Picture of the Week: Anti‑Trans Desecration

Chosen and written by Rowan Fortune. See body of article for the full image.


At 9pm on Sep 18, 2022, this image was posted on Twitter by a small anti-trans twitter account and quickly shared by the woman depicted on the left, The Economist’s executive editor for events business and hate filled anti-transgender activist Helen Joyce. A cisgender woman who wrote an ignorant and ill-informed book about transgender people, she is now also a straight woman who proudly and publicly mutilates symbols of queer resistance and solidarity.

Leeds Anti-Fascist Network have noted details about the unsavoury event in Brighton where this photo was taken. It was called by Posie “Kellie-Jay Keen” Parker, who’s known for making anti-Muslim comments and cosying up to prominent far-right leader Tommy Robinson. They also noted the presence of Michael Chaves from Alpha Team Assemble, which as well as being an antivaxx conspiracy movement is linked to the Independent Nationalist Network and Drag Queen Story Hour protests which already witnessed transphobes finding common cause with Nazi fringes.

This photo is emblematic of the evolution of the Gender Critical movement. It no longer hides its contempt for marginalised communities, but shamelessly provokes and intimidates. The parts of the flag that have been cut away (and dropped onto the floor) include colours not only for transgender people, but also Black and brown queer people and intersex people. It has been pointed out that even if they wished to cut away the parts of the Progress Flag that link to trans liberation struggles (hardly a praiseworthy action), the Black and brown portions could have been left intact, making this additional desecration a deliberate choice.

What makes the image so powerful is that while many transphobes will coyly distance themselves from Kellie-Jay Keen, Helen Joyce is at the heart of the mainstream movement. (For instance, appearing at the so-called gender wars lunch alongside other luminaries of this disgraceful anti-trans elite ensemble with 90s children’s novelist and billionaire J. K. Rowling, right-wing Labour Party MP Rosie Duffield and Maya Forstater.) There is no getting away from the fact that this is the true face of the astroturfed Gender Critical cult.

This should be the image preserved from our current anti-trans culture war era. A figure elevated by the right-wing press, but given succour by much of the left and liberal establishments, gloating over the muddied symbols of anti-racism as well as trans and intersex liberation. A time when a supposed feminist and someone famous for writing hackneyed stories about wizardry in elite boarding schools would inspire legislation in the United States that would see families fleeing anti-trans persecution. This legislation would be written up by the very same right-wing Christian fundamentalist politicians who sought, and have partly succeeded, in ending abortion rights.

It is a chilling image, but it is an image for and of our period. It deserves remembering, but how it will be remembered depends on struggle today. Either this movement succeeds in its goal of cutting away trans people from society, in which case this will be an image preluding atrocity, or it fails, in which case it will be a mocking warning to all who seek to oppose and divide humanity. The choice is ours.

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Rowan Fortune authored Writing Nowhere; edited the anthology of utopian short fiction Citizens of Nowhere; and contributed to the collaborative book System Crash. It writes on utopian imagination, revolutionary theory and trans* liberation.

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