Earlier this month, Tara Wolf (also known as Tara Flik Wood), a trans-identified male, stood trial for striking 60-year-old Maria MacLachlan three times in Hyde Park on September 13th 2017, where women had gathered to attend a meeting called “We Need to Talk About Gender” at a yet-to-be-disclosed location. Wolf was found guilty of “assault by beating,” more commonly known as “battery.”
The two-day trial began on 9:30 a.m. on April 12th.
Two dozen individuals — mostly men with masks on, some in full combat gear — accompanied Wolf to court. Many were wearing the all black uniform of Antifa, replete with bandanas and sunglasses. Most were recognized by a member of our group as belonging to Class War, an anarchist organization that Wolf is also a member of. Others were members of Sisters Uncut, a group originally formed (ironically) to fight cuts to domestic violence services but that now focuses its energy on protesting and trying to shut down meetings women have been organizing, of late, to discuss gender identity legislation and women’s sex-based rights. Many of those present on the first day of the trial had also been at the original Hyde Park incident where MacLachlan was attacked. Three of Wolf’s supporters brought fighting dogs (Dobermans and Mastiffs), as well as a huge sound system blaring death metal. Half stayed outside the court, half came in. The machismo of it all was palpable.
A few of us who were attending to support MacLachlan arrived at court at the same time as this motley crew, which meant standing in the security queue alongside them. Despite appearances, they were a very tame bunch. A masked duo behind us were the only ones who gave us any trouble — one woman took our photograph without permission, then asked, “Who is your feminism even for?” The three of us responded, “Women!” The man standing next to her (his face covered by a lovely knitted scarf) said, “You all just hate men.” We responded, “Yes, we hate men!” Another of MacLachlan’s supporters in the queue clarified, “Well, I hate sexism.” After telling him, “Get lost, you bloody Nigel!” the knitted man said no more.
Outside the courtroom, we waited to be let in. Wolf’s supporters didn’t engage much with one another. MacLachlan’s supporters hugged hello, smiled, joked, and chatted. Wolf had bleached his hair blonde for the trial and wore leather boots with heels so high he could barely walk (there were a few strange, laboured minutes in court where Wolf would take his big boots on and off, making us all watch this strange ritual). He looked mortified in the dock — his head down, sulking with his arms folded — though he perked up a bit when the judge — an older white upper-middle class man — corrected MacLachlan’s use of male pronouns, saying, “The defendant wished to be referred to as a woman, so perhaps you could refer to her as ‘she’ for the purpose of the proceedings.”
MacLachlan replied, “I’m used to thinking of this person who is a male as male.” She did try, after that point, to refer to Wolf as “she” or “the defendant,” but simply kept forgetting. By the time Julia Long, one of the speakers at the meeting, testified, the judge had stopped correcting pronouns.
Wolf’s defence barrister, Jodie Anderson, argued that MacLachlan was a member of “the group known as TERF” who believe “gender is a biological construct.” Members of the gallery on the defence bench chortled, and MacLachlan corrected her, saying, “social construct.” Anderson then attempted to argue that MacLachlan was filming the trans activists at Hyde Park with the intention of “doxxing” them. The evidence for this was that she maintains a Twitter account and blog (in other words, she is an active internet user). The defence barrister presented footage that showed MacLachlan filming all of the gathered crowds, not just the trans activists. “It’s different for us because queer people don’t like to be filmed,” Wolf — a heterosexual man — would later argue.
Anderson then claimed that MacLachlan had picked up one of the trans activists at Hyde Park and thrown them around. She responded, “I’m a 61-year-old woman with osteoporosis — I can’t possibly lift anyone bigger than me.”
Long later testified that she saw Maclachlan “lower down” than the trans activists, as they were beating her, and that eventually she was knocked to the ground. Long’s testimony was briefly interrupted by Wolf when he alerted the court that he had left his handbag in the ladies loo.
Then Wolf took the stand. He chose to swear on the bible, forgot the words, stuttered the words incorrectly, and then forgot the words for a third time. Then his testimony began.
Wolf argued that “TERF” stands for “Trans Exterminationist Radical Feminists” and defended a Facebook post wherein he said he wanted to “fuck up some TERFs,” saying it was “bravado,” not an actual threat. He then claimed he tried to knock MacLachlan’s camera out of her hand because he believed she would post his image online and “out” him as a “transwoman.”
For anyone familiar with Wolf’s online history this was transparently false. Wolf started a GoFundMe in 2015 for voice surgery. The text in his crowdfunder read, “Hi, I’m Tara and I’m a 25 year old trans woman. Right now I’m transitioning and I’m saving up for voice surgery. The procedure shortens the vocal chords, which will feminize my voice so it matches my identity, and allow me to pass completely.”
Wolf claimed his punches to MacLachlan’s back, shoulder, and face were an attempt to defend his former girlfriend from MacLachlan. The prosecutor played footage showing Wolf’s former girlfriend and a man with a long ponytail attacking MacLachlan from behind. After the footage was put to Wolf, he conceded that indeed the pair had attacked MacLachlan from behind as she tried to get away. The footage showed that MacLachlan was not attacking anyone. She was holding on to her camera, while people tried to wrench it from her hands (and which was eventually thrown to the ground and broken).
“People like her want to kill me,” Wolf said, adding, “they are fascists” and “they were meeting to have a hate rally.” Anderson tried to support his claim, saying that the feminists at Hyde Park chanted, “Lesbians and queers!” as an insult (in fact, the slogan was, “Lesbian not queer!”) and said “members of TERF target trans children.” No examples of any feminist committing violence or targeting anyone were offered, let alone any reference to MacLachlan, specifically, advocating violence. A tweet MacLachlan posted joking about Wolf’s receding hairline, weeks after he had beaten her up, was the only “evidence” provided. That tweet would later be used during sentencing by the judge as retrospective mitigation for MacLachlan’s battering.
By day two, Wolf’s supporters had dwindled to around a dozen. All but one were men. MacLachlan’s supporters were all women.
Four witnesses testified in Wolf’s defence.
The first was Ananya Jaidev, who is a main organizer with South East London Sisters Uncut, and who snatched the glasses off a woman’s face outside a Woman’s Place UK meeting in February. When asked how she knew who was an “enemy” and who was an ally at the Hyde Park incident, Jaidev explained she knew which side was which because “we were all queer and trans and they were older and not queer.” The prosecution played footage that showed Jaidev standing close to MacLachlan, in full view of the whole incident. Nonetheless, Jaidev claimed she did not see any of the violence against MacLachlan. “I wasn’t paying attention,” she said.
Next, a man named Laurel Uziell testified that he saw the entire event up close and claimed MacLachlan attacked Wolf. Video showed that Uziell, was goading Long as she sang, fairly far away from the incident and facing the opposite direction.
Devawn Wilkinson, a woman who is on film harassing Miranda Yardley, a transsexual and one of the speakers at the event on September 13th testified that “TERFS hate Trans people,” “TERFs are fascists,” and “TERFs are a danger to queers.” Devawn also stated she was one of those responsible for pressing the original venue for the meeting to withdraw, prompting women to meet in Hyde Park before heading to what had to be a secret location.
The final defence witness was Katherine Higgins. Video showed Higgins at at Hyde Park, watching as her friend is shoved by the man with the ponytail after he attacked MacLachlan. Higgins stated she, like Devawn, had campaigned to get the first venue booked for the meeting to cancel. She admitted she did not see anything, but instead testified about the context, stating she was a “cis woman” and that she was there that day to stop the meeting from happening. Higgins was the only witness who didn’t use the term “TERF,” instead referring to the women gathered in Hyde Park as “activists” and “feminists.” When we then heard closing arguments by both barristers, the defence referred to the women at Hyde Park as “TERFs.” Wolf’s barrister also repeatedly stated that filming trans-identified individuals in public spaces was completely different and had exceptional dire consequences as compared to capturing non-trans-identified individuals on camera.
After lunch, the judge returned his verdict. Wolf’s Facebook post stating he wished to “fuck up some TERFs” was not taken into consideration despite the prosecutor arguing that it demonstrated premeditation. The judge did not accept Wolf’s argument of self-defence and imposed a fine and court costs of £430. In order to mitigate the punishment, Wolf’s defence lawyer argued that autism and oppositional defiant disorder, diagnosed at age six, were mitigating factors. She also said the judge ought to consider that Wolf wishes to be a “role model for other trans people in the trans community” and work in the “transgender charity sector.”
After the verdict, McLachlan’s supporters shouted , “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! He’s guilty!”
What a criminal conviction for a violent offence means is that Wolf can never work in a school or care setting, such as an old person’s home, and cannot work with other vulnerable groups. It also means travel restrictions, for example, not being able to enter the United States, and that he will be subject to immediate interview on arrival in many countries.
Afterwards, we were ordered by police to stay inside the court due to the danger posed by the trans activists outside, almost all of whom were members of Class War. Some held a banner with the words, “Squatters Against the Gendered Existent.” When I asked what it meant, they declined to explain.
As we walked up the hill to the Wetherspoons pub, a police van containing 10 police officers pulled up alongside the two lesbian feminists leading our group. The Class War activists had apparently gone to the pub, spotted these women walking up the hill, and called the police.
Particularly ironic is the fact that Class War are loud critics of what they call “carceral feminism,” a pejorative term used to smear feminists who seek justice through the legal system. Class War criticize women who telephone the police about crimes, including male violence, yet the officers informed us that they had received a phone call from the “other group in court” alerting them of our arrival. Apparently, the Class War activists couldn’t stomach our jubilation and camaraderie, or having to watch women relish a celebratory pint. What they could stomach, however, was throwing their anti-cop politics in the bin, phoning the police over a group consisting mainly of middle-aged lesbians. Some of them even came outside to smile at the police presence barring our crossing the road to the pub.
Later that evening Wolf posted a comment on Facebook saying that MacLachlan was “a man,” so therefore Wolf’s violence was “actually misandry.” Later that night he changed his Facebook name to “Tara The TERF Slayer.”
Women who want to exercise their right to free association, freedom of assembly, and who want to organize as women, should not have to face male violence as MacLauchlan did.
Feminists are indebted to all women who seek to hold violent men accountable and who assert and defend women’s legal rights to freedom and equality and protection from male violence under the law.
Jen Izaakson is a PhD student at Kingston University’s Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP), researching gender and Freud. You can find her on Twitter @isacsohn and read more of her work at jenizaakson.wordpress.com.