Sometimes when thinking about an opening line for writing something controversial, inspiration can come from an unexpected source. The controversy is the response of the transgender and wider rainbow communities (and heterosexual supporters) to a transphobic event.
This event was the public meeting at Albert Park in Auckland last Saturday (25 March) where British anti-transgender leader Kelly-Jay Keen-Minshull (aka Posie Parker) was the key attraction.
An inspirational tweet
The inspiration came from a tweet by a medical specialist, Dr Julian Fuller. He is an experienced anaesthetist in Auckland and former Vice President of the Association of Medical Specialists (still a current national executive member).
From where I sit, Dr Fuller is more on the conservative side of the political spectrum but with a strong sense of fairness and social justice. He is also a passionate speaker and former around-the-world sailor. To cap his credentials off he also is an avid cricket follower (the highest form of compliment).
On 26 March he tweeted on the Auckland event. It included the following assessment “This was almost street democracy at its best…” My surprise is not that he supported the response and opposed transphobia.
Instead my surprise was his choice of expression – ‘street democracy’. While, surprising in terms of stereotypes (after over 30 years of representing them I found medical specialists to cover a wide spectrum of political views) this was still not an expression that I would have expected to roll off their tongues or keyboards. I would have unsurprised if it had come from someone like British and Pakistani socialist Tariq Ali.
Street Fighting Years
For me the expression brought back images of Tariq Ali’s autobiography of the 1960s, Street Fighting Years. With this image in mind Dr Fuller’s description provided the inspiration necessary to start this blog.
The power of trans people and those with them in solidarity from both within the rainbow community and beyond was ‘street democracy’ in response to vicious far-right influenced verbal abuse targeted at a discriminated group. Further, one can better understand the strong reaction to transphobia in Auckland by also considering the massive actions the following day in Wellington and Christchurch.
Democracy is not just ritualistic formal processes; it also includes the democracy of the crowd in the ‘street’. Free speech is not just about the right to verbally abuse and support oppression; it is also about the right to challenge this bigotry. If there was no bigotry in society there would be no need for ‘street democracy’.
In the controversy that has subsequently occurred I have a different perspective. I support the firm responses to the bigotry and verbal violence of transphobia so clearly my perspective is different from its proponents. But, more so in degree than kind, it is different from some of the supporters (commendable as they are) of transgender rights.
From a class perspective
My perspective is based on the view that the ultimate driver of human societies under various systems is class. When one class supersedes another you have societal transformation. My focus in this blog is on those who hold a similar view (albeit highly reductionist and neglectful of complexity) and then proceed to use it as a basis for attacking trans people.
The underlying conflict and its high intensity highlights the problems of the complexity of different sometimes overlapping forms of discrimination, exploitation and oppression and where rights fit in.
In my view class is the most important factor of this complexity. This begins with workers (using this term in a very broad sense, from factory worker to salaried medical specialist) and with much stratification) in the workplace.
But class is a relationship, not an occupational category. It is one’s relationship to the processes of production, distribution and exchange. In early 18th century England weavers who used handlooms that they owned were in a different class than weavers who worked with mechanised looms because of the different relationships with these processes .
Within different class societies, such as feudal and capitalist, there have been various other forms of discrimination, exploitation and oppression. The most severe under capitalism has been racism which also enabled divisiveness between its victims and the ‘white’ working class.
This divisiveness helped prevent the discriminated, exploited or oppressed class from overcoming the dominant class. However, discrimination, exploitation and oppression is not confined to racism. There is also sexism and sexual orientation to begin with and now we have transgender people.
In other words, we have a class society based on one’s relationship with the processes of production, distribution and exchange. But, in addition, we have other overlapping layers of discrimination, exploitation and oppression that vary in their directness and indirectness with these processes. This creates strong tendencies towards systemic instability, stratification and divisiveness.
Along with much in common, these layers also have their own distinct features. Just as they provide a recipe for unity, they also provide one for disunity (especially among those sufficiently bigoted, and sectarian, not to see beyond the end of their ideological nostrils).
Counter-protest against transphobia
There has been much said about the counter-protest against the transphobic event at Auckland’s Albert Park. Some of it is hysterical transphobia. Mob rule is its conclusion.
Academic and political commentator Bryce Edwards published a reasoned account in his Democracy Project platform on 27 March: Ugly stoking of a culture war. My perspective is different from his. I believe Edwards over-intellectualises from the event leading him to overstate an assessment of it as part of a culture war as a result. But it is still a perspective worth reading.
That same day left-wing political commentator Chris Trotter published an interesting piece in Interest.co: An ugly demonstration. He writes passionately and is strongly critical of the counter-protest although his analysis is not transphobic.
My criticism of Trotter’s piece is that he is sees the event through a Pollyanna lens Pollyanna is a 1913 novel by American author, Eleanor Porter. It is considered a classic of children’s literature.
Pollyanna was a lovely orphan girl who looked at life through an unjustifiably or unfailingly optimism. This lens leads to the disregarding of the horrible abusive verbal violence that comes from many opponents of transgender rights, including Keen-Minshull.
Providing an anti-trans assessment of the event, James Robb (a ‘Workers Now’ leader) also writes with passion (2 April): Remember these events.
Although he attended the event Robb’s analysis is seriously flawed beginning with the predetermined transphobic lens he saw it through including his negative stereotypes of transgender women.
Robb inaccurately claims the counter-protest was characterised by “political violence” leading him to embellish its significance in New Zealand history. Capping it off he white-washes Keen-Minshull’s far right connections by describing them as “guilt by association”.
Radio New Zealand’s Media Watch (2 April) provides a contrasting balanced account from two NZ Herald journalists who both also attended. In summary, while there may have been some violence around the margins, it was much less than what they had seen in other protests.
Their description of the counter-protest was “passionate”. They also noted that some of the video clips used, particularly by overseas media, to imply violence were misleading: Balanced account of alleged ‘mob violence’.
Anna Rawhiti-Connell, journalist who captures the street democracy of the counter-protest
The best account I have read is by The Spinoff’s Anna Rawhiti-Connell (26 March): Alternative view of the angry protest crowd. She is the editor of The Spinoff’s daily newsletter, The Bulletin. She provides a counter to the mob violence claims of transphobia supporters which is consistent with a ‘street democracy’ assessment.
Around a month ago, in a momentary lapse of judgement, I joined a Facebook group called Workers Now (of the political party of the same name). I joined because of interest in its ideas and also what I thought might have been a shared view on the role of class.
Unfortunately I failed to do due diligence. I discovered that that it was transphobic and skedaddled out of that unpleasant place. Self-inflicted reputational damage is not my thing.
One advantage of my brief membership was that I wasn’t surprised when Workers Now preceded to attack the counter-protest of transgender rights supporters and glorify the ‘innocence’ of the verbal transphobic violence of Keen-Minshull.
Many transgender people are workers. If it was to be honest to its platform, Workers Now should rename itself ‘Workers (excluding transgender workers) Now’ or ‘Cis Workers Now’; better still ‘Transphobic Workers Now’. Instead it sits in a ‘Holy Trinity’ with Counterspin and Destiny Church glued together by Posie Parker.
The ‘good’ thing, however, was an acknowledgement from Workers Now that it didn’t support physical violence against trans people. They would have been absolutely delighted to learn this!
A mangled class perspective
This transphobia was also expressed in a Facebook post, immediately after the Albert Park event, from one Len Richards who considers himself to be left-wing. He repeated the speech he would have liked to give at the transphobic event arguing for the left to take a “class perspective.”
Richards begins by saying that:
It doesn’t matter who I am, but I am not from the far-right. You can see from my t-shirt that one of my heroes is Che Guevara. The others are Vladmir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Alexandra Kollontai, Nadezhda Krupskaya, Clara Zetkin, Frida Khalo and Rosa Luxemburg.
This is as good as it gets. He proceeds to go through a lengthy account of the murders of Luxemburg and some working class activists in New Zealand beginning with Frederick Evans in 1912.
Had he given this speech his audience by this time would have been confused over lack of relevance. His heroes in some imaginary after-life would have been thinking WTF.
Richards then defends Posie Parker from those “…from trade unions and left-wing organisations (and others) protesting against…” her. Next, his focus moves to who are the real ‘enemy’. After a diversion to the Russian Revolution (1917) for an obscure analogy, he endorses the unsubstantiated claim of Keen-Minshull that the transgender rights movement was an international plot from billionaires.
In Richards’ words:
They are the billionaires that Posie talked about in the fractious Kim Hill interview on RNZ’s Morning Report programme. The enemy are the 1%, or actually the 0.1%, who control the world’s finances and thereby the politics, the media, the way we think and most everything else. They use their power to preserve their ability to exploit the people and the planet for their own purposes and in the endless pursuit of profits.
They will do anything to maintain their power. One important way they do that is by the ‘divide and conquer’ tactic.
Later in his undelivered speech he adds:
It is clear that powerful forces and interests with big money are driving the push to inculcate whole populations and generations with the transgender ideology and political agenda. There is big money to be made from the medicalised transition processes that make irreversible changes (mostly detrimental) to (mainly) young bodies. The divisions created amongst the left are a bonus. Let’s get a class perspective on how we proceed.
Richards is right about the value of a class perspective but wrong on about what this means and everything else. There is no recognition of the importance of addressing the discrimination, exploitation and oppression of transgender women and men. Instead there is uncritical condoning and repeating of the bigotry of Keen-Minshull.
There are few things more bizarre than the transgender movement being driven by a plot devised by billionaires. Relative to the profits that can be made out of private healthcare, transgender transition income is small change and there is no evidence to support the claim that transition changes are “mostly detrimental”.
These are the claims of hatred rather than rationality. It is certainly not a class perspective.
The politics of Kelly-Jay Keen-Minshull
The politics of Keen-Minshull go to the heart of whether the counter-protest in Auckland was ‘street democracy’ or ‘mob violence’. It has become confused with the accusation that she is a Nazi or fascist (the former is a form of the latter).
The accusation is neither relevant nor irrelevant. It is well put by Wellington-Te Horo left-winger Bill Logan in his Facebook post soon after the event:
I agree that Kelly-Jay Keen is not a fascist. But there are indications that she is nearly a fascist, and precisely the sort of person that good people would wish to shut up.
• A few weeks ago in Newcastle Upon Tyne, Kelly-Jay Keen was happy with a representative of her organisation quoting approvingly Hitler’s rhetoric in Mein Kampf about “the big lie”.
• Kelly-Jay Keen has fulminated against school-girls wearing burkas as “Not British”
• She has tried to whip up Islamophobia in Bradford, where fascism is rife.
• She has publicly praised Tommy Robinson, clearly an English fascist.
• And most recently when open fascists have supported her, Kelly-Jay Keen has refused to reject that support, for example at her Melbourne event.
• And, of course Kelly-Jay Keen spreads the idea that young trans folk should be forced against their will to develop sexual characteristics which they find deeply offensive.
•And she spreads the lie that trans women are a sexual danger to women.
While the issue is not whether she is a fascist, there is another aspect to consider. A separate Facebook post from my fellow research officer with the New Zealand University Students Association so many decades ago, Mike Waghorne, hits the nail on the head: “you can tell what people are like by the company they keep.”
Posie Parker: perhaps not a fascist but definitely a bigot; fascists are among the company she chooses to keep
The issue is that she is a well-known bigot and hate-merchant with transgender people one of her main targets. Essentially she is a person whose views on gender identity are hostile to transgender people and who opposes social and political policies designed to be inclusive of them.
Her transphobia is based on false characteristics of the most negative type. Trans women in particular are described as being inherently sinister, scheming and aggressive. Hence biological women have everything to fear from them.
Kim Hill: brought out the shallow bigotry of Posie Parker
The bigotry of Keen-Minshull and the shallowness it is based on was revealed in a penetrating interview by Kim Hill on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report (24 March): Kim Hill interviews ‘Posie Parker’.
The anti-transgender position starts from the premise that transgender women can’t be women; they are men, full stop. No further argument required. But human beings are so obviously different in so many ways; height, weight, hair and skin colour, genetic characteristics, sexual orientation for example.
Then, there are those who are intersex from birth comprising around 2% of the population. Perhaps because of being largely invisible they don’t attract the same hostility as transgenders.
There is a difference between biological sex and gender. Is it not unsurprising that with all the complexity of the human body and mind, that some people find themselves ‘born in the wrong body’ (to coin a phrase) and suffering severe depression as a consequence. For them transition is a life-saver. This should not be a space for absolute and insensitive judgements such as you are a man, not a women.
But, even if one has a genuine belief that biological men who transition to women are still men, why should this then flow into such cruel transphobia? Why should some conclude that this is a dire threat to biological women?
The argument for transgender women threatening women’s rights is difficult to comprehend. It appears to rest on threatening biological women in their space in public toilets. Now as a cis male (I don’t like that term) I’m unfamiliar with women’s toilets. However, I assume that they are the same as male toilets minus a urinal.
That is, one enters, goes into a small cubicle, does one’s business, comes out, washes ones hands (hopefully) and then departs. The common toilet space is not designed to want users to stay. There is no market for a barista to be inside selling coffee. Unless I’m missing something, I’m struggling to see how these could be spaces providing opportunities for violation.
While this logic appears absurd, the underlying premise is horrible. That is, the dishonest, unsubstantiated and bigoted accusation that trans women are inherently aggressive. Hasn’t that been said about others before!
Afro-Americans immediately come to mind. How much fundamental difference would there been if the small crowd promoting their bigotry were from the Klu Klux Klan and the much larger crowd were Afro-Americans?
Having said all that, I do have some concerns. I do worry about gender transition at an early age. But this has to be tempered by the fact that I know little about the subject and have much faith in the integrity and goodwill of both parents and medical profession (a reservation about the latter in the profit-driven American health system, however, although this applies to all form of treatment access).
There is also a legitimate question about trans women competing in high level sports where there might be an unfair advantage. But this is a matter to be determined by scientific evidence, not prejudice. And I don’t get the pronouns issue; but this is an argument for one’s spare time which I don’t have.
The important point is that none of these concerns are reasons for not supporting transgender rights and certainly not for transphobia.
The Auckland anti-transphobic protest has to also be seen in the context of what happened the following day (26 March), including two very large demonstrations in Wellington (especially) and Christchurch: Celebratory street democracy.
Coupled with Auckland, these were the largest transgender rights demonstrations organised in New Zealand. They were celebratory street democracy in action of the most empowering kind; a turning point in trans rights.
The circumstances were different but there are similarities with another famous form of street democracy in New York’s Greenwich Village in June 1969. The riots that followed a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a bar that served as a haven for the city’s gay, lesbian and transgender community marked a raucous turning point in the fight for their rights.
Although the High Court described it as a finely balanced decision, Immigration Minister Michael Wood was right to let Parker into the country. More so, the transgender and rainbow communities were right to protest against her bigotry at the Albert Park instead of ignore it. Had they ignored it this turning point of empowerment would not have occurred.
Although unconnected, the subsequent Young New Zealander of the Year award to Shaneel Lal should also be seen in the context of empowering street democracy. The awards have been going for 13 years and he is its first transgender recipient: First transgender recipient of Younger New Zealander of the Year. Lal was also an active participant in the Auckland counter-protest.
Shaneel Lal: Not having to think about one’s identity shouldn’t be an impossible dream
In an appreciative response Lal highlighted the cruel oppression of the trans community by transphobia. But he also made the following sad observation: “I want trans people to just be … without ever having to think about their identity. That feels like a very simple vision but one that feels very impossible to achieve.”
Achieving a simple vision
It is not just empowering street democracy that should make this simple vision achievable. It is also the inherent goodness of people generally. They far outweigh the verbal violence of transphobia. In an interesting international survey of tolerance towards transgender men and women, New Zealand is a world leader; second behind Vietnam: Second best in world for tolerance towards transgender women and men.
This is a 2023 survey by Ipsos Global Trends which asked whether transgender men and women should be free to live their lives as they wish. It provided three answers – Agree, Neutral and Disagree.
Globally 70% agreed. New Zealand was 88% just behind Vietnam (89%). Globally 10% were neutral; New Zealand was 4%. Globally 20% disagreed compared with 8% in New Zealand.
Along the rest of the transgender community, knowing that transphobia is located with around 8% of the population should give Shaneel Lal more confidence about achieving the simple vision. This is where Parker’s supporters including Counterspin, Voices for Freedom, Destiny Church and Workers Now along with other transphobe now reside.
In the meantime, should Kelly-Jay Keen-Minshull return as she reportedly expects to do, perhaps the slogan of the counter-protest might be ‘Workers of Aotearoa unite, you have nothing to lose but the remnants of bigotry’.
13 thoughts on “Class, transphobia and ‘street democracy’”
Ian, you describe my account of the events as coloured by my “negative stereotypes of transgender women.” Can you please give me an example of these negative stereotypes, from the article you link to or anything else I have written?
In the context of descriptions of the transgender (and supporters of their rights) the use of words like “mobs”, “the thugs carried out their threat”, “whipping up the frenzy of woman-hatred” and “witch-hunts, the thug’s veto and political violence” come immediately to mind. I also recall earlier stereotypes in our exchange when I was briefly in the Workers Now FB group but don’t seem able to access them, presumably because I’m no longer in it.
All of these descriptions you quote referred to the entire group of counter-protesters, in which transgender people were obviously only a small part. Even if they were untrue, it is ridiculous to say that they represent negative stereotypes about transgender people. I never mentioned transgender people at any point. You are really clutching at straws here.
But I guess once you turn your back on objective fact, you can believe anything.
All of these descriptions you quote referred to the entire group of counter-protesters, of which transgender people were obviously only a small part. Even if they were untrue, it is ridiculous to say that they represent negative stereotypes about transgender people. I never mentioned transgender people at any point. You are really clutching at straws here.
But I guess once you turn your back on objective fact, you can believe anything.
You are the first person I’m aware of to say that transgender people were only a small part of the counter-protest. Regardless, in the context in which they were made it is disingenuous to suggest you were not using negative stereotypes about them.
There is not one single word of evidence that KJK (Posie Parker) is far right or transphobic. (Btw phobic means fear, not hate.)
She speaks in her live stream on the way to Albert Park asking why are the young people yelling at her instead of the government or the big corporates who are stealing their future. In a recent interview she revealed she used to be a Labour supporter and she has working class origins.
All the slanderous gaslighting by her opponents is just unsubstantiated guilt by association, but not association initiated by JKJ.
“Nazi” is more a description of the Rainbow mob at Albert Park than the the women trying to speak their truth.
And the truth is that ‘gender’ is a stereotypical perception of the world with no real existence outside of people’s belief system.
Sex is immutable, and binary. Just like we have ten fingers and ten toes, we are either male or female. The futile attempts at transitioning from one sex to another is a great money-spinner for Big-Pharma and the cosmetic surgery industry. Irreversible harm is done to the bodies of young people sucked into this insane craze.
Women are adult female humans; full stop.
That given; there is nothing to stop men or women acting out the stereotypical roles of the opposite sex – who is afraid (or hateful) of that: no-one I know of.
The transactivist movement is proving itself to be inherently (and violently) mysogynist i.e. women-hating.
Women have the right to speak about their fears and concerns when laws are changed to allow men’s intrusion into their ‘safe’ spaces and sports.
The ‘mob-rule’ you support in the name of the quasi-religious cult of Transgenderism is nothing other than ideological (and physical) terrorism.
I could not disagree with you more Len for the reasons I outlined. If anything your comment above reinforces my assessment. But happy to publish your response so others can form their view on it.
Len’s response makes a lot of sense.
An enjoyable and informative read, but what I really loved is the men having the arguments in the comments about what is (or isn’t) a woman. I’m a woman in the way that KJKM would be happy with. I have no problem with trans women; trans women are women. I love the way men talk about women’s ‘safe spaces’ like they’re some kind of talisman against cis male violence. It’s just not true. Men who want to assault women will do it no matter what they are wearing or how they present. To think that a man would go to such lengths to enter these sacred spaces is ludicrous. Just sit back and have a think, my dudes. It doesn’t make sense.
In terms of over-intellectualising Ian, I rather think that might be what you are doing. A Let Women Speak was shut down by bunches of angry protesters. The message from their was clear Don’t Let Women Speak. A woman was punched in the face. Signs dehumanized Terfs, the new word for women who believe in biology and haven’t been sucked into the politically popular message that men who feel like women are literally women. We can believe in universal human rights without believing that.
Regardless of whether you agree, a woman who does not believe women have penises and wants to protect sex-based rights and safeguards came to NZ to facilitate women speaking on this matter. She generally says a few words and passes the mic to other women. A highly democratic and progressive thing to do. Women with disabilities speak about their desire for same sex care (under threat); lesbian women talk about the new form of homophobia where they are told they are bigots for not wanting penis; mothers talk about their probably lesbian daughters getting told they are boys and being medicalised ( surely you see how barbaric this is). And so on.
Those speaking up for women’s rights are always demonised and belittled. They are often held responsible for bad male behaviour (very common in situations of violence against women). It is just a crying shame that in 2023, the slurring, the hysteric association with the far
right is coming from people I once considered progressive, from leaders, from supposedly left leaning media, and by then the smear campaigns are believed by otherwise sensible people.
I urge you to look deeper and think more. Here is Posy Parker’s website. Have a look at what she is actually saying, not what is getting reported. https://www.standingforwomen.com/
Ian, can you please look at this video and tell me what is bigoted about this kind of gathering.
I also challenge your class take. It is in fact a highly educated tiny elite of bureaucrats and the managerial classes, influenced by academic queer theory, who are demanding not human rights for trans people but that we reset language, ignore biology and align with other people’s new theories on identity and that women must abandon their own sets of safeguards to cater for these new ideas.
And class snobbery is used to ridicule those people who believe women don’t have penises. Because they have not been sufficiently “educated” they are condemned for their understanding of male and female.
I would not say that those who spoke at this small event were bigoted on the basis of this video and they may not be at all. I take them to be at face value genuine but misplaced in some of their assertions. There is in my view, however, a strong undercurrent of unconscious stereotypes, perhaps bigotry, that sit behind them.
With respect to class, I have a different perspective towards class than you. I regard it as a ‘relationship’ as I elaborated in my blog whereas you seem to regard it as a ‘thing’. I was arguing against the view of some within the anti-transgender grouping that class was behind the increasing profile of transgender rights as argued by Len Richards’ Facebook post.