In defence of deadnaming

Graham Linehan must be free to blaspheme against the trans ideology.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Feminism Free Speech UK

This is a bit of random text from Kyle to test the new global option to add a message at the top of every article. This bit is linked somewhere.

It is the free-speech warrior’s lot that he always finds himself defending tossers. Neo-fascists. Cross-burning white supremacists. Finger-wagging Islamists. Graham Linehan.

Yes, to the mugs’ gallery of people that us principled believers in freedom of speech must defend, we are now obliged to add Mr Linehan: the one-time funny man and co-writer of Father Ted who in recent years, courtesy of the unwitting window into the soul that is Twitter, has revealed himself to be an intolerant, oafish abuser of anyone who dissents from his narrow and Brexitphobic (natch) worldview.

For Mr Linehan has now found himself on the receiving end of both police pressure and Twittermob fury simply for something he said; simply for his beliefs; simply because he dissents from the increasingly eccentric and authoritarian ideology of transgenderism.

Given that Mr Linehan himself doesn’t believe in freedom of speech – consider his condemnation of Count Dankula, the meme-maker and shit-poster who was outrageously arrested for filming his pug doing a Nazi salute – some are chuckling about the fact that he now finds himself the victim of the very PC censorship he has previously approved of.

Fine, have a laugh about that, get it out of your system. And then let’s get back to defending Linehan, because even people who don’t believe in freedom of speech must have their freedom of speech defended.

Linehan’s speechcrime was to be trans-sceptical – or ‘transphobic’, to use the word preferred by trans activists and their allies, which include the police, the military, the Church, the educational establishment, the academy, and virtually every single celebrity. Such an oppressed movement!

Linehan has been getting into online spats for months with trans activists. He agrees with those feminists who argue that making it easier for men to identify as women (even referring to them as men is a transphobic hate crime, I know) is not good for women.

He believes such casual, fad-like self-identification reduces womanhood to a flimsy, easily adopted thing, like a piece of clothing, and threatens to throw open previously women-only spaces – from changing rooms to all-women shortlists in party politics — to people who have penises and the XY chromosomes.

For making these points, he has been subjected to the usual bile and censure. He has been accused of hate speech. He has been branded a ‘phobe’ and a ‘TERF’ (a trans-exclusionary radical feminist), which are to 21st-century discourse what ‘heretic’ and ‘denier’ were to 15th-century discourse: means of branding people as sinners against orthodoxy, possessed of foul minds and warped souls and deserving of expulsion from the academy, politics and public life in general.

The moralistic mobbing of Linehan by the trans speech-police and its allies moved up a notch when he got into a Twitterspat with the trans activist Stephanie Hayden. He dared to refer to Stephanie as ‘he’ and he even ‘deadnamed’ her, which is when you use the name a trans person was given at birth rather than the opposite-gender name they gave themselves later in life. Using ‘deadnames’ is like saying ‘Voldemort’ in the Harry Potter universe: a serious no-no that risks conjuring up monsters (though Twitter haters and woke police officers rather than dark lords).

Extraordinarily, Linehan was given a verbal-harassment warning by the police for his use of male pronouns, his ‘deadnaming’, and his claim that Hayden is a misogynist. What’s more, Hayden is now taking civil-court action against Linehan, accusing him of harassment, defamation and misuse of private information.

The intervention of actual cops into differences over transgenderism captures how intensely censorious this movement has become. Not content with having ‘TERFs’ like Julie Bindel and Linda Bellos harassed out of public-speaking events, or with successfully invading or closing down 15 public meetings of trans-sceptics in recent months, or with carrying out at least six incidents of violence or intimidation against feminists who oppose changes to the Gender Recognition Act that would make it easier for men to claim to be women, now trans activists want the police to punish ‘transphobic’ (read: heretical) speech.

Out of all the identitarian groups, trans activism is without question the most intolerant and the one most obsessed with linguistic policing. It wants to exercise total control over how people speak, and fundamentally think, about gender. But of course this tiny, strange movement cannot achieve this on its own. The truly worrying dynamic is the capitulation of so many cultural, political and social institutions to its Orwellian demands.

So, just this week the Wellcome Collection in London, a key health and cultural institution, announced it was holding an event and exhibition about ‘womxn’. You what? It said it used that mad, unpronounceable word in order to be more ‘inclusive’, in order to make it clear that all sorts of women (whisper it: even people who aren’t really women) could get involved. The end result, of course, is that women are erased; the word ‘women’ is turned effectively into a swearword that must have an X in it so that no one sees it and feels offended. Womxn: Newspeak much?

Orwellian isn’t too strong a word for what is going on. Consider the trouble Linehan and others are getting into for ‘deadnaming’. If we have a situation where someone’s birth name cannot be uttered, and where the police might even come after you if you do utter it, then we are conspiring in the erasure of the past itself, of historical truth, of actual, provable, documented fact.

For the fact is that trans activists were born a particular sex. And they were given a particular name. And these facts were recorded, honestly and faithfully, by public-sector workers and officials – from midwives to doctors to birth registrars – in order that society might know who its citizens are.

To erase these old names, and to allow trans-people to change their sex on their actual birth certificates, which is now happening, is to engage in an explicit act of memory-holing, as it was called in 1984. It pushes down the memory hole true, recorded events. It replaces the truth – that a boy was born – with a lie: that a girl was born. It represents the complete subjugation of social norms and historical records to the whims of tiny numbers of gender-confused people and the powerful institutions that bizarrely nod along to their every censorious demand.

So we have to defend Linehan. And we have to defend ‘deadnaming’. For ‘deadnaming’ is just a Newspeak word designed to demonise the telling of historical truths. Not satisfied with seeking to control contemporary discussion and attitudes, now trans activists and their allies (all institutions, in essence) want to control the past itself. History. No way. The past happened, it was true, and we should not allow that to be erased and forgotten just to make some people feel better about themselves.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Brendan is speaking on the panel ‘Understanding anti-Semitism today’ at the Battle of Ideas in London on Sunday 14 October. Book your tickets here.

spiked has a pair free tickets to give away to the Battle of Ideas in London this weekend. The winner will be the first person to email

Picture by: Getty

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Feminism Free Speech UK


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today