The lesson in the Robert Webb interview: Inside the mind of The British Strain Of Transphobe

I listened to the clip everyone is talking about: Jesse Thorn’s interview with Robert Webb, challenging him very mildly on transphobia. It’s a fascinatingly instructive as to how the mind of The British Strain Of Transphobe works. When presented with an incredibly mild refutation of his stance, there was one thing he was incapable of saying: “I was wrong and not in possession of all the facts.”

This is the crux of The British Strain Of Transphobe mindset. It’s a core part of their identity that they’re smarter than everyone else. The vast majority of them start life on the private/grammar school-Oxbridge pipeline, where in place of education they’re just told this. The possibility of being incorrect is something The British Strain Of Transphobe is incapable of processing, because they’ve spent their lives believing they’re cleverer than everyone else, and this belief is integral to their belief of who and what they are. The British Strain Of Transphobe lives within an echo chamber of similar people. This is why, for example, transphobia spread like wildfire among the sceptic community, where many organisers are posh white folk, and it hinges on the belief of being smarter than everyone else.

And so, how does the British Strain Of Transphobe react to someone raising the mere possibility that they might be incorrect about something? Badly, because they take it as a fundamental attack on their identity as a person who is smarter than everyone else.

In the Webb interview, you can hear his rising sense of defensiveness, of something dancing around anger. This is because he is a man who cannot process the concept that he might not know everything, because if he’s not smarter than everyone else, what even is he? The British Strain Of Transphobe, cosseted in their echo chambers, can, most of the time, ignore or dismiss the thing which frightens them most – not, in fact, being smarter than everyone else. They shut out the messengers who might point out they could be wrong about something. On social media, they can put it down to trolls. In their vanishingly tiny circles, they shut themselves away from anyone who might point out there’s something they don’t know.

But the Webb interview was different. In this instance, Webb couldn’t dismiss the source of the message. He’d just spent half an hour talking with a well-educated arts and culture host – someone he respected. And then – wham! – this person Webb considered an equal smacked him with the thing he feared most.

Essentially, what you are witnessing in the Webb interview is the man having an existential crisis.

The actual subject matter of what Webb was wrong about was irrelevant to him. The thing which rattled him was a concept he and other British Strain Of Transphobes structure their lives around avoiding entertaining: that he was wrong about something.

Now, it’s unfortunate that despite having an understanding of the problem, I have no suggestions as to how to solve it. It’s just too powerful a part of their identity to challenge, someone living their whole life thinking they’re very smart and cannot be wrong. And when they are wrong, a polite (or impolite) refutation, “you’re wrong, here’s the facts”, just isn’t going to cut the mustard, because it’s not about the facts at all, it’s about their sense of self as a person who is smarter than everyone else.

At the end of the day, I don’t know what to do with this information. Maybe someone smarter than me can figure it out.


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