Author Douglas Murray has criticised an open letter published in The Bookseller, which claimed UK book publishing is transphobic.
In the article for Unherd, a digital magazine which aims “to push back against the herd mentality with new and bold thinking”, Murray generally lamented the left-wing presence in UK publishing as well as criticising the letter urging acceptance of transgender rights published on 3rd May.
Murray's article, entitled "Publishing is now a Left-wing bubble", cited a US study comparing professions with voting preferences which showed 100% of those in publishing were left-wing. Murray, author of The Madness of Crowds (Bloomsbury) and associate editor of the Spectator, wrote: “To those with friends in publishing, despairing at the regular struggle session-style get-together they are now subjected to in which every conceivable centre-left political orthodoxy is celebrated, this is not a revelation. Although the survey in question is from the US, it is certain that a similar pattern can be found over here, too.”
On the recently published letter, Murray made several criticisms, writing: “The open letter, inaccurately titled ‘The paradox of tolerance’, is a strange document for many reasons. Not the least is that it is signed anonymously, by figures in the book trade at once both sure of their convictions and also terrified of having their convictions attributed to them. What is the cause of this pseudo-samizdat? What opinion can be so errant that it requires this level of anonymity?
“The answer is that the open letter is based around the claim that ‘transphobia is still perfectly acceptable in the British book industry’. From the outset this anonymous letter is framed in Lutherian terms. ‘Somebody, sooner or later, must speak up,’ the authors bravely begin. This is proper ‘Here I stand’ territory. Yet whereas Martin Luther was simply facing down the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Emperor at the Diet of Worms, the anonymous authors of this letter are taking on the might of children´s fiction departments across west London. No wonder they wish to keep their identities secret. The retributions could be unimaginable.”
Murray also claimed the letter’s comparisons to other persecutions of margnalised groups in history – such as during the Holocaust – was unhelpful. “Anyone who has actually read any history would surely know that Jews in Nazi Germany were not treated in exactly the way in which the publishing industry is here alleged to be treating trans people today.
“There is no ban on trans authors being published in Britain or America. Quite the opposite, most publishing houses are going out of their way to find and push them to the fore."
Murray said that publishers were keen to sign up more trans authors, weeks after Hachette revealed an audit of its authors, illustrators and editors. "Publishing houses have lately taken to sending around author questionnaires in which the questions rather noticeably quiz authors on their race, sexual orientation and whether they identify as trans or not," he wrote. "These clearly do not exist in order to trick and expel any author who identifies as trans, but in order to try to highlight how relatively few trans authors there are and use this as a reason to seek out more."
Murray, who shared the article with his 342,000 Twitter followers, believes that the letter is part of a broader issue across the UK books industry. “This is a pattern seen across publishing houses in Britain and America; they tried and failed to cancel J K Rowling, and tried and failed to cancel Jordan Peterson, only because book sales still trump politics. But they will find it easier to push out smaller authors and editors, and to make the industry even more politically uniform and intolerant than it already is – and they will.”
The Wild Woman Writing Club blog also responded to the letter, writing: “Headed ‘The Paradox of Tolerance’, the letter insinuates that anyone in the book industry who doesn’t fall in line with gender identity ideology should be treated like a Nazi (the paradox is that a democratic society, in order to stay free, cannot afford to tolerate hate speech which incites violence, else its freedoms become self-destructive)."
"The message is clear: be silent, or be punished by us. Why do they need silence from critics? Because they’re attempting to enforce a system of social pressure which departs from the law, and from material reality. Totalitarianism has always depended on silencing dissenting voices.”
The blog reveals sympathy with Hachette UK c.e.o. David Shelley who recently spoke with literary agent Clare Alexander at a House of Lords session.
It concludes: “To the writers of the letter in The Bookseller, please leave women who don’t share your beliefs in peace. We have as much right as you to understand the world as we see it, to speak and write about it. We have freedom of belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of association.”
The original open letter urging against transphobia in UK book publishing was signed anonymously by a number of trade figures, including publishers, writers, illustrators and booksellers.
Its authors warned that “transphobia is still perfectly acceptable in the British book industry”, arguing that what is needed is “quiet statements of acceptance from companies and organisations within our industry”.
They wrote: “The hardest thing to say here is that the deepest damage is being done unwittingly, by those who don't understand, or who want to try and take no side. It is easy to express abhorrence of discrimination in literature, but we all need to express it in our own day to day lives too."
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