Sunday 13 October 2019

'I was warned not to go out alone' - author John Boyne in gender-label row

Writer John Boyne. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Writer John Boyne. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

Author John Boyne has spoken about the threats that caused him to leave social media last week.

Speaking before a lunch with broadcaster Graham Norton in London, The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas author revealed that he had received threats of violence including one which advised him not to leave his house alone. Boyne has written a novel, My Brother's Name is Jessica, which deals with transgender issues, and wrote a piece in The Irish Times last week in which he rejected the label cis-gender (meaning people who are not transgender) for himself personally.

"There were two or three days of constant abuse from people who had not read the book," Boyne explained. "They were sending messages from fake names and it was pretty vulgar at times. One message just said 'f**k John Boyne.' I got another message warning me to be very careful of going out alone. There were other messages which commented offensively on my looks, my sexuality, my writing, anything they could to try to hurt me."

Some criticism of the writer had come from the transgender community - including from Aoife Martin of the Transgender Equality Network Of Ireland (TENI). But he says that the online trolls who attacked him did not identify themselves as transgender. "The trans people I've spoken to over the last week have been shocked by the virulence of the response to my book and the piece I wrote", he explained. "The people who jumped in with commentary online didn't identify themselves as trans one way or the other. The notion that me and Penguin would publish a book that is transphobic is insane. One thing I can say is that I will not take criticism from people who have not read the book."

Boyne says that Caitlyn Jenner, probably the most famous transgender person in the world, has not been the best poster child for the transgender movement: "I'm not sure Caitlyn Jenner set the best example - her look on the Vanity Fair cover was very sexualised and, if you have a billion dollars you can look like anyone you want to look like, it's not the same for the average person who can't afford all those procedures and is being much braver by walking down the street perhaps not looking as feminine as Caitlyn Jenner."

Boyne draws parallels between himself and the tennis player Martina Navratilova, who recently apologised for calling transgender athletes ''cheats''. While she said she was sorry for "suggesting that transgender athletes in general are cheats", she added that there was no "perfect solution" to this issue and that if "everyone were included, women's sports as we know them would cease to exist."

Navratilova, like Boyne, is openly gay and Boyne says both should be natural allies for the transgender cause. He says that, despite the virulence of the reaction to his book, he will return to social media soon.

"I anticipate returning to social media when all of the brouhaha has died down a bit. It's been a tough week. This has been, without doubt, the most negative experience of my writing life."

Sunday Independent

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