Morgan Potts is a writer, non-binary trans activist, photographer, and cellist. He works as an editor for the all-trans anarchist publishing collective DYSPHORIA. His politics are informed by queer feminism and critical theory. He likes DIY music and science fiction. This is his personal website and blog.
[Image description: close-up of two hands gently holding each other, both covered in red paint. Photo by Jade Jackman]
Carl Andre killed Ana Mendieta.
Yesterday, at the opening of the new Tate Modern building, the Whereisanamendieta collective and Sisters Uncut protested the inclusion of Carl Andre’s work and the exclusion of Ana Mendieta’s (objectively better) work. It was a protest in three simultaneous parts:
Several activists silently circled a Carl Andre piece and held out their arms painted red—both a reference to Ana Mendieta’s murder and her piece Body Tracks. They covered Andre’s art with a banner which read: CARL ANDRE KILLED ANA MENDIETA
Other activists held a banner in the Tate windows facing outside asking, demanding: WHERE IS ANA MENDIETA
I distributed 1000 fliers in front of Andre’s work which read: CARL ANDRE KILLED ANA MENDIETA
The Tate owns both Andre’s and Mendieta’s work, but are only exhibiting Andre’s while Mendieta’s is hidden in private storage. We will not be complacent in cultural institutions willfully glorifying the work of violent white men. We will not be complacent in the exclusion of women of color. We demand the removal of Carl Andre’s work, and that Ana Mendieta’s work replace it.
[Image description: fairly ugly, high contrast photo of wildflowers at nighttime]
CN: death, violence, blood
The mass murder at Pulse nightclub in Orlando is not “tragic” or apolitical, it was state-enabled domestic terrorism targeting Latinx queers.
Last night at Pulse was a Latin night with a trans headlining act. 50 people who went are dead.
This was not an isolated incident; he was not a “lone wolf” with “mental health problems”. The whole country has been advocating violence, harassment, and dehumanization of queer people for decades. Queer and trans people are literally excluded from public life (bathrooms, blood donations, healthcare, ID documents); the state has made us into sub-citizens. An entire generation was killed by AIDS, trans women of color are murdered in the streets, and queer youth are killing themselves because the relentless bullying and social/familial ostracization is unbearable. We’re not afforded life.
Islamophobia and xenophobic imperialism is a weak response. Speculation about the shooter’s family’s immigration status is disgusting and irrelevant. That he was investigated by the FBI is not relevant—the FBI surveils practically everyone who’s brown and muslim in the US. What’s relevant is that he was able to get guns and kill 50+ people.
The line right now is that the shooter was “radicalized” and had “ties to ISIS”, but there is no evidence of either. The mayor has declared a state of emergency in the city of Orlando which will probably allow the state and police to act with impunity in their surveillance and violence toward US muslims.
UPDATE: The shooter (name not included because fuck granting him notoriety) worked at G4S: a private security company which bullies, detains, deports, and dehumanizes black and brown people, especially queer POC. He idolized the NYPD: a department which harasses and arrests trans women of color for “walking while trans”. His ex-wife has stated that he beat her. His “culture of violence” has nothing to do with his religion (which his father said not important to him) and everything to do with our racist, homophobic society. This shooter’s culture of violence is our culture of violence.
This is not apolitical. We don’t need prayers. It’s easy to say “how tragic” and “the first responders are heroes” but that’s not enough. We need gun control, and anti-racism and anti-queerphobia in our laws and society (but not hate-crime legislation which funnels marginalized people into the for-profit prison system). We need equal rights and access to public space. We need affirmative action. We need swift denouncement of violence and stigma against queer people and POC and immigrants and muslims.
If you’re in the Orlando area, PLEASE DONATE BLOOD:
Orlando West Michigan Donor Center, 345 W Michigan Street, Ste. 106, Orlando, FL 32806
Orlando Main Donor Center, 8669 Commodity Circle, Orlando, FL 32819
Oviedo Donor Center, 1954 W. State Road 426, Oviedo, FL 32765
Asbury United Methodist Church – Bloodmobile 220, West Horatio Avenue, Maitland, FL 32751
St. Luke’s United Methodist Church – Bloodmobile, 4851 S. Apopka Vineland Road, Orlando, FL 32819
Metro Church – Bloodmobile, 1491 East State Road 434, Winter Springs, FL 32708
Note: there are conflicting reports about whether the FDA ban for “men who have sex with men” to donate blood has been lifted. It should go without saying that this ban is homophobic, discriminatory against HIV-pos bodies, and ofc it’s coercively assigned to trans women.
An alternative “Nordic model”—so named for its origins in Sweden, adopted in 1999—which criminalizes people who buy sexual services (sex workers’ clients) is favored by many feminist groups. This is allegedly beneficial to sex workers and does not directly target them, but in reality the Nordic model makes sex workers less safe in many ways: police use sex workers’ reports of other crimes to facilitate their eviction or deportation, and the clients willing to break the law to see sex workers are more dangerous. It also gives police another way to arrest and incarcerate people who are disenfranchised—particularly people of color and migrants—for the “crime” of partaking in a consensual transaction between adults. Criminalization laws do nothing to help sex workers who suffer violence at work or want to exit the industry; instead they contribute to stigma and directly cause violence toward them. It has since adopted in Norway and Iceland (both in 2009), Canada (2014), and Northern Ireland (2015), and online it’s known as #EndDemand.
White feminists who have never done sex work sometimes appoint themselves “saviors” and try to “rescue” sex workers from their jobs, conflating sex work with sex trafficking or forced sexual labor. These “rescues” are actually police raids which drag workers to stations and make them present their IDs and immigration documents—these scenes poignantly captured by the Sex Workers’ Opera (along with many others; if you’re in London, go see it this weekend). A police representative from Oslo admitted to Amnesty (in their report on Norway), “We deport trafficking victims. Many of them don’t know that they are victims, but they are according to the law.”
In addition to being humiliating and unhelpful, this approach denies the agency of sex workers to make their own decisions regarding their work. Feminism is a plurality, but surely the object of feminist gender politics should be to empower women and girls and femmes to have complete agency over their lives; not to punish them for making choices that we find uncomfortable, which usually ignores the systemic factors that led them to make those choices.
Full service sex work is mischaracterized as “women’s bodies for sale”. Putting aside that lots of sex workers aren’t women, this is reductive and untrue. Do massage therapists sell their hands? Do singers sell their voices? Obviously not; they sell their time and their skilled labor, and so do sex workers.
Abolitionists, more accurately described as sex worker exclusionary feminists (SWERFs, yes, like TERFs), are very concerned that sex work is degrading gendered violence, yet they offer no support to women who do other “degrading” feminized jobs: carers, cleaners, housework, and service industry work are all disproportionately done by women who are paid less than the men they work with, and these jobs are difficult and emotional-labor intensive. House work is real work; sex work is real work; under capitalism, all work is shit.
The question of whether a person desperate for cash can meaningfully consent to work is vital. And that’s precisely why the term “sex work” is essential. It makes it clear that the problem is not sex, but work itself, carried out within a culture of patriarchal violence that demeans workers in general and women in particular.
To describe sex work as “a job like any other job” is only a positive reframing if you consider a “job” to be a good thing by definition. In the real world, people do all sorts of horrible things they’d rather not do, out of desperation, for cash and survival. People do things that they find boring, or disgusting, or soul-crushing, because they cannot meaningfully make any other choice. We are encouraged not to think about this too hard, but to accept these conditions as simply “the way of the world”. (x)
All waged work (and much unwaged work) is coercive, but sex work is singularly targeted as exploitative because people are uncomfortable with the implications of commodified intimacy, and patriarchy only likes to see women as sexual objects who benefit men, not sexual agents who might profit from their objectification.
SWERFs are also very concerned with men (pimps) profiting from the “prostitution” of women and children. The reality is that until sex work is decriminalized, sex workers are denied basic labor protections which treat brothel owners and sex workers’ managers as employers, like safe working conditions and legal accountability for wage theft and abuse. SWERFs also ignore that many pimps are cops and many brothels bribe the police, and that most violence against sex workers is at the hands of the state rather than clients.
New Zealand is the only country in the world where sex work is fully decriminalized for its citizens, but sex working migrants are still criminalized. In the UK, sex work is partially criminalized: sex work is legal if done by independent workers, but “brothel-keeping” (or, more than one sex worker working from the same location) is illegal.
In the US sex work is fully criminalized except in some counties in Nevada, where it is legalized: workers are not allowed to leave the premises of the brothels they work at, which are in isolated rural areas, and they are subject to forced health checks. The distinction between legalization and decriminalization is a matter of human rights. In a model of legalization, sex workers are forced to comply with rules which disempower them and further entrench stigma (like the health checks) at the risk of breaking the law, and separated from the communities where they work; and brothel-keepers are empowered to be exploitative. In New York City, condoms are still used as evidence of “promoting prostitution” (a crime which makes no distinction between third parties who are coercive or trafficking and third parties who are supportive or involved for safety). The negative affects of criminalizing people for doing the work they’ve concluded is the most viable for them—especially when they are already more likely to be vulnerable as POC, trans, single mothers, and/or undocumented, choosing sex work because they are disenfranchised—should be obvious.
Any policy which ignores the demands of those it is trying to help is doomed to be awful. Like I’ve written before: a successful #EndDemand campaign would not end exploitation. If you want to end exploitation and coercive labor, end capitalism and give everyone an Unconditional Basic Income. Empower women and girls and femmes by believing them when they say they’ve experienced sexual and domestic violence, and make it easy for them to exit violent situations. Dissolve national borders, end deportations, and allow us our unalienable human right to freedom of movement around this planet. Give us all access to healthcare and childcare. Give us all access to housing (there are more empty houses than homeless people) and abolish private property. Abolish the police and the prison system and the military and decry them as instruments of state racism and violence. Stop punishing women for making difficult choices to survive; start dismantling the systems that force them to make those choices.
Edit: amended to correct the dates in which the Nordic model was adopted in various countries.
[Image description: Anohni’s pale face, dark hair, dark eyes, and somber expression, with the words “I Love You + Want The Best For You” written on her cheek]
Content note: discussion of state violences, dysphoria, abuse, death
HOPELESSNESS is an ode to neoliberal imperialist USAmerica, an embrace of the ugly sides to capitalism and the erosion of our environment, our privacy, our human rights. Written by Anohni and produced in collaboration with Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke, Anohni’s singular voice dominates the album, surrounded by colossal strings and beats. On their own, her lyrics are scathing political commentary and heartbreaking poetry; paired with the wide-open upbeat electronics and swelling strings, HOPELESSNESS interrogates the genres of pop and dance. Can you make a pop single about drone bombing, or ecocide? You not only can—you should.
In the gorgeous video for “Drone Bomb Me”, Naomi Campbell cries as she lip-sync’s Anohni’s lyrics about survivor guilt, begging to be killed by a drone bomb and scattered across a mountain. The imagery is beautiful and disturbing:
Blow my head off
Explode my crystal guts
Lay my purple on the grass
If you weren’t paying attention, you might think it’s just a dance track—bodies sweat and thump in blue and green lighting and smoke to other lines like:
Choose me tonight
Let me be the one
The one that you choose tonight
“After all / I’m partly to blame” is the running theme of the album: we’re all complicit in the horrors of oil-thirsty imperialism.
The second single, “4 DEGREES” is just as impassioned and unapologetic. “I have grown tired of grieving for humanity, and I also thought I was not being entirely honest by pretending that I am not a part of the problem,” Anohni said. “’4 DEGREES’ is kind of a brutal attempt to hold myself accountable, not just valorize my intentions, but also reflect on the true impact of my behaviors.” It’s an accelerationist take on climate change, backed by huge drums, deep brass, and syncopated strings:
I wanna hear the dogs crying for water
I wanna see the fish go belly-up in the sea
All those lemurs and all those tiny creatures
I wanna see them burn, it’s only 4 degrees
The track finishes with “Ooh let’s go, let’s go, it’s only 4 degrees”.
Track three, “Watch Me”, also has double-meanings. In the first verse she croons:
Watch me in my hotel room
Watch me move from city to city
Watch me watching pornography
Watch me talk to my friends and my family
It’s an ode to voyeurism with sexual overtones which could be about a controlling Daddy Dom, and quickly becomes about NSA privacy breaches and the collection of personal information. The surveillance state isn’t Big Brother, it’s Daddy:
I know you love me, cause you’re always watching me
Protecting me from evil
Protecting me from terrorism
Protecting me from child molesters
Protecting me from evil
Watch me in my hotel room
Watch my iris move from city to city
Watch me watching pornography
Watch my medical history
Anohni is the first trans music I heard, about six years ago with her previous band Antony And The Johnsons. Their songs about dysphoria and self-directed abuse, supported by sappy piano and orchestral arrangements, still make me cry.
I am very happy, so please hit me
I am very, very happy, so please hurt me
“Cripple And The Starfish”, 1995
One day I’ll grow up and be a beautiful woman
One day I’ll grow up and be a beautiful girl
But for today I am a child
For today I am a boy
She’s always been an Important artist to me, and I’m so glad to see her get widespread acclaim with HOPELESSNESS. Anohni’s voice quivers with angst and sorrow, and anyone familiar with her work will recognize it immediately despite the new pop dance aesthetic. Her poetic lyrics are simple, clear, and beautiful. Their directness is what makes them so moving. It’s also inspiring to see a trans woman at 45 years old, visible and still angry and engaged and relevant and alive. HOPELESSNESS is an eloquent as ever shift from the personal to the (explicitly) political, with bigger percussion.
Track four, “Execution”, sings in praise of capital punishment. It cheerfully hooks:
Sometimes a feeling is reason enough
It’s an American dream
The justice system which legally murders as punishment is a key part of the USAmerican “dream”, the mythology, the terror of the state; it’s viewed as a part of our “free democracy”, but Anohni correctly groups the US with China, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and Nigeria as states which practice the death penalty. The bastardization of morality among the USAmerican right: it’s enough to execute someone simply because you feel like it’s right, with no appreciation for that feeling stemming from classism, racism, sexism, xenophobia, ableism, and/or queerphobia.
Track five, “I Don’t Love You Anymore”, is a break-up song: to the US, to neoliberal capitalism, to herself as a member of the state and a reproducer of its power? It could be ‘just a break-up song’, but given the political content of the other tracks I find that unlikely. The lyrics
You left me in a cage
My only defense was rage
are a too real description of my own feelings about our current state of affairs. Whether a comment on the prison system or feeling trapped by an abusive partner, the line speaks to the value and necessity of anger as a coping mechanism, an emotional survival strategy.
Track six, “Obama”, captures our disillusionment with the US president who we were once so proud of. I’m going to include the lyrics in full because they’re so pointed:
When you were elected
The world cried with joy
We thought we had empowered
The truth-telling envoy
Now the news is you are spying
Executing without trial
Scarring closed the sky
Punishing the whistleblowers
Those who tell the truth
Do you recognize the yellow
Staring back at you
All the hope drained from your face
Like children we believed
All the hope drained from your face
The juxtaposition of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden as truth-telling whistleblowers incarcerated and in exile, to Obama as a spying imperialist elected on the false premise of truth, is a reminder that the continuation of Obama’s policies in Hillary Clinton is not good enough, and how Bernie Sanders’ promises of a just society which have so inspired the disenfranchised could too end in further decay of leftist values and more militarism.
“Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth?” interrogates the distance we feel between our consumption and the environmental destruction caused by it.
I don’t want your future
I’ll never return
I’ll be born into the past
I’m never, never coming home
Why did you separate me from the Earth?
What did you stand to gain?
This time, Anohni rejects profit as a priority over the ecosystems, and rejects the mythological future of luxury capitalism. She goes on to list crimes against the Earth with vivid imagery while strings pluck away and pad synths swell.
“Crisis” begins minimally, with staccato deep bass beat and a metronomic tone behind Anohni’s voice, before adding in wet strings dripping with delay.
If I tortured your brother
If I filled up your mass graves
And attacked your countries
Under false premise
It’s an apology to everyone killed in US-NATO adventurism in the Middle East in the name of “crisis”, and a renaming of those deaths as a crisis greater than the ones which allegedly brought us there.
The title track, “Hopelessness”, echoes the sentiments of “4 DEGREES” regarding individual environmental accountability:
I don’t care about me
I feel the animals in the trees
They got nowhere
Nowhere to go
I’ve been taking more than I deserve (hopelessness)
Leaving nothing in reserve (hopelessness)
Digging til the banks runs dry (hopelessness)
I’ve been living a lie (hopelessness)
On the final track, “Marrow”, Anohni continues to ask us what it means to be USAmerican. She concludes that as we steal money and oil (and land, and lives), “We are all Americans now”.
This is an album in the traditional sense. It has rhythm and cohesiveness, alternating between chipper pop melodies (like “Execution”, “Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth”), big dance tracks (“Drone Bomb Me”, “4 Degrees”), and somber open soundscapes (“Obama”, “Violent Men”, “I Don’t Love You Anymore”). I’m not an “album-enthusiast” who decries the death of the LP making way for internet singles, but HOPELESSNESS is a satisfyingly unified body of work, both thematically and aesthetically.
I haven’t bought the album; I pirated it yesterday, after listening to the two singles “Drone Bomb Me” and “4 DEGREES” at least 100 times each on Anohni’s bandcamp (protip: use a different browser or an incognito window to get past the 4-play limit without purchasing). This is how I get most of my music—the rest are £0.50 cassette tapes and 3-for-£1 vinyl at my local record shop. I want to support artists and pay for their music; I also struggle to make rent every month. There is no ethical consumerism when you’re poor. Hopelessness.
Despite the title and the bleak themes (the latter not a departure from Anohni’s earlier work), the album is empowering. It’s powerful to hear that artists are as disappointed and disillusioned, embracing the hopelessness of late capitalism and challenging our collective complacency. This album offers solidarity. It gives me hope.
[Image description: a pair of bronze feet with red painted toenails on one inch heels with red bottoms, with no distinction between the feet and the heels]
Content note: sex work, whorephobia
The guardian recently published an incoherent editorial titled, “The Guardian view on criminal policy: sex, money and the long arm of the law” which suggests that the recent legislation passed in fRance which criminalizes sex workers’ clients “could help reduce harm”. The majority of the short piece is spent recognizing that criminalizing any aspect of sex work leaves sex workers vulnerable to less safe working conditions, and that organized sex workers’ groups instead campaign for decriminalization, but it ends with this paragraph:
The great difficulty, however, is that it leaves the sex industry intact. And in all paid-for sex there is, arguably, an inherently exploitative dimension. Even if there is nominally consent, in most cases, if not all, this will be a choice that women make out of desperation, rather than anything positive. The social and economic circumstances in which a woman sees sex work as the best available option represents, in itself, an environment of coercion. Criminalising not the women involved but their clients – particularly when, as in the French proposal, it is accompanied by a properly funded programme to help sex workers into more secure jobs – may be the least-bad answer, in both moral and practical terms.
Apparently the Nordic model—which the guardian acknowledges harms sex workers— is the “least-bad” option because decrim “leaves the sex industry intact”. As if criminalizing sex work will kill the industry, as if the sex industry is inherently more exploitative then other gendered labor, as if no one has actively chosen to do sex work because it’s more empowering for them than, say, underpaid janitorial work; as if women & femmes don’t have transactional sex all the time and formally demanding cash for time & services isn’t subverting the patriarchy which usually demands that labor for free; as if the sex industry must be (could be) destroyed at all costs, even the safety of the sex workers they claim to want to rescue.
Non-coercive sex work is no more exploitative than any other labor. If you want to end exploitation: end capitalism. Close wage gaps & open the borders, and give migrants the right to work legally. Raise the minimum wage and lower the rent. Give us all Universal Basic Income.
If you want to help sex workers: listen to them. Making sex work more dangerous by criminalizing any part of it will not kill the sex industry, it will just hurt the workers—they still need to work and will continue to do so even in bad conditions unless you remove the necessity for earning money to survive. Stop trying to “save” women from the sex industry while ignoring what they’re collectively fighting for.
[Image description: Travis, a black trans femme, wearing black lipstick, a black headscarf, black shirt and chunky gold chain, sits in a bookshop facing camera with a stoic expression. Photo by Alexander Lijka]
Beyond The Binary asked me to review “Stories Of A Queer Brown Muddy Kid” by Travis Alabanza. It was their final performance of the intense, funny, moving autobiography of queer black life in London, and I’d already seen it twice before. The piece is all about, and for, queer black femmes, so I was reluctant to take on the task as a white boy(ish), but I gave it my best.
Acutely aware of racialized violence in the queer scene, Travis scornfully highlighted colonialism in sexual relationships, their role as “his bucket to empty his microaggressions” and a “brown fetish of the week”. “I’m not your black boy top”, they insisted, but then, “Why do I still need him?” Their vulnerability about intimacy, about simultaneously recognizing abuse but longing for your abuser(s), was bold and affecting.
tl;dr I absolutely loved it, Travis is amazing, give them all your money.
[Image description: pointilated mannequin legs resting on a grate, in black and white]
Content note: mentions of transphobia, transmisogyny, and gendered violence
I’m very happy that my latest angry trans rant has been published (online and In Print) by the Occupied Times. The OT is a collectively run broadsheet with a solid history of publishing critical, anti-capitalist writing, and while they always produce great material, I’m glad to see a little more about gender/queer stuff on their pages, even if it meant contributing myself:
Fuck respectability politics. Trans people don’t need to conform to cisnormative standards of beauty to be worthy, to be sexy, to be human. This only serves to create a hierarchy of “acceptable” gender expressions and modes of transness – ones which fit the gender binary.
[Image description: A white trans masc boy with dark hair wearing a blue shirt with rolled-up sleeves, an orange tie, and orange lipstick holds a blue marker and draws something (unseen) on a large white sheet of paper]
The other interviewees, Jamie and Addison, are lovely and articulate. It’s hard not to notice that we all sport a similar look, but not all non-binary people look like me and Addison—the three of us operate in the same, very tight, community of trans/queerness in London, so we have a similar aesthetic. Not all non-binary people are afab, and white, and masculine, and wear button-up shirts.
Addison gave my favorite quote:
I don’t normally tell cis people that I’m a non-binary trans man because they go, ‘What does that mean’, so I tend to just stick to ‘trans man’ or ‘non-binary’ so I don’t blow their tiny minds.
Excepting qualms with dodgy terminology in the intro (“born with a male body”; “biologically female but lives as a man”) I think they did a fantastic job; it’s very encouraging to see young people creating art, and taking an interest in gender and amplifying non-binary narratives.
[Image description: “No Human Is Illegal” cardboard sign held up against Yarl’s Wood detention center gates, among many hands and tops of heads, with pink smoke billowing in the background]
Content note: discussion of institutional racism and non-graphic mentions sexual & gendered violence
“Shut down Yarl’s Wood!”
On Saturday, over 1,000 protestors surrounded the Yarl’s Wood immigration and removal center (IRC) in protest of the UK government’s practice of indefinitely detaining and deporting asylum-seekers. The protest also highlighted broader injustices with the UK’s racist and xenophobic immigration policies, state-sanctioned gendered violence, and for-profit prisons and IRCs.
The protest was led by Movement for Justice and decentralized Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants chapters, with support from Sisters Uncut (also decentralized), the No Borders movement, trade unions, and student activist groups. Protestors and organizations traveled by train and coach to Bedford from London, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield, and Brighton. The 2,000+ crowd was mostly young women and femmes, but also included babies and children, elders, men and mascs, and gender-variant people.
Today we march to surround Yarl’s Wood IRC and join detainees in building a movement to end detention, to fight for real equality and freedom for ALL, and to build a Britain capable of fulfilling it’s promise of justice, opportunity and dignity. The breadth of national support for this demonstration is enormous. Everyone making this journey through the farmlands of Bedfordshire to Yarl’s Wood, organising talks and fundraisers to make today happen, is playing a part in a new movement in Britain – one in which people with and without citizenship, of any gender or sexual identity, religion or nationality can stand up as leaders to the whole society.
The grounds at Yarl’s Wood are bleak and muddy. There aren’t any trees visible from the detention center; only gnarly barbed plants without any flowers or leaves, and tall yellow grass. We marched across a large field to amass outside the large beige building where the women are held.
Choice signs from protestors included: “Theresa May, No Way”; “Victim-Blaming, Racist Media: We See You”; “Borders Are Bullshit”; and “No Human Is Illegal”. Some protestors were condemning IRCs because they lock up innocent people seeking asylum and protection (“Protection Not Persecution”). Other intersecting messages of anti-capitalism, feminism, housing, and queer issues, were also represented.
Protestors kicked against the imposing sheet-metal fence, rattling it. People also beat drums, blew whistles, clapped, and screamed their voices hoarse. The high energy was sustained for several hours, only tapering as the sun went down.
The policing was light, considering the size of the protest: a discouraging reminder that the action did little to disrupt or threaten operations at Yarl’s Wood. The purpose of the demonstration was to show solidarity with the women inside, and to draw attention the violence of detention centers and UK immigration policies.
Edit: But we mustn’t underestimate the impact that the women inside are able to have on the disruption of operations, more than outside protestors ever could; this was a coordinated effort between those inside and out to resist the immigration/imprisonment/deportation system at large, not just a solidarity demo (thanks for pointing this out, MFJ).
Ex-detainees give speeches
Former detainees of Yarl’s Wood and other IRCs in the UK gave impassioned speeches. It was an all-too-rare moment where those affected by the immigration system were given a platform to speak about their experiences with it. Their speeches reflected the experiences of the former Yarl’s Wood (then-)child detainee I interviewed last year.
[Full transcript at the end of article]
“We love you!”
The women inside pushed hand-made banners out the small cracks of their windows with distressing messages: “Yarl’s Wood officers in relationships with vulnerable women”, “We are not animals”, “Help me! I’m 63 years old”, and “Shoplifting = 1 year IRC”; these are especially concerning considering that they were the messages made by the detainees with limited resources and probably at the risk of disciplinary action. They also threw out paper into the yard, waved t-shirts, and waved their hands through the small openings.
The women detained inside banged on the windows and led chants of “Shut it down!”. They screamed out that no human should be locked up like they are, and called out, “Thank you!” and “We love you!” to the protestors. We waved back. Some people shouted their solidarity and commended their strength. Tears marked my cheeks and I was left with an overwhelming feeling of helplessness as we prepared to leave; all we could promise in return was, “we’ll be back!”
Transcript of the speeches by former detainees and their supporters
MOVEMENT FOR JUSTICE SPEAKER: … the 30, 40 people, who protest with the people inside detention from Harmondsworth to Colnbrook. Today we’re over a thousand, more than a thousand. [cheers] From day one, there were from people, ex-detainees, coming to these demonstrations, and speaking back, to the people that are still struggling inside, because detention changes your life, and it makes it clear what Britain—the worst side of what Britain is about, and the side that we most need to fight back against. So every time it has been with people speaking out inside detention, and outside detention, and people who used to be in detention. People who live every day under the shadow of detention. This system is cruel. It is cold-hearted, it is brutal. But we—we are passionate people. We care what happens. We’re the ones that are gonna fight, and it’s gonna be on our shoulders to make Britain the kind of place it should be, to make Europe the kind of place it should be. It should have open borders; it should be letting people through. [cheers] There are two directions for Europe: we can go down the road of this brutal, racist, twisted system, or we could build a better society and a better future. And it’s gonna be the people who have the most desire and the most ambition and the most determination, the clearest, clearest plan, who are gonna be the side that will win, and that’s gonna be our side, our side! [cheers]
So, so we may have about 40 minutes or so before our coaches get desperate for us to return. But that is enough time to make our voices heard. I just want to to introduce some people to be able to speak, and give a message to the people inside, as well as to people out here: to keep fighting, and to keep that struggle strong. I want to introduce Lydia, who was only just freed from Yarl’s Wood in December of 2015. [cheers]
LYDIA: Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! Yarl’s Wood is not an easy place to be, but my [muffled]. Alright, I have some friends there which I made and I left. They are still there. There are people in there in Yarl’s Wood who have spent more than two and a half years, no good food, the treatment we receive in Yarl’s Wood: they call us animals at times. Oh my god, it’s horrible. It’s the worst place to be. If I look at the window: few inches they can come out, they can’t do anything in Yarl’s Wood. They don’t even call us by name, at times they call us by room number, or the block number. Please, give us any way, any means we can help and support them to come out. I am…
PROTESTOR: Release them now!
LYDIA: I am one of them. Please, let us join hands together and free them. Yarl’s Wood has to be down. I am an asylum-seeker, I am not a criminal. They arrest me when I went to sign, without nothing, straight to the airport to deport me, but thank god for the women of [Movement For] Justice, I am here today, free. So please, please [cheers] Freedom is just all we need. Freedom of movement, freedom of speech, freedom of anything. Right now I don’t even care what will happen to me, all is that, freedom is what I want. Freedom, they deserve it. Every individual needs it, freedom. So Aisha! The rest of you! Freedom! Freedom! [cheers]
MFJ: You know what? Every time we come back, we grow bigger? And every time we come back there are more ex-detainees to speak out. These walls are gonna come down, because detention is gonna become unmanageable. You can’t keep inside, locked up, people who want freedom who are ready to fight. These walls are gonna come down. I just want to introduce Azuka who’s also come out of Yarl’s Wood just last year and has been ever since continuing the connection with the people inside and fighting to support everyone and bring Yarl’s Wood to an end.
AZUKA: Hello, um, Yarl’s Wood is hell. Yarl’s Wood is hell. The people that were here together, when they saw me today they said, “What? Wow, is this you?” The woman who has just spoken now was arguing with somebody that said, “Is that she?” The person said, “Yes, she is the one.” I’m only telling you that Yarl’s Wood is hell, it is, because when I was inside there, a lot goes on. One of us had a hospital appointment—she was handcuffed to go for the appointment. So she refused, she refused them to handcuff her, she missed appointment; she missed three good appointments. So, we are inside there, we fought, with Movement For Justice, they encourage us to speak out. And when we came out, most of us hundred of us here, we have been in there and out. And we have been working, fighting, fighting day and night for our freedom, and our sisters inside there. Eighteen years old are inside there. Pregnant women are inside there. Some women in there, their husbands died, inside there; they became widows inside there. Please, please, please, I am begging all of you, to stand with Movement For Justice, and all the organizations that are fighting; together, we can win. But single-handedly, we will not win. But if all of you here, stand by us, we will win. We will win this racist, evil deeds of Home Office. They treat us like animals, we are human being. There’s no illegal person on Earth, we are all legal. But they label us “illegal”, and they treat us—most of us because of when we, when we were going to sign, and we, we obey them, they said, “go and sign”, we obey them and sign, and they pick us up there and then bring us here, and then treat us like animals. You inside there, my sisters: fight! Continue to fight! Don’t give up! Don’t give up! Don’t give up! [cheers] We are fighting out here! We are fighting out here! Set her free! Set her free!
MFJ: … to have all people out of Yarl’s Wood, and some speakers who have come out of the other detention centers, and we want to see all the detention centers shut down. I just want to introduce Choogoday [sic], who’s been a leader and fighter in Movement For Justice, and been speaking out against Yarl’s Wood ever since release.
CHOOGODAY: Hello everybody! [cheers] Yes I was in station for three months last year, I was detained, I was illegal here, I was um, I put in my application and they said it was rejected but I had to put another one, I was [?] that, Please don’t ever, ever let this place open again. This place must shut down. Yarl’s Wood must shut down. It is hell! The treatment is horrible! The food is horrible! When you are sick, they treat you like as if you are pretending, they say you are lying! I was there for a while, I was very sick, and I was told I was pretending! I couldn’t [?], and I was told I was pretending. As if, they said “No you can’t go and see a doctor”, and they look at you and say “Ok, you have scabies”, I say “How do you know I have scabes?” There was no test for me to do to tell me what I had. I had a lot of infection there.
Please shut down Yarl’s Wood! It is not a place for anybody! Our mothers are there; our friends are there; our sisters are there; the young who have [?] are there. I want to talk about, children like Deborah, they shouldn’t be there, they’re just nineteen years old kids who are there. Release Deborah! Release Aisha! Release Edith! It should be shut down. People who have come there they have lost their children to immigration. They have lost them to, to Home Office. So people who are there have lost their children for one year. So people who are there have lost their kids; their kids are now in foster homes. Their kids are now adopted. And do you know what they do to you [when] they want to deport you? They inject you! If you refuse to go they inject you.
CHOOGODAY: … are not human. They inject us, if you resist deportation they inject you. That’s not good. And they deport you by force. Please we have come with our daughters who are there, our mothers who are there, who have lost their children. Some people have become mentally ill. I saw a little girl there, she has she suffered by herself, [?] Please release our girls, release our girls. Shut down Yarl’s Wood! [cheering]
PROTESTORS: Shut down Yarl’s Wood! Shut down Yarl’s Wood!
MFJ: There’s a reason why we call it a racist prison: because it is so racist that no matter what they see, even if they see that you are ill, they say that you’re lying. Every person in detention is treated like they must be a liar, because that is how the government wants us to view people who are Black, who are South Asian, who are from the Philippines, who are from China; this is how they want us to view the migrant community. They want us all to think that everyone is a liar, everyone is a cheat. It is a lie designed to divide and rule us, all of us. It’s a lie designed to divide the exploited, and get people to fight against each other. We reject that lie. We’re gonna stand together united, no matter what country, what language, what religion; what sexuality or what gender identity. We are together in this fight and we will not stop. [cheering] I want to introduce Jane.
Oh sorry. There’s one announcement that I need to make, for anyone who wanted to leave earlier if you have so far to go: there is a minibus that is gonna leave at four o’clock, and if you follow the guy in the orange jacket, down the front here, if you need to leave, he is gonna be heading off soon, so find him to be able to get a bus to Bedford station. Fourteen seats, for first come first served.
Um, I want to introduce Jane, who also has come out of Yarl’s Wood. And this is the thing, more than half the people that are detained get released at some point, but detention is designed to try and crush you, so that even when you come out you’re depressed, and yet, Movement For Justice and the fighters inside, they’re coming out more powerful, and being organizers of a movement. So this is Jane.
JANE: Hello, I thank you all who are here, supporting us. I was in Yarl’s Wood for two years, I’m Jane Surray [sic] from Uganda. We are detained there, I had my heart, my blood pressure was too high, 200 every day, 200. They took my blood test, they did what, I don’t know, because some of them, the doctors say that I was pretending, because I was fearing. Whatever, whatever, whatever they can say, but it was true.
I thank Movement For Justice, for the work they have done, fighting for us. I encourage all Ugandans, all Ugandans, to be strong! Everybody from each country, be strong! Victory, victory, victory! Come up! Come on! Yarl’s Wood people are detained: Mabel, Aisha, whoever is there, we are behind you! Be strong! We are behind you! Thank you very much, Jane from Uganda! [cheering]
MFJ: I’m gonna, I’m just gonna introduce… Like Jane said, victory, victory will be ours. I’m just gonna introduce Veronica, also who’s come out of Yarl’s Wood.
VERONICA: Hello everyone. [cheering] Hello everyone! [louder cheers] I believe all of us is excited to be here, this afternoon. You know there is something I used to tell people; I tell people that there’s some certain things in life that you cannot choose by yourself. Take for instance, you can’t choose your mom, can you? Can you say, this is the mother that I want to carry my pregnancy? Nobody can choose it. And if they share this bond, every [?] is entitled to life. If they share this bond, if it doesn’t cry, what does the medical person do? They begin to panic; they want the child to live. So why should anyone say, tell you, that you are not entitled to be on the surface of the Earth to live? Why should anyone tell you that you are not entitled to work? Why should anyone tell you that you are not entitled to be educated? Why should anyone tell you that you are not entitled to have a roof on top of your head? [cheering] I tell people, this land, the land that we all have, belongs to god, and it belongs to everyone. So it’s everyone, if you can move to anywhere, when god is making anyone they do not say, “Oh, this is the limit that I want you to go.” So if you are just, probably, maybe if you have the choice to make sure, to make, to choose where you want to be born, [?] I don’t have the choice but to tell people where I want to be born: I want to be born in Buckingham Palace, or White House. [laughing] But unfortunately, fortunately and unfortunately, I was born probably on the road, or I don’t know, in one village. But that does not mean that I should [be in?] my past. I need to move on, and take my future in my hand, so I am entitled to go anywhere that I’m supposed to be.
Last year, this Home Office, they called me, they were telling me, they told me that I entered here illegally; I never entered here illegally. I came here legally and my passport was stamped. And then they sent me a letter from nowhere, and told me that I entered here illegally, I said “No, I came here on this so-so-so dates of this year.” And they are not telling me, I say ok, come at the sign in. I go to sign in. And then one of these days I was just going there to sign, they told me that I have an interview. I said, “An interview? But nobody told me.” They say, “Yes, you don’t need to be, need to be phoned.” That is an insult. At least if somebody want to tell me to agree with you or to do anything, I should be phoned. But nobody told me. I was annoyed. I [met?] myself at Colnbrook. From Colnbrook through this, Yarl’s Wood. Before I know it, I’m just looking at myself, but, we continue to fight. And we will win, we will win. [cheering] I’m not for any man! Irrespective of your color, irrespective of your age, irrespective of whatever your gender, you are entitled to live your life. [cheering, whistle-blowing, banging against the compound fence]
MFJ: I want to introduce someone we’ve heard from before, a powerful speaker and advocate, who has also been released form Yarl’s Wood, this is Lorencia.
LORENCIA: Freedom! [cheering] I love Yarl’s Wood for one thing: it’s a battleground. Here you will learn a lot of skills. This is where women fight for their right, for their freedom. You fight and fight and fight until when the Home Office is tired of you, they will release you. So my sisters in there, I encourage you to keep fighting. Keep resisting. [cheers] Hold one another, we are out here for you. Look at the number of people who came here today. They left their job, their home, their comfortable bed, to come here and encourage you. I was there with you, I know how painful it is, but keep on fighting while we are fighting here. I keep encouraging you; and those who are outside, we have to keep encouraging them also. And I thank everyone that came in here. It is not easy to be in Yarl’s Wood. By the time you come out of Yarl’s Wood your mental status is gone. Look at them, with their small space where you only bring out your hand, this window that the women are suffering under [referring to the windows which only open 2 inches]. Imagine. But we keep fighting.
I remember what happened one day: a Chinese woman was very ill, in Yarl’s Wood here. The officers were doing one-to-one on this Chinese woman. She was here for a long time. At the time, she can’t walk again, almost dying. The women all of them hold their hands and call ambulance. When they called the ambulance, ambulance was coming to pick the woman up, and officers learned that ambulance was coming, they turned the ambulance back…
LORENCIA: Then they asked, “Who called the ambulance?” The women called the ambulance. oppressor, and the oppressee; that day women won because they gave the lady an attention, that was what [?] and other things. But I thank you for coming here today; I thank you very much and I appreciate it. God bless you all.
MFJ: I’m just gonna introduce Rosemary, who came down, organizing with the people with Leicester, who came out of Yarl’s Wood.
ROSEMARY: Hello everyone. Yeah, my name is Rosemary. I was in detention center for four months, and while I was inside, I was fighting, and now outside, I am excited to be here. I am a member of Movement For Justice, I am an asylum, and I came all the way from Leicester, and today I could tell you guys something that happened while I was inside. Last time you guys came I was inside; I was one of those people that was moving, waving my [?], whatever I could reach, but today I am outside. So I’m so, so excited, and the fight continues. But [cheers] But one thing I want to say; when you’re fighting a battle, you don’t know what to expect. Of course no battle is easy. Something happened last year during the deportation, I can’t remember the date, but it was sometime in November, we came up with a plan, because whenever you want to win, there must be unity in whatever you are doing. There must be collective effort, there must be sacrificial. You must sacrifice your time if you want to win, [cheers] in everything you are doing. And you want to determine, you want to determine to push, not matter the obstacles on the ways, of course when you’re fighting a battle there must be an obstacle. When we were doing this we were [?] for beaten, for beaten, from the officers but we didn’t care. And we didn’t care whether we were gonna win or lose, but all women were determined to fight.
We kept, I myself on that day I was not on the chartered flight, but I was determined to fight for myself too. We were in a room, with these guys that was to deport her to Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, so from one until nine we were there, I was there, I wasn’t going out to get something and come back, so at the end of the day when they were coming, when it was time for the deportation, because, they of course always pack our day, to take us. So when the first officer came in and said, “Call names, our names,” nobody spoke, we just kept quiet. “You guys you don’t want to talk,” we didn’t talk. So she went back, they came in again, they spoke, we didn’t talk. So what they did they went to bring the pastor, the man of god, because in there we have a pastor and we respect him a lot. So when he came, we appointed a spokesperson because you don’t talk collectively; for your voice to be heard you must get somebody to speak. So we had a spokesperson. And they led us to them, we said, “Pastor, if the one person from Home Office will come and tell us why they have to sign on our traveling document”—because that is a fraud, you don’t sign travel documents on behalf of anybody, it’s like me going to the bank to forge your signature—so we told the pastor, “Get one of them to come and tell us why they have to sign for on our behalf.” That was full fraud.
You know what happened? The pastor went back because what we were saying the truth. Nobody could come and tell us why. “If anybody comes to prove they have to do, we go back to Nigeria,” that what is what we told the man of god. And when this matter continued, we’re coming on ten o’clock. Those were the [?] left where we are, deported to Nigeria. But we were able to save about, maybe about fifteen to twenty that were in the room with us [cheering] so when we did, when they left, yeah when the coach left for the airport, I personally I went to room to room, getting some snacks, some biscuits, banana, whatever I could reach, all of us we were hiding together in the room. I would say something to them, all of them going to sleep tonight, together, “Nobody’s going to your room, you’re gonna sleep together in that room, if anything happens, just go ‘Oh!’ and we’re all out.” But obviously nothing happened, we won the battle. That is a battle for you. [cheering] We won. I told them one thing, I spoke, I didn’t speak for myself, I didn’t go there for pity, no, I told that because, because I know—some people would say that because my sister is now involved, my mother is not, I don’t want to come out. But I tell you one thing: that all of you have to unite. If you want to stop Immigration coming to terrorize you, if you want to Immigration coming to raid you, embarrass and intimidate you, all of you have to come out together, to be one, to determine to fight and stand. That was it. So thank all of you for coming. I am so happy that I am outside here, I was there, and I’m here now. Thank you very much! [cheering]
MFJ: I’m gonna introduce Sarah, who’s been working with some of the detainees, some of whom have been released, so she’s gonna tell us the news.
SARAH: Hi, I’m from an organization called the Yarl’s Wood Befrienders, that started in 2000 when Yarl’s Wood was opened. And since then people have been visiting people inside, and there’s a long waiting list of women inside who want visitors. It’s the most amazing thing to do, I’m so glad; it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve got some cards with me if anyone wants to get involved. Imagine if everyone here became friends with one person in there: we would link them up with all the organizations that will help them, like Medical Justice, like the Helen Bamber Foundation, and make sure they don’t slip through the net. Some of them don’t have a friend in the country; you can be that friend. It’s amazing, it’s an absolutely brilliant experience.
You hear such awful stories, like the other day I was told by a woman that she’d gone for a blood test, she’d had this awful pain in her arm the rest of the day, and then at 5 o’clock—she’d had the blood test at about 10:45—she’d found they’d left the tourniquet on her arm; that’s G4S [subcontractor at Yarl’s Wood] healthcare. They are absolutely shameful, and they’re given the contract to look after those women in there, can you imagine how bad the healthcare is, G4S. Um, another terrible thing was, a woman was told, “You’re being released,” and then they said, “Oh sorry, we got, it was someone with a similar name, you’re not being released.” These people are messed around, they are at the mercy of the people in there. And they are people who, as we know, have already suffered awful experiences: FGM [female genital mutilation], rape, all sorts of horrible things from their countries and they’ve come here for safety and what do we do? We lock them up, we make them more traumatized. And when they’re released, their story isn’t over. And I’m here today with the first woman that I visited, and she was released in December, and since then she has made a life for herself: she’s got two voluntary jobs, she’s learning to ride a bike, she’s got a solicitor, she’s got a house. I’m so proud to be her friend, these women are an inspiration! [cheers] I’ll keep coming back, you’ll keep coming back, Yarl’s Wood Befrienders, make a friend in there, you’ll be amazing, thank you! [cheers]
MFJ: And as well Yarl’s Wood, of course, there are detention centers up and down the country because the UK has the most detention of anywhere in Europe. It’s the only place that keeps people indefinitely so that the Home Office can sit on their backsides and know that they’ve filled their beds, they’ve justified— they’ve shown they’re “tough on immigration”, and in the meantime people can rot inside these detention centers, all across the country. So I want to introduce someone who has come out of one of the men’s detention centers, is Morton Hall, where Ruben Ahmed died last year. So I want to introduce Kingsley.
KINGSLEY: Thank you. [leads chant] Shut it down, shut it down! Shut it down, shut it down!
In 2010 when I came to the UK, uh, when I passed through Birmingham airport, the only reason I have come here was because I thought this was one country where I was going to come to learn how to go and teach the governments in Africa how to be humane. I came here, I spent £12,000 at the University of Birmingham to study a Master’s degree in international politics, but then I was completely let down by the system because I realized, that the UK is [?] the current government, which coincidentally came from us in 2010, is the worst ever government you can think about. Now let me talk about two [?]. The first thing I want to point out is: when they call it “immigration”, it looks nice. But if you want to think about it, how it goes, how they do it, everything they do is similar to what was been done in South Africa: institutionalized racism. It is apartheid.
KINSGLEY: And then just think about it again. David Cameron, as a student, was campaigning, he went out marching, campaigning against Mandela being released from prison. Many people don’t know this, David Cameron was one of the people who supported Mandela’s detention. So David Cameron has not changed! He’s just covered himself with the position of Prime Minister. It’s something that he was supporting in South Africa, he’s doing it today. What is happening in the UK is just institutionalized racism because in South Africa if you didn’t have a pass, you go to prison. Today in the UK, if you don’t have a piece of paper—you know, racism has moved from the color of your skin to the color of your document. If you don’t have a red passport, you are liable for detention. That is what the paper tells you; you are liable to be detained. No trial, nothing! You are guilty until you can prove yourself innocent.
Now this is the situation. I was working, I was editor of a magazine, I was living in a good house; the next thing I knew, they came in a raid, stood there, they knew where I was, I didn’t have any problems with them, I have never committed a crime, but the next thing I was in handcuffs, I was at the police station, and I found myself in a place that I never heard of—in Morton Hall. For three months they did everything to break me down psychologically; they almost succeeded, I will give you that. So I respect the women that have come out from this place. Each time I come here I just have flashbacks of what goes on in Morton Hall, because it is a horrible system. It is a place where you are sexually assaulted, because people come in and look at you, they treat you like you are a caged animal. You have women who come there at Morton Hall—we are men, and women just come in and open your door, they don’t even knock. So, I think if men are working at Yarl’s Wood, how do they do it?
PROTESTOR: They are the same!
KINGSLEY: Do they open the doors?
KINGSLEY: Women who have been in Yarl’s Wood, do the men just open the doors without knocking?
KINGSLEY: So tell me what, where on Earth can people’s dignity be so degraded? And what else makes people to be treated that way, other than the fact that they have a different color of passport? So if you are here today wondering what this is all about, stop calling it immigration; it’s not immigration, it is institutionalized racism. It is a new form of apartheid that the UK government has introduced. [cheers] And let me make another point again. When a British person goes to Cameroon, or goes to Nigeria, do you know what they call them? They call them “expatriates”. But when a Cameroonian comes to the UK do you know what they call him? An “immigrant”. So why is it that there are different [?] for people who move to different countries? Why is it that some people go to other countries and they are called “expatriates” and some people come to others and they are “immigrants”? There is no immigrant, because we are all humans, and we have moved from one country to another then you are an expatriate because if a British person can be an expatriate in Africa then a Cameroonian can be an expatriate here and Africans can be an expatriate. So we are all expatriates, here, seeking better lives because we have over two to three million victims [?] and do you know what? None of them is put in detention, none of them is being locked up. [cheers] So we have to tell this government to stop scapegoating immigrants, to stop scapegoating people because of the color of their passports, because it is another way—because they cannot do it again because of the color of their skin, they cannot do it openly—they’ve just shifted the posts.
So I want to say, thank you to everyone who has come here today, let us continue to fight, let us join Movement For Justice, sign up, let us push this and see that every detention center in the UK is shut down. Thank you very much. [cheers]
MFJ: I’ve got one quick announcement: just for those who came via the train, from Bedford Station, the coach may be due to leave at 4:30. [“Shut it down!” chants in background]
Ok I just want to introduce another speaker really quick, because we’ve had a struggle to get support, you know, to fund all the coaches and all that we need to be able to make a day like this happen. For the first time we had somewhat of a breakthrough with the trade unions, sponsoring some of the coaches and really supporting. We need to take this further and we need to spread this. so I just want to introduce the next speaker who’s from the Liverpool trade unions, Martin. [cheers]
MARTIN: I just wanted to say, first of all: I come from England, but I am 100% against Cameron and what he’s trying to do to people who are welcome! They are welcome in this country! [cheers] Not only are they welcome; we need you! We need you! [cheers] Because you are some of the best fighters on this planet, and we are all with you! So what is my message to the trade union movement, and anybody that supports the trade unions, from today? What is my message? We have five union branches in Liverpool that say, come down here, because, we say, we agree: shut it down! Shut it down! Shut this place down! [cheers] But that’s not enough. We’ve got to go, and if anybody here is in a trade union branch, take this message back from Martin Roth, who is representing the trade unions from Liverpool: every, every trade union, every trade union branch, must be the same, and they must get down here, and they must say, “Set them free! Set them free!”
PROTESTORS: Set them free! Set them free!
MARTIN: And I wanna, I wanna finish with this. What are we gonna do? What are we gonna do when we get back? Back to our places, back to our cities, back to our workplaces? We are gonna invite everybody that wants to come and speak to the hundreds and thousands of people that wanna know your story; they wanna listen to you, and they wanna fight with you! Thanks very much. And to finally say, let’s finish, with: shut this place down. Shut it down!
PROTESTORS: Shut it down! Shut it down!
MFJ: I have one last statement, one last speaker to speak, who’s from Movement For Justice, because we’ve got to build this fight beyond today and take it forward. So one last speaker, then we can continue the rally until we have to start getting on coaches.
TONY: Hi, it’s Tony from Movement For Justice. I want, I want everybody here to think back three or four years, would anybody three or four years ago, imagined that we would have a demonstration like this here today?
TONY: No. Three or four years back, people were saying, “It will take a lifetime to end detention. You can’t do it. It won’t be popular.” Nobody would say, “Shut it down”, they would say, “Set a time limit. Restrict the categories of people that could be kept in detention.” But they would say, “Don’t just ask to shut it down, that is a foolish idea, it’s politically impossible.” No— many, many groups were saying that. Now they’re saying, “Shut it down!” And they’re saying “Shut it down” because of what the people here have been doing over the last two, three years. And most of all, because of what the women in Yarl’s Wood have been doing over the last three or five years. That rising struggle has made it impossible to defend detention one moment longer. Nobody a year ago would have thought that by now two more detention centers would have been shut down; nobody. A year ago, people would expecting that Campsfield [House] near Oxford was going to be doubled in size; instead that whole plan had to be dropped. [cheers] In the last three months of last year, the number of people held in detention dropped by 25%. [cheers] The number of people who are being held in detention centers for over a year has dropped by something like 70%; that is because of this movement, it’s because of what people here are doing. Don’t believe anybody who says that the whole system can’t be shut down; it can, and it will. [cheers] And that will not be the end of the struggle, when we’ve shut them all down. We’re in a fight to end the whole immigration policy, a fight to open the borders, to allow freedom of movement, and to end the scapegoating of immigrants and refugees. And we don’t rest until we’ve won that whole struggle. This system of detention has been central to the scapegoating of immigrants. We can build our movement even stronger by closing this system down.
I’m gonna say one last thing, I spoke about this here last time: a detainee—we’re now finding more detainees fighting back, fighting on planes, and getting off planes. There’s one ex-detainee from Yarl’s Wood who didn’t feel that she wanted to speak; it’s her first demonstration since she got out, Fatmarta, but she got out for one simple reason: when they tried to deport her, back to Sierra Leone—this was the fifth time they tried to deport her—they got as far as Paris; and when they got to Paris, she delayed the flight for three hours; the other African passengers going back to Guinea Conakry, and Sierra Leone on that plane, stood up and supported her, they filmed the guards, and in the end Air fRance had to call the french police to order taskcorp off the plane. [cheering] And that’s what Martin means when he says, these are best and strongest fighters for freedom in this country now.
There’s another one who did something very similar in December 2013: she caused a demonstration on a plane, she delayed that plane for three hours. In the end, the Kenya Airways pilot was ordered by the airway to taxi down the runway until people sat down and put their seatbelts on; she’s back in Uganda, but she’s been fighting to two and a half years; she has never given up determination to win. And because she’s stayed in part of the movement, and because this movement has ended Fast Track, the system that she was deported under, we are now in a fight that we are going to win, to bring her back this year, to bring a new asylum claim, not in detention, in conditions of freedom, and she will establish her right to remain in Britain, as a lesbian, fighting to be the person she is. These are the [cheers] these are the fighters that can change the future direction of British society for the better! [cheers]
MFJ: [leading chant] Yarl’s Wood, shut it down! Yarl’s Wood, shut it down!
[Image description: Half-body shot of white masc with dark eyes and dark hair and fringe wearing a black suit, blue shirt with white buttons on the collar, black and white zig-zag tie with silver tie clip, pink triangle lapel pin, black sparkly pocket square, and blue lipstick faces camera with slight smile; solid pale green/blue background]
This winter I was approached by a design studio and photographer to model for them, which was a pleasant surprise as I’m not a model.
“You’re so David Lynch” they said. “You look like a boy wearing lipstick!”; edgy, on trend.
“I am a boy wearing lipstick,” I had to remind them.
[Image description: Macro shot of snowflake (color altered to cyan) on wool (pink and deep purple)]
This article was rejected by the trans publication which commissioned it because it’s “too alienating for cis people”. The irony of coddling a cis audience by protecting them from an antagonistic piece on cis fragility, in a publication which alleges to be focused on trans experiences, is not lost on me.
To be perfectly clear: I am not interested in toning down my writing to make it palatable for cis readers. I don’t write for cis people.
Cis people exist in a social environment which validates their genders and reinforces a gender binary which corresponds to their lived experiences, giving them relative privilege to trans people. Cis people therefore have a low tolerance for that which challenges their gender identities and their conceptions of gender more broadly. Cis fragility (drawing on white fragility in critical race theory) is rooted in a desire to restore and reproduce cisnormativity. It is a combination of lack of stamina in interrogating their conceptualizations of gender, as well as a resistance to challenging those conceptions.
The very idea of trans people challenges the cisnormative notion of gender: gender is not easily defined by genitals or a falsely dimorphic understanding of “biology”. Non-binary trans people further challenge cisnormativity simply by existing and refusing to define their genders in cisnormative terms.
When cis people encounter challenges to their conception of a binary gender, they often react with defensiveness, forcing trans people to do the emotional labor of comforting the cis person in addition to educating them and explaining basic concepts about gender or divulging personal experience to satiate cis curiosity and confusion. This derails conversations about trans experiences with oppression and devolves them into assuages of cis guilt and potential violence. The too-familiar “I’m sorry I misgendered you, singular ‘they’ is hard for me”, centers cis difficulty in remembering a new name or pronoun over the discomfort and disrespect toward the trans person they misgendered. This is an attempt to redirect social resources (time, attention, emotional labor), prioritizing cisness over transness.
Cis fragility is so delicate that cis people seek to reaffirm their genders in every step of their lives: everything from clothing to beverages to occupations are gender coded. This serves the interests not only of cisnormativity, but patriarchy and heteronormativity in an extremely boring but ubiquitous triple threat. Cis gender expressions are not named such: women wear feminine clothing, men perform masculinity, and these behaviors go unnoticed and unexamined until there is deviance from them, as though these norms are “natural” rather than dynamic and constantly redefined and reproduced.
Trans identities are not afforded the level of complexity that cis ones are assumed to have. Trans people are presumed to be constantly shaped and defined by their transness as though it is the primary, if not singular, aspect of their selves; but cis people are just people. Because they occupy an identity of “normalcy” it is not considered an identity at all, and they presume that they have an objective perspective on gender uncolored by their own experiences of it.
Trans people are also expected to be “ambassadors” of transness. Cis people feel entitled to trans people’s time in educating them and indulging their invasive questioning without considering that the trans person they’re interrogating might not have an academic interest in gender. Trans people are presumed to know all about all things trans and to accurately represent all other trans people, which is both impossible and exhausting. While trans people experience transphobia and cissexism on a regular basis, they may not have the vocabulary or framework to analyze their experiences at the systemic level. This contributes to creating or leaning on existing hierarchies of palatable transness fit for anti-critical cis consumption in order to survive an interaction unscathed, even if it means sacrificing other, “more deviant” expressions of transness to do so.
Cis people who pride themselves on being “progressive” might learn correct terms and make efforts to use the right pronouns, but will still be unlikely to confront cissexism and transphobia as it manifests in their lives. They will congratulate themselves for asking the pronouns of a “visibly” non-binary person (whatever that means), but refuse to examine why their gender identity needed clarification when those of the apparently-cis people around them didn’t. Or perhaps they’ll never assume anyone’s pronouns, but they also won’t intervene in street harassment and violence directed at gender non-conforming femmes. Privilege deflects the responsibility of accountability. There is no neutrality in issues of oppression, only complacency and antagonism.
The burden of interrupting cissexism and transphobia belongs with cis people, but trans people have already proven that we are more than capable of disrupting the power structures which oppress us whether cis people are interested in helping or not. There is power in challenging cis fragility. There is power in protesting cisnormativity by refusing to center cis experiences or use cis frames of reference. There is also power in survival, which is often opposed to confronting cisnormativity. Transness is antagonistic by nature; it is enough just to be.