TRANS WOODSTOCK

by Zoe Harding

This is the face of a man who’s entirely unsure if what he’s experiencing is real.

It started with this. Well, okay, it started with this, which itself was just the latest flex of the UK’s weirdly obsessive and powerful transphobia lobby, personified by eh-alright-but-his-work-is-aging-fast comedy writer Graham Linehan. Plenty of people were annoyed or upset by the campaign of email-writing and general loud airing of concerns that led to the National Lottery pulling £500,000 worth of funding from Mermaids, especially given that the reporting of the issue in the Great British Press was… kinda shite.

I’m not going to pretend to have an unbiased take on this issue, because I am transgender (and because I generally lean towards fact-based arguments and judging events based on reality rather than an irrational fear of Dr Frank n’Furter, but that’s beside the point.) The politically and prejudicially motivated defunding of a charity through organised online harassment campaigns is a shit situation, especially one that cloaks itself in one part ‘think of the children’ to one part ‘feminism’ despite rallying around this fucking guy. The fact it’s part of a continued campaign of transphobic articles and content that’s gotten so bad in the UK that even the Americans can rightfully call us up on it.

Nevertheless, this was just one more shit event in a line of shit events, yet another last gasp of a reactionary movement that will be as forgotten as the delightful bastards who gave us Section 28 in twenty years time.

This time, though, something different happened. That silly man playing Donkey Kong 64 up there (also known as Harry Brewis, known online as Hbomberguy) is a reasonably big-name progressive/gaming YouTuber with a charmingly self-deprecating sense of goofy humour and a fondness for in-depth, fact-checked videos dismantling and debunking right-wing arguments and personas. He also has a streaming channel on Twitch, essentially live internet TV to YouTube’s more pre-recorded service, which was doing moderately well (the separate Youtube Channel he uploaded completed streams to recorded an average of a few hundred to a thousand views on most videos).

Brewis pretty much picked Mermaids out of a hat – he’s a cis man, who generally stays in his wheelhouse of debunking other cis men on the internet when they say insane things about fascism, women, the Flat Earth or soybeans. Personal irritation with Graham Linehan aside (not an uncommon emotion, it turns out), he was basically just bringing an internal in-joke to conclusion and maybe slinging a bit of money towards a good cause. His goal was to raise around £500, reach 101% completion on an old and badly-designed video game and stay up for as long as it took to do those things, essentially hanging out with anyone who wanted to join in text chat.

Mermaids CEO Susie Green popped in to talk about her charity directly, turning it from an unofficial Mermaids fundraiser into something much more.

Forty hours later, his stream had raised $200,000 and been visited by legendary game designer John Romero, dozens of rising stars in leftwing YouTube including video essayist Lindsay Ellis, ever-controversial queen of the trans community Natalie Wynn (aka ContraPoints), video game talky-man Jim Sterling, Irish trans rights campaigner Ellen Murray, actress Mara Wilson, philosopher Oliver Thorn, weird porn writing man Chuck Tingle, veteran games and computer programmer Rebecca Hieneman and even the original voice actor who voiced Donkey Kong, Grant Kirkhope. A full list of guests is available here.

Mermaids CEO Susie Green popped in to talk about her charity directly, turning it from an unofficial Mermaids fundraiser into something much more. Multiple volunteers including the YouTuber Dan Olson and the streamer/internet sloth Casey Explosion, had jumped in to help moderate and administrate the stream, doing an amazing job of keeping hateful comments out (I saw only one ‘death to all trans’ comment in the text chat, which scrolled by so fast I couldn’t even catch a screenshot of it).

Fifty-seven hours later, having gone through dozens of hastily-improvised funding goals including ‘A comical amount of money’, ‘123456’, ‘A thank-you card for Graham’, ‘pi’ and ‘One Dollar for Every Graham Tweet’, the stream finally ended after 57 hours and 44 minutes, raising an astonishing $322,146 (around £248,400) with the final tally hitting well over $340,000. However you slice it, 659,000 gamers, twitter denizens, YouTubers, leftie types, activists and ordinary people raised more than half the amount of money the National Lottery was offering, drew international attention to Britain’s toxic transphobia problem and brought the world the surreal spectacle of a rising star in US left-wing politics saying ‘Trans rights are human rights’ before admitting she didn’t know how to turn on the power in Frantic Factory in Donkey Kong 64. Chelsea Manning was present for large portions of the stream. Cher, Neil Gaiman and Owen Jones all tweeted in support. The Scottish parliament passed a motion thanking Harry personally for raising the money, stating that it ‘hopes that the outpouring across social media and the volume of donations will go some way towards reassuring transgender and gender diverse children and young people that they are welcomed, valued and supported.

In my opinion, though, the money and celebrity exposure weren’t the most important things about the stream. We live in an unprecedentedly toxic environment for transgender people, with greater exposure and mainstream presence leading to ever-greater opposition. The US government just pushed through its senseless ban on transgender individuals serving in the military again. The online vitriol and organised hate that led to Mermaids’ funding being suspended is still around and more fanatical than ever, and its tentacles are far-reaching and come with some very unpleasant backing (credit @Caseyexplosion, who’s done a lot of research into US evangelical dark funding of the UK’s transphobia movements).

In the face of all that, seeing a simple video game stream exploding into a huge, enthusiastic event (described as ‘Trans Woodstock’ by the US policy reporter Katelyn Burns), seeing such a joyful outpouring of support, solidarity, enthusiasm and goodwill from so many people, and knowing that all of it would directly piss off a bunch of hateful, normally untouchable bastards… it was beautiful. It was a surreal, wonderful experience to see a huge swarm of anonymous internet users joking, laughing, yelling slogans and donating money to make the world a better, happier, more inclusive place. In the aftermath of the stream, the overwhelming majority of articles, comment pieces and other responses have been positive, the normally dour mood among the amorphous online trans community has been lifted, and while the world’s still a difficult, shitty place for so many people of all stripes, everyone has been reminded that sometimes things come together and good people get to do good things.

Hail Sobek. Trans Rights. Get fucked, Glinner.

So #thanksgraham, (as the mocking hashtag went after the man himself failed to recognise that angrily tweeting about the stream only brought more attention to it, brilliantly summarised here.) No-one planned it, no-one could have predicted it, it was a chaotic, wonderful time, and here’s to the next one.

Hail Sobek. Trans Rights. Get fucked, Glinner.

If you missed out, the #transcrowdfund hashtag on Twitter provides a great place to find some trans people who are struggling and drop them some donations, or you can donate to Mermaids, Stonewall or any of the organisations on this list.

Featured image via KnowYourMeme.com

 


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