CW: This article talks about transphobia, fascist/Nazi behaviour and discusses mental health and suicide. Readers are advised.
Gender critical theory, traditionally, refers to those who argue that sex is “real, important and immutable” and that it should not be conflated with gender identity. Gender critical feminists believe that feminism should be organised on the basis of sex rather than gender identity/expression. This manifests in a multitude of ways: transwomen are excluded from women only spaces; legal recognition and medical treatment for trans people are opposed; and gender identity and expression are trivialised. The term ‘gender critical feminism’ was coined by the trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) community in an effort to neutralise the description that ‘trans-exclusionary’ denotes.
In light of the recent anti-transgender ‘Let Women Speak’ protests led by infamous UK TERF Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull (also known as Posie Parker), the motivations surrounding gender critical feminist debate have been put under consideration. In Melbourne on the 18th March 2023, disturbing scenes arose of neo-Nazis joining in on the ‘gender critical’ protest led by Keen-Minshull wherein chants of “white power” and Nazi salutes were abundant. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews condemned the behaviour, but all too late as anti-trans rhetoric was livestreamed from several accounts online. Even I was subjected to this on a TikTok live with no warning and in an extremely triggering fashion. As both a trans individual and someone with Jewish heritage, this was incredibly upsetting to see happen so close to home.
While Keen-Minshull denied that the neo-Nazi group was a part of the ‘Let Women Speak’ rally, it was still apparent that they shared a similar ideology in terms of gender politics. This begs the question: when your political and feminist ideologies line up in a way that appeals to fascists, to what extent can you truly call yourself a feminist?
By extension, it has been found that after the rally held in New Zealand, online hate towards the transgender community has spiked significantly, and is bordering on genocidal levels. With this snowball effect of discrimination leading to violent acts rippling through trans communities worldwide, a central question comes to mind: when your supposed ‘activism’ impedes on the rights and safeties of other minority groups, can this truly be called activist behaviour? A 2021 National Community Survey on the Health and Well-being of Transgender Australians found that 73 per cent of participants had been diagnosed with depression and 67 per cent were diagnosed with anxiety. Further, 43 per cent had attempted suicide with a 63 per cent self-harm rate. This does not include trans individuals who have lost their lives, simply for trying to navigate a world that hinders trans excellence.
Not only is this having an effect on the trans community as a whole, but Keen-Minshull’s campaign has taken root in Australian politics. With Liberal MP Moira Deeming showing support by assisting in the organisation for the anti-trans rights protest that took place in Melbourne, there has been an internal battle and division within the Liberal Party regarding what it stands for. Victorian Liberal leader John Pesutto has, as a result, called for Deeming to be expelled from the party for “organising, promoting and attending” the rally, mostly due to the involvement of the far-right on the day. As of 27th March, Deeming has been expelled from the Liberal Party for nine months, which has caused further division within the Party.
Of course, much of the rhetoric surrounding the TERF protestors has encompassed ideas of trans hysteria, to which I morally object. When a purported ‘freedom of speech’ movement impedes on your rights to exist safely and comfortably, and be included in spaces, I feel that this is well and truly hate speech. Of course we’re angry, of course we’re ‘hysterical’. When it’s a matter of life and death, you would be hysterical too. While I am not condemning the use of freedom of speech, I feel that it has been grossly appropriated to be a vehicle of hate and discrimination, which there is legislation criminalising.
The Hobart ‘Let Women Speak’ rally was vastly outnumbered by the counter-protest organised by trans individuals and allies. I was unable to go to the Hobart counter-protest myself, and I admire trans individuals who had the mental strength to do so, but the images of a strong trans and trans ally presence filled me with trans joy. I felt pride in my community and a sense of hope for our survival. Whether you like it or not, the future is trans.