I learned a new term this week: “Forced teaming.” It describes what happens when a group of people—say, gay men and lesbian women—are forbidden from breaking ranks with some larger constituency, such as (in this case) the LGBT movement.
The example I’m discussing here is one that Quillette writers have been exploring for several years now. As author Allan Stratton noted last year, the central ideological fixation of many transgender-rights activists is the negation of biological sex as a meaningful marker of human identity. The true source of sexual attraction, they will insist, isn’t the reality of sexed male and female bodies; but rather an abstract gender spirit lodged within our souls, which somehow broadcasts itself in a way that prospective romantic partners are able to sense and interpret. As Stratton notes, this mythology isn’t just flagrantly wrong. It’s also homophobic to such extent that it denies the sexually defined nature of gay identity. Moreover, this homophobic element can’t be excised from gender ideology without fatally undercutting the (typically unspoken) mission of many biologically male trans activists, since giving up this claim “would be to admit that a lesbian isn’t going to be attracted to a male body, no matter how many times she is assured that the body in question belongs to someone who identifies as a woman.”
On Wednesday, Montreal-based Substacker Eliza Mondegreen provided an eyewitness report that helps illustrate what the “forced teaming” of ideologically non-compliant LGB men and women now looks like. The Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism (CHRLP) at McGill University had planned to host a January 9th talk about the tension between sex and gender identity, to be delivered by Robert Wintemute, a professor of Human Rights Law at King’s College London. According to the event page, he was to discuss “whether or not the law should be changed to make it easier for a transgender individual to change their legal sex from their birth sex, and about exceptional situations, such as women-only spaces and sports, in which the individual’s birth sex should take priority over their gender identity, regardless of their legal sex.”
Though Wintemute seems the furthest thing from a bigot (or even a conservative), he is loathed by many trans activists due to what they see as an act of unforgivable apostasy. In 2006, Wintemute co-authored something called the “Yogyakarta Principles,” an international manifesto demanding that unfettered self-identification be recognized as the one and only means of distinguishing men from women. But he later recanted, declaring that “a key factor in my change of opinion has been listening to women.” Needless to say, many of Wintemute’s former activist friends then began treating him like Lord Voldemort. And Montreal’s Gazette newspaper, echoing such denunciations, darkly warned readers that the visiting human-rights professor had “ties to LGB Alliance, an advocacy group described by various LGBTQ2+ organizations and activists as a transphobic hate group.” (In truth, the LGB Alliance is simply a British charity that, as its name suggests, signal-boosts lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who believe that the interests of L, G, and B are now sometimes at cross-purposes with T.)
British feminists, who by now are well used to progressive mobs shutting down speaking events in the name of trans solidarity, may guess the rough contours of what happened next. A self-described “transfeminist sapphic activist” named Celeste Trianon compared Wintemute to a “cannibal,” and announced a protest, suggesting that followers should “bring out the pitchforks.”
As instructed, Trianon’s followers gathered at the McGill venue, where they began shouting slogans to the effect that letting Wintemute speak would be tantamount to abetting “genocide.” Members of the growing mob then surrounded audience members before they could enter the building. As Mondegreen describes it:
The activists particularly harassed two women, pushing one to the ground, and blasting them with bullhorns. At one point, the activists jeered: ‘Why are you even staying?’ One of the women responded, very bravely, I could just hear her over the noise: ‘We don’t want to surrender to that kind of bullying.’ And the activist shouted back: ‘What bullying? This isn’t bullying!’ … When [my friends and I] went outside to get away from the crush, a man (who identifies as a trans lesbian, naturally) followed. He said he knew all about people like us because he used to be a neo-Nazi himself … ‘This is what it’s going to be like in this country for people like you,‘ he warned … Meanwhile, back inside, the activists pushed through the doors, interrupting the talk, unplugging the projector, and throwing flour on the speaker.
When it was over, Trianon gushed on Facebook about how she and her followers had successfully stormed the event. And a local activist who self-describes on Twitter as “Autogyniphiles Anonymous” crowed that “the protest against the LGB Alliance at McGill University was a huge success … Almost no one attended the TERF talk, which was successfully interrupted and stopped by committed and passionate trans people and their allies.” (“TERF,” or trans-exclusionary radical feminist, is a term of abuse employed by some activists to describe anyone who deviates from the tenets of gender ideology.)
“I have to thank the protesters for giving me first-hand experience of that intimidation,” Wintemute told the media. “Probably the majority of women in this country disagree with some of transgender demands but they refuse to say so because they will be seen as intolerant.” The full title of his planned presentation had been Sex vs. Gender (Identity) Debate In the United Kingdom and the Divorce of LGB from T. And there’s really no better way to explain why a growing number of LGB women (in particular) want to escape their “forced teaming” with male-bodied trans activists than by reference to charmers such as “Autogyniphiles Anonymous” gleefully spiking the football because they managed to bully a bunch of women and shut down a feminist speaker.
The other good news is that the law school’s dean, Robert Leckey, showed admirable backbone in standing up for Wintemute’s right to speak. In a school-wide email he sent shortly before the aborted event, Leckey wrote:
I am writing to affirm my commitment to sustaining the Faculty of Law as an inclusive place where people of many identities and experiences can learn together and flourish, as well as one where we can hear and critique views with which we disagree vehemently. We may learn in the process, including by sharpening the articulation of our views. The Faculty of Law is also a place where members of the faculty community may protest peacefully. Some reminders may be in order. An academic institution doesn’t endorse all views held by each speaker it hosts. Board members do not endorse everything said or done by organizations they help to govern. Relatedly, advocates do not endorse everything said or done by the clients they defend vigorously. I believe firmly that, over the long term, preserving this separation is important, including for members of our LGBTQ+ communities.
The next day, Leckey sent another message, this one calling out the protesters for shutting down an academic event, throwing flour on an invited speaker, and preventing the free movement of staff. He also revealed that “walls were defaced, as was a wooden board honouring decades of recipients of [the Elizabeth Torrance Gold Medal, awarded annually to the student who graduates from McGill law with ‘the most distinguished standing’].”
McGill’s Law Students Association (LSA), on the other hand, went all in on the protest. At about 11.30am on Tuesday, shortly before Mondegreen and her friends started getting knocked around by the aforementioned transfeminine social-justice champions, the LSA put out a mass email “unequivocally denounc[ing] the platforming of transphobia at the Faculty and at McGill.” The LSA also provided information about the protest (which it described as being in opposition to “McGill’s platforming of anti-trans violence“) and an associated open letter, which largely consisted of conspiratorial accusations to the effect that Wintemute is a sinister front man for everything from white supremacists to “far-right think tanks.”
That letter is itself co-signed by three identified protest organizers: Trianon, Queer McGill, and RadLaw McGill (which would later breathlessly report on its Facebook page that—horror of horrors—“There was a person in our school with an ‘I ♥️ JK Rowling’ t-shirt”). Protesters were enraged when Wintemute compared their attack to a miniature version of the January 6th riot. But the available evidence certainly does lead to questions about how much of this mobbing at McGill Law School was spontaneous, and how much of it was pre-planned, possibly by law students themselves. If Leckey is serious about discouraging this kind of violence in the future, he’ll make it his business to find out.
Naturally, both sides are seeking to fashion the media narrative surrounding the fracas, which is now being covered by the same outlets that typed up Trianon’s apocalyptic denunciations of Wintemute in the first place. For its part, the CBC, Canada’s government-bankrolled national broadcaster, deployed self-described “goth journalist” Erika Morris to cover the fallout. In an article bearing the sub-headline “Advocates say debating trans women’s rights is harmful to all women,” the reporter led with Trianon’s claim that the event speaker was “notoriously transphobic and trans-exclusionary,” which is followed by the claim that the LGB Alliance, for which Wintemute serves as trustee, is a “hate group.”
Morris, to her credit, gave Wintemute ample space to rebut the accusations against him, the most hyperbolic of which he properly described as “absurd.” But then she closed the piece with Trianon, who complained to Morris about the pernicious “transfeminine predator stereotype.”
Morris might have mentioned that an especially reliable way to promote the “transfeminine predator stereotype” would be to physically attack a feminist event on a university campus, bully the female attendees, then high-five fellow “transfeminine” mob members on social media after shutting the thing down. Alas, the CBC reporter never got around to this point. No doubt, she simply ran out of space.