On Bookfair and that terrible Guardian/Observer piece

Content note: this post discusses transmisogyny, transphobia, sexual violence, racism and disablism

On Sunday the Guardian Actually It’s An Observer Article™ ran a godawful article, mourning the death of the London Anarchist Bookfair because those pesky trans activists shut it down. As regular as clockwork, the usual transmisogynistic bigots jumped on the bandwagon about what a Terrible Loss this was. The criticism draws a kind of bitter laughter, given how obvious it was that everyone sticking their oar in had never been to bookfair, and would have (rightly) found their jolyonic arses chased out of there if they ever turned up, and the “news” is about as stale as a mince pie in July. Further, it shows a devastating lack of research–which, I am fairly sure was deliberate; anything to get that all important fib about trans people out there.

I’ve made a few twitter threads about this (1, 2, 3) and the purpose of this post is, I hope, to ensure that I don;t have to make any more.

I think we can all agree that the Guardian article is in bad faith. It becomes evident that this is the case as it deploys a scattergun approach, conflating three stories: the bookfair, a complaint about a transmisogynistic bigot in the Women’s Equality Party (definitely not anarchists), and Labour Party activist Lily Madigan and the bigots fixated on her (definitely not anarchists). Bookfair has never been anything that most mainstream journalists have cared about, and given the time gap, I cannot help but think these people have been hunched at their desks, scanning every obscure little Facebook group, every tiny community event and every church newsletter for a story involving trans people that they could blow out of all proportion. When the Fordwich Village Fete proved fruitless, they finally alighted on bookfair.

And, of course, the article is absolute bullshit, because while the incident was perhaps a last straw, there had been numerous criticisms of bookfair, every goddamn year. That’s why the demands, which the Guardian didn’t even deign to share, are broad. I suggest reading the whole letter for full context and the wide range of signatories (hint: it’s not just trans activists!), but here are the demands, which I have annotated briefly for the skim readers.

  1. To change the date of the LABF in future years so it does not clash with the United Friends & Family Campaign Annual Demonstration and to actively promote attendance at the annual UFFC March. –UFFC is a group who have lost a loved one to police violence. It has been contentious, over the years, that bookfair frequently clashes with their march, thus meaning that fewer anarchists go out to show solidarity with the campaign.
  2. A clear statement outlining the politics the LABF is committed to, what kinds of behaviour and views are unacceptable and unwelcome at the Bookfair, and what action will be taken by organisers if these boundaries of acceptable behaviour are ignored by attendees or speakers. -Transparency is crucial. Alas, bookfair’s general way of dealing with, e.g. men yelling into megaphones about how Julian Assange is a real victim and all women are liars, has been to tell survivors to deal with it themselves.
  3. A clear statement of political values that reflect the above boundaries and that speakers, those hosting meetings, and those with stalls must clearly commit to in order to be able to participate. -It’s no good having a statement of politics if those platformed fail to meet them!
  4. A commitment to incorporating anti-racist and decolonial struggle into the program of the Bookfair by providing space for workshops and meetings and actively seeking out local black, brown and people of colour led groups to work with and run these meetings. -The bookfair’s meetings are usually a sea of white faces, with little effort made to reach out to the wider community.
  5. A commitment to incorporating queer and trans struggle into the program of the Bookfair by providing space for workshops and meetings and actively seeking out queer and trans lead groups to work with and run these meetings. -Same, but for queers. It’s a pretty straight space.
  6. A commitment to physical accessibility in all its forms. Firstly, by making sure that workshops and meeting spaces are able to be physically entered by people using wheelchair or mobility devices and that movement through and around the buildings is not reliant on having to wait for an organiser to open a door or operate a lift. Secondly, by incorporating into the program workshops relating to accessibility and disability struggles led by those directly affected by these issues. -This is so basic, and was still a failure.
  7. A commitment to continue the “no cameras” and “no filming” rule without exception given. -Rightly. a lot of anarchists don’t want to be photographed or filmed. Bookfair made little effort to ensure this was not possible, besides putting up a couple of signs.

These are the bare minimal standards for organising a functional community event: respecting consent and ensuring that the whole community can access the space. And believe me, it did not arise in a vacuum.

I stopped going to bookfair a few years back. I mentioned a man with a megaphone as an example above. This was something that actually happened to me. And do you know what, I dealt with it in precisely the way the organisers say they’d prefer us to: I stood next to that man, yelling “RAPE APOLOGIST RAPE APOLOGIST” like a shrill car alarm, exercising my free speech. Others joined me. Then it got nasty, a little bit physical. After bookfair, me and others tried to put forward to organisers that they needed to knock the proponents of sexual violence on the head, that they needed to maintain a space in which survivors can exist. I got death threats for that, and I stopped going to bookfair.

I’m hardly alone in this trajectory. There have always been a lot of awful people turning up at bookfair. The “Anarchist Christmas” moniker was always accurate for all the wrong reasons: you end up in a building with a lot of horrible people and are powerless to challenge them on their nasty shit. There’s racists, antisemites, actual rapists and the men who love them, transmisogynists and homophobes, and every time anyone in the community makes an effort to deal with the problems, we were shot down. You encounter men who have abused you, you encounter racists who have called you vile slurs, and, if you’re disabled, you’re pretty much trapped in a crowd. It’s horrible, bookfair was a horrible space, and if they didn’t want to improve it, I’m fucking glad it’s dead.

I digress, I have a lot of bitterness, as do almost all of the people that I love, because it was made perfectly clear to all of us that bookfair is not a place for people like us.

There’s been a lot building up over the years, and each year, there’s been another flashpoint. It seems, this year, that bookfair organisers finally decided that they couldn’t be bothered with the criticism from marginalised members of our community any further. Maybe they even decided to make it all about transphobia, knowing that if, for whatever reason, the news found its way to the media, the media would side with them. But it isn’t about transphobia, and many of us know precisely what an unmitigated shitshow the whole affair was.

And with the knowledge of just how bad bookfair truly was, it becomes abundantly clear how little the transmisogynistic bigots really care about women’s safety, that excuse they perpetually use for excluding trans people from public life. Bookfair was a fundamentally unsafe space for many women, not because trans women exist, but because of all the rapists and the misogynists present. I don’t expect the Guardian, fed a quote from their friendly neighbourhood transmisogynistic bigot to know this (though I would have expected at least some cursory research from an outlet that self-identifies as Quality Journalism™), but I definitely would expect this of the transmisogynistic bigots within our community. That they chose to spread lies about trans women rather than deal with the very real threat of violent men shows exactly how little they are interested in keeping women safe. They do not care about survivors, they only want to spread hate.

Sadly, I do not expect any of those who have supped on the media lies to read this, for none truly care about an anarchist event: they only want to feed upon anti-trans propaganda while feeling like an objective clever person. But they are not, they never were.

Nonetheless, I write it down. This is the context to bookfair. These were the demands made to bookfair. This is the truth.

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2 thoughts on “On Bookfair and that terrible Guardian/Observer piece”

  1. No mention of anarchist and feminist (victim of misogynistic state violence) Helen Steel at the centre of this mess, which really makes your arguments ridiculous and over the top.

    1. Why, George? Care to explain to the class how an anarchist and feminist can also be awful and expose the whole bookfair to police violence?

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