Bullied at the library

In which a silent audience member is harassed

Artillery Row

When institutions contain individuals who are ideologically captured, they often make terrible mistakes yet remain steadfastly and stubbornly ignorant of them. This week Sheffield Libraries revealed itself as one such institution. 

Sophie Labelle is a Canadian cartoonist currently touring the UK with his cartoon book “Assigned Male”. The tour has drawn significant attention in the past week, focused on Sophie’s questionable social media profile and stated fetish of indulging in “little” behaviour. This includes wearing nappies and pretending to be a toddler in a relationship with other adults. Sophie has said, “I have a kink I indulge in responsibly, and I refuse to be shamed for it.” 

Adults seeking sexual arousal by dressing up as babies are not appropriate role models for confused children

This may be so, but parading a “kink” (also known as paraphilic infantilism) whilst also working with children might be called into question by those of us who want to safeguard them. Sophie is not a “little” girl; Sophie is a 34-year-old male. Adults seeking sexual arousal by dressing up as babies or toddlers are not appropriate role models for confused children questioning their identity. 

Many people across the UK objected to the inclusion of children and teens in the audiences of Labelle’s talks. No one wished to cancel Sophie for “being trans” as has been claimed. No violent threats were made, and there was no harassment. Sophie draws “diaper fur” art, some of which has been suggested to have sexual connotations. Criticism also focused on the fact that some drawings appear to use babies and toddlers as models for this fetish-based art work. 

The most “formal” event of the tour was hosted on Monday, 27 March at Sheffield Central Lending Library. In the run up to this event, many had called for a rethink by Sheffield City Council on an event that teens and young children were free to attend. They asked that the event be cancelled or reserved for adults. Sheffield City Libraries issued a response:

The council is aware of claims and comments relating to Sophie’s personal life and those linked to cartoon images. Any time concerns are raised with us, we look into them and we have done with this event too. We have considered this from a professional safeguarding point of view, and we stand by the decision to hold this event.

Miriam Cates, MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, lodged an objection to the library holding the event, saying that even the most cursory safeguarding checks on Labelle’s background “throw up serious safeguarding red flags”.

Sheffield City Council ignored all such pleas. I had briefly thought that women might protest the event but swiftly made it clear that we would not, because children were likely to be attending, and frightening children is not the aim of feminist women. If we wish to protect children we cannot simultaneously shout around and at them. 

Despite no evidence of a protest being organised and no threats against the event or the venue, a counter-protest was organised by trans activists calling themselves “Sheffield Solidarity Group”. This group asserted that there had been a threat of violence against the event, though there was zero evidence of this. The group advised people to turn up in masks and “stand up to transphobes”. It was pointed out to them online that no protest was planned, but they went ahead anyway, wasting police resources and tax payers’ money. 

I had a ticket for the event and attended alone. On arrival I found a large number of trans activists outside the event with banners and placards. There was no one present protesting the event, even though there were more people outside it than inside. On entering the library, a stunning white art-deco building, I was well aware that I had been recognised. As I went upstairs, I was followed by a number of event staff. I took a seat at the back of a half-empty room. There were plenty of seats, whole rows of seats free in front of me, but the event staff assembled another row behind me, saying, “we need more seats”. They clearly did not need more seats. Two of these people then sat directly behind me. Another woman came and sat right next to me, even though the rest of the row was empty. I asked if she was a member of the Library staff, but she denied this. It has now been confirmed, as I suspected, that I was being “guarded for my protected belief that humans cannot change sex, as Labelle has openly said so:

a TERF came by signing up under a fake name, but she was promptly recognised. Guards had their eyes on her the whole time.

He’s right; they did. I could feel one breathing down my neck from behind, and the one to my side made no secret of checking every word I wrote in my notebook. It was oppressive and intimidating. I could not take out my phone without the woman leaning in and peering at it. I was simply listening to a talk that I was entitled to attend and taking notes as a writer would. The woman leaned into me at the end and said, “I hope you’ll be kind!” 

No one thought that perhaps my safety might be compromised

I do not believe that men are women when they decide they are. The right to believe that is protected in law, thanks to Forstater v CGD. Sheffield City Council needs to address whether they have discriminated against me in this “guarding” behaviour. 

Sophie Labelle meanwhile was liberal with his attacks on women. In an attempt to humiliate and deride her, he referred to Miriam Cates as “The MP of Penis Town” a few times, and Sheffield Library staff laughed along with him. Labelle also talked of TERFS who had opposed him. Whilst he openly discussed feminist women in this derogatory and hateful fashion, the staff of the event laughed and clapped. He asked early in the talk, “Are there any TERFs in the room? I had a TERF attend once.”

I now know that he was doing this to intimidate me. The man being hosted by Sheffield City Council deliberately attempted to offend a woman in the audience and cause her to feel afraid and ashamed of her beliefs. Labelle has since written, “I even made a few jokes about TERFs whilst keeping direct eye contact with her … I made jokes while looking at her in the eyes.” 

This is a sinister admission. I was the one who needed protection from such aggressive behaviour. 

Meanwhile, the “counter” protesters outside shouted and became progressively more rowdy. I was frightened, given what was happening to me inside, of what would happen when I got outside. 

Sophie Labelle made clear attempts to intimidate a lone female audience member, whilst event staff surrounded me. No one thought that perhaps my safety might be compromised as I left, or that they should make sure I was safe. I walked away as quietly as possible with my scarf around my face and hair. I was followed. I stopped opposite the police van, and the man following looked uncertain what to do. Thankfully, he eventually moved away down the street. 

I am a Sheffield resident, and I have cherished memories of Sheffield Central Library. I used it every day to pass my A levels in the late 1980s. I was on income support, and it was the only free way to study. I spent whole days there, weeks, and loved it like a second home. The Graves Art Gallery within it was also free, with an extensive resident collection and a cheap café. It was a welcome sanctuary in a politically difficult time, where poverty filled our lives but our dreams seemed possible within those beautiful, book-lined, pristine white walls. 

Now I see it as a judgemental, oppressive place where women like myself are bullied and demonised on behalf of men with a nappy fetish. How low you have sunk my beautiful library. Get off your knees now, please. Stand up for women of the Steel City, rather than pinning them down for men. 

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