After my friend was attacked, I can no longer keep silent

After my friend was attacked, I can no longer keep silent. By Giles Fraser.

What greater pleasure is there than eating alone in a great Italian restaurant with a nice glass of Chianti? Absolute heaven. And my friend James runs one of the best. …

So I truck up to Il Portico with my book and, very irritatingly, it is full. Then I try James’s sister restaurant Pino next door. Also full. James spots me and apologises. It’s booked out for a fundraiser for Ukraine, he explains. As I turn and begin to walk out, slightly disconsolate, my friend Suzanne Moore — old mates from The Guardian days — gets up to say hi. “Stay,” she insists. Well, there is only one seat left. I don’t know anyone. But I sit down as invited. “Hello,” says the woman opposite. “I’m Jo”.

A few days later, James had his restaurant windows smashed in. Then he starts to get a succession of one-star online reviews, complaining that the restaurant is not welcoming to trans people. “A supporter of transphobia and the food is dry to boot,” says one. Then, when these are taken down by Google, a load more reviews appear saying the food is rubbish and the place is dirty. Google won’t take these down because, who knows, they might be genuine reviews. Trust me, the food is delicious and the place is spotless.

But the people who want to bring down James’s restaurant have worked out how to play the game. All this because J.K. Rowling sat at one of his tables and ate his pasta. …

Call out the bullies:

Because I am a cis white middle-class middle-aged man, and I have always thought this is a subject on which I ought to mind my privilege and simply shut up. But when your friend gets his windows smashed in, you can’t just sit on the sidelines and say nothing. Suddenly, the sidelines feel like cowardice. In retrospect, silence was my privileged position. …

This is not a column about sexual politics — it is about bullying, pure and simple. …

Because some transactivists now behave as though anything they can do for the cause is justified, however cruel: get people sacked, ruin their businesses, be vile to others online. The public sphere is becoming so unpleasant, so full of vitriol and accusation, that many of us just put on our tin hats and retreat from the conversation. …

I have been hiding behind this terribly convenient self-denying ordinance, leaving the likes of J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Moore to take all the heat, my courage being a few pathetic “likes” on Twitter.

This is where I stand. Of course, I will use your preferred pronouns. It is a basic matter of politeness to call people how they would like to be called. And I can see that some people live with an enormous tension between their given sex and the way they have come to think of themselves. My default response is to affirm these decisions, precisely because I haven’t had to face such emotionally complex issues and I thought it best to listen more than to speak. But this, of course, can be yet another alibi for keeping quiet while others take bucketloads of online shit.

But I do believe that there is a stubbornness to reality that cannot be overcome simply through an act of choice. And if that makes me a Terf, then so be it.

Terf = trans-exclusionary radical feminist. Refers to feminists (or anyone really) espousing sentiments considered transphobic, such as the rejection of the assertion that trans women are women, the exclusion of trans women from women’s spaces, and opposition to transgender rights legislation. JK Rowling is a terf.