Tickle v Giggle: Hearing Highlights

Tickle v Giggle: Hearing Highlights

By Rachael Wong

Imagine having to raise half a million dollars to defend against a human rights discrimination claim simply for knowing men can’t be women?

Sall Grover doesn’t have to imagine. This is her life since refusing to allow Roxy Tickle, a man who identifies as a woman, to use her female-only networking app, Giggle.

Last week, Tickle v Giggle, one of the most critical cases for women’s rights Australia has seen, was heard in the Federal Court in Sydney from 9 till 11 April.

I attended the three-day hearing along with Women's Forum Australia Research Fellow Stephanie Bastiaan to support Sall and to ensure that what happened during the proceedings was broadcast far and wide. Sharing what happened during the hearing was all the more important given the Judge's decision not to live-stream it.

The reason given for not live-streaming the hearing was the bad behaviour of trans activists in relation to a live-streaming of an interlocutory hearing for the same matter last year, a reason that was inadequate given the case's critical importance to women's rights both nationally and internationally, and the Judge himself having deemed it a matter of public interest. This regrettable decision was felt even more acutely by the fact that an overflowing courtroom meant members of the public who turned up wishing to attend the hearing, were unable to do so.

Stephanie shared live updates on X/Twitter during the course of each day, allowing thousands of people all around the world to follow along as this landmark hearing unfolded. I too shared my observations on social media, as well as with Rita Panahi on Sky News Australia.

Below are some of the highlights I shared from each day of the hearing.

For a more in depth understanding, you can read our double feature on the case: 'Women's Rights on Trial' and 'How the Sex Discrimination Commissioner is Failing Women'.

We will also be publishing a follow up piece on the hearing in due course, which will include a closer look at the arguments made in court by the applicant, the respondent and the Sex Discrimination Commissioner as amicus curiae (on behalf of the Australian Human Rights Commission).

Day 1: Roxy Tickle's testimony

On the first day of the hearing, Roxy Tickle, the man who is suing Sall for not allowing him to use her female-only networking app Giggle, gave oral evidence in the Australian Federal Court. His evidence was brief and focused on what it means to ‘live as a woman’.

In response to his lawyer’s question, “What do you mean when you say you have lived as a woman since 2017?”, Tickle responded that he:

– Took hormones which changed his body, though not his voice.

– Had ‘gender affirmation’ surgery, including vaginoplasty and labiaplasty (i.e. removal of the penis to construct a fake vagina/labia).

– Went through social transition, telling family and friends.

– Started shopping in the female section of clothing stores.

– Spent a lot of money removing facial hair, which he says is unfortunately still there.

– Uses female bathrooms/change rooms.

– Plays on a women’s hockey team.

He says that up until this instance everyone had treated him as a woman.

His lawyer then asked whether there is any qualification to him saying that everyone has treated him as a woman, to which Tickle responded:

“I’ll sometimes get frowns and stares which can be disconcerting, but otherwise people allow me to go about my business.”

Tickle may “psychologically feel that [he] is a woman” (his lawyer’s words), but that doesn’t change the fact that no amount of hormones, surgery, telling people you’re a woman, clothing, hair removal, or intrusion into female-only spaces and sports, can make a man a woman.

Human beings cannot change sex and it is exceedingly cruel to pretend that they can - both to those who buy the lie and try to live it, and to those who don’t buy it, yet have it enforced upon them anyway.

Day 2: Sall Grover's cross examination

On the second day of the hearing, the Tickle v Giggle courtroom was full of Sall's supporters, all of us there in solidarity, as she underwent cross-examination on why she had refused to allow Roxy Tickle to use her female-only networking app, Giggle.

For more than two hours, Tickle’s lawyer tried her best to portray Sall as someone who is discriminatory and unkind, but every response Sall gave, only served to reaffirm just how reasonable, genuine, and right she is.

During cross, his lawyer tried to get Sall to – among other things – agree that Tickle is a woman.

Lawyer: You have previously said that you would be kind to Ms Tickle if you met her in real life?

Sall: Yes.

Lawyer: Would you call her Ms Tickle?

Sall: No, I would not.

Lawyer: But that’s not kind, is it?

Sall: I don’t think it’s kind to expect a woman to see a man as a woman.

Lawyer: Ms Tickle is a woman, isn’t she?

Sall: Tickle is a biological male.

Lawyer: Even where a person who was assigned male at birth transitions to a woman by having surgery, hormones, gets rid of facial hair, undergoes facial reconstruction, grows their hair long, wears make up, wears female clothes, describes themselves as a woman, introduces themselves as a woman, uses female changing rooms, changes their birth certificate – you don’t accept that is a woman do you?

Sall: No.

Lawyer: I suggest to you that in Australian society, the normal meaning of a woman is someone who has changed their birth certificate to say woman, what would you say to that?

Sall: I don’t agree.

The lawyer, who by then appeared quite agitated, was forced to move on to a new line of questioning, perhaps realising that trying to get Sall to say men can be women, is like trying to get any reasonable person to say that 2 + 2 = 5.

No words can do justice to just how phenomenal Sall was in that witness box. Calm, articulate and sincere, she did every woman and girl, and every single person who has supported her in this nightmare so far, unbelievably proud. I’m just sorry more people couldn’t have seen it.

Men can never be women. And we will not stop fighting until our laws reflect this reality, and women and their sex-based rights and protections – including female-only spaces, services and sports – are restored.

Day 3: Bridie Nolan's closing

On the last day of the hearing, Sall's barrister Bridie Nolan dismantled the applicant’s case that Roxy Tickle is ‘psychologically’ a woman:

“What is a woman, if thinking one is a woman, means one is a woman? A woman is not a thought.

The applicant’s lawyer’s summation of a woman is not only deeply offensive but absurd – how one dresses, where one shops, etc.

Both sexes can shop on the opposite side of the aisle.

The more troubling and insidious aspect of the applicant’s evidence, is that there is this entitlement to access spaces where the female sex go, proving incontrovertibly that the applicant does not have the psychology of a woman.

Our society recognises the importance of single-sex spaces in certain circumstances – female-only toilets, dormitories etc – to keep women safe from male violence. These are the very places the applicant says he goes.

When a woman who is biologically born and always so - whether she has had her reproductive organs removed or not, whether she thinks she’s a male or not - walks through a dark park in the middle of the night, she does not stop to think: I wonder what side of Kmart this person shops from, have they had their facial hair removed, have they told people in the workplace whether they’re a woman or not?

She doesn’t do that. She doesn’t stop for one second to do that.

She senses instinctively what she perceives to be a threat. She tightens her fingers around her keys. She speeds up.

If a man truly had the psychology of a woman, he would know that and not enter female-only spaces.

This proves the applicant lacks the psychology of a woman. That the applicant is not a woman.”

Wrapping up

I wrapped up my commentary on the hearing with a HUGE thank you to:

– The fearless Sall Grover for saying “NO”. For standing her ground and fighting for truth, and the rights of women and girls everywhere.

– My incredible Women's Forum Australia colleague Stephanie Bastiaan, and the wonderful Kat Karena for keeping those outside the courtroom informed with their brilliant live updates.

– Sall’s phenomenal legal team - Bridie Nolan, Anca Costin and Katherine Deves.

– Legends Helen Joyce, Kathleen Stock, Colin Wright and all those who provided evidence/affidavits in the case.

– Those who attended the hearing in solidarity with Sall and to the amazing WRNA women and others who rallied in support of her outside the Federal Court.

– The mainstream media outlets who reported the case in a balanced manner (i.e. The Project, 10 News First), with Guardian Australia even referring to Sall’s supporters as “women’s rights campaigners”, rather than the usual “anti-trans”.

– And to everyone who has been supporting Sall, not just over the past few days, but over the years that she has had to endure this nightmare (special mention to everyone who kept #IStandWithSallGrover trending and helped share this injustice with Australia and the world - let’s keep going!).

We now await the judgment.

Until then, men can (still) never be women.

Rachael Wong is the CEO of Women's Forum Australia

Women’s Forum Australia is an independent think tank that undertakes research, education and public policy advocacy on issues affecting women and girls, with a particular focus on addressing behaviours and practices that are harmful and abusive to them. We are a non-partisan, non-religious, tax-deductible charity. We do not receive any government funding and rely solely on donations to make an impact. Support our work today.

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