The Woke Know No Loyalty

It’s 2pm in Raleigh, North Carolina, and I’m backstage in a school theatre. I’ve just completed one lively hour-long presentation to 200 sixth graders––they’ve been a terrific, enthusiastic audience as always––and I have 20 minutes until the next gig on the same stage. I love these events––promoting a bestselling series of books that I write for a packaging company. It’s hard work, and the schedule can be gruelling, but I enjoy every minute. I’m good at this.

My phone buzzes as the classes file out, and my heart drops. It’s my neighbour’s number back in Scotland. And I know exactly what he’s going to say.

“The hospital won’t let your Mum stay. I’m sorry. She’s going to be discharged.”

My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s last year. Always feisty and independent, it’s been agonising to see her slip into bewilderment and memory loss. But I fought hard to find her a safe, sheltered flat before I had to leave for this US tour, and a few days before I flew out, she was offered a flat in a new development. I rushed to have carpets, cooker and fridge fitted, and to move in all her treasured belongings. I left in the knowledge that she’d be safe for the fortnight I was away.

Plans never work out the way you hope, not with Alzheimer’s. Distressed at the change of location, Mum ran away; the staff had to call the police on several occasions. The day of my Raleigh event, she’d been admitted to hospital to keep her safe – but she’d been judged mentally capable. I knew her better––and I knew she was in danger.

*  *  *

I spend the twenty minutes between my events pleading with the hospital to keep Mum in for a few days––but they don’t listen.

Still, I have a gig to perform. No way am I letting my publisher down; more importantly, I won’t disappoint the 200 kids who are even now pouring into the theatre. I hang up, get on stage with my game face on, and perform as well as I always do. 

I should fly home––but I know how excited the children in many cities are for an author visit, and I have a whole week to go. I stay on tour. At least my husband, stricken with vascular dementia, is safe and secure in care, though my absence affects him a lot. My neighbours will keep Mum safe till I get home. I’ll owe them my immortal soul, but it’s worth it. It’s not the first time I’ve continued with a tour when I could justifiably ask for an emergency flight home. My game face is well practised. 

But that’s fine: I’m loyal to my publisher and my packager. I know that my loyalty will be returned––if I’m ever in trouble, I know I’ll be able to count on them just as they’ve been able to count on me. 

Fast forward to Thursday 25th June.

*  *  *

I’ve been disturbed for a long time about developments in the publishing industry––especially children’s publishing. The slightest offence, or the merest hint of “cultural appropriation”––writing about a life that isn’t yours––and a Twitter mob will descend on your publisher’s social media account. Books have been pulped, careers destroyed.

It goes against everything I believe about writing. I love thinking myself into other people’s heads; we used to call it empathy, and put a high value on writers who could express it. Not any more. 

We’re teaching children that they have no right to use their imagination. Any attempt to see life through a stranger’s eyes is insulting to that stranger, no matter how sensitive or well-researched.

And there’s something else we’re teaching kids––that they have a wonderful new power over adults. They only have to whip up a Twitter mob, and they can destroy a career on a whim.

What are we failing to teach children? How to think for themselves, swim against the current, come to their own conclusions. It’s tragic, and it’s a scandalous breach of trust for an industry that should be about encouraging children’s expression and imagination.

*  *  *

The poet Rachel Rooney has written a wonderful picture book for young children––‘My Body Is Me.’ Its message is that every child’s body is unique and special, that no body is “wrong.”

Her book brought down the ire of transgender activists, who found her message “transphobic.” Ably assisted by “woke” children’s writers, they bullied and persecuted Rachel until she withdrew entirely from children’s writing.

I was angry. I had fears for women’s and girls’ private spaces under “Gender Self-ID” proposals. And I feared for gender-nonconforming children––the shy boys who like dolls, the boisterous short-haired girls; all the children I grew up with. Why should a girl who likes trucks and action movies be told she’s a boy? Some children will grow up to be trans, and that’s great––but others could be steered, mistakenly, towards lifelong medication and body alteration. Maybe, instead, they’d grow up to be gay or lesbian? Even at famous gender clinic the Tavistock, staff have expressed the muttered objection that “there’ll be no gay people left.”

So I declared my support for Rachel on Twitter, and pointed people to my personal account for my views. For a while, all was calm. Even my editor followed me.

Then JK Rowling tweeted her support for gender-critical people like me. She faced abuse and death threats, and the betrayal of people whose careers she had made, but she stayed strong. There was no honourable way I could stand back. So I attached a hashtag to my professional Twitter handle: #IStandWithJKRowling.

It was blood in the water. People claiming to be fans of my packager’s books found the hashtag, and descended like sharks. I woke on Thursday morning to a few messages of hate; I blocked and moved on. 

It didn’t work. Accounts multiplied, and the attacks intensified. I can’t reproduce them here; they’re foul. For 24 hours I was under attack from anonymous accounts, wishing death and worse on me. Occasionally I snapped back, though I tried to be restrained; neither mocking nor blocking worked. I screenshotted a nasty message, posted it on Twitter, and in my anger forgot to block the email address; I was accused of “doxxing” an anonymous “minor,” though the email was a fake one.

In Friday’s small hours, I finally gave up and deleted both my Twitter accounts.

The abusers threatened to contact my publisher and packager––and they did. None of them gave their names to me; many sounded like the same person and some sounded clearly, and suspiciously, “adult.”

That didn’t matter. The moment the business day began in New York, I was fired. No-one from the publisher contacted me; no-one investigated the abuse I’d had. I was out.

In some ways, it’s a blessing. Now that I know the kind of people I was working for, I’m glad I’m out. I’ll move on.

But it’s telling that my loyalty, dedication and professionalism counted for nothing in the face of an anonymous mob. Woke writers should be careful what they wish for. You might feed the crocodile before it reaches you––but you can bet it’ll get hungry again.

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One thought on “The Woke Know No Loyalty

  1. In the U.S., “woke” strangely seems to operate hand-in-glove with our brand of vulture capitalism (to almost “enforce” the brow-beating absurdities of it into people…rather than THE IDEAS themselves being left to sink or swim based on merit).

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