This January, Graham Linehan faced a public outcry over his inclusion on an episode of RTÉ’s Prime Time discussing transgender identities and Irish law regarding gender recognition for trans young people. He has likened trans activism to Nazism, sought to block funding for trans children’s charity Mermaids, and been given a police warning over harassment on Twitter. Following the closure of a recent legal dispute, however, he has spoken out to say that his stance on trans rights is “not transphobic” but a necessary part of his consistent feminism.
The Father Ted writer was sued by transgender lawyer Stephanie Hayden last year for defamation, libel and harassment, following a series of retweets in which he allegedly shared her male birth name and photos of her from before her transition, originally posted on Twitter by a third party. Last week, according to a report by the Irish Independent, she dropped all charges against him.
“It’s been hanging over me for half a year now so it has been quite tough,” Linehan said to the Irish Independent. “It’s also been tough because while I’ve been quiet about it, the other party hasn’t. It’s good that it’s over.”
After expressing his relief that the case had been dropped, Linehan went on to defend his position on trans rights. He claims the perception of him as a TERF, or trans-exclusionary radical feminist, began because “Someone did one of those multi-tweet threads: Here’s all the things Graham Linehan said that prove he’s a TERF and transphobic.”
“I looked at them and I thought, there’s nothing wrong with any of these things – every one of them is sympathetic to people with gender dysphoria and is thoughtful about the effects that trans ideology has, and is always about the ideology, not trans people,” he says. “I thought, there’s nothing to be ashamed of in that, so I’m going to fight this rather than accept the idea that I’m transphobic. I’m not transphobic and never have been.”
Linehan’s opposition to mainstream trans activism, he says, is not transphobic but merely stems from his objection to the belief that trans women are literally women. “I think trans women as women as a courtesy is something that I’m fine to follow. But trans women as literally women, is something I object to.
“If you’re talking about gender – which I take to mean how you present and how you want to be seen – have as many definitions as you want, he says. “I’ve seen a list of something like 150 possible genders. That’s fine. But it gets into trouble when you talk about there being more than two sexes.”
He did not, apparently, maintain the “courtesy” of treating trans women as genuine women in his Twitter row with Stephanie Hayden.
Linehan sees his claims that physiology and sex assigned at birth define a person’s “literal” gender, and that physiology should be prioritised over gender identity in determining a person’s rights to be referred to using male or female pronouns, to use gendered spaces such as bathrooms and to transition medically, as stemming from his feminist beliefs.
“When I was fighting for Repeal of the Eighth, I felt I was fighting for women, for women’s rights, and I felt, I’m not going to stop doing that now because these people think it’s the wrong cause,” he says. “You have to be consistent.”
He entered the gender debate, he claims, out of concern for what he sees as bullying behaviour against cisgender women who oppose trans rights. “I decided to enter this because I noticed that women who entered it were being fired from their jobs, were being harassed, were being driven off Twitter. And the things they were saying were very simple feminist concepts.
“In the end,” he says, “I can sleep happily because I did the right thing.”
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