Feminist Writing. Fourth Wave. For Women.

Brighton: This is what #NoDebate looks like

Increasingly tense stand-offs at Kellie-Jay Keen’s public events are what happens when the gender debate is online-only

Brighton: This is what #NoDebate looks like
Photo courtesy of Facebook/Kellie-Jay Keen

Even though the event was billed as in-person, the noise of the trans activists meant that except for a small inner circle, if you wanted to hear gender-critical British activist Kellie-Jay-Keen speak in Brighton last Sunday, you had to tune into her livestream. It quickly made sense why so many women had headphones; they were listening to speeches that were happening only a few feet away.

For those who don’t know the Kellie-Jay Keen (KJK) story, here’s the distilled version: they pulled down her billboard, then they kicked her off Twitter, so she took her opinions to the parks. Her low-tech “Standing for Women” events feature different speakers taking turns to talk about the legal, social, practical and policy changes that result from replacing sex with the nebulous “gender”.

The event in Brighton on 18 September was different, participants told me. More people, and more intensity. The scene reminded me of a hurricane: a thick, powerful and static centre of ordinary-looking women, surrounded by a swirling morass of loud, wild-eyed and jittery younger people in fancy dress. The costumed activists pressed tighter and tighter on the eye of the storm, hoping to make it fold in on itself. A line of bobbies in high-vis vests and stoic expressions (facing the trans-rights protesters), along with stewards from KJK's team, kept them apart.


The protesters' zany costumes were expressions of their non-conformity: strategically ripped garments, rainbow eye shadow, special edition Doc Martens. But it’s all very similar to what their mothers' generation wore, except there are now septuagenarian males in bodycon dresses. They screamed their righteousness all over Brighton’s Victoria Gardens. They chanted “Posie Parker’s a fascist” to the tune of Seven Nation Army and banged IKEA pots and pans.

The women, by contrast, were dressed largely in mom-chic and comfortable shoes. Right in the centre of the circle stood MC KJK in an electric pink jumpsuit with a GoPro camera strapped to her body. She looked like she was getting ready to jump out of a plane for charity. In a way, she was. She might be making money from her official merch (“Posie Parker’s a grifter” is another popular chant) but the truth is that her brand is probably too toxic now for a normal job. "Nazi" labels tend to stick when you can’t hear the retort.

Right of reply

Indeed, there were many onlookers, hovering on the streets nearby, trying to hear the retort. They wanted to know what the fascists huddled in the middle were saying. Whatever it was, the slogans primed them to be against it. In a sane world, they would be seated in neat rows in a studio audience each week as balanced panels hash out our conflict of rights. But the media and our institutions are now operating according to the sunk cost fallacy. They have taken a side. The grant money has been dished out and spent, the policymakers have made their gender-addled official statements.

If the megaphones and chants would only stop for a minute, the passers-by might have heard a shy young autistic woman, voice trembling, as she explained why autistic girls like herself are more drawn to the idea of opting out of their sex. Or they might have heard a mother talking about her son who loved sewing at a time when that was not okay, appealing to the crowd to leave non-conforming children alone. “The word trans has one function - and that is to falsify reality,” veteran feminist activist Julia Long said with indignation. “SCUM SCUM SCUM SCUM,” the activists chanted.

Meanwhile, the circle continued to shrink.

Apart from the ability to articulate arguments beyond one-liners, another striking thing that differentiated the two sides was the average age. Though the women’s side skewed older (easier to open your mouth when your mortgage is paid off), all generations seemed to be represented. The average trans rights activist was much younger, presumably drawn by the costumes, the chaos and an unshakeable youthful conviction that they are right.

You have never been quite so sure of anything in your life as trans rights activists are that Kellie-Jay Keen is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.

Huddled together at one end was a group dressed all in black holding a pink and black flag; these are the supposed black-bloc anti-fascists. What does that represent, I asked, pointing to a flag. “Queer anarchy,” said a very young-sounding male voice behind the mask. “You seem quite young,” I said. "Yeah you don't," one responded. I laughed and told them that yes, it’s true (I’m a prehistoric 39).

“How old do you think we are?” he asked. “23 or something?” I attempted. “Yeah, actually,” was the response. Later, during a scuffle with police, one of them shouted "I'm only fifteen!"

This is who is relegating women’s opinions to be drowned out in public parks? I found it hard to be afraid of them, because they are simply #BeKind foot soldiers, albeit cheered on by powerful institutions. They’re reenacting what they’ve seen in movies and in grainy images of the Stonewall riots, or images of school children crossing pickets to attend segregated schools in the American deep south. Karen White is their generation’s Rosa Parks.

But it’s clear they were also looking for the excitement of a scuffle with police, and they eventually got the ruckus they had been itching for. After a couple of lobbed smoke bombs, somebody pushed somebody, the boys and girls in black seized the moment, and next thing you knew a blonde boy (called “Bliss”, when he’s in womanface), gets carted off to the police station. The young people were exhilarated. One of them just start screaming “fuuuuuck yooooooouuuuuuu” to no-one. All that pent up reasoned argument has to come out at some point.

Meanwhile, a mother at the centre of the circle talked calmly about what it’s like to be imprisoned with men.

The audience that wasn’t

I approached some of the onlookers on the fringes to ask if they could understand what was going on. A man of about 50 in a wheelchair said it was something to do with feminism. “I believe men and women are the same,” the man said, trying to no doubt articulate a traditional feminist position, not the more contemporary literal interpretation. His female companion knew, somehow, that there was something more complicated than that going on. She said, “It’s more”.

Another couple were a little bit more informed. The man had heard of Allison Bailey, and was trying to spot her in the crowd. His wife wanted to know what TERF meant. He schooled her on Ms Bailey's Stonewall case. I overheard another male passer-by in his thirties asking one of the gender-critical women what was going on. I observed the conversation as she patiently went through the main talking points.

He wanted to know why someone was holding up a sign listing the percentage of sexual assaults committed by men (about 97%). “What’s the connection?” he inquired. The woman took a deep breath and dived in. They were still talking about 45 minutes later. By the end, the man was pleased that the arguments were sound, but felt such a profound sympathy for trans people that he couldn’t let go of the feeling they were the ultimate victims. He promised to think about it.

Man-made horrors

The curious observers asking questions hinted at the extent to which the public would like to have an honest debate about the issue. The local press sent a photographer, and even wrote up articles. But as usual, the passive tense pulled a lot of weight. “Arrests were made,” reported Sussex World and The Argus, who repeated the trans activists’ slogans verbatim.

While it’s normal for people to think that their own personal cause is not getting enough attention from the mainstream press, you can’t help but suspect that major news outlets are reluctant to platform the wrongthink of Kellie-Jay Keen, because to do so would be to reveal horrors beyond the comprehension of most people. Horrors that the media have proudly supported.

Just last week, we learned about castration fetishist pedophiles advising governments on the rights of eunuch children, an autogynephile in prosthetic balloon breasts teaching high-school students, and a necrophiliac murderer housed with female prisoners. These outcomes are queer theory taken to its logical conclusions, and the protesters in the park would prefer if you would shut up about them, please.

They are the good guys, as long as you can’t hear anybody else.

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