On December 16th 2016, National Geographic revealed that their upcoming issue would focus on gender issues to reflect the rapidly shifting attitudes toward gender we are currently seeing around the world.
The issue had two covers. One featuring Avery Jackson, a 9 year-old transgender girl from Kansas City and another featuring a diverse group of young people, each with a label displaying their gender identity.
This second cover featured an obvious mistake. They had identified both Transgender females as “Transgender Female” but had referred to the Cis male only as “Male”.
This omission reinforces the idea that being cis is the default, while trans individuals require a qualifying prefix. It should be said however, that this mistake was made without wilful malice by a publication attempting to spread awareness and tolerance.
The same cannot be said for some of the people who reacted to the cover.
@Boodleoops is Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, a notorious TERF (Trans Exclusive Radical Feminist) who has written extensively about her fear of trans women being allowed into cis women’s spaces. Her conclusion that “we are finally getting rid of women” is based on her belief that the two women on the cover aren’t really women. There’s nothing particularly interesting about that (TERFs gonna TERF). What’s interesting is who decided to signal-boost her bigotry.
Graham Linehan is a comedy writer most famous for Father Ted and The IT Crowd. He is widely considered to be a progressive voice thanks to his high-profile opposition to GamerGate and Brexit and his vocal support for Feminist issues, particularly around reproductive rights. And yes, he did just describe the belief that Transgender women are women as “internalized misogyny”.
In fact, when he was called out for it, he offered this response.
Again, there were two women on the cover. By claiming that women have been erased, Graham Linehan is claiming that those two women are not women. Ironically, it is Linehan, not National Geographic, who is doing the erasing and that is why it is “a transphobic position”.
Of course, people familiar with Linehan’s body of work will not be at all surprised by this. In 2009 he penned a particularly transphobic episode of the IT Crowd called “Fight” in which the character of Douglas Reynholm starts dating a woman. Early on in the episode, she informs him that she is trans, but he mishears her, leading her to wrongly conclude that he accepts her for who she is. For the rest of the episode we see her fulfil numerous male stereotypes such as enjoying action movies and drinking pints of beer which leads Douglas to believe that he has found the perfect woman. The “comedy” concludes with Douglas learning the truth and the titular “Fight” plays out.
(Trigger Warning for Transphobia and Transphobic violence)
Linehan rarely responds to criticism of this episode but he did offer a justification for his work in this brief interaction from 2013.
Linehan’s defense is that the character of Douglas is transphobic but the episode itself isn’t. This is absurd. All of the episode’s comedy comes from the idea that the woman is really a man. That she behaves like a man and likes manly things. The punchline of the episode is that she has the physical strength of a man. This episode is the very definition of transphobia.
But defensiveness is Linehan’s go-to move when people question him or his TERF friends.
These are two example of Linehan chastising people for using the word “TERF” from just this month alone. TERF, as stated earlier in the article, is an acronym for “Trans Exclusive Radical Feminist”. The people it is used to refer to are Radical Feminists who don’t include Trans people in their activism. That is not a slur or an insult but a literal, factual description of their position.
What’s most interesting though is that Linehan describes “TERF”, a word used primarily by transgender women, as “misogynistic” (hateful towards women), once again confirming that he doesn’t consider trans women to be women at all.
The fact is that a cursory glance through Linehan’s twitter feed uncovers a history of retweets and articles from TERFs and biological essentialists going back years. Either no one has noticed or no one cares.
So why focus on Linehan particularly. Some might argue that criticizing him is counterproductive. That perfect is the enemy of good and so we should reserve our harshest criticism for the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos and other such figureheads of the MRA-GamerGate-AltRight axis. I would contend however, that Linehan is even more dangerous than those people precisely because their views are unformly awful. Linehan is far more insidious. He slips his casual ignorance and hateful rhetoric into a stream of tolerant and progressive views, giving his bigotry a veneer of credibility and mainstream appeal that outright reactionaries could never hope to achieve. In other words, it is Linehan’s supposed progressive credentials that make him a real threat to trans people.
We live in a culture that perpetuates harmful messages about the transgender community, resulting in 41% of trans and gender non-conforming people attempting suicide at least once in their lifetime. Graham Linehan is directly contributing to a culture that kills trans people and he needs to be held to account.