Seventeen years ago, I was one of over a million people marching in the UK, each of us representing many more who were unable to attend. Never had there been such worldwide opposition to the actions of a few governments. Every major city, and many minor cities and towns, joined in solidarity that day.
It was the 15th of February 2003 and we were marching against the Iraq War.
The rest is history, but not the history we hoped to carve. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost based on lies, misinformation and the whims of what was, up to that point, the most right wing administration in US history. But it was Labour’s position as America’s cheerleader that mystified me then and now. I remember being incredulous as to how any government, let alone a Labour government, could ignore the will of the people so obstinately.
I was a university student and the ensuing years have only fostered increasing cynicism and pessimism as to the seeming futility of mass action. Back then I was also part of an eco-camp set-up to protest the G8 in Edinburgh. I marched for worker’s rights, the environment and for LGBT rights. I was active in Ireland during the Repeal the 8th movement and for Gay Marriage. I have joined in solidarity with Greta Thunberg’s Climate Strike actions and have felt sympathy for the aims of XR, though I feel they have lost the PR battle. Anyone remember Occupy? I am friends with hippies from the 60s and 70s who have been protesting pollution, habitat destruction and climate change for decades.
Where has all this protest got us? Not very far, not very fast.
So. What does all this have to do with the current gender ideology debate? The common factor is that most of the issues for which I used to fight so hard at university are still issues today. It is not in the interests of large corporations to tackle the climate crisis or tax avoidance. Progress has been achingly slow and inadequate in resolving these and many other injustices.
Meanwhile, gender ideology has seen a lightning-fast spread throughout the West. Why? Because it costs corporations, governments and organisations nothing to echo empty rhetoric like #TransRightsAreHumanRights and #TransWomenAreWomen. They can benefit from the seeming support they show for marginalised groups without having to enact any meaningful change. But of course, as we all know, the toxic debate that has arisen and has been bolstered by this rhetoric has had real-world ramifications for women and feminists who have lost jobs, positions, been de-platformed and harassed and abused by extremist activists. Self-ID and gender-neutral policies have seen women losing single-sex spaces, sports, awards and positions and the situation is only worsening.
It must feel nice for today’s young activists to see so much change enacted, so many corporations adopting their rhetoric unquestioningly, but can they not see why this in itself should be cause for circumspection?
They are busy echoing empty rhetoric and spreading misinformation about suicide and murder statistics and for what? Is it rhetoric that will save the transwomen being murdered in Brazil or is it the socio-economic changes that activists have been fighting for all along? Is it feminists who are “literally killing” trans people or is it men, most of whom are polluted by toxic masculinity, that feminists have been fighting for decades? When trans people suffer from gender dysphoria is it because of bigotry or is it because they feel at odds with their sex? As JK Rowling has written: “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives.”
I am feeling moved again to protest and take to the streets despite a lack of backing from corporations and organisations. I know no other kind of protest. I will march for the marginalised women and the brave feminists who have endured so much just for speaking the truth. I will fight for the Left because without a materialist critique of capitalism and its regulation no-one except the 1% benefits. And I will march for the trans people, both allies and those who do not yet realise it, that the current situation is only going to negatively affect them. But most of all I will fight for the children and adults who have been injured by this ideology, their futures altered because of the recklessness of those they trusted and whose words seemed to echo their distress but whose solutions were baseless.
Let’s fight for them all. If not us, who? If not now, when?
Elizabeth Berns is the sister of the late Magdalen Berns and has nothing to do with this piece. DOH!
It was actually written by Lizzie Mackenzie, who I hope will write for me again.