Edinburgh Theatre

The year 2015-2016 was a big year for me, coming to Edinburgh after working in the Middle East for several years. One of the first things I did was visit the Festival Theatre, where I fell in love with modern dance (I hate dancing, so don’t switch off if you are also not a dancer). Although I intend to continue visiting the Festival, I will also be trying out other venues, for modern dance, drama, ballet and opera.

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Katy Montgomerie at the University of Edinburgh

Katy-Montgomerie_UoE-talk_Bright Katy Montgomerie during her talk (image owned by Beth Douglas)

At one time, gender-critical feminism, like the similarly-sounding, exclusionary concept of John Philippe Rushton’s ‘race realism,’ seemed a marginal term you found online by minority-bashing activists desperate for respectability. Produced from the online backlash against the UK government’s gender-recognition-reform since 2016 (Pearce et al, 2020; Ahmed, 2016), GC-feminism has arguably enjoyed the protection of a conservative media simultaneously invested in maintaining the societal status quo while – through its elitist composition – being ill-equipped to analyse disempowered minorities and their rights, including when they are under attack. As the Leveson inquiry of 2012-2013 exposed, large sections of our media have a record of delegitimizing minorities, including the UK trans community. If this current anti-trans moral panic demonstrates anything, it is that nothing across the traditional UK media has changed for the better since then.

It is partly due to this institutional transphobia of the UK traditional media that our team of organizers at the University of Edinburgh invited the brilliant YouTube star Katy Montgomerie up to the University of Edinburgh to give her talk ‘Combating online hate and the gender-critical movement.’ As someone who has suffered various forms of online and off-line abuse for being trans, Katy's experience and analysis appears to have no place in the media-spun narrative currently portraying a vulnerable trans minority as a societal threat. Thanks to the 'new media' of the internet, voices such as Katy’s and other YouTube stars such as ContraPoints and Abigail Thorn are able to thrive while avoiding the traditional gate-keeping in order to reach the public and present a trans-centred narrative. Given the urgent need to allow trans voices to describe and name their oppression without the imposition of anti-trans framing, we believed when we invited her that giving the floor to Katy was the least we could do to highlight the increasingly frightening climate in which trans people exist in the UK. As events transpired during the evening, we feel not only justified but proud to have hosted her talk.

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Nearly an hour into Katy’s talk at the University of Edinburgh, a senior gender-critical figure at the university stands up and begins shouting: ‘Is there somebody chairing the debate?’ It represents both the plaintive cry of an anti-trans activist unable to control the narrative in front of her, as well as a Freudian slip. Because this event – in which a trans woman recounts the oppression faced by trans people online – was never promoted or intended as a debate, but as an opportunity for a minority to speak about the oppression they face and the perpetrators of so much of that oppression and abuse. Yet in this anti-trans demonstrator’s world, anything involving trans people is up for contestation. It is the cornerstone of the protestor’s reactionary movement that calls itself gender-critical: an entitlement to interrogate and challenge every aspect of a vulnerable minority’s rights, with a strategy of maintaining permanent suspicion under the cover of ‘concerns.’ Here in the darkly lit auditorium, that apparent obsession has guided anti-trans activists to our trans-centred gathering, to call the all-consuming object of their attention ‘trans-identified people,’ while emphasising how the anti-trans hate movement is not hateful.

Katy has already covered all this in her preceding hour, however. Her talk is typically cool and collected, sassy and informed, built on several years of online engagement with transphobic bigots and the layers of respectability politics that characterizes this particular movement. Over the course of an hour, Katy analyses some of the gender-critical movement’s features: (1) dog-whistle codes that seem inoffensive to the undiscerning, (2) progressive framing – in this case, the appropriation of feminist discourse – and (3) plausible deniability. Katy is not the first to identify or publicize these elements; writers and thinkers such as Sara Ahmed and Alison Phipps have also covered different aspects of the gender-critical-as-hate movement, but as the direct target of the movement's enmity, Katy has – to paraphrase the words of Rutger Hauer’s cyborg in Blade Runner – seen things you cis people wouldn’t believe. Here, Katy combines analysis with experience and the result is something more visceral.

The gender-critical later asks a meandering statement/question that lasts nearly five minutes, about how the trans community should try to find ‘commonalities’ with the anti-trans hate-movement committed to its erasure. Katy shoots down this gas-lighting, reflecting on how, through its signing of the WDI declaration to deny the legitimacy of trans people and take away their rights, the only commonalities appear to exist between gender-critical feminism and fascism. Come back when you’ve called out the actions of your increasingly anti-LGBT and anti-feminist hate-movement, Katy suggests.

The event finishes soon after this exchange, following further questions that accept the legitimacy of trans people and which ask Katy about the current moral panic. As the organizers dim the lights on an event defiantly giving voice to a disempowered community, Katy makes her way with her group of friends into the cold night air and a city to explore to the backdrop of the UK's anti-trans panic, leaving the gender-critical activist to spend more time with her collection of porcelain fears.

See the full video of Katy's talk at the Lighthouse Books YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xmg7YsGOPRA&t=2090s

Visit Katy at her website: https://katymontgomerie.com/, and her YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/@KatyMontgomerie
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