'Linehan Shouldn’t Have A Platform To Say How We Should Treat Our Trans Kids'

Aoife Martin details the problem and possible implications of giving Graham Linehan a national platform as RTÉ stand by their decision to include him in their Prime Time special transgender report.

Aoife Martin: 'Linehan Might Be Irish But He Left These Shores A Long Time Ago, He Shouldn’t Get A Platform To Say How We Should Treat Our Trans Kids.'

On Tuesday night, RTÉ’s flagship current affairs programme, Prime Time, will be about trans people in Ireland. The description on SaorView is as follows:

“Prime Time examines the growth in the number of young people seeking to transition and the implications of the proposed new law allowing them to do so without parental consent.”

Whenever I see that a television channel is going to air a programme about the trans community my hackles rise and my heart sinks. I become defensive. And the reason why is because we’ve been there many times before. We’ve gotten our hopes up that a programme will be fair and balanced and respectful only to find have those hopes dashed because a programme has been exploitative or has sought to frame trans people’s rights as a debate.

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I’m not saying this will be the case with Prime Time. I haven’t seen the programme and it would be churlish of me to judge it without having done so, despite the hard lessons of previous television programmes. What I have seen, however, is the promo they played at the end of last Thursday’s edition of the programme.

We’ve gotten our hopes up that a programme will be fair and balanced and respectful only to find have those hopes dashed

Introducing the promo, David McCullagh said that they would be looking at the “implications of the explosion of the number of children who want to change gender”. Explosion. That’s quite a word, isn’t it? But don’t worry, it gets worse. The clip showed a trans man saying how much it had meant to him to be able to express himself for the first time. McCullagh then went to say that “government proposals to allow them to sign [sic] their gender was not welcome by all.”

CUT TO: Another Man, dressed in black, sitting at a white table, busily typing away on his laptop. It is Graham Linehan. Graham speaks:
“You do not tell kids that they’ve been born into the wrong body just as you don’t tell anorexics that they’re fat.”

And there we have it. Linehan, co-creator of Father Ted, writer of The IT Crowd, Black Books and others, comparing trans kids to kids with anorexia.

Why you might ask, is Graham Linehan speaking authoritatively on this topic? Is he trans? No. Is he a medical expert? No. So what qualifications does he have that Prime Time would interview for him for this show? The answer lies in the fact that Prime Time, it seems to me, are looking to generate a debate around trans issues. Why they ask, has there been so little discussion here in Ireland when “the UK has seen an angry debate about this issue.” Angry debate. Another very telling phrase.

Aoife Martin: 'Linehan Might Be Irish But He Left These Shores A Long Time Ago, He Shouldn’t Get A Platform To Say How We Should Treat Our Trans Kids.'

Prime Time is right. The UK has seen an angry debate about this issue. It has been toxic and it has been detrimental to the trans community as a whole. One of the central figures in this debate is Linehan himself. He has used Twitter to espouse his views on trans people, misgendering them, referring to gender affirmation surgery as “mutilation” and talking over any trans people or their allies who dare to challenge him. Indeed, Linehan has been visited twice by the police in the UK, once to be given a verbal harassment warning for deadnaming and misgendering a trans woman. A petition, calling for RTÉ to remove the Linehan segment from Prime Time has garnered almost 5,000 signatures (at the time of writing) in just over 2 days.

what qualifications does he have that Prime Time would interview for him for this show?

Some people are suggesting that calling for Linehan to be removed is against ‘freedom of speech’, but when what you say causes hurt and pain and will be broadcast on prime time TV to an already vulnerable minority then I don’t think it’s an issue of ‘freedom of speech’. Thanks in no small part to TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland) this country, by and large, has been a relatively accepting place for trans people. We have not seen the level of toxicity and hostility that has been prevalent in the UK and in public discourse over there. And we don’t want to.

I was contacted by the mother of a trans child a couple of days ago saying the whole Prime Time thing and driven her to tears. She felt so upset that Linehan was going to be given a platform. Raising a child is difficult enough, raising a trans child even more so. Society has a long way to go before it treats trans people with the dignity and respect that they deserve. Prime Time will not do anything to alleviate this issue and might, conceivably, make it worse.

I was contacted by the mother of a trans child a couple of days ago saying the whole Prime Time thing and driven her to tears.

Prime Time only asked Linehan on to spark a debate. But we are not a debate. We are people. We are your brothers and your sisters, your sons and daughters. We are your office colleagues and we are your friends. Many of us are still in the closet. Many of us have mental health issues. Many of us self-harm and have suicidal ideation. By framing this as a debate the Prime Time programme will, I fear, just push some of us deeper into that closet and, as many of you reading this will know, that closet is a lonely and scary place to be.

Ireland has one of the most progressive laws in relation to self-identification for transgender people. It’s something to be proud of in this often frustrating and fucked up little country of ours. Linehan might be Irish but he left these shores a long time ago. He doesn’t get to say how we should treat our trans brothers and sisters. And most of all, he shouldn’t get a platform to say how we should treat our trans kids.

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