struggle to allow an inclusive curriculum that is not sanitised and allows for freedom of exploration on topics of gender, queer theory and feminism which are so poorly funded due to their revolutionary potential. It is the same struggle to ask directly: why is my professor old, cis, white and male 90% of the time? Allowing queer kids an education directly helps them to explore their identities, to make sense of the world around them and to organise.
But all of this shit comes at a price, and that price is repeatedly being subject to the whims and macho dominance of state power, specifically the police. As I said, on November 19th I was arrested. I’m currently still on bail, so I can’t specifically detail exactly what went down but I was essentially tackled by a (female) police officer, slammed to the ground by several officers as I screamed ‘get off me, get off me’ and was repeatedly ignored. Another non-binary comrade tried to help me but ended up also being violently arrested. Both of us were misgendered by the police as we were in black bloc and it was, apparently, impossible for them to know. I was misgendered as both female and male; there was some genuine confusion, it seemed, amongst the officers as to ‘which one’ I was. As my comrade and I were put into the back of the police van we discussed how frightened we were of revealing our non-binary trans identities for fear of discrimination and retribution.
It hurt to be ridiculed at my most vulnerable. Whenever someone mistook me for a man a sniggering officer would ‘correct’ them, as though this were a hilarious mistake to make. I kept being called ‘miss’, and I flinched every time. I felt subjugated by their assumed right to gender me, to refer to me only as a generic gender identifier. But there was nothing I could do. I did not feel safe enough to challenge it, of course, as I was powerless at a police station filled with people who wanted me to go down, who despised everything I stood for.
I was interviewed by a male inspector who threatened me, goaded me, yelled at me and enjoyed every minute of it. He loved the power he had over me. He saw me as a woman who thought herself above the law, had no respect for authority. He was half right. As I repeatedly told him ‘no comment’ he began to speak even more violently, threatening to smash my phone up if I did not give him the access code. Macho motherfucker.
It was a joy, then, to see a gathering of fabulous women and queer people when I was finally allowed out of the police station. I heard them chanting from inside my cell ‘let them out!’ and was comforted by their solidarity. There was a very clear trend regarding who was willing to camp out to help arrestees, as I say, queer people and women were the most highly represented group. This is not mere coincidence. When the chips are down the responsibility always falls to us, the most caring, the most dedicated to our friends.
This was highlighted to me two weeks later, sitting on Coventry Central Police Station, waiting for my comrades to be released. Present were myself, five women, a queer man and one solitary straight man (whom I applaud). Many others claimed to be coming to support us but I did not see a single one of them. Whilst I understand that some were building for the impressive cops off campus demo the next day it is important to analyse who took on what role and why. Caring for arrestees is one of the most important acts of solidarity I can imagine. Time spent with the police and in a cell, as I can vouch for, is extremely disheartening and distressing. We need to be there for our comrades at this time of need, particularly if we too were involved in the action which led to their arrest. There are those amongst us who have done this repeatedly, who know we need blankets, sleeping bags and lots and lots of vegan food. I’ve done arrestee support before, it’s not glamourous, nobody really acknowledges it aside from the people you’re there for, who are over-joyed to see you. This is not seen as legitimate activist work when it is an essential part of activism in our repressive state.
Queers take care of one another. We do this because we know that no-one else will, and that we need that care so much due to the dire mental health issues which plague our communities. I know that my for my trans sisters arrest is unbelievably traumatic, particularly if the police consider them not to pass, force them to give out-dated details and detain them alongside male arrestees and convicts. Cis people do not seem to understand this pain particularly well. To them being misgendered is trivial but to us it is an act of violence in itself.
Yet we continue to put ourselves on the line, to be radical, to be angry because we have good reason to. When I was stopped and searched a male officer leered at me and demanded I consent to being searched by him. I refused because I hate men, I hate him, I hate police and I do not want them to fucking touch me. I hate being touched without my consent due to past traumas of sexual violence and rape by men. The police do not give a shit – they stopped me because they wanted to catch someone on bullshit accusations of criminal damage. They thought I was a man, once again, because I was in black bloc but when two of them converged on me and grabbed my arms to restrain me, forcing me into handcuffs as I screamed, once again, ‘get off me, get off me!’ they immediately began to call me ‘a female’. They’d detained ‘a female’. I wanted a female officer to search me because it was less traumatic for me, although I also did not want her to touch me – all cops are scum, after all. But I held out under threats to eventually have her come and search me. They tried to get a female staff member to come and observe so the men could search me but I told them where to shove it. I don’t even give a shit if there was a genderqueer officer (what a laugh!) I did not want to be touched, and yet it was forced upon me. Again.
The scuffle at Warwick has gone viral. The police attacked my friends, specifically my non-binary comrade (with whom I was originally arrested) and continued to misgender them. I am convinced of the cop’s pathology to see them as a target due to their anger but also their femininity. They attacked many women with gusto that day as we all struggled to intervene. Their arrests focused on larger masculine bodies only because it fully realised their macho power – that they were able to overpower (with numbers) these larger bodies. But they took my non-binary comrade, too, smashed them to the ground because they could. The last time they were arrested the cops made fun of their nail polish.
The police are scum for many, many reasons but in the specific case of us queers they have a violent power over us which is absent for our straight and cis comrades. The power relations are important to consider, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly, the police force are a macho culture even when they involve some women. No feminists, no radical queers can exist within the police force. Women, queers and people of colour in the police force are traitors and subjugating their own people.
Queer activists, feminists, black/poc liberationists, disabled liberationists are all solidly powerful in activism, yet we are still fighting to be a part of activist spaces. This is partly because our work, like arrestee support, is devalued. I am tired of having to discuss and assert my identity as a point of intervention but I will keep doing so. I will keep existing powerfully within the movement for my queers who cannot do so, or feel marginalised. I expect your full cooperation, comrades.