Whenever I hear a leftie complain about being abused on Twitter, I think: ‘You should try being me.’ A case in point is the journalist Caitlin Moran, who has often taken up the cause of feminists threatened with violence. Among other things, she campaigned for a ‘report abuse’ button in the hope of making Twitter a safer place, more in keeping with ‘the spirit that the internet was conceived and born in — one of absolute optimism’.
A noble sentiment, but I couldn’t help taking this with a pinch of salt after the abuse I’ve suffered at the hands of feminists on Twitter. Take the time I appeared on a BBC2 discussion programme with Germaine Greer. My ability to irritate is so reliable, one irate female viewer tweeted, that it ‘could be used to power an atomic clock’. She then added: ‘Oh, Germaine Greer. You’re still MAGNIFICENT. Please end this brilliant monologue by running a sword through Toby Young’s face.’ Needless to say, the author of these offensive tweets was Caitlin Moran.
But I had an experience recently which made me think perhaps those on the left who complain about their treatment on Twitter have a point. It all began perfectly innocently when I tweeted a picture of my ten-year-old son Ludo. This was on the morning of World Book Day when primary schools encourage their pupils to dress up as their favourite literary characters. A girl in Ludo’s class bet him £1 he wouldn’t dare come to school as a female character so he decided to go as Goldilocks. In the picture he’s wearing a blond wig, a flowery dress and long white socks. The message accompanying the picture read: ‘My son Ludo is going to school as Goldilocks #WorldBookDay.’
I got a couple of nice replies — ‘Fabulous wig!’, ‘Great effort Ludo!’ — and then it turned nasty. Someone tweeting under the name of @Littlebackstory wrote: ‘You belong in front of a firing squad, sicko. Kill yourself immediately #ChildAbuse #ManchausenByTyranny #Attention WhoreParents.’ Another weighed in: ‘This twat wants castrating.’
What was going on? Why would a picture of Ludo looking rather adorable prompt such vituperative language? The next tweet I got was from someone calling themselves @Celto-Germanic: ‘You are one abusive piece of shit,’ he said. ‘Why do you say that?’ I asked. ‘Because you are dressing your son up as a woman and sending him to school in order to virtue signal to impress other leftists.’
The phrase ‘virtue signalling’ kept coming up again and again. ‘Using your kid as a prop for your virtue signalling is #ChildAbuse,’ tweeted @ time-forgravy. ‘Those who abuse children so they can social signal need to be thrown into an oven,’ said @SoapMerchant. Finally, the penny dropped — they thought I was the father of a transgendered child. In their eyes, my sins were twofold. First, I had -decided to dress Ludo as a girl, presumably because I’m one of those liberal parents who thinks that’s what you do if your ten-year-old thinks he was born in the wrong body. Second, I was advertising how ‘virtuous’ I was. ‘Wow,’ tweeted @AgentofReality1. ‘Enabling a son’s mental illness for brownie points with the Social Justice Warrior pussies. Child abuse IMHO.’
What was so bizarre is that Ludo was clearly dressed as a fairy-tale character. Not only did I use the word ‘Goldilocks’ in my original tweet, but in the picture he is smiling broadly and clutching three teddy bears. Surely it was obvious, even to the most dim-witted Twitter user, that it was just a bit of a lark? I daresay there are some transgendered ten-year-old boys who go to school dressed as girls, but Goldilocks?!? I mean, come on.
I have to admit, these tweets were more unpleasant than anything I’ve ever received from left-wingers. At least Caitlin Moran urging Germaine Greer to decapitate me was quite funny. These were just downright nasty. I felt as if I’d been given a taste of the kind of abuse parents of transgendered children must get every day.
I haven’t become a leftie as a result, but I enjoyed taking up the cudgels on behalf of a group I’m not in the habit of defending.
‘If you think your son is likely to come (mentally) unscathed out of this, you’re not only a bad father, you’re delusional,’ tweeted @torslayer.
‘You’re right,’ I replied. ‘He might develop a nasty habit of dressing up as a woman for a lark. But being British, he’ll fit right in.’
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.