Dancers who accused a leading choreographer of transphobia have claimed she has jeopardised their safety by publicising her resignation.
Rosie Kay resigned this week from the dance company she founded in 2004.
She says she’s been forced out for views on sex and gender, expressed at a dinner party in her home in August.
Complaints made by the dancers present at the party led to an “unfair, opaque and horrific investigation process that’s still ongoing”, Kay said.
Earlier this week, the choreographer said she could not “endure this humiliation any longer” and spoke to the media about her decision to resign.
However, in an open letter seen by the BBC, the dancers claim that, by going public, Kay has caused “potential detriment to our careers”.
In the letter, the dancers say they want to “set the record straight and to ensure that any dancers under the supervision of Rosie Kay do not undergo the same marginalisation that we have suffered”.
Kay, 45, choreographed the film Sunshine on Leith and the Commonwealth Games Handover Ceremony in 2018.
She has been making challenging, socially committed and political work for decades and her production of Romeo and Juliet was performed as a double bill at the Birmingham Royal Ballet under the renowned dancer and choreographer Carlos Acosta.
Kay said the event on 28 August was supposed to be a bonding dinner for a dance company about to perform Romeo and Juliet. She explained she had wanted to invite dancers round ahead of the show’s opening, after the long months of the pandemic had lowered spirits.
“We’d had no social time because of Covid,” she told the BBC. “I cooked, put candles in the garden, and made a lot of effort as I wanted them to enjoy themselves.”
The dancers see it differently. They told the BBC that she was their boss, in a position of authority, which they felt made it an “unequal situation” from the start. “It was a work environment… she abused her position of power,” one company member said.
Late into the evening, the conversation got “heated”, according to Kay, as they discussed the next show she was planning, based on Virginia Woolf’s Orlando – a novel about a poet who changes from a man to a woman.
The dancers claim Kay said that “identifying as non-binary is a cop out”, that “allowing trans people to take hormone blockers is creating eunuchs” and that “transwomen are a danger to actual women in toilets and only want access to female toilets to commit sexual assault”.
Kay doesn’t believe a person can change their biological sex and says her right to be gender critical is protected in law. It puts her at odds with those who say transphobia in the UK is increasing and argue that questioning whether the identities of trans people are real fuels divisions and can lead to hate crimes.
‘Abused her power’
The dancers behind the letter wrote that they “respect Rosie’s right to hold the belief that biological sex is immutable”.
“However,” they continued, “no-one, no matter how big their platform, has the right to create a hostile work environment. She abused her power as our boss. Furthermore, she is now using her power as someone that has a louder voice than we can hope for.”
Kay believes what ensued at the dinner illustrates how women who stand up for women’s rights are deliberately smeared with accusations of transphobia and more. Others there that night describe it differently. They claim, as alcohol was consumed, she crossed a line by airing her views in a hostile way.
The letter, signed by six members of the company, added: “Rosie spoke about ‘the cake of rights’ and stated women have fought for their slice of rights and now men pretending to be women want a portion of that slice. This is a deeply offensive analogy and due to the fact that two trans non-binary people had a seat at the table, it felt very pointed.”
One of the company members told the BBC: “Initially, I was OK with her asking about why we identify as non-binary. It’s OK to be a bit curious. But her repeated questioning stepped into micro-aggression territory, then into something more potent. She was asking us to justify our existence, asking people to confirm their genitalia, as if that was evidence of who somebody is.”
These descriptions of the language she used are strongly contested by Kay. “I said, and it is correct to say, that women are losing rights to males who identify as women. These include rights to single sex spaces. This is not an analogy, it is a statement of fact, and I do not apologise for it.”
He added that the “eunuchs” were only a reference to Germaine Greer’s feminist text The Female Eunuch. He made it clear that he was careful not to identify the dancers or push them into the background.
“It was a dinner in my own home that was attacked by six people. The hostility was directed at me and has been going on for nearly four months. I do not apologize for opposing this treatment using ‘force.’ which I gained during my 20-year career.
“Other women who don’t have that power can’t stand up like I do. It’s not about the dancers, it’s about the toxic nature of a culture that will see women lose their livelihoods because they believe that sex real.
“I’m still shocked that the hospitality could end in such accusations.”
After dinner, some of the dancers filed a complaint with the board of the dance troupe. After the initial complaint procedure, Kay said he was trying to make amends.
He apologized to the dancers for the damage, which was also reported by the BBC. In it, he said, “I’m shocked by the way the night has gone and how much of an impact it has had on you. I never intended to upset you, but now I see that I did it deeply. I’m really sorry about that.”
Some dancers appealed. One of them told the BBC they did not feel the apology was “the real owner of making transphobic remarks”.
“By denying the dancers the correct pronouns and rejecting their trans non-binary identities, Rosie denies that there could be a trans, non-binary person,” the letter said. – This is a transphobia.
I asked Rosie Kay if she was transphobic. She said: “Not at all. I believe in gender protection and women’s gender rights.
“I’m not transphobic. I believe adults can behave and live the way they want, but I believe in protecting women’s rights.
“The presence of men who falsely call themselves transgender women in women’s restrooms can cause trauma to women who have been sexually harassed, as a significant proportion of women have done.”
Following the appeal, another investigation was launched, which is still ongoing, nearly four months after dinner.
“It was absolutely awful for my mental health,” Kay said. “I don’t blame the dancers. Everyone has a right to have an opinion. But I feel like I’ve been through an unfair trial and the directors of the Rosie Kay Dance Company have locked up a senior female choreographer.
“They’ve decided to cancel my next performance, Orlando, without any discussion. You can be sure that the people who have conspired to make my life so bitter for the past four months haven’t given up. I’ll be back.”
Rosie Kay Dance Company told the BBC: “I am surprised by this report and we strongly oppose such an interpretation of the events. However, we continue to respect the confidentiality of the investigation process and we are unable to comment further.”
Iona McGuire, a non-binary dancer in the middle of the line, said, “We didn’t try to resign Rosie.
“I didn’t do anything to remove Rosie Kay from the company, I wanted to get proper recognition for what happened.”
Kay argues that he never refused to use selected pronouns and that “the dancers under‘ obvious transphobia ’are nothing more than recognizing that sex is biological, unchangeable and binary.
Kay called the process a “Kafka nightmare” in which he “lied to him, was ignored, excommunicated and excluded from my company.”
It was supported by the Free Speech Union, a group that supports people who are victims of a cancel culture and adherents of free speech.
Secretary-General Toby Young told the BBC: “The fact that this dance ensemble has effectively ousted its founder and creative leader is a good indication of the extent to which artistic organizations have been captivated by the ideology of gender identity.”
For some, the story raises questions about what you can say in your own home. For others, it may be an example that generations have been divided on the issue of transgender rights, and even on the nature of the conversation itself. Or is it a sign of development?
In the end, perhaps this is just the latest example of the toxic nature of the debate surrounding one of the seemingly most divisive issues of our time.