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‘You were right, I was wrong’: Author John Boyne apologises to Graham Linehan on trans issue

Irish novelist John Boyne has issued an apology to comedy writer Graham Linehan, saying that he added to “the pile-on of a decent man in a vulnerable place” when he wrote a 2019 op-ed in the Irish Times criticising Linehan’s views on the trans debate.

Boyne, author of the renowned 2006 novel ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, wrote the 2019 book ‘My Brother’s Name is Jessica’, propelling him into the debate around trans rights. The book, aimed at young adults, told the story of a teenage boy who comes out as a trans girl, exploring Sam’s journey through the lens of the child’s 12-year-old brother, who grows to accept his brother – his trans sister – for who she is.

In April 2019, Boyne’s conflict with Lineham began when he wrote a piece for the Irish Times publicising his book, in which he attacked the Father Ted writer for his apparent obsession with the issue.

“Much attention has been given of late to the antics of Graham Linehan, co-creator of Father Ted, who spends an inordinate amount of time tweeting on the subject,” Boyne penned at the time.

“At best, he seems like one of his own creations, roaring “down with this sort of thing” to anyone who’ll listen, while at worst he comes across as someone masking intolerance by promoting himself as a champion of women. And look, I may not be the world’s greatest authority on the latter, but one thing I know for sure is that women can look after themselves just fine and they don’t need a man to do the job for them,” Boyne wrote.

Despite coming out against Linehan and presenting a sympathetic view on transition and transgenderism, Boyne attracted huge backlash from trans activists online for, in the same piece, defending tennis player Martina Navratilova, who had made headlines for questioning where trans women should compete in professional sports.

“Navratilova is a heroine, a fearless advocate for gay rights over many decades. For anyone to suggest that a person of her courage is phobic about anything is to deliberately ignore her history and also suggests that there is no safe place for people to debate these topics without being branded an enemy,” Boyne, who is gay, wrote.

He drew further backlash for stating in the piece, “I reject the word ‘cis’…I don’t consider myself a cis man; I consider myself a man.” Trans lobbyists accused Boyne of ‘misgendering’ the trans character in the title of the book, and for telling the character’s story from the point of view of a sibling. Boyne went on to delete his Twitter account, citing social media harassment, but later rejoined.

On Monday, Boyne waded back into the gender war, linking to an article by Brendan O’Neill for Spiked, hit out at the “people who are currently trying to destroy” the life and career of Irish singer Roisin Murphy, who he said was “defending vulnerable children.”

Murphy, who had success as a singer in the 1990s as part of the pop duo Moloko, publicly apologised for comments she made on social media against the use of puberty blockers for children. After her comments were picked up by trans activist Aiden Comerford, drawing furious outrage from the trans lobby, she apologised for her views, pledging to “bow out” of the discussion. You can read more here.

Taking to X, formerly Twitter, Boyne said the story was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

“Self-appointed moral arbiters and men’s right activists who cannot bear the idea of a woman’s voice being heard,” wrote.

“I am no longer going to stay silent on the way that women are treated. I will defend women’s rights, children’s rights, gay rights, and lesbian rights to my dying day. I will also defend trans rights. 

“But I will not defend the online activists who are neither gay, lesbian or trans but who exploit the lives of LGBT people simply to earn followers in the hope of giving themselves a voice in the world and, in time, monetising that.  If that costs me readers or my career, so be it,” Boyne added. He hit out at “the people who are trying to destroy the life of a woman who has done nothing – NOTHING – but suggest that vulnerable children should be protected.”

“You have done enough, all of you. Have you no sense of decency?” Boyne wrote.

His impassioned tweet was, however, picked up by Linehan, who accused Boyne of virtue signalling.

“Seeing John Boyne virtue signal about Roisin Murphy when he enthusiastically joined in my cancellation is quite the spectacle,” Linehan wrote. He has previously described Boyne as “a man without honour” who “threw me to the wolves to save his skin” when his book attracted backlash.

Boyne, tweeting last night, said that watching Murphy’s story unfold, caused him to reconsider his treatment of Linehan, as he issued a comprehensive apology to the screenwriter.

“I’ve spent the last few days reflecting on Graham Linehan @Glinner’s comments about me, and I think it’s worth responding,” Boyne wrote on Twitter late on Monday night. He attached a signed apology to the post, in which he said he apologised to Linehan “without equivocation, without excuses, and without evasion.”

“In early 2019, when my 20th book, My Brother’s Name is Jessica, was published, I wrote an article in The Irish Times where I criticised Graham Linehan’s involvement jin what is often called ‘the trans debate’, the author wrote.

“It’s almost 5 years later and, during that time, he’s criticised me many times, most recently in late August when I supported the singer Roisin Murphy, who was attacked for daring to suggest that vulnerable, sexually confused children needed to be protected. (I was a vulnerable, sexually confused child once, so I appreciated her intervention.)

“Even then, I stuck to my guns, refusing to take his criticism on board. But watching what’s been happening with Roisin’s story in recent weeks has made me reflect on this.

“Graham Linehan – who is without question one of our best screenwriters – has sacrificed enormous amounts in support of women, children, gay men, and lesbians. He’s experienced trauma in his personal life, been vilified for his views online, in newspapers, and on television. He is currently unable to work in the industry he loves.

“There is no legal reason for me to post this message – in fact, Graham will be as surprised by its appearance as anyone – but I’ve given a lot of thought to this and realised that all I did in that piece 5 years ago was add to the pile-on of a decent man in a vulnerable place, when I could have used my platform to defend and support him.

“Graham, without equivocation, without excuses, and without evasion: you were right, I was wrong, and I apologise.”

The apology has drawn praise from many on the platform.

“Kudos to you both John,” one user wrote. 

“This is probably one of the most honest and classy apologies I’ve ever read. It’s rare and refreshing to see someone take stock of personal history and recent circumstances and do this. I’ve tried to ensure that I do this as well when warranted,” another social media user said.

Psychiatrist Stella O’Malley was among those to commend Boyne, replying: “Awww John, that’s really generous and honorable of you,” while others described the statement as “gracious” and “heartfelt.”

Responding, Linehan thanked Boyne for the apology – writing: “Don’t know what to say. Apology accepted, obviously. I said some things in anger to John that must have made this doubly hard to write, so my particular thanks to him for looking past that. Very decent of you, John, thank you.”​​

Others took to X to say the exchange is important in the sense it shows people can be allowed to change their minds on issues. Writer Nicky Clark was among those to say she’d had a change of heart – and that while she had been “angry” at Linehan over his views, which have sparked widespread fury, she came to “see his reasons”:

Linehan and Boyne, meanwhile, have agreed to “move on and put the past behind us.”

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