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Fake Cats and the Legitimisation of Hate

The tale of a schoolgirl identifying as a cat has become catnip to the anti-trans media machine, including the BBC and ITV. But the real story is of weaponised bigotry

An angry cat. Photo: mauritius images GmbH/Alamy

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The story about a schoolgirl in Sussex who identifies as a cat has been all over the media over the last few days. 

Like many a modern news story, it has bled into the mainstream news cycle via Tik Tok, Fox News, Turning Point UK before other respectable outfits, including the BBC and ITV have latched onto it. The tale – which has a girl identifying as a ‘cat’ and two apparently sensible girls calling her out, only to get shouted down by their teacher – has served as veritable catnip to the frothing anti-trans media machine. It has also served as a useful distraction for Tory politicians wishing to divert attention from the Boris Johnson scandal. 

To that end Conservative MP Miriam Cates popped up on Julia Hartley-Brewer’s Talk TV show on Tuesday, quite literally shaking her head in unison with the host at the state of it all and a world where young people can identify as something other than that which they have been born. 

In all the fury, fog and outrage – very few journalists even on so-called respectable platforms, appear to have stopped and taken to pause to examine the story, so let’s do that now.


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The Taped Evidence 

The facts of the case rest almost entirely on the evidence of a 3-and-a-half-minute illicitly made audio, recorded by two Year 8 pupils at the school in Sussex and an anonymous woman, claiming to be one of their mothers, who rang in to talk to LBC.

When the recording begins, we are already, quite obviously, some way into what is clearly a very heated and ill-tempered discussion in a Year 8 classroom debate on gender identity, held at Rye College, East Sussex, on Friday 16th June.

The tape starts, critically, with the teacher saying: “How dare you, you just really upset someone, saying things like ‘should be in an asylum’” suggesting that a very critical part of the conversation and therefore the narrative has either been edited out or not recorded at all.

One of the children taking issue with the teacher then says that: “If they (another girl) want to identify as a cow (may be ‘cat’)  or something then they are genuinely unwell – crazy.”

But this is very clearly not so much a discussion about a child identifying as an animal and much more a debate about gender, in which the two young girls responsible for the recording seem to be deliberately trying to rile their teacher, eventually driving her to ask: “why do you think we have so many problems in the world with homophobia?”

“That’s not homophobia, that’s transgender (sic)” one of the girls replies, adding “I’m fine with lesbians and gay people. I’ve got nothing against them.”

Or in other words, it’s OK to be transphobic. 

The ‘cat’ element – so critical to the viral value of the story only comes at the very end of the recording to my ears, after the teacher accuses one of the pupils of ‘confusing sex and gender’ and says “if you don’t like it you need to go to a different school”. It is unclear without full context as to what is going on but the exchange goes like this: 

Teacher: You need to have a proper educational conversation about equality diversity and inclusion, because I’m not having that (unclear still what ‘that’ is) expressed in my lesson, when I’m teaching you about what you can be and how you want to identify.”

Pupil: “I haven’t said anything at all in the lessons I have been in, it’s just because they turn around and start saying something, so I said ‘how can you identify as a cat when you are a girl.’”

This is the first and only clear mention of cats. The teacher makes it clear that the child who has been offended is writing a statement and that the other students may be asked to write one too – and the audio ends.

The right-wing media has made much of the teacher losing her cool and calling one of the students ‘despicable’ – and it’s true, she does seem to get more irate than one might hope, although, in mitigation, anyone who has ever been in the profession (hands up) might (wearily) recognise this kind of scenario. 

More curiously, none of those same commentators, usually so concerned with classroom discipline and strict, traditional standards seem to have had a problem with two children arguing so disrespectfully with their teacher before surreptitiously recording a conversation and then putting it up on TikTok. 

But why have standards when you can have double standards?

More concerning perhaps is the way this 3-and-a-half-minute audio file has been weaponised by everyone from the Today program to the Daily Telegraph.

Remember – it is very unclear as to what has actually happened before the audio begins or why the pupil (or pupils) decided to record it. It is likewise unclear whether anyone has even identified as ‘a cat’: unclear why, if they have, the discussion is mostly taken up with gender identity, unclear as to what has gone on before and who has said what to trigger whom – and critically it is unclear as to why the girls (or someone else) have chosen to upload the file without full context and presumably without permission.

In short, we are listening to an artfully selected piece of audio – that feeds into a larger, ongoing transphobic, fake news narrative. 

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A Litany of Litter Boxes 

Stories about schoolchildren wanting to identify as cats are a growing phenomenon. In early 2021 viral tales about ‘litter boxes’ in US schools started appearing in the American media. These suggested that schools across the country were putting trays in bathrooms to accommodate the needs of students who ‘identify as cats’. And you will be unsurprised to learn that it was all utter nonsense.

Despite every single school and college that was named in the reports debunking the claims, these mythical stories spread and soon copycat tales were popping up in other countries, including Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia where new fake news items (with a very obvious transphobic slant) about ‘children identifying as cats’ became a staple of the media. 

I have taken a deep dive into this conspiracy theory and have been unable to verify one single case of any child in any school in any of those countries identifying as a cat. This is not to say that they don’t exist or even that one child in one school in Sussex might be the exception. 

And if that is the case, then so what? Childhood is tough enough without the world’s media vilifying you. If a kid wants to identify as a cat, then who cares? If it makes them feel a happier and more fulfilled human being, then why should adult society and the global media bully them over it?

Indeed – who are the actual victims here? The children who have taken issue with a fellow pupil (for whatever reason) and suggested she should ‘be in an asylum’ or the likes of Miriam Cates and Tucker Carlson – or the child herself who was offended.

These stories of course have absolutely nothing to do with kids identifying as cats. They are weapons of bigotry targeted against one of the most persecuted minorities in society. A means of mocking and intimidating transgender people and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

That people should get so outraged over other people’s life choices is bad enough. That the BBC and ITV should parrot Tik Tok memes and use them as source material for the morning news – is frankly terrifying.

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