Brendan O’Neill Brendan O’Neill

What happened to Stephen Fry’s belief in scientific reason?

(Getty)

Here’s my question for Stephen Fry after he said his trans friends had felt ‘deeply upset’ by some of the comments made by J.K. Rowling: why didn’t you just say to them, ‘So what?’

Fry used to be all about saying ‘So what?’ to people who went on about feeling offended by words. His irritation with offence-takers has even become a meme. ‘It’s now very common to hear people say, “I’m rather offended by that”. As if that gives them certain rights’, he once said. ‘It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. “I find that offensive.” It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. “I am offended by that.” Well, so fucking what?’

He’s changed his tune. It is clear from the solemn tones in which he revealed his friends’ ‘upset’ over Rowling’s perfectly reasonable critique of the transgender ideology that he didn’t tell them to stop whining, to quit the self-pity, to get a grip.

‘I have trans friends and intersex friends who are deeply upset by her’, he said when asked about Rowling on Roger Bolton’s BeebWatch podcast last week. He then tried to even things out: ‘[It’s] upsetting to both sides.’ 

What, exactly, are Ms Rowling and other gender-critical women meant to ‘retreat’ from? From science? From biological reality?

The solution? Everyone needs to calm down. The heat and the fury need to be drained from the debate. ‘I would… wish them both to retreat’, he said. ‘And to consider that it is possible for trans people to live full, accepted lives, according to their terms, in society, and for women to have all the rights and dignities that they demand.’

To be fair to Fry, he didn’t betray Rowling, who is a friend of his, as others, like Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, have; actors whose entire careers sprang from the Harry Potter franchise and yet who have felt content to hint that Rowling is a massive transphobe simply because she understands biology and believes women should have rights.

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