I’m not much of a writer, but when I heard that the controversial Degenderettes Antifa Art Exhibit was having a discussion panel on May 12th, I knew that I had to see it for myself. I wasn’t sure if anyone else would record the meeting, so I decided to record whatever I could in case no one else did. And here we are.
On the day of the panel, I had accidentally overslept and had to rush out almost immediately after getting out of bed. I didn’t have anything to eat and I was stressed for the entire drive. San Francisco isn’t exactly close to where I live, and I didn’t know how much traffic there would be or how long it would take me to find parking. I was relieved when I arrived at exactly 2:00, and I rushed down the stairs to the panel room.
It turned out that I didn’t need to worry about the time after all. The room was already full, but about 50 more people wanted to attend the panel so the library staff decided to open up the other half of the room and find more chairs. We were assured that the panel wouldn’t start until we were accommodated, and we lined up against the wall to wait. I was by myself, nervously trying not to make eye contact or let anyone talk to me. After five minutes passed, a few feet away, I heard people talking about “terfs” and how evil we supposedly are. “I wonder how many terfs will show up after that whole fiasco.” “God, they make me sick.” “Completely overreacting, as usual. I don’t see what was so offensive about the shirt!” I started to feel faint. My heart beat faster and I started seeing spots in front of my eyes. I remembered that I hadn’t eaten anything all day. Was I going to pass out? Would I be carried out and miss the whole panel? I slid down to sit on the floor and took some deep breaths while trying (and failing) to block out the words. “Terfs are liars.” “They’re afraid of us. Because we know the truth and everyone else knows the truth.” “Their group is getting smaller and smaller all the time.” “Their own friends and families hate them.” Normally I’d shrug at this kind of talk online, but in real life it worried me. What if someone tried to talk to me and I accidentally gave myself away? Would I be assaulted or just screamed at? Would they kick me out? Dox me? I felt sick. Luckily, I heard a member of staff announce that we could finally go in. I immediately felt better as I stepped inside to grab a seat.
The staff started off the panel by mentioning the controversy, not taking any stance on it, and recommending that everybody see it in person. Then they spoke about what the library did, and some of the upcoming events/exhibits. I wasn’t paying much attention until they mentioned an upcoming exhibit called “Portals to a Radical Feminist Multiverse.” The attendees stared at each other and shifted uncomfortably in their seats while I tried not to laugh–it was too perfect!
The moderator was then given the microphone, and she immediately introduced herself as a “queer white Jewish cis woman!” because for some reason she thought it was “important to share.” She lay down the ground rules, which were “No interruptions/yelling, no name-calling, and no touching.” Additionally, livestreaming, videotaping, and recording were NOT ALLOWED! However, we were told that taking pictures and writing notes was okay.
There were six panelists. The first guy was Scout Tran, a trans male. He liked to talk. A lot. I think he talked for maybe 50% or more of the panel, often trying to crack sassy jokes and make the audience laugh. The second person, by contrast, barely spoke a word. Her name was Uriah Ezri Sayres and I’m pretty sure she was supposed to be a “trans man.” The third person was our favorite trans male Mya Byrne, who starred in the infamous “I punch terfs” photo. I wasn’t sure what to think of him. His demeanor seemed a bit shy but mostly easygoing, and he reminded me strongly of a gay friend of mine (only with stupid hair). The fourth was this terrifying “genderqueer” woman named “Yolkai LeFierce” (LOL). She was clearly going for a “tough girl” look and her tone of voice often shifted dramatically from normal to seething rage, like she was about to murder someone. And I’m not trying to be funny here; she actually sounded like someone who was about to slit your throat. The fifth person was someone named Mason Lopez and I couldn’t tell if he was male or female because his face was hidden by a pair of glasses and a VERY unfortunate haircut. The sixth was an older woman named Dana Hopkins. She was a “pansexual, queer woman” and basically the Mama Bear of the group.
Before anyone accuses me of doxxing them, keep in mind that this was a PUBLIC event in a public location, where anyone could attend. We were clearly informed that we were allowed to take notes and pictures. The panelists’ full names were spoken out loud.
I pulled out a crumpled piece of paper and decided to jot down as much down as I could. Unfortunately, I was not able to cover everything down, which means there’s a chance I might get a few details wrong in my descriptions. I will be summarizing the Q&A, but if anyone wants to hear it in detail, Gendertrender has audio clips from someone who managed to record most of the panel.
The moderator asked the first question: “What are some misconceptions about you guys? Actually, who ARE you?”
“We are just here… to SURVIVE. That’s it!” (There was applause and cheers.)
Moderator: “What are some common misconceptions about you?”
Scout: “That we’re not cute. But we ARE very cute! LOL!”
“That we have anyone in charge. There’s no one in charge. I won’t tell you the internal structure of the DGs, but there’s no one in charge.” (I wasn’t sure if this was true or not. Scout seemed to be in control of the entire thing, judging by what I saw in the panel discussion and what I saw online. If he’s not the leader, then he’s at least the face of DG.)
Scout: “We are a MIXED group!” (I was skeptical of this too. Out of all the panelists, he was the only POC. In fact, most of the audience was a sea of white people. I wondered if there really were many POC involved in GD or if he had meant something else when he said “mixed.”)
Moderator: “What do the DGs do?”
“We’re here for visibility. And protesting things. There aren’t always spaces for trans or LGBT people in marches!”
“We’re trying to SURVIVE! Not just the six of us… but ALL of us!”
“We make safe spaces in marches.”
“We pass out gender neutral stickers so you can put them on bathrooms yourself!”
“We have MERCH!”
“We have a ‘breakables’ room where you can come and SMASH things! It’s cathartic!”
“We do self defense training. And combat sports. Because there’s really no place for us to do combat sports!” (They seemed to love activities that involved physical violence, but they clearly viewed this as a positive thing.)
Moderator: “What artists inspire you?”
(I didn’t bother writing down specifics. The panelists quickly listed artists I’d never heard of, and then kept saying that the other panelists were their favorites too. It was a little nauseating.)
Moderator: “You used to be called the Feminist Genderqueer Bicycle Club. Tell us about that.”
(Scout took the mic and talked for a very, very long time while going off on tangents and cracking jokes. Basically, some of them formed the club so that they could “hold each other” and provide mutual support. They threw parties and drank a lot. “LOL! Drinking! Lots of drinking! LOL! Tequila!” Eventually they heard about some “queers” who “didn’t feel safe” at parties or gatherings, so they decided to team up with them and protect them from the “unwelcoming” crowds.)
(I didn’t quite catch the moderator’s next question, but she mentioned something about the AIDS epidemic, women’s rights, and trans misogyny in the 80s and 90s.) How did they feel about that?
Yolkai: “We’re continuing a legacy. We’re pissing people off because we’re DOING SOMETHING RIGHT. And I want you all to be PISSED OFF! TRANS WOMEN ARE DYING!!!! AND IT’S GETTING WORSE. EVERY. DAY.”
Mya: “We CANNOT be silent!”
Dana: “I’m a pansexual, queer women. For decades I’ve seen political and personal hardships. Many people died. I WILL NOT see us lose a generation again!”
Moderator: “What are your proudest, most heartening moments?”
Yolkai: “At March For Our Lives, we saw two girls who were holding a trans flag/banner but they were afraid to show it off. So we gave them a safe space. … TRANS IS A SCARY. FUCKING. THING TO BE. AND IT’S GETTING SCARIER…”
Scout: “I cried when someone got DG tattoos, lol!”
Mya: “I stood down the police once when they were being awful to queer people!”
Mason (FINALLY): “At the last trans march, I was part of a large puppet that a group of us were operating! It was giant and beautiful. I was feeling scared even though I was at a trans march, but afterwards people were saying they were grateful for the puppet and stuff!”
(Then it was time for audience questions. Audience members had turned in cards and the moderator chose which questions to read out loud. I didn’t submit a question, but I suppose it didn’t matter since they were all screened anyway.)
Moderator: “Why do you mask up?
“Because of harassment and doxing, especially online.”
“Also because of the police and the far right, who harass activists!”
“We’re just protecting ourselves!” (ARE you though?)
“It’s not about getting away with illegal things… necessarily! LOL! or looking intimidating!”
Moderator: “How do you move from ‘survival’ to ‘okay’? Survival isn’t enough.
“Survival isn’t enough, but it is accumulative.”
“Mutual support. And art is also important!”
(We were suddenly interrupted by Dana, I think): “BY THE WAY, FOLLOW WHAT WE ASK! NO LIVESTREAMING!”
A staff member added: “Please keep an eye on the audience for anyone recording!”
Moderator: “Could you talk about the exhibit, and also about the piece that got taken down?”
(Everyone on the panel sighed and shook their head, acting as though the whole controversy was over something silly and harmless. After an attempt at humorous banter with Mya, Yolkai took the floor.)
Yolkai: “I made the piece that was removed.” (The audience EXPLODED into cheers and applause.) “It says I punch terfs.” (There was more cheering and applause.) “It means… if you want to get to my friends… you fucking come through ME first. Violence… is fucking DEFENSE! Now… I’m not going to actually punch them, but if they want to get to my friends, come at me! By the way, no one said ANYTHING when I wore it at a march! It was fine when I wore it!”
(I tried looking for a picture with Yolkai wearing the shirt, and this was the only image I found. Notice the lack of blood):
Mya: “But when a TRANS person wears it, it’s suddenly a problem! Anyway, the blood represents TRANS people’s blood! I am tired of us and our art becoming recontextualized in a false manner!” (I found this response particularly baffling because it’s obviously NOT supposed to be trans people’s blood. Everyone knows it is “terf” blood. No one reads “I punch so-and-so’s” and expects bloodshed from anyone except maybe the people being punched. Any idiot can tell you this. If by chance it actually was supposed to represent trans people’s blood, then Yolkai is a moron who didn’t get her intention across at all (and I don’t think she’s a moron). Moreover, is the shirt supposed to be “violent” or not? Yolkai’s very first comment about the shirt was that violence is defense. But Mya seems to be saying that the shirt was “misinterpreted” as violent. Which is it? Actually, don’t answer that. We all know the answer.
Yolkai: “I made this shirt! So stop attacking trans women! The shirt isn’t the problem, the problem is transmisogyny… and it’s DEADLY!”
Mya: “We received threats over this!”
Scout: “This was considered violent only because it was worn by a trans person!” (No, Scout. It wasn’t.)
“NO RECORDING!” (I looked around the room and wondered how many people were trying to record the event because this was the third reminder. Were there fellow gender critical feminists at this event? Was anyone else scribbling notes? I thought I detected a woman near the back writing some stuff down, but I didn’t want to watch her for too long. I just hoped nobody was watching me.)
Moderator: “How do we support queer and trans people of color?”
(Everyone basically gave non-answers, and then mentioned that some DGs couldn’t be at the panel that day because of the visibility. Finally Dana gave an actual response, saying that they prioritized POC’s needs in front of everyone else’s.)
Moderator: “What is a terf, for our audience members who might not know?”
(Mya pulls out his phone, and I got the impression that he was googling the term. At least, until…)
Mya: “TERF is an acronym for “trans exclusionary radical feminist”, an oppressive belief-set that attempts to delegitimize trans women — not just theoretically, but by inducing suicide through internet harassment, public release of personal information, calls to employers and landlords, legal action and substantiated threats of death and physical harm — often directed against minors. It is possible that more trans deaths have occurred as a result of TERF harassment than by cis men homicides.” (Some of the audience members gasped at this and whispered “Wow…” in an awed voice. My blood boiled. I was angry, not only because of the disgusting, blatantly false description of gender critical feminists; but also because he didn’t even google it–he just quoted the original plaque that they used for the “I punch terfs” display. What an asshole.)
Moderator: “What is your definition of paradise?”
Dana: “Where I no longer have to worry about the at risk youth.”
Scout: “That’s not really what we’re about. There are a lot of queer and trans writers writing about this stuff and you should look into them.”
Dana mentioned something about how art was great.
Mya then went on some kind of tangent and ended it with, “We need to keep protesting.”
Moderator: “What would you do with $100,000?”
“Give it away to every single person in this room! And all trans people! And also give it to various organizations!”
Moderator: “How can we support you? And can we give you fanmail?”
Yolkai: “You know who likes fanmail? Trans people in prison.”
(Then the group listed various organizations to donate money to. I was too bored to bother writing them down.)
Moderator: “Can someone donate directly to DG?”
Scout: “We discourage it, but you can give tips on our online merchandise. But we usually donate that. USUALLY! LOL!”
Moderator: “Any final words before we end this panel?”
“Thank you for the support, especially through the fallout, thank you staff and moderator, etc.”
Yolkai: “I want all of you to go and check on a trans woman in your life! Oh, and one last thing. If you REALLY want to help us… Never call the police again!”
I decided to linger around a bit to check my messages and reflect on what I had just seen. My general impression was that they were trying to come across as warm, gentle, heroic protectors of trans people in peril. But I got the feeling that a lot of it was forced. That they were trying to backpedal as a result of the controversy. I don’t believe for one minute that the DGs are an adorable kumbaya we-just-want-to-save-people-and-survive group, when they’re saying they “punch terfs,” mask up, and carry around bats and axes (which they sell on their website!). I don’t believe that they’re an honest group because the narrative sounded ridiculously dramatic. In particular, Yolkai reminded me of a preacher who believed in frightening perishioners with descriptions of hellfire before giving them hope that Jesus might save them. She was very much the trans activist version of an Evangelical Christian.
The art exhibit was on the third floor. I had already seen some of the pictures floating around online, but I wanted to make sure that I got a shot of every display. Please forgive me for the bad quality on some of the photos–the light settings made it near impossible to photograph anything in a display case.
Overall, I found the exhibit violent and bizarre. It was interesting viewing the art right after coming out of the panel where everyone acted like they were valiant protectors whose art was simply “misunderstood” as violence. I do not have a better opinion of DGs than when I first saw the online controversy, and I thought it was completely inappropriate and irresponsible of the SFPL to host them. Threatening violence against women, or wishing death upon “cis” people is not okay, and it never will be okay. It is one thing to defend yourself, and another thing to preemptively physically assault your “scary” opponents if they aren’t doing the same thing to you.
You are wrong, Yolkai. Violence is NOT “self defense.” It’s just violence.