It all started with an Instagram post. Over the weekend, the Royal Academy thanked those “for bringing an item in the RA shop by an artist [Jess de Wahls] expressing transphobic views to our attention.” The item in question? A collection of floral embroidered patches that can be attached to clothing. Her crime? Writing a blog in 2019 in which she stated that “humans cannot change sex”.
Shortly thereafter came the now-familiar cycle of organisations bowing to social media pressure and seeking forgiveness. On the basis of eight complaints, RA decided to remove all of Jess’s work from its shop without prior warning to the artist. But then came something less predictable: just a few hours ago, the RA took an unprecedented step and apologised to de Wahls for “the way we have treated her”. The institution said that it had betrayed “our most important core value”, namely freedom of speech, and would re-open discussions about re-stocking her work. Shortly before this apology, we spoke to Jess about what it was like to be in the eye of the social media storm.