Robert Webb admits he’s ‘not an expert’ on trans kids after being challenged by proud parent

Patrick Kelleher
·6-min read

Robert Webb has claimed it is impossible to say “anything even remotely reasonable” about trans issues without facing “defamation and abuse”.

The Peep Show star faced criticism from the LGBT+ community when he expressed solidarity with anti-trans commentator Janice Turner in 2018.

In the since-deleted tweet, Robert Webb shared an article written by Turner and hit out at trans youth charity Mermaids, saying the organisation “sucks”. He later described himself as a “gender-critical feminist”.

In April 2020, Webb told The Times he didn’t regret his comments, adding: “Once you say, ‘I’m not transphobic, but…’ It’s a disaster.”

Webb was confronted about his 2018 comments during an appearance on the Bullseye with Jesse Thorn podcast, which he appeared on alongside his comedy partner David Mitchell to promote their new sitcom Back.

In an explanatory note at the beginning of the podcast, Thorn said the interview was mostly “fun joking about fun jokey stuff”, but warned viewers that it ends “much more seriously”.

“I ask Robert Webb about some controversial tweets he posted in 2018 and later deleted. Those tweets were critical of a charity which provides care and support for transgender and gender non-conforming kids,” Thorn explained.

“That portion of our conversation has a very different tone and is obviously about some very sensitive issues. We want to make sure that you’re not caught off guard.”

He added: “Also, worth mentioning that David Mitchell and Robert Webb were recording their ends of our conversation locally but they declined to provide us with those audio recordings.”

42 minutes into the episode, Thorn warned listeners that the podcast was about to see “a pretty abrupt tone shift” as Webb was confronted about his trans comments.

Robert Webb was confronted about his trans comments in a ‘tense’ exchange

“Things got a little tense in the conversation. We’re presenting the next segment basically as it happened so you might hear some awkward silences.”

Thorn went on to read back Webb’s comments about Mermaids from 2018, and also referenced his Times interview of last year.

“I guess given that you said you don’t regret the tweet, does it still reflect how you feel about Mermaids?” Thorn asked.

Robert Webb replied: “Janice Turner wrote this column, I can’t even really remember what her specific objections were but they made sense to me at the time and I retweeted it approvingly. And then it was a kind of, there was this feeling that if you criticise a charity, that is the way a charity operates or its methodology, that is the same thing as criticising the client base.

“It’s like saying, if I’ve got a problem with the way Oxfam has been operating it’s because I hate poor people in the third world, and it’s kind of like, it’s started to feel like if you criticise Brexit it’s because you hate Britain, or if you criticise Jeremy Corbyn it’s because you hate poor people.

“It was just a really weird way of looking at it, and the whole debate is really overheated and it’s impossible to really talk about this or say anything even remotely reasonable without what I say being used as a vehicle for another round of defamation and abuse, really, so it’s not a topic I tend to dive into anymore at all, really.”

Thorn told Webb that his comments were “kind of scary” to him as the parent of “two gender non-conforming kids, one of whom is transgender”.

I can’t remember, Jesse, really. It was the end of 2018 and it’s not something that I really want to talk about.

“I know that when my oldest kid came out to me when she was in kindergarten, I was really reliant on an organisation called Gender Spectrum that does many of the same things that Mermaids does. And so many people don’t understand what the best practices are for caring for trans kids,” Thorn said.

The podcast host went on to argue that people “react in an overheated way because there are a lot of trans people who weren’t supported when they were kids”.

He added: “I know that you had talked about talking to them, to the folks at Mermaids, when all this happened, did that end up happening?”

Robert Webb said he never entered into a dialogue with Mermaids, saying: “It wasn’t a conversation that I wanted to carry on getting into because the reaction was so strong. It was as if I had said ‘I hate trans children’, which of course I don’t… That is not how I feel about the situation, it was critical of the way that Mermaids was conducting itself.”

When Thorn tried to ask Webb what he meant specifically about Mermaids’ conduct, Webb interrupted him, saying: “I can’t remember, Jesse, really. It was the end of 2018 and it’s not something that I really want to talk about.”

Thorn then asked him if he feels that it is “appropriate” to affirm a trans child’s gender identity.

“Sure, yeah. I mean, I think it’s on a case-by-case basis, but I’m not really an expert. You’re a parent and you’ve got first-hand experience.”

Closing out the podcast episode, Thorn acknowledged that the discussion is “a thorny thicket to wade into given how intense people’s feelings are about it” and asked Webb if he had any final comment to make.

“No,” Webb said.

Webb’s publicity team allegedly asked them to cut the segment from the episode

Sharing the podcast on Twitter, Thorn said: “Well, here’s this one.”

He continued: “As I mentioned, they declined to send us their audio after the recording, so this is a recording of our videoconference.”

Thorn said Webb and Mitchell’s publicity team subsequently asked them to cut the final 10 minutes of the episode, and suggested that the comedy duo could re-record the podcast without any mention of Webb’s trans comments.

Thorn said doing so would be against the code of ethics of NPR, which distributes the podcast, so they declined the requests. Thorn’s team offered to record a follow-up interview “if Webb felt there was something further that had been left unsaid, but they declined,” he wrote on Twitter.

Mermaids responded to the episode by thanking Thorn for his “thoughtful handling of this issue”.

“We take some reassurance from Mr Webb’s apparent assertion that he now supports affirmative care and accepts he isn’t an expert, rightly deferring to those with first-hand experience,” Mermaids said.

PinkNews has approached representatives for Robert Webb and David Mitchell for comment.