The rise and rise of trans McCarthyism

Any comedian, actor or writer who dabbles in gender-critical thinking risks being blacklisted.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Culture Free Speech Identity Politics UK

It’s been a bad week for the ‘cancel culture is a myth’ lobby. For those woke bros of the pretend left who squawk ‘It’s not cancel culture, it’s consequences culture!’ every time someone is punished for their beliefs. Women hounded from their jobs, blacklisted by university campuses, set upon by heaving mobs of feral misogynists, all for the thoughtcrime of knowing men are not women, and still the censorship apologists say: ‘Cancel culture isn’t real.’ ‘This isn’t a witch hunt, it’s just God’s consequences’, these petty tyrants would have said in Salem.

The cancellation deniers were mugged by truth this week. First we had the extraordinary sight of the good people of Comedy Unleashed traipsing around Edinburgh to try to find a venue for their comedy night. Their line-up included Graham Linehan, you see, and his insistence that people with penises are men, not women, makes him a public enemy to the woke Joe McCarthys. Not one but two venues cancelled – yes, cancelled – these thoughtcriminals of comedy. Eventually they had to perform their set on the street, outside the Scottish parliament, a grim snapshot of the decline and fall of Enlightened Scotland.

Then we had the shaming of David Greig. The blacklisting of Linehan and friends is an incredibly important moment in cancel culture, but I hope it doesn’t overshadow the Stasi-style humiliation suffered by Greig for his wrongthink. He is one of Scotland’s best-known playwrights. His works have been performed everywhere from the National Theatre to the Royal Shakespeare Company. And this week he fell victim to the culture of denunciation, the frenzy for finger-pointing, that swirls through woke circles. He was snitched on, exposed, shamed, and pressured to recant his profane and wicked thoughts. What did he do? He liked two tweets posted by ‘TERFs’.

His ‘careless and harmful’ Twitter behaviour – as he himself described it in the timorous apology extracted from him by the mob – involved pressing like on the following tweets: ‘Lads and lasses in the trenches fighting the gender madness – what is the best (very recent) example you can think of that shows how we have won this crazy war?’ And: ‘If you are a 16-year-old autistic girl who says someone looks like a lesbian you will be arrested and held in custody, but if you are a 26-year-old man who punches a woman twice at a women’s rights rally, you will just be cautioned.’

That latter tweet was contrasting the surreal overreaction of woke cops in West Yorkshire to a teenage girl who said one of their officers looked like her ‘lesbian nana’ and the slap on the wrist given to a 26-year-old trans activist – a bloke, natch – who allegedly punched a 54-year-old feminist in the head and arm last month. It was in Aberdeen, at a ‘Women Won’t Wheesht’ rally, that this male violence in the drag of ‘trans activism’ allegedly took place. The man was given a recorded police warning, a ‘meaningless sanction [that] will vanish from records in two years’, as a columnist for the Scotsman thundered. That was Greig’s thoughtcrime, then: he dared to complain that cops are too soft on violence against women. Truly, standing with women is a risky business in 2023.

Greig was swiftly outed as a ‘transphobe’, which is to modern culture what being a Communist was to 1950s Hollywood. Chillingly, it was a fellow creator – an artist called Rosie Aspinall Priest – who publicly denounced him. She shared the sinful material he approved of, accusing him of ‘openly liking transphobic tweets’. ‘Really awful things on display here’, she said – what, giving the thumbs-up to a tweet criticising Aberdeen police for not treating the punching of a woman more seriously? Greig’s ‘likes’ – or his thoughts, which is really what we’re talking about here – ‘do not align with the values inherent within Scotland’s theatre sector’, decreed Ms Priest.

Twitter (I’m still not ready to call it X, Elon) started buzzing with chat about Greig’s likecrimes, and soon he shut down his own Twitter account. Twitter’s no country for men who support women’s rights. Such was the pressure on Greig that he felt obliged to write an apologetic letter to staff at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, where he is artistic director. ‘I apologise that my Twitter actions have been careless and harmful’, he said. He said he couldn’t recall liking the evil tweets, but accepts that he must have. Then came the saddest part of his recantation: a promise to convert to correct thought. ‘I value my trans and nonbinary colleagues’, he said, and ‘I’ll be speaking with HR to discuss making organisation-wide training available to ensure we approach these matters sensitively’. Brace yourselves, Lyceum people – you’re about to be re-educated.

The shaming of David Greig might seem a small affair, certainly in comparison with the chattering-class bloodsport of going after Graham Linehan. But it matters, because it shows how cruel cancel culture has become. It has all the ingredients of cultural despotism. The denunciation of Greig by a fellow artist brings to mind the ‘culture of denunciation’ that pertained in the GDR. There, too, in the words of the historian Robert Gellately, ‘oppositional persons’ were frequently denounced as ‘enemies’ of the common good, and this culture of grassing had ‘devastating effects, particularly on writers and poets’. That Greig was reprimanded for mere likes on Twitter confirms that even giving fleeting approval to ‘oppositional’ thought can land you in trouble now. One doesn’t even have to speak in order to sin, far less write a manifesto – a murmur of agreement with wrongthink is enough to see you condemned and chastened.

And that Greig’s chief speechcrime was to align himself with women who think other women should not be punched in the head and arm points to the moral contortionism and outright linguistic deceit in the trans ideology. Supporting women, feminism itself, is now branded ‘transphobia’, confirming that perfectly reasonable beliefs are being reimagined as bigotries and maladies under the yoke of wokeness. Every tyranny in history has depicted oppositional thought not only as ‘wrong’ or ‘destabilising’, but as immoral, proof of a polluted mind, and liable to pollute other minds, too. So it is under trans McCarthyism: gender-critical thinking is treated as an abnormal fear whose expression must be tightly policed and sometimes outright censored.

Trans McCarthyism really is the only way to describe it. Blacklisting is back, not of Commies this time, but of people who think women are real. We all know the big names who’ve been hounded by the phobia-hunters: Kathleen Stock, Maya Forstater, Allison Bailey, Kellie-Jay Keen. And there are others. Indeed, any writer, comic or actor who gets even close to expressing a gender-critical view is ruthlessly pounced on. Actress Amanda Abbington, for saying men can’t breastfeed. Davina McCall, for describing a pro-JK Rowling podcast as ‘interesting’. Macy Gray, for saying men who cut off their bits are not women. Author Gillian Philip, for expressing solidarity with JK Rowling. And of course Rowling herself, whose name has been scrubbed from museums of popular culture and schools and even certain versions of her books. And now David Greig. He’s been put on notice. Only silence will save him now.

‘Are you now or have you ever been a believer in biological sex?’ – that’s what the new authoritarians ask, without having to ask it. Say yes and you’re out, as surely as Dalton Trumbo and others were out of Hollywood when their Communist sympathies were uncovered. Artistic freedom and open discussion must be saved from the trundles of this new ideology that would have us believe that men can be women, and 2 + 2 = 5.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

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Michael Shellenberger and Brendan O'Neill – live and in conversation


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Topics Culture Free Speech Identity Politics UK


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