For most people Róisín Murphy is not a household name. A brilliant musician, singer, performer and songwriter, Róisín Murphy has skirted on the edge of full-blown mainstream success. This is primarily thanks to her impact on the club charts with “Sing It Back” in 1999 with her former project Moloko.
Where Róisín found her footing was really among queer audiences. In a conversation with drag royalty and Róisín super-fan Detox Icunt for Loverboy Magazine she acknowledged how much she felt happy being embraced by gays: “I don’t know that I ever envisaged it…I was quite happy when I realized I had a big gay following…I walked out onstage and it was just wall to wall men, with their tops off, hanging off the ceiling, sweat everywhere, screaming! I just thought ‘I’ve come home.’”
“It’s incredible to be loved by such a creative bunch, and especially ones that are so brave…it really makes me feel like I’ve done something right after all,” Róisín said to documentary filmmaker Aleksandar Dragičević in his mini documentary Róisín Murphy Realness.
In 2023, Róisín Murphy was gearing up for the launch of her sixth solo album Hit Parade. A collaboration with German producer DJ Koze, three singles had dropped and all received high praise. But, soon Róisín became embroiled in a scandal that permanently damaged her career and caused many of her fans to have their fondest memories dancing to her music become tarred. As often is the case With the downfall of celebrity, it all began with a Facebook comment.
On August 23rd 2023, Manchester based drag artist Joanna Cuddle posted to her X account (formerly Twitter) a screenshot of a comment Róisín Murphy made on her private Facebook account under an article featuring noted transphobe and disgraced TV writer Graham Linehan.
“You can’t hide from the truth, cause the truth is all there is” – well @roisinmurphy – the truth is that you ARE expressing transphobic views here on FB with your personal account under a post about the vile transphobe Glinner. pic.twitter.com/GSphWW5u0a
— Joanna Cuddle (@joannacuddle) August 23, 2023
“Please don’t call me a terf, please don’t keep using that word against women I beg you! but puberty blockers ARE FUCKED, absolutely desolate, big Pharma laughing all the way to the bank. Little mixed up kids are vulnerable and need to be protected, that’s just true.”
It was a bit slow, but eventually it started to spread that queer icon Róisín Murphy had expressed transphobic views on gender-affirming care under the banner of protecting, as she stated, “little mixed up kids.”
Puberty blockers are safe: a quick summary
Puberty blockers are safe medications which generally do not cause any permanent changes. These medications have been used in wider context beyond gender-affirming care, primarily in treating precocious puberty (when puberty occurs earlier than is considered healthy for the child.) The only side-effect known is on bone density when taken for a prolonged period. Generally this is countered with prescribed calcium supplement alongside this treatment.
There are no findings that support negative impact upon fertility when used alone. Its impact seems dependent on the stage of puberty one begins to start puberty blocking treatment.
Puberty blockers operate by telling the hypothalamus to release the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) in a steady-state rather than pulsing fashion. The pulsing release of GnRH tells the pituitary gland to make the gonadotropins—the signalers to the ovaries or testes—to make estrogen or testosterone. Therefore, without the gonadotropins getting the signal, it won’t make estrogen or testosterone.
Although in the US the medications aren’t recognized for treatments for gender dysphoria by the FDA, they are still considered safe when used as prescribed.
Puberty Blockers were already used before “Trans Panic”
For many, these medications are life-saving. As they do not permanently alter the body, and merely pause puberty related changes, they are useful when gender-diverse individuals or those with gender dysphoria require time to decide which path forward is best for them and their body. One of The Trevor Project’s research scientists Jonah DeChants stated:
“Just as it would be distressing for a cisgender boy to grow breasts (which does happen and is treated) or for a cisgender girl to grow a beard (which also happens and is treated), it can be deeply distressing for trans girls to develop facial hair and trans boys to develop breasts.”
In 2020, the American Academy of Pediatrics found that transgender adults who took puberty blockers as adolescents experienced significantly less lifetime suicidal ideation than those trans people who wished to take this medication but couldn’t. These results additionally aligned with past medical literature indicating the support for using puberty-blockers as a form of gender-affirming care for trans children.
Heathline’s Gabrielle Kassel put this into perspective when looking at the high rates of suicide and suicide ideation among transgender children. In another 2020 study, in a sample of 372 transgender youth, 86% reported they considered suicide. 56% reported that they had attempted suicide.
“The lifesaving impact of these medications can’t be overstated,” said Gabrielle in her article.
The silence, filled in by new “fans”
In the days following this revelation, Róisín herself was silent, but the fan base became a sea of confusion.
Some believed that the comment was a hoax due to the fact that it was difficult to verify. Many were hurt and upset, primarily trans and gender-diverse fans. What was startling, however, was the number of fans who defended her. They believed that Róisín was protecting women and children through her remarks. An influx of fans came out of the woodwork to praise their new favorite artist. Many came to state that those criticizing her ignorance were either “men,” “mentally ill men,” or “keen on mutilating kids.”
Rósín’s primary fanbase is centered in the United Kingdom, where Róisín lived most of her life. (She moved to Ibiza sometime after 2016.) As of 2023, the United Kingdom has had an increase of 11% of trans hate crimes reported in March of 2023. Additionally, the current (as of this writing) Conservative government led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has inflamed trans-hate through numerous speeches. Namely the keynote speech he gave at the Conservative Conference of 2023.
Allegations of past mis-gendering in public
The rise of the transphobic accounts spreading hate-filled misinformation in Róisín’s name did not go unnoticed by the fans who hoped that she was simply misinformed or hacked. Ninja Tune (Róisín’s label for the release of Hit Parade) began receiving numerous requests for pre-order refunds. Sources close to the label’s publishing department reported that the label was ceasing all marketing for the album and that proceeds from the album would go to trans charities (we’ll revisit this later).
India Willoughby, an English broadcaster and journalist—the first transgender television newsreader in Britain—also shared comments made by a former friend of Róisín’s named Kabira, a transwoman who publicly accompanied Róisín to many fashion events between 2008-2010. Allegedly, Kabira had been mis-gendered by Róisín, among other things, publicly in front of fashion designer Christian Anatase in 2008. When corrected by Anatase, Róisín’s alleged response was: “He, She, or It. Whatever.”
Roisin Murphy pic.twitter.com/vgpWEhZbfc
— India Willoughby (@IndiaWilloughby) August 24, 2023
Finally after a week of Róisín’s remarks becoming public, she finally made a type of apology.
— Róisín Murphy (@roisinmurphy) August 29, 2023
For brevity, I have abridged this apology, with the full text available in the above image.
The (attempted) apology
“I have been thrown into a very public discourse in an arena I’m uncomfortable in and deeply unsuitable for. I cannot apologize enough for being the reason for this eruption of damaging and potentially dangerous social-media fire and brimstone… I’ve spent my whole life celebrating diversity and different views.”
“For those of you who are leaving me, or have already left, I understand. I really do. But, please know I have loved every one of you… I am sorry my comments have been directly hurtful to many of you. You must have felt a huge shock, blindsided by this so abruptly. I understand fixed views are not helpful. But I really hope people can understand my concern was out of love for all of us.”
“I will now completely bow out of this conversation within the public domain. Thank you for taking the trouble to read this. I’m Gone Fishing. Sincerely, Róisín.”
It is worth noting that the use of “gone fishing” is in reference to the song of the same name by Róisín Murphy inspired by the documentary Paris Is Burning, the highly influential documentary about the ballroom scene in 80’s New York City, featuring primarily trans and gender diverse members of the ballroom houses LaBeija, Pendavis, Saint Laurent and Xtravaganza (among others.)
Why does it matter?
“Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one,” is the oft-said phrase about opinions that are unpleasant or unpalatable. No one denies that Róisín is entitled to her opinion. But when that opinion is A) rooted in a fallacy, B) made on a public forum (although posted on her private page, all the internet is technically public and Róisín herself has made no criticism of this fact), C) responsible for a wave of hate-speech on your own platform and d) you have made no apologies for the comment, rather the outcome of the comment… it is deserving of criticism.
Many people in positions of influence and power are upset due to the dynamic speed of the internet and social media being able to publicly display their socially upsetting behavior, or comments that are hateful, inflammatory and based on falsehoods. The response has been to attack these “woke-communists,” “social justice warriors,” and “intolerant lefties.” Many believe that simply ignoring this unpleasantness and “focusing on the music” is what these people need to do. “Chill out, it’s just music, its a celebrity, why do we care?”
In Róisín’s case, we care because…
- No matter her intention, Róisín made a statement that was false and harmful. It spread a misinformed conclusion about puberty blockers, ignored the evidence of their benefit, and contributed to the dangerous rhetoric that has fueled the anti-trans culture in the West. Her apology was not for her comment itself, but the division it had caused among her fan base.
- Róisín has profited off the queer community as a whole. This includes trans people, and gender diverse people who are either beneficiaries or could have benefitted from access to these types of drugs. Dismissing their experiences when profiting from their culture is unacceptable. Her audience should feel empowered to no longer support her if they so wish.
- Dance and electronic music is historically queer, black, and made for the outsiders. Transwomen such as Wendy Carlos pioneered the use of electronic instrumentation beyond novelty. She turned a sci-fi sounding tool into a respected instrument. The clubs of New York, Detroit, Chicago, Berlin, Manchester (where Róisín herself was exposed to dance music) was a melting pot of queer, black, punk, trans, drag and other forms of counterculture.
And finally, she still has an audience. She is doing ok. Her current record label, Ninja Tune, will likely not pursue another contract with her. But this is not unorthodox for Róisín, as she has primarily used them for distribution on one record contracts. The promise for the proceeds of the album going to transgender charities was found to be untrue. Róisín herself confirmed this. And, truthfully, it was a fool’s errand to hope, as Ninja Tune would have been in breach of contract:
Well, those reports were unconfirmed by the label. They have made no official statement whatsoever and they are not intending to donate proceeds from the record to charity. I checked!
— Róisín Murphy (@roisinmurphy) September 8, 2023
We quickly, and conveniently, forget.
Róisín stained her legacy with her personal, misinformed, dangerous views and the silence that followed them. Silence filled with hatred and division spurted by transphobes wishing to make trans people’s lives miserable. In an article for HuckMag, (‘Trans People Aren’t A Threat to Women’s Rights, The State Is’), written shortly after a demonstration for the murder of 16-year-old transgender girl Brianna Ghey, writers Liv Wynter and Tommy Vickerstaff wrote it best:
“Trans people make up less than one percent of the UK population. And yet, a 2020 report showed there had been a 400 percent increase in media coverage of trans people in the 10 years leading up to it. Most of which is negative, opinion-focussed, and by commentators and pundits who are not themselves trans.”
“This discourse is often presented as a ‘debate,’ but the hyper-fixation on the imagined threat of transness—not only to women, but to ‘normality’—has created a climate of fear and hostility that is putting trans lives at risk. Beyond that, it has no bearing on reality.”
To my fellow queer fans of Róisín, many of whom are still listening to her, I have a request. You are, of course, free to do as you wish. But I ask you to put your ears to more deserving artists. Artists who take accountability and understand they were wrong…. maybe, even a trans musician.
Sources: Context, Principles and Practice of TransGynecology, The Guardian, Heathline, HuckMag, Instagram, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Loverboy Magazine, MusicRadar, Nik Pate, Pediatrics, ResidentAdvisor, Róisín Murphy Realness by Alexandar Dragičević, The Spectator, Toronto Star, The Trevor Project, X.com