The Martyrdom of Gareth Roberts


So, long-time Doctor Who scribe Gareth Roberts has joined Paul Gunn and Chuck Wendig in being booted out of a family-oriented media franchise for his social media conduct, having recently lost a position in an upcoming anthology of Doctor Who short stories. It currently remains to be seen whether — like Guardians of the Galaxy‘s James Gunn — he’ll eventually be allowed back into the franchise, or whether his time in the Whoniverse is over.

The root of the problem is Roberts’ opinion on transgender people, which prompted one of the other writers in the anthology to threaten to leave the book in protest if Roberts stayed. Let’s hear Roberts’ own summary of his thoughts:

For the record this is my opinion on transgenderism and its ideology, with no humour or irony attached.

I’ve rejected restrictive cultural gender stereotypes for as long as I can remember. I consider them to be very often harmful and constricting, especially for girls and women. The culture I enjoy most and the artists I like most are people who laugh at, bend and play with these roles.

I don’t believe in gender identity. It is impossible for a person to change their biological sex. I don’t believe anybody is born in the wrong body.

I think it’s wrong to – write a falsehood into law; compel people by law to speak words they do not believe; rewrite the law to remove women’s biological sex-based rights and protections; reinforce gender stereotypes; medicalise children who don’t conform to gender stereotypes. That’s it.

I don’t believe my view should be protected either. People must be protected, ideas must never be. I would ask the writers who objected to my inclusion in the same book as them to reflect on that.

My opinions on transgenderism are neither extreme nor unusual. It would be interesting to know if BBC Books/Random House would be prepared to pull from publication writing by Sharron Davies, Graham Linehan, Linda Bellos, Robert Webb, Germaine Greer, Lionel Shriver, Julie Burchill or Martina Navratilova.

I see a lot of people on Twitter celebrating the move, on the grounds that allowing Roberts to contribute a story to the book would have legitimised his anti-transgender views. I’m not convinced. My feeling is that — if anything — it is removing him that will ultimately do more harm.

Had his entry been published in the anthology, it would have been merely one more of the many Doctor Who stories written by Gareth Roberts since 1993, and a short story at that; any significance would have swiftly faded from memory. But as a result of his story being removed, Gareth Roberts is now a martyr, with prominent conservative pundits like Toby Young and Julia Hartley-Brewer (who I doubt had any previous interest in who did or didn’t write Doctor Who stories) coming out in support of him.

We live in an era where insulting transgender people is — like drawing cartoons of Mohammed — a rite of passage, a badge of pride. It’s a way of presenting oneself as a brave and heroic foe of the thought police (and compared to drawing cartoons of Mohammed, it’s considerably less likely to get you killed by terrorists, which is a plus). Gareth Roberts’ removal from the Doctor Who book will, I believe, only reinforce this cultural association between attacking transgender people and taking a noble stand for free speech.

A mere decade ago we were out of sight and out of mind to most people. But today, with so much media (including social media) scrutiny, transgender people have become a hot topic like Brexit or Trump or climate change, something everyone’s expected to have an opinion on one way or the other. More people support us than before, but more people openly attack us than before, and I honestly wonder if the trade-off was worth it. Does there have to be a headline-grabbing backlash every time a public figure says something insensitive or unflattering about us? Can’t we just roll our eyes and move on sometimes?

I take no pleasure in seeing Gareth Roberts martyred. I can only let out a long, weary sigh at the whole dismal business.

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