I’d never heard of Kellie-Jean Keen-Minshull (@Posie Parker) until her Let Women Speak events in Australia unleashed a media storm. There were loud demands that this tiny British woman be shut up and shut out of New Zealand. So, I began to pay attention because I know that silencing women is an age-old technique used to control our minds and bodies.
Posie Parker identifies as a women’s rights activist and founder of Standing for Women. She’s credited with popularising the term adult human female to describe a woman and is loud and articulate in pushing that view. Her rallies offer an opportunity for women to speak about sex and gender, their concerns about gender self-identification and the eroding of women’s rights that it brings. But for trans activists and supporters Posie Parker is the devil incarnate. She is called a TERF, transphobic and many disparaging names.
As fate would have it, I was writing a media reflection on restorative practices when she burst into my view. So, I chose Parker’s revoke my visa at your peril challenge to New Zealand’s Prime Minister for my assignment, most of which I’d completed before she arrived in Auckland. My plan was to check in later to see how the rally went, add a few details to my work and that would be that. How wrong I was.
There are varied opinions about the event at Albert Park on Saturday 25 March 2023. Some saw it as a peace filled counter-protest supportive of trans rights, others described it as a violent mob. Much social media shouting went on, along with an avalanche of articles on major news outlets and platforms around the world arguing about sex and gender.
One of my colleagues who was there described it like this, ‘mothers, grandmothers, public servants, self-employed, retirees, lesbians, and often long-time lefties’, gathered in the park, ‘to listen to or speak at the ‘Let Women Speak’ event’. As she put it, ‘the purpose of the event was to provide an opportunity for New Zealand women to express their concerns about the negative consequences of policies that replace sex categories with multiple self-described gender identities’. Plenty of people got to yell, but no women got to speak.
As Sarah Henderson said in Six weeks since Kellie-Jay Keen, ‘the odds were twenty to one, for the mob’. She outlines the preparatory work of the organising group and their belief that it would be a peaceful event. This was not to be. Henderson remarked, ‘The kindness and inclusion façade has been torn away, and we can all see the misogyny and cruelty underneath….women were hurt; bones were broken’.
My reaction to the video of the event was visceral. I was stunned and frightened at the violence and vitriol exhibited by some protestors determined that women wouldn’t speak. This was even although I was watching hours later and hundreds of kilometres away.
Given that unexpected and powerful reaction, I thought it best to allow processing time before writing a response. I also hoped the energy might dissipate, but no such luck. Instead, the experience hung around like an uninvited guest hogging the best seat on the couch. The least I could do was to be polite and pay it some attention.
My response related to two parts of my life. First, I experienced that feeling any woman who has been intimidated, assaulted, or violated knows. The confusion that surely this cannot be happening, overrun by the physicality that it is happening and that there is likely nothing we can do but let this unmanageable power overwhelm us.
These individual and specific experiences sit within a larger context that women of my age understand well. That is, our education was not seen as particularly important. After all, there were only a few jobs open to us, generally secretary, nurse, dental nurse, or teacher, all of which would be in jeopardy once we landed the most important role of getting a husband and producing children.
In or out of marriage, getting pregnant was our fault because we tempted men who apparently could not control themselves. Birth control, abortion and childcare was limited or non-existent. Nor could we access state help to solo parent or get a mortgage to buy a house on our own.
We often lived in fear of what men could, and some did do to us, with little or no recourse to policing of those behaviours. Then there was the shaming that went with being born a biological female. We were hysterical, bloody, bitch, whore, witch, slut, fishy, cunt and more. That abuse would be casually hurled if we walked alone at night, past a building site or a pub at six o’clock closing.
We were instinctually aware of the cruel misogyny that simmered away well beyond our control. Nevertheless, we viciously self-blamed, assuming that, if we hadn’t opened our mouths, or been in that risky situation then this, whatever it was, would never have happened. It was no surprise then that we proceeded to collude in our own silencing.
In 1971, when Helen Reddy co-created and sang, I Am Woman, it was as though our burgeoning liberation had a voice, a loud and musical voice. An anthem that expressed the aching soul of women across time, acknowledging that our ‘growing wisdom is born of pain’.
Reddy felt that the song had been energised by a force larger than her. Her years on stage had fuelled her contempt for men who belittled women. She said, “Women have always been objectified in showbiz. I’d be the opening act for a comic, and as I was leaving the stage he’d say, ‘Yeah, take your clothes off and wait for me in the dressing room, I’ll be right there’. It was demeaning and humiliating for any woman to have that happen and as she said, ‘there was a long, long way to go until I make my brother understand.’
For women of my time, our journey began as a biological reality and has taken us on the usual transitions including the adolescent agony of struggling with breasts and bleeding. For some, the biological but still mysterious venture of pregnancy and birth. It has involved love, pain, loss and joy and an ability to access what might be called the anima or male aspects of ourselves as we grow older. Then to inhabit our post-menopausal bodies, becoming more aware of the soulful aspects of existence as we move towards death. We are embodied creatures. Our bodies and our sex matters.
Given all this, I accept that men can decide to live as what they think or feel a woman might look like or represent. This might or might not include chemicals or surgery to change the shape or function of their body. But that does not make them a woman from my understanding of the lifelong experience of being a female in utero, baby, child, teenager, then woman and now crone. Similarly, any woman who wants for whatever reason to live as a man may be able to do that but, from my perspective, can never be a biological man.
By phrasing my position in this way, some will want to argue the toss with me from a gender theory/ideology perspective but I’m with Professor Kathleen Stock, author of Material Girls and others on this; that we have a biological reality as humans and must contend with that along with all the difficulties and complications it may bring in adolescence and beyond.
People who choose the trans life path need, as we all do, to live free from fear, discrimination, and violence. But these choices must not over-ride the biological reality of others, nor, as Helen Joyce points out in her book Trans: When ideology meets reality, ‘demand that everyone else lose their rights to single-sex spaces, services and activities.’
And that the expectation that everyone else ‘accept trans people’s subjective beliefs as objective reality is akin to a new state religion, complete with blasphemy laws. These words hit home for me because of being censured by church authorities for writing about theological and spiritual issues in ways they disapproved of. It was also making sense because of the outraged reactions I was getting when I somewhat timidly suggested that gender ideology might be just that.
So, I was interested to see that New Zealand researchers Jan Rivers and Jill Abigail had also come to a similar view. They said that, in effect, a faith-based system of belief is ‘being imposed on New Zealand’s children, its public servants and gradually society at large’. They point out that something as ‘fundamental as a belief in the possibility of changing sex should not be imposed on a population whose permission or opinion has not been sought’. And note that, ‘voices opposing gender ideology have been systematically silenced, in New Zealand and elsewhere’. 
Being silenced, whether by an individual, an institution or the use of ideological power has significant impacts. People lose their voice and whatever has risen to trouble them gets distorted and often pushed down into the unconscious. My professional life in spiritual care and restorative justice also shows me that there is nothing more difficult than trying to talk about the struggles of being human, about who we think we are, about sex and identity, about pain and suffering, about mortality.
Spacious conversation is needed so that a person’s story and their experience in the world can emerge. Both the conscious and rational world and the less visible unconscious and non-rational aspects of human existence. By pairing them I’m not suggesting a static duality, rather that we often find ourselves sitting between the tension of the opposites, whether that be a person, problem, or experience. The stories that emerge in those listening encounters are complex, multi-layered, and often a great muddle of things, as we all are.
However, this kind of respectful listening often gets lost in public conversations. Instead, people can take sides with the intent to win and wipe out the other. Like what happened in Auckland when activists turned up with the intention to dominate and to ensure that no women spoke. But as Reem Alselem, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls said in her statement on 22 May 2023, although not everyone agreed with her:
‘Women and girls have a right to discuss any subject free of intimidation and threats of violence. This includes issues that are important to them, particularly if they relate to parts of their innate identity, and on which discrimination is prohibited. Holding and expressing views about the scope of rights in society based on sex and gender identity should not be delegitimised, trivialised, or dismissed….’
We can create more spacious ways of working through this conflict, this tension of the opposites, despite our vast differences. To draw from the learnings of restorative practices the world over to help each other come to terms with harms done and to do that in respectful and life-giving ways. It’s much harder than shouting one another down but much more fruitful and healing.
 I use Posie Parker as Keen-Minshull is known well by this Twitter name
 Personal correspondence
 Helen Joyce, Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, p224