Students protest Helen Joyce’s talk at Gonville and Caius College in MichaelmasTobia Nava

When I came to Cambridge in October, I looked forward to being immersed in my subject among other wonderful, ambitious minds. Truly, this is one aspect of daily life in Cambridge, but another is to exist under constant platforming of transphobic speech. These narratives are increasingly using “free speech” to claim safe haven in Cambridge, but in reality, they are neither restricted in their speech nor are they speaking freely; they are hiding their violent mission to dehumanise, ostracise and erase transgender lives to profit and also inflate their own bigotry. Let me say it clearly: free speech authoritarianism only has one mission – to penalise the most marginalised in society, thus, legitimising speech which actively contributes to dehumanisation of trans people. The exploitation of the right to free speech to radicalise people into believing anti-trans narratives excludes trans people from the public sphere. Such exclusion from conversation means that free speech absolutism does not provide freedom for everyone. Sadly, this is happening in parallel with global attempts to eradicate transgender lives through anti-trans legislation, the removal of legal rights, forced detransition, reduced healthcare and restrictions on trans people’s participation in education, sports and public places.

“Free speech authoritarianism only has one mission – to penalise the most marginalised in society”

While I have been at Cambridge, several events have platformed misleading narratives about trans people, such as the events in Michaelmas term attended by Helen Joyce and Kathleen Stock. On 5 May we witnessed another event that undermined trans students as we protested the invitation of Simon Fanshawe – a supporter of the “gender critical” group LGB Alliance – to speak at the university, which was circulated to Bio NatSci students and medics. This is spreading scientific misinformation about transgender individuals to future scientists and medical staff – professionals who should not make future decisions driven by the rightwing pseudo-scientific anti-trans agenda. Fanshawe has previously appeared on a panel which advertised itself with the description: “Is male same-sex attraction under attack as sex is erased in favour of gender? Are the gay boys of today at risk of being told they’re really girls trapped in ‘the wrong body’?” These questions catalyse hugely damaging and misinforming trans-exclusionary rhetoric . No one is “erased in favour of gender” or at “risk of being told” that they are transgender. As someone who came out as transgender at ten years old, being transgender is not a silly game or indoctrination as the transphobes make it out to be. I have not been indoctrinated, nor have I endured transphobia for 14 years just to witness the same happening to the transgender community here.

Moreover, the LGB Alliance furthers harmful narratives of transgender children needing “protection from harmful, unscientific ideologies that may lead them to believe either their personality or their body is in need of changing”. When I came out as trans as a ten-year-old, the only thing I needed protection from was people denying me my right to be authentically me. The real harm was caused by people like the LGB Alliance and Simon Fanshawe, actively fighting against and restricting my ability to live happily as a transgender child. Claiming that our identities are an unscientific ideology could not be further from the truth. My identity is not an ideology; my identity is real. My identity is legitimate and not one to be used as propaganda – ammunition to fuel a culture war. Transgender identities are not unscientific, as proven by research, but I reckon that this merely ricochets off the fact-resistant shields of transphobes. Therefore, the platforming of individuals refusing to believe the experience of transgender lives is not only dangerously counterproductive to our historical, laborious fight for liberation, but is also a direct threat to the mental health of our transgender community.


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The invitation of these speakers reveals how the interests of the university align with maintaining and promoting reactionary rightwing agendas over the marginalised students that it should care about. This is also shown by the reason behind the cancellation of the film screening of “Birthgap – Childless World” by Stephen J Shaw on 12 May – a film that unjustifiably blames feminism and modern dating for the reduced birth rate. The cancellation was decided upon due to “worries about the noise of the protest in the quiet period”, and not due to worries about the real-life impact of this event on the mental wellbeing of its transgender students.

Fairly, I am beginning to be worn out by the statement that “free speech is under attack”. Refusing to tolerate trans hate speech does not equal that one’s right to free speech is being reduced. The difference is that now people have voices, and we will not put up with or allow erasure. Instead, this is an issue of allowing transgender people to exist without being exposed to trans-exclusionary rhetoric and threats. Who is actually under attack? As transgender people, we experience policing, restrictions, control, surveillance and hatred as attacks towards our minds, bodies and identities daily. Existing, as transgender, is already incredibly violent in various ways. Therefore, we must not engage with discourses that have real, material and degrading consequences for our trans students and others.

I want these protests to be a reminder of how our trans community is targeted and not adequately protected by the university. I want my words to echo how valid trans lives are, and how we must not capitulate to harmful rhetoric. Instead, we must insist on our right to exist in a reality not grounded in hatred, but based on care and respect. No one is stripped of their existence by trans people existing and gaining rights, too.