Sarah Brown (auntysarah) wrote,
Sarah Brown

The S onewall Demo, Part I

Yesterday was rather hectic, but getting through it left a tremendous feeling of accomplishment.

cyberspice turned up at midday and shortly afterwards, myself and the_local_echo set out to get some leaflets and lyrics sheets printed. The leaflets were a collaborative effort from various people, and as with previous demonstrations we kept our powder dry until the protest, so that the people we were protesting would have no idea what we were going to say on them, and wouldn't have a rebuttal ready. Because the London Trans Feminist Group had some grant money left over from after the Zucker protest, we were able to print 200 leaflets and 200 copies of the lyrics sheet for the song that rozk penned for the demo.

The leaflet that ended up being handed out at the protest was double-sided (no expense spared!), and looks like this (click on it for a PDF file):

While we were out, zoeimogen arrived and as the printer guy said it would take half an hour, we decided to come home and work on other demo materials.

the_local_echo modified a couple of pride flags, sticking a big T on each, and can be seen with them outside the V&A museum before the demo started. I made a placard which read:

Stonewall need

...which I thought covered various bases, as I wanted to address various accusations from Julie Bindel and her few supporters that we, as demonstrators, were being "lesbophobic" and anti-feminist.

zoeimogen and I then headed back over to the printer's, to pick up the flyers and lyrics sheets. The man we dealt with there seemed to be entertained by the irony of the situation, saying, "you don't expect Stonewall to get picketed by their own community, do you? Something's got to be wrong when it comes to that", but he thought it "Very English", and wished us well.

With everything set, the four of us boarded an express train for London, transferring to a moderately busy Picadilly Line train at Kings Cross, before eventually emerging at South Kensignton Station, and promptly getting lost.

The V&A sits on the corner of what would, in the US, be called a city block. There's a Victorian-era foot tunnel which provided access between the Tube station and the various museums: Natural History Museum, Science Museum, and V&A. The tunnel has a direct entrance to the v&A, underground, and we knew that wasn't where we needed to be, so we emerged outside the National History Museum and crossed the road, finding ourselves by the staff entrance to the V&A.

After some confusion and the use of mobile devices to consult Google Maps, we discovered that the main entrance was round the corner, on the other road. We duly tramped round there, and bumped into Natacha Kennedy en-route. She has done much of the organising and as I was one of the demo's stewards, I had arraged to meet her and the other stewards an hour before we'd suggested everyone else arrive, in order to liaise with the police.

When we got there we were a little disappointed. Two "pens" had been constructed, at opposite sides of the grand entrance, and some considerable distance back. One was for us, the other for the Julie Bindel Fan Club's counter demonstration. We had two concerns - firstly that we wanted to chant and sing songs as the guests arrived, and the pen was so far back that they'd barely hear us, or even realise we were demonstrating about them at all. Secondly, the pen was not big enough to hold the numbers we were expecting; between 100 and 200 people were likely based on the confirmed and possible attendees on the protest's Facebook group.

The police woman we spoke to was sympathetic to our concerns, and spoke to her inspector on our behalf. After a while, a group of police officers started dismantling the pen and bringing it much closer, and converted it into a more fence-like arrangement, which would leave us feeling much less like caged animals.

Unfortunately the Bindel supporters got the same treatment. I guess it's only fair (and it turned out not to matter in the end anyway).

The third protest which had been widely rumoured to be happening, a protest by religious extremist group, "Christian Voice", failed to materialise.

The police also stood up for us when the V&A and/or Stonewall people said they didn't want us handing out leaflets, saying that they would protect our right to do so, and there was nothing that could be done to prevent us stationing a couple of people near the entrance in order to do so. This seems to be the advantage of liaising with the police beforehand - I think they appreciated our good faith, and reciprocated in kind. It was pretty clear to them, I think, that we weren't remotely interested in violence or any kind of incitement to it, and they cut us some slack as a result. At the end of the night, cyberspice even posed with one of them for a photo!

Over the next hour, the demonstrators started to arrive:

Our demo forms
The other demo forms

Spot the differnece! These photos are not deliberately chosen to make the "other side" look bad - at its peak their demo had twelve people standing around looking a bit glum. Several people were keeping count of ours, mostly for safety reasons, and each one I've spoken to independently put the number at about 150. This tallies with the lyrics sheets which were handed out as well - we printed 200 and were left with about a quarter of those at the end.

I believe this makes it the largest trans demonstration in the UK ever.

The setter-uppers rolled out a pink carpet (really!) and put candles on the steps leading up to it, making a kind of "runway". They also positioned sparkly pink flaming torch thingies to either side, one being near our demo, and many of us were grateful for the heat. While this was happening, a couple of freelance photographers were hanging around taking pictures of those of us who wished to be photographed. Myself and the_local_echo posed for several, and I think they got tired of me asking to see the pictures in case my nose looked big, or I looked like a bloke. We handed them leaflets to explain what the protest was all about, and briefed them in the art of captioning photos and pronouns when transgender people were involved. I thought it very nice of them to ask. They also had the growing protest pose a few times, pretending to be in mid chant. After seeing the leaflet and hearing our song, they suggested we say, "Canapés" instead of "Cheese", which ended up being something of a running joke for the evening.

The crowd which turned up was very varied. Apart from the usual suspects from the London trans scene, we got many feminist, queer, socialist and other allies turning up, all keen protest what we all saw as Stonewall's hypocrisy. Especially welcome was Dr Stuart Lorimer, one of the gender specialists from the Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic. I've propped up a bar with him before (and ended up doing so after the protest), and find him very likeable. He had a personal reason to be there, aside from showing solidarity with the trans community; Julie Bindel had professionally insulted his whole profession in the "Hecklers" debate by implying that medical transition was some sort of conspiracy by 1950s psychiatrists, and to hear her argument, one would think they're practically clubbing people on the street, dragging them in and having them wake up in an ice-bath minus their breasts/penis [amputate as applicable], urban-legend-style.

Eventually people started to arrive, and thanks to a couple of megaphones which people had thoughtfully brought along, we got into some chants after a few faltering starts. Someone tried to start an anti-Bindel chant, but I asked them not to in my capacity as a marshal, and apart from that (and two placards I saw, one saying, "Bindel 4 Pope" and another saying, "Nice Cup of T, Julie?"), she wasn't mentioned at all. We had a couple of rounds of the protest's song, and tried a few protests out before settling on two that seemed to work really well:

"El, Gee, Bee. Where's the Tee?"

"Stone-Wall! Hyp-o-crites!"

The last one seemed particularly effective. How it would work was that a car would pull up, well dressed guests would get out, and a chant would start, and continue until they went in. Some of them tried to pretend we weren't there, but most of them looked like they were actually rather disturbed to be effectively crossing a picket line organised by their own community, and I think a lot of people were experiencing something of a moral dilemma. Some people came over to talk to us, and seemed generally supportive, and occasionally shocked to hear about something they had previously known nothing about, and saw as something of an injustice.

This is, of course, exactly what we wanted. Hopefully it's served to embarrass Stonewall in front of their sponsors, and they'll now start to worry about the prospect of this happening again, and again, and again, and wonder how long they can remain viable as an organisation when their own grass roots are protesting against them. Some of the early press reports have been pretty devastating for Stonewall.

Not long into the arrival of the guests, the Bindel Fan Club demo just ... left. They walked away looking dejected. The hive mind leapt into action, and we sang in unison (to the tune of "Guide me O, Thou Great Jehova"'s chorus):

Come and join us!
Come and join us!
Come and join us at the pub!
Come and jo-in us at the pub!

But they didn't take us up on our offer. Perhaps they'd decided to leave after seeing their heroine arrived, surrounded by bouncers (so I'm told - nobody near me saw her arrive, but someone later told me they'd caught the manner of her arrival), or maybe some of them had the same moment of clarity that happens in that most excellent Mitchell and Webb sketch, where they play SS officers on the eastern front, and suddenly the question is asked, "Hans, are we the baddies?"

There had been exchanges between some of us and them throughout the night. I understand some of the older members were incredibly nasty to a trans man friend of mine, telling him he'd mutilated himself and was "filling his body with toxic hormones", but I also understand that some of the younger ones genuinely hadn't realised what Bindel had said about us. Perhaps, at least some of them, really did suddenly realise that one side had the moral high ground, and it wasn't theirs. We can but hope.

Anyway, we stuck around for another hour-or-so, to make sure we greeted all the guests, before departing to a nearby pub, where the serving staff probably wondered why their sleepy Knightsbridge pub was suddenly full of gender variant people with placards. Regardless, they seemed happy for the custom, and served a lovely pint of London Pride, which seemed strangely appropriate. I also bought Dr Lorimer the pint that I'd promised him a few weeks ago on Facebook, if he attended the demo. I spent some time gossiping with him about my recent nasal operation, and about how nasal polyps were invented by ENT specialists in the 1950s, when they wanted to impose their patriarchal ideas about being able to breathe properly on people who could be offered talking therapies instead. This all made sense while drunk.

I resolved to refer to my nasal polypectomy as "nasal mutilation" from then on.

All photos by zoeimogen.


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