John Boyne deletes Twitter account after trans article backlash
Bestselling author reiterates support for trans community and blames ‘online trolls’
John Boyne: “I don’t consider myself a cis man; I consider myself a man.” Photograph: Dave Meehan
Boyne, the author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and The Heart’s Invisible Furies, among other books, says he was dismayed by the response to both the piece and his forthcoming young-adult novel, My Brother’s Name Is Jessica.
“As a long-term ally and supporter of trans people, and the author of a new novel that seeks to help young people embrace both their own identities and the identities of their friends, I’ve been appalled by the response of people on social media towards both my Irish Times article and a book that not a single one of them has even read, since it’s not published until Thursday.”
The breaking point was when I received one tweet simply saying ‘F**k John Boyne’ and another, using a fake name, telling me to ‘Be careful when I’m out in public’
He says he decided to delete his social-media accounts after being abused and threatened. “I’ve been called vulgar names” and “mocked for my appearance, my looks, my weight, my sexuality, and even for the crime of being bald. Any responses I’ve made have been unfailingly courteous. The breaking point was Monday night, when, within a few minutes of each other, I received one tweet simply saying ‘F**k John Boyne’ and another, from a freshly set-up account, using a fake name, telling me to ‘Be careful when I’m out in public’.
“I’m simply not going to put up with this kind of nonsense from cowards who hide behind keyboards and feel they can scream abuse at people and that it has no consequences. I’m a person with my own feelings, my own sensitivities and my own difficulties in life. In six novels for young people, and 11 for adults, I have always tried to write with consideration and empathy, and I will continue to do so. But removing myself from the toxic atmosphere of social media seems right to me now.”
He adds: “For the record, I do not believe that the trans community bears any relationship to, or any responsibility for, the actions of online trolls. As a gay man, I stand 100 per cent behind all trans people. I respect them as brave pioneers, I applaud their determination to live authentic lives despite the abuse they also receive, and I will always do so.”
In his article for The Irish Times, Boyne wrote about the process of writing My Brother’s Name Is Jessica, which follows a 12-year-old boy as he learns to accept his trans sibling.
He also touched on the wider trans debate as it has played out on social media and wrote that he rejected the term “cis”, which refers to when a person’s gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth.
“I don’t consider myself a cis man; I consider myself a man,” he wrote. “For while I will happily employ any term that a person feels best defines them, whether that be transgender, nonbinary or gender fluid, to name but a few, I reject the notion that someone can force an unwanted term on to another.”
The ‘just asking questions’ brigade are just making difficult lives for an already marginalised minority that much more difficult
In response, Aoife Martin, a director of Transgender Equality Network Ireland, wrote that “cis” is merely a descriptor, like “straight” or “white”. “Boyne, whether he likes it or not, is a cis man speaking from a position of cis privilege,” she wrote.
Martin also criticised Boyne for “misgendering” in his original article and rebuked his assertion that “there is no safe place for people to debate” trans topics “without being branded an enemy”. “I am tired of my life and the lives of my community being put up for the debate: which bathrooms should we use? Which prisons should we be placed in? Which hospital wards? Which changing rooms? Should we be allowed to play sport?” she wrote.
“Each of these questions has the cumulative effect of pushing transgender people more and more towards the periphery of society. The ‘just asking questions’ brigade are just making difficult lives for an already marginalised minority that much more difficult.”
Boyne says he later shared Martin’s piece on Twitter. “I thought it was important that my followers read what she had written, just as they had read what I had written, and they could see her point of view.”
He adds that he will miss being able to share the work of fellow authors. “I always used social media to promote the work of other writers, particularly debut writers, and that positive use of a platform will now be lost to me.”