Why I glued myself to the floor of the Oxford Union

Why I glued myself to the floor of the Oxford Union
This week, as gender critical academic Kathleen Stock began to speak in the historic debating chamber, activist Riz Possnett took action.

Two days after my 20th birthday, I glued my hand to the floor of the Oxford Union debating chamber wearing a t-shirt which read ‘NO MORE DEAD TRANS KIDS’ in front of gender critical academic and guest speaker at the union, Kathleen Stock.

The events building up to her speech were equal parts tense and ridiculous. Democratic student bodies within the University, including the LGBTQ+ society, put out statements condemning the invitation, and caused immediate outrage. These were overturned or ignored by the University institutions, whilst academics signed open letters, either supporting the students, or condemning the students’ condemnation of the invitation (!). The LGBTQ+ society organised Oxford Trans Pride scheduled for the day of her talk, withKathleen Stock tweeting "absolute babies" in response to it. Even Prime Minister Rishi Sunak found himself embroiled within the furore which set the stage for the dramatic scenes in the city earlier this week.

I have been involved in activism since I was 15, but in the build up to this protest, I was absolutely bricking it. Standing in a queue alongside those excitedly waiting to hear Stock speak I didn’t exactly feel welcome. I thought about my friends at the protest, holding homemade placards and flags, dressed in their finest queer attire to celebrate trans joy, and I felt frustrated to instead be stuck in this queue of people who were going to hate me in under an hour. Clearly, I didn’t look the part either; some friends walking past the event to the protest waved at me, and the guy in front of me in the queue (predictably dressed in a white linen suit) laughed and told me my cover had been broken! My friend rocked up in a ‘Pits and Perverts’ t-shirt, which security quickly confiscated. In spite of this we made it in relatively easily.

The debating chamber gradually filled up, and people chatted excitedly. My friend outside who was anxiously awaiting news kept texting my burner phone, without either of us knowing that the ringtone was a shotgun noise which started going off every couple seconds before I figured out how to turn it off. I realised I had lost my bustcard, and started scrawling the GBC back office phone number in the back of my book to call from the police station. Eventually, it was announced that Kathleen would be arriving, and that absolutely no disruption would be tolerated. She rocked up, and the applause started. I looked at my friend, both of us unsure if we ought to clap or not, as the applause continued on and on for what felt like an eternity. I slowly unbuttoned my shirt, waiting for my moment to come. When it did, I took the lid off the glue, dodged security, covered my hand, and stuck it on the floor.

"As far as I’m concerned, Kathleen should never have been invited."

Riz Possnett (pictured)

It’s hard to remember much of what happened next. There were a lot of people screaming and hurling abuse at me. There were a few people laughing, and lots of shouts of ‘carry on!’. I focused on breathing slowly, and looked at the clock, only glancing away if someone walked near me, to check if they were planning on hitting me. All the while, I could hear chants and assorted Lady Gaga songs from the protest outside. Eventually, cops came in, started removing the glue, and after around 30 minutes they arrested me. They took me out, and the crowd cheered. They searched me, asked plenty of questions, and eventually released me ‘under further investigation’ into a cheering crowd of protestors and friends.

In the 36 hours since then, I have been harassed by Kathleen’s fans, had multiple fictitious hit pieces on me in the tabloids, and had reporters in my parents' DMs, emails, and at their front door. None of this should have happened. She’s not responsible for others’ conduct but, as far as I’m concerned, Kathleen should never have been invited.

I don’t believe Kathleen is your standard, foaming at the mouth, ranting bigot. I think she’s intelligent, and accomplished within her field. The thing is, I don’t see this as being her field; she has no background expertise in gender or transness. As far as I’m concerned, an actual trans person has far more expertise than Kathleen.

At the Oxford Union Stock said “I want trans people protected from violence and discrimination” insisting that she was not anti-trans despite what her critics say. Whilst this is doubtless sincere and all well and good, she has also previously endorsed Posie Parker, supported conversion therapy, and, whilst speaking at the Union, peddled harmful tropes about the “threat of violence” posed by trans women in women only spaces.

To me, this looks like a motte-and-bailey. She has , as far as I am concerned, been co-opted as the acceptable face of a movement that directly attacks Trans people. For evidence we only need to look at the reaction to those resisting Stock’s visit to the Union. My friend received a death threat through the post for organising Oxford Trans Pride, and they’ve called me the f-slur, a pervert, a sex pest, psychotic, and all the rest. I’m sure I wouldn’t want to be held accountable for anything my twitter followers say, but my point is that I think it would be a stretch to deny that Kathleen has been adopted as the ‘soft’-flank for this movement.

At the heart of all this argument and hatred and ‘free speech’ talk, there are some very real trans kids. Trans kids are forced to be brave, myself included in that. I fear for those kids growing up questioning their gender or identity, and I hope they have adults who model kindness and acceptance to them. One of the first messages I received after the protest was a DM from the parent of a trans teenager who had struggled to access NHS gender-affirming care during the pandemic. Their child’s appointments were repeatedly cancelled during court cases against GIDS, and they were encouraged to seek private care. The experience left their child suicidal.

My hope with my action, and my ongoing work, is that any young person who questions their identity has safe access to acceptance and support in whatever form they need. To the TERFs, the bigots, TalkTV icons and all the rest: I don’t want your kids to become trans; I just want your trans kids to feel safe and loved.

Follow Riz Possnett on Twitter.

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