“I can’t cycle that far!” I moaned, waving my phone at Jessie, window open on the Standing for Women facebook page. “I haven’t got off my arse for months. And my bike probably needs a service. And there’s no way I’m going on the tube. Or a bus.”
“What is it?”
“There’s a meeting at Speakers’ Corner this Sunday. I really want to blog about it.” I passed her my phone.
“Speakers Corner, 2pm, 19th July 2020,” she read. “To celebrate two whole years since I sold my first T shirt I will be saying lots of words I’m not supposed to say and giving passers by limited edition T shirts.”
“Posie, right? I’ll drive you,” offered Jessie. “It’ll be fun.”
So we piled into Jessie’s little car for my first trip up to town in months. I still haven’t got used to being driven places by my offspring, especially as driving is a skill I’ve never mastered myself. The streets weren’t busy, there were no traffic jams, we covered the distance in no time. I had a flask of coffee, of course. Jessie is an expert in compiling all-female Spotify playlists and as we drove through the city Marika Hackman and Phoebe Bridgers provided musical accompaniment.
“What does that green ‘low emissions’ sign mean?” wondered Jessie as we turned left off Park Lane. Neither of us is used to driving through central London: well, why would you drive, under normal circumstances, with such an excellent public transport system in place?
As it was a Sunday I was certain we’d manage to get free parking. I was right! We parked just ten minutes walk from Speakers’ Corner.
We were to find out what the green sign meant once we returned home and prepared to pay the congestion charge. My dad had explained a route whereby we could have avoided it altogether but neither of us had been listening. What we saved on parking we lost by the fact that we’d not only crossed the congestion zone but- oh horror – passed through the low emissions zone as well. TWENTY EIGHT QUID! With charges like that I expect to see more of those bloody cycle lanes you’ve been promising us, Mr Mayor. But I digress.
I give a brief history of Speakers’ Corner here in my Women Say on Women’s Day post.
Most people have heard of the London Speakers’ Corner, but not everyone is aware that there are Speakers’ Corners throughout England, locations where citizens can turn up and speak on any topic that interests them. Historically there were Speakers’ Corners in other areas of London, notably in Finsbury Park and on Clapham Common. The first recent ‘official’ Speakers’ Corner outside London opened in the Market Square in Nottingham in 2009 and is marked by a plaque and a code of conduct. Another was opened at Lichfield in the same year. Worthing, on the Sussex coast, has had a Speakers’ Corner since Victorian times. Several cities, including Newcastle and Leeds have unofficial Speakers’ Corners.
The Speakers’ Corner Trust is currently involved in developing projects in Croydon, Ipswich, Reading and Leeds, among other places.
“The rights of citizens to hold and express opinions,” says the Trust, “lie at the heart of Britain’s democratic way of life… if we allow those freedoms to fall into disuse and if the involvement of citizens in debating and developing a common vision for their society continues to decline, how are we to overcome the challenges we face, how do we resolve divisions and disagreements between us, how will we sustain the consensus on which a strong and confident democracy depends?”
It was pleasant to stroll through Hyde Park for the first time in months. There was a gentle wind and the paths were wide and mostly empty. The last time I had visited the park was for the Women Say meet up back in March.
As we approached the corner we saw a few small groups gathered. Two men sat on wooden boxes and played a game of chess. Two more men were having a heated discussion as we passed.
“More people have been killed by Darwin than have been killed by Satan!” insisted the man holding a placard.
“No! Shit, no,” retorted the other, shaking his head in avid disagreement. “Darwin was deceived by Satan, that was it.”
I’m told that there was a large group protesting about mask wearing who met at Speakers’ Corner that day, but we didn’t see them. Maybe they left before we arrived. One of them was a woman wearing a G string as a mask, so I’m told. I think I would probably have noticed her.
Approaching the corner we noticed a group of about sixty people gathered around a small, silver stepladder. Our timing was perfect.
“Two years ago today I sold my first T shirt. And it dared to say that a woman was an adult human female.”
Kellie-Jay (aka Posie Parker) went on to refer to her infamous billboard and how it was taken down for being ‘hate speech’; how people have been thrown out of pubs and political parties for wearing T shirts with the dictionary definition of ‘woman’ on them and how women have been interrogated by political parties for saying ‘women don’t have penises’.
Some of the group had obviously come specifically to hear the speakers. Several wore T shirts bearing the legend ‘adult human female’ or ‘adult human male’. One woman wore a red shirt with the slogan ‘shero: stunning and brave’. Slogans seemed to be the order of the day: other T shirts read ‘Modern Day Witch Hunts- I refuse to bow down’, ‘I love JK Rowling’ and ‘When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes survival’. One man who later engaged in intense debate with Kellie-Jay sported the line ‘Nice People do Drugs’. There was even a guy present in a ‘Make America Great Again’ T shirt.
“Do you think he’s wearing it ironically?” I asked Jessie. “He must be wearing it ironically!” She wasn’t so sure.
I saw several familiar faces, some obscured by masks, some smoking in the sunshine.
Some were passers by, drawn by the small crowd; people out for a jog or a walk or a cycle around the park. On the grass behind the railings, a toddler played with her dad and a balloon. Everyone was enjoying the bright, windy afternoon.
“I’m at Speaker’s Corner,” continued Kellie-Jay, “because it’s essential that each and every one of us speak the things that are quickly becoming unutterable.”
You can see a video recording of the speeches here.
“Every woman has the right to a female only space. The first Sunday of every month we are going to come here, and we are going to say the things to each other that (they) are beginning to tell you you’re not allowed to say.”
She emphasised the importance of being able to say that a man cannot become a woman and that females need safe spaces, referencing the man caught in hospital with thousands of pictures of child abuse on his computer and how he was reported in the press as being a woman. Keen is concerned that we are fast reaching a point where nobody says these things in public and that soon we will believe that we can’t say them at all.
Of transitioning children, she said, “It’s gay conversion therapy of the most horrific kind. There’s no going back once you’ve pumped a female body full of testosterone. She’s at risk of heart failure, she’s at risk of Alzheimers, she’s at risk of hysterectomy, cancer, osteoperosis and we are doing this to children as soon as we tell that little girl that yes, she’s right, her body is wrong.”
Kellie-Jay urged parents to take their parental responsibility seriously and go into their children’s schools and ask what they are teaching about trans issues and sexual relationships.
Issy Belstaffie (bottom left in the photo), radical feminist writer and activist, was next to speak. (7.25 in the video on KJK’s channel) She spoke of the importance of protecting women and children against all forms of male violence and of the homophobia in the transgender movement. She described herself as a gender abolitionist, anti transgenderism and anti queer theory. “I am a lesbian, I am not queer,” she declared to applause.
“That term is an insult to us… I have been shunned by the woke community for not accepting transgenderism, the belief that one is born in the wrong body and that human can change sex. They can’t. The masculinisation of a body does not make it male; the feminisation of a body does not make it female.”
Issy was suspended from Medium last year after controversy surrounding her article, written for those managing male predatory behaviour, ‘Trans Identified Males Should Not Be Accessing Women’s Spaces’. The article has been republished on Uncommon Ground Media here.
“I am not a hateful person, I am an angry woman but I am not hateful…. lesbians are only same-sex attracted. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar and a homophobe.”
She concluded by saying women would not be silenced; she was relieved that changes to the GRA seemed to be being shelved and that the public and parents were starting to reject groups like Mermaids.
Phoebe spoke next (15.48 in the video on KJK’s channel), saying she used to be, if not a transactivist, someone who would be willing to say ‘transwomen are women, transmen are men, non binary is valid.‘ She noted that it’s especially difficult for young women to speak up about women’s rights, because young women want to be seen as nice, not as hateful or bigoted or ‘transphobic’. Transactivism, she said, had resulted in women’s prisons and shelters accommodating transwomen who had then proceeded to assault women. It had resulted in lesbians being called transphobic for not wanting to have sex with men. Transactivism means that men’s validation is now seen as more important than women’s safety and women’s sexuality. She said that she, like many women, would have been prepared to fight for trans rights alongside transwomen and to be an ally… “but then you called me a TERF.”
“You made it cool to threaten women, you made it cool to call us TERFs… you’ve convinced the world that transwomen have more right to speak about women’s rights than women do… and when we ask what a woman is, you say ‘a feeling’.”
Maria MacLachlan was next to speak (top left in the photo, 20.40 in the video on KJK’s channel) reminding us that two and a half years ago on that very spot, on her way to a meeting, she had been assaulted by three men less than half her age, who claimed to be women. Had transacitivists distanced themselves from the assault the result would have been very different. In the few days after she was assaulted comments on her blog appeared such as these: “I wish she was punched harder” and “I hope more of you get punched and hopefully raped and killed.“ Like many other women, Maria has been banned from Twitter for saying men can’t be women.
“Feminism is about women’s liberation,” she concluded, to much applause, “and not male entitlement.”
Next up was Sophie (24.47 in the video on KJK’s channel). She said her dad had always told her ‘Res ipsa loquitur‘ (let the facts speak for themselves) and the phrase had only recently come to mean a lot to her. Transgenderism, she said, is a movement based on lies and deceit, but that she believed “this is the year it comes to an end”.
“I’ve only had the bravery to speak out because of Venice, Posie; my friends over there… if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have felt so encouraged. Keep fighting, keep speaking out- like me: I’m just an ordinary girl- it’s going to make a massive difference.”
DJ Lippy (middle left in the photo, 26.10 in the video on KJK’s channel) took the stand. She said three years ago she hadn’t heard of any of this.
“I was just a DJ and a bit of a gobshite on Twitter.” When Venice started asking on facebook ‘do women have penises?’, she told us, “I was, like, ‘yes, Venice, some women do have penises’!”
After researching the topic independently she came to a meeting and got to know some other like-minded women. A week later she was involved in stickering action.
“You don’t have to be an activist,” she added, advising women to have conversations with friends: to stop using transactivists’ language and playing their games.
“We’re not saying they’re all mad sexual predators; we’re saying men behave like men… just start speaking out.”
Venice spoke next (29.08 in the video on KJK’s channel). She reminded us that from now on, on the first Sunday of every month, women would meet at Speakers’ Corner because, while women were unable to speak their minds on social media, “here we can say what we believe, which isn’t hate speech, it’s just plain common sense!”
She anticipated good news about the GRA and spoke about her concerns for what is being called ‘conversion therapy’, pointing out that “helping children love their own natural bodies is not conversion therapy. Transing kids is conversion therapy.”
Why is saying ‘puberty blockers are not reversible’ controversial, she asked, when it is so obviously true? We know 75% of kids at the Tavistock clinic are girls. In her generation, she said, these girls would have become anorexic. More recently they were the girls who would have cut themselves. Autistic girls and lesbians, said Venice, are being told that their unhappiness can be cured by becoming boys and this message is being given to young girls by transvestite men, who are using them ”as a shield to the stigma of their fetish“.
I just want to finish, she said, by saying some things I can’t say on facebook.
“Transwomen are men. Women don’t have penises. There is no such thing as a transwoman. There is no such thing as a transman, and it is absolutely terrible to say that there is such a thing as a transkid.”
Venice stepped down to applause.
A man with a video camera approached Jessie and I. “Are you with this lot?” he asked, far too up in my personal space for comfort. I stepped back. Oblivious, he stepped forward. The rest of the conversation took place within a sort of waltz which I genuinely believe he was unaware of.
“Can you tell me what it’s all about?”
“You should ask Posie.” I said, stepping gracefully to the left.
“Cosy?” he asked, leaning forward, looking over where I pointed.
“Posie.” I corrected, sidestepping to the right. “The woman with blonde hair in the white top. The woman giving that girl a T shirt. She’ll tell you what’s going on.”
“Great!” he bounded away, with a thumbs up and a parting cry of, “I’m making a documentary!”
Speakers’ Corner would indeed be an interesting place to make a documentary. There’s no shortage of quirky people saying their bit. One very agitated man in a dark jacket stood on a box, repeating loudly, in a rough, barking voice, “Jesus! Yahweh! Jesu! Jesus! Yahweh! Jesu!” This carried on for at least an hour.
Another was speaking very quickly in a language I didn’t understand. A few men watched and nodded agreement.
Further down the path was a black guy holding a picture of Madeline McCann and a sign saying ‘CHILDREN’S LIVES MATTER’. He was smiling enigmatically at passers by but saying nothing.
“What is good is God!” shouted a white bloke sporting combat shorts and a buzz cut, hopping from foot to foot. “You and Christ are the same!”
Kellie-Jay had been moving through the audience while the others spoke. I overheard part of her conversation with some men (left). One told her “It seems like you’re worried about something so trivial.” Another told her, “It seems to me you’ve got obsessed,” and inferred that her concerns about harms to women were hypothetical.
“We’re trying to stop the eradication of our rights,” replied Kellie-Jay. “There’s a reason there are 12000 men in prison for sexually motivated crimes. It’s not hypothetical, it happens all the time. What if it’s once? Does that make it ok?”
“Overpopulation,” said another man in the group. “That’s what we should be worried about. That’s a real problem.”
Back at the silver step ladder, we were asked if anyone else wanted to speak. A young man got up briefly and said something – I couldn’t quite catch what- about Twitter, but then seemed to become embarrassed and stood down. He was met with some good-natured applause. Nobody else took the stand.
Kellie-Jay finished by telling us that she had just been speaking to a family whose 12 year old girl was referred to as ‘they’ in her school report, because the school had decided – without parental consent- that all children were to be addressed by a neutral pronoun.
To conclude, she, like the other speakers, emphasised the importance of continuing to have conversations with those around us and the importance of not self-censoring.
“If we start bolstering the voices of people who speak up, and we make sure that they are cushioned, empowered and loved, and we pick them up: we don’t need to spend our time on men who try to suppress our speech. We don’t need to waste our time on transactivists who just enjoy saying vile things on Twitter. We can make this movement one of the empowerment of voices that speak up, and not the destruction and decimation of the people that we oppose.”
After stepping down, Kellie-Jay gave out a few more T shirts to those who came forward. “Most of these are men’s sizes… yes, you can have that one… I have some here that are good for putting on statues…”
Jessie and I decided to leave. We wandered around a little first, soaking up the sunshine, enjoying the breeze and watching the speakers. As we left the area we walked past a men’s rights activist holding a poster reading ‘Centuries of Male Oppression’.
“Jesus! Yahweh! Jesu! Jesus! Yahweh! Jesu!” barked the man in the black jacket.
I observed that, apart from our group, all the speakers had been men who seemed somewhat lost and agitated and that they were almost all talking about their various gods.
“Like the world generally, then,” observed Jessie, as we left the park.
“Ooo, I think that’ll be the last line of my blog post,” I said.