Gender critical in Geneva

Yet another failed attempt to silence women

Artillery Row

To be a TERF is to risk terminal paranoia. Researching the origins of the stealth imposition of Wrong Body Theology makes you see connections everywhere. Last weekend, after a rabid mob caused chaos at Posie Parker’s Let Women Speak (LWS) event at the UN’s Geneva headquarters, the dark thoughts crept in. Surely it was no coincidence that such a big crowd — the biggest I have seen at a KJK event, bar New Zealand — had organically showed up in the home of the genderborg HQ?

I had been in Vienna the day before as part of an exhausting two-day trip to witness Kellie-Jay Keen’s first forays into the European gender wars. The Viennese police were darlings. They had arranged for both the LWS crowd and their detractors to have plenty of physical and auditory space to be able to make their case in peace.

The noise of the transactivists, whose kit now almost always includes a sound system and a disco tracklist, barely even reached our ears. There was ample space, along with police vans, metal fences and officers surrounding the perimeter.

To let women speak might reveal that they have been duped by the borg

Everyone got a chance to speak, and only a thunderstorm called it off slightly early. Running from the torrential rain, we all rushed under an enormous tree and made plans for the pub. Good times.

Compare that to the following day in Switzerland.

The pristine streets of Geneva were completely empty because it was a Sunday, and the diplomats were off in their bucolic chalets or whatever. As I approached the Place des Nations, a spotless carré of fountains, artworks and bus stops, I could hear the unmistakable voice of KJK on a mic ring through the otherwise silent surrounding streets.

Rounding the corner, I came upon a big, jittery crowd holding up cardboard signs scrawled with bizarre non-sequiturs about TERFs and Adolf Hitler. Facing them was a line of genevois gendarmerie dressed like Robocop. KJK and about 30 women were standing under or around the Broken Chair, a piece of art dedicated to the victims of landmines, directly in the line of sight of the regal United Nations office building.

Whilst the vibes in Vienna had been picnic-like, this felt more like when a fight breaks out on the top of a double-decker bus. The last thing you want to do is go toward it. The women were vastly outnumbered by protestors who were wearing their usual “zany” uniform: sparkles, hotpants, sideboobs, terrible hair. I had been to three LWS events at that point — including Brighton and Glasgow — and the protestors are all the same: plummy accents, bright eyeshadow, indignant rage about some injustice they can’t quite articulate.

They exult in their membership of this tribe. They have been convinced that they are the good guys, and nothing you say can convince them otherwise — partly because they won’t shut up for two minutes to let you try. To let the women speak might reveal to them that they have been duped by the borg. It might reveal that the legal norms they hope to enforce upon women and children will have consequences outside their rarified lives that they cannot fathom.

Switzerland is one of the richest places on Earth, so the protestors’ ragged DIY costumes and claims to oppression are particularly unconvincing. The strategically ripped T-shirts of the finishing-school tomboys are harder to pull off in a town where the Booking app lists hotels that cost €26,000 euro per night.

I usually go into the transactivist crowd at these events, but this time I stayed safely with the women. Minutes felt like hours, as the tense pulse of the crowd jacked up with every coordinated roar. Were they getting closer? Or were there just more of them arriving? In fact, it was both. Their numbers swelled, and KJK had to up it to a bellow. The women who wanted to speak about their experiences — which ranged from their hatred of puberty, to internalised lesbophobia, to their abuse at the hands of violent men — were unused to anything like it, and their words were drowned out to almost nothing.

As the crowd grew, so did the number of cops. So then why was the crowd getting so close? The protestors now seemed to be led by a self-appointed crew of the most ballsy amongst them. They started to cover us from the side flank. The screaming got louder. I heard a woman try to say something about her first period; she didn’t dare look up from her notes as the protestors shouted insults at her from every angle.

A very aggressive man, wearing a flowing skirt and a boho-style cotton crop top, lifted his garments and flashed me his genital bulge. I couldn’t help but give him the finger. The police and the stewards warned me about provoking them. He also repeatedly showed off his naked budding breasts, grown with the aid of synthetic hormones. His proud swagger as he hurled insults at elderly women will stay with me forever.

It would have been negative for him, career-wise, to be filmed trying to kill someone

The feeling of chaos and loss of control amped up. It got harder and harder for KJK to convince women to speak. Yet she told them: each one of you makes it easier for the next woman.

A man who looked like his dad works for the UN tried to slap my phone out of my hand, but it was tied on a cord around my neck (essential for TERFing). Then his buddy, another handsome young guy with bright prospects, grabbed the cord from behind and attempted to choke me. He let go very quickly, presumably because it would have been negative for him, career-wise, to be filmed trying to kill someone — even if I am legit fash.

At some point it became clear that the only outcome was escalation. The cops looked wary of touching the protestors, and the mob could feel it. Optics, I guess. They were emboldened in the knowledge that all the world’s media, institutions, philanthropists, “civil society actors” and, not least, the career cultists in the building behind us would hail them as the good guys.

A water cannon had appeared at some point, but it sat motionless even as the protestors pushed. KJK made a few final remarks (screaming, but not undone) and then in one move, scooped up all three legs of the camera tripod and turned and ran to the van, followed by hired security. The boys and girls ran after her and surrounded her vehicle, unsure what to do with their rage. One of them had a cowbell. It was all so utterly bizarre.

The LWS stewards formed a ring around the technical equipment whilst protestors screamed in their faces. A senior-seeming police officer, the only one who really seemed to care whether we made it out of there alive, helped the head steward (a local woman) to plan an escape. All sides of the square were blocked now, except the corner where the water canon stood idle. A plan was hatched. Taxis were called to a nearby location, and we were told that as soon as the technical equipment had been carted off, we were to run up the unconquered road.

Soon, the water cannon started to reverse. We ran behind it, heading, we hoped towards waiting taxis. No robocops accompanied us. The vans upped and drove away. Then, when we reached the top of a hill, the water cannon left. There were no taxis. We all just looked at each other.

The attack dogs of the genderborg were still screaming down below. After many interminable minutes, a car showed up, and I got away with some Swiss women, amongst whom was a girl who was still in school. We had to drive past the protestors on our escape route. We ducked as the crowd exuberantly celebrated what they saw as victory over fascism. Seriously. It was by far the most terrifying spectacle of the day.

The taxi driver wanted to know what was going on. We tried to explain la folie, but it was all just too weird for the uninitiated. He couldn’t wrap his head around it, though he did understand that the howling children on the square wanted men to be able to share intimate facilities with his wife and daughter.

He told us to call him for backup if they found us.

In the grimy Irish pub that became our hideout, we all sat down and realised we didn’t even know each other. Some TERFs arrived with their t-shirts inside out. When it became clear that no taxi was coming to save them, they had jumped on a bus — but the borg’s soldiers got on at the next stop, and they panicked, pulling off their tops to hide their pernicious text: “Adult human female”.

Some were too overwhelmed to speak. Our hands were shaking. We shared phone chargers. We ordered each other brandy. We shared our made-up Twitter names (“I’m Jane but my Twitter name is Terfysaurus Rowling KPSS”). It took a while, but we eventually laughed. “Oh my god” was said a lot. “Nicola Sturgeon’s been arrested,” shouted someone. A cheer went up.

There were very few lighthearted moments for me during the event in Geneva, but one of them was when KJK said: “We’re in front of the UN. I don’t know what they do here.” I laughed out loud, because this is why I love KJK: she’s a woman moving through the world just pointing out bullshit when she encounters it — my absolute favourite genre of TERF.

It’s not really funny, though. The UN’s duplicitous manoeuvring is one of the reasons we were there. Why they insist on cajoling countries into removing biological sex from life and law — and make no mistake, they are one of the principal culprits — is a question that haunts me daily. Looking up at that sprawling colossus, as its privileged mercenaries hounded me into silence, I don’t think I’ve ever been more determined to get to the bottom of it.

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