Royal Academy Backdown Over Jess de Wahls Transphobia Row

The Royal Academy of Arts has backed down and apologised to the German textile artist Jess de Wahls after the institution removed her work from sale in their gift shop. The action followed alleged Transphobic comments found on social media. 

Why give this artist a platform for her outmoded opinions that clearly offend the Trans community

The embroidery artist’s comments made in 2019 stated, “humans can not change sex”. “a woman is an adult human female. (Not an identity or feeling.) Jess de Wahls has denied Transphobia and said she “appreciates” the RA apology.

The RA said; in a media statement, “There has been a great deal of debate around the RA’s recent communication about no longer stocking the work of Jess de Wahls in the Royal Academy shop. We have thought long and hard since then about this and the wider issues it raises. One thing is clear to us now – we should have handled this better. We have apologised to Jess de Wahls for the way we have treated her and do so again publicly now. We had no right to judge her views on our social media. This betrayed our most important core value – the protection of free speech. There was also a failure of communications internally, which resulted in Jess de Wahls first hearing via social media that we would no longer stock her product in the RA shop. We will now reopen discussions with her regarding the restocking of her work. Plurality of voices, tolerance and free thinking are at the core of what we stand for and seek to protect. These events raise some fundamental issues. Freedom of expression can open up debate, create empathy or respect for difference, it can also at times cause hurt and outrage. This has confirmed to us our commitment to freedom of expression and to addressing complex issues through engagement and debate. We will continue to reflect on this and to look at our internal processes to ensure we learn from it. We want to make sure we navigate this better in future.

In our opinion, Trans Rights do not undo women’s rights. It’s similar to All Lives Matter campaigners who miss the point and undermine the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Royal Academy has blamed “a failure of communications internally” for de Wahls first hearing via social media that her work was being dropped and promised to “now reopen discussions with her” about restocking it.

Why give this artist a platform for her outmoded opinions that clearly offend the Trans community? This artist shares much in common with Harry Potter author J K Rowling who last Summer said, “People who menstruate,” apparently taking issue with the fact that the story did not use the word women. “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure they’re used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” She further commented, “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth,” she tweeted. “The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women—i.e., to male violence—‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences—is a nonsense.”

Jess de Wahls said the apology was “common sense, and I am glad we are getting back to that”, adding: “I hope this makes other institutions wake up and take note.” Artlyst is not so sure this apology from the RA should have been forthcoming. Jess de Wahls should have a good think about her past social media rants and the hurt caused by her opinions.

Peter Tatchell, the Veteran LGBT rights campaigner, told the Guardian, “There was “no justification” for denying the identity of Trans Women.

The Royal Academy Schools put out a statement on Instagram:  in response to @royalacademyarts recent mishandling of items removed from their shop. Students at the Royal Academy Schools are angered and disheartened that the Royal Academy has chosen to give legitimacy to transphobia. 
We do not condone transphobia in any form. Trans rights are human rights and are not a debate. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from the consequences of our actions. Freedom of speech does not mean hate speech. There is a degrading double standard in play here with the RA using the pride flag on its logo while buckling under pressure from conspiratorial TERF viewpoints. We had all hoped to see some genuine change and self-reflection from the RA given their statements made about committing to becoming an anti-racist organisation last summer. This does not appear to have had any meaningful impact on the institution beyond a performative level. Trans rights are not in conflict with women’s rights. Trans liberation is an endeavour of global importance that addresses classism, racial justice and healthcare reform.

salt_stitches offered this relevant insight on Instagram: @perculiarjulia It’s not just the blog post, but Jess de Wahls has openly mocked the use of pronouns, mocked a public figure coming out as queer, said the majority of trans women are “sexually aggressive men in dresses” that put women’s spaces at risk, refuses to acknowledge ANY lived experience of trans people. All of this is public on Instagram and until quite recently her Twitter. The argument here started because the RA chose to display a pride flag whilst simultaneously choosing to sell her patches. What has snowballed in the media, fails to accurately represent the views (and hate) she has shared over the last few years. She has been loud and proud about her views but then feigns “discrimination” when challenged.

Art Historian/Critic James Payne got to the point on social media and called Jess de Wahl’s work “banal”. “The artwork is twee, mediocre and at best derivative.”

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