So, you can imagine my dismay at discovering JK Rowling, the woman whose books taught us the importance of standing up against intolerance, holds abhorrent views. ‘Abhorrent’ really is the only word one can use, when discussing Rowling’s inexcusable comments on the transgender community.
It has long been suspected that Rowling is a TERF - a “trans exclusionary radical feminist”; someone who believes that trans women can’t be considered “real” women. She has previously made controversial comments on gender and sex, including expressing support for a woman who was fired from her job after making online comments perceived as being anti-trans. In an attempt to distance herself from allegations of, as she put it, “TERF-ery”, Rowling recently decided to pen a blog post, in which she discusses her opinion on gender, sex, and the trans community.
Said blog post is appalling, from start to finish. It is an attempt to justify Rowling’s views, and express her concern that some trans activists want the legal definition of “sex” to be replaced with “gender”.
Alas, all this diatribe really achieves, is showing that Rowling’s views really are unjustifiable.
To start with, Rowling seems to defend the TERF stance, stating that people who hold such beliefs aren’t really trans-exclusionary. Instead, she argues, they are happy to welcome trans men (people who have transitioned from female to male) into their community, since these individuals have experienced living as “a woman”. In this simple statement, Rowling shows just how much she misunderstands the trans community. Trans men are men, yet this statement seems to suggest that Rowling does not view them as such- she’d rather focus on their experiences of presenting as female, disregarding the fact they actually identify as male.
Rowling goes on to discuss the five reasons she cites for being uncomfortable with the idea of gender replacing sex.
Firstly, she states that using the term gender instead of sex will have a negative impact on causes she supports. For me, the aspect of this that stuck out, is the fact Rowling expresses concerns that replacing the legal definition of sex with gender will affect her work supporting female prisoners. She seems to feel uncomfortable with allowing trans women to fall under this umbrella. Does she feel they are less worthy of her support? Does she feel that prisoners who wish to identify as female have sinister motivations for wishing to enter a woman’s prison? To me, either answer is worrying.
Secondly, Rowling says that, as a former teacher, she worries about how “trans activism” may impact children. She has expressed the opinion that children might feel “pressure” to join the transition “trend”, and seems to disrepute the fact trans young adults are more likely to commit suicide when made to wait to transition. I feel that both of these points are quite clearly incorrect. Firstly, Rowling claims that gay teenage girls feel pressure to transition to being male, in order to avoid the stigma associated with being a lesbian.
Given the abuse trans people face every day, from being banned from serving in the US military to having an above average chance of being murdered, this argument seems ridiculous.
There is no way that being trans could ever be considered an “easy” option. The second point falls down when one considers that 27% of trans teens have attempted suicide, and 89% have considered it. Rowling’s argument seems ill-considered and poorly researched.
Rowling’s third reason for her views, is that she claims to support freedom of speech. I actually can’t disagree with this one. Without freedom of speech, Rowling might have struggled to out herself as a transphobe, and people would have continued to happily support her work, without considering whether she is really someone worthy of their support.
Fourthly, Rowling expresses concern that a number of male-to-female trans women have supposedly decided to “de-transition”. She express particular concern about autistic people choosing to transition, speaking as if the majority of people with autism or Asperger’s are somehow “lesser”, and unable to make this decision for themselves. She claims that groups of trans teenagers transitioning at the same time is evidence of a “trans trend”, suggesting that teenagers are influencing each other into transitioning and totally neglecting the fact that young trans people most likely gravitate towards trans friends with similar experiences because they are in need of a support system with an understanding of what they are going through.
Most offensive of all, is Rowling’s suggestion that, if she was a teenager nowadays, she might have “tried to transition”. To me, this shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what it means to be trans.
The true desire to transition can’t be learned; trans people are born trans, as has been shown in numerous studies on the matter. Experts believe that people are born trans due to reasons like prenatal hormones and genetic factors- hardly something that can be “learned”. Rowling’s suggestion that trans men transition to avoid the sexism they faced as “women” is, quite simply, wrong. I am a rampant feminist, and I am angered by the sexism I see every single day. However, it is yet to make me desire a penis, and any suggestion that it did would be offensive to the entire trans community. Above all else, I refuse to believe trans men receive less abuse than ciswomen. The abuse might take a different form, but it is still there, and it is still poisonous.
Finally, Rowling brings the conversation back to her personal experiences. She claims that, as a survivor of sexual and domestic abuse, she is deeply wary of “men” who wish to identify as women, and enter female spaces. She claims that it is easy for men to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate, even if they have not sort medical treatment to help them transition, and have themselves declared female. Anyone who has ever met a trans person, knows this is a ridiculous assertion. Routes to obtaining a GRC can range from spending years presenting as your preferred gender, to having your case assessed by a panel of experts. However, one thing is true of all of the methods: they are not simple. One thing is for sure- no man is going to go through all of this just to abuse women. There are much simpler ways to do so, as Rowling herself is so tragically aware.
Sexual abuse and assault does many things to a person: it makes them wary; it impacts relationships negatively; it makes them slower to trust. It does not make them a bigot.
So, as you’ve no doubt inferred, I find Rowling’s remarks unjustifiable. However, I would like to add that The Sun’s coverage of the incident was also abhorrent. In the aftermath of Rowling’s essay being published, their front-page was devoted to an interview with Rowling’s abuser, her ex-husband. Whatever one thinks of Rowling, this is wrong. No-one deserves to be reminded of their past traumas so publicly, and abusers do not deserve such a platform.
I’d like to end this, if someone, somewhere is still reading, by talking about what this means for me going forward, as a former Rowling devotee. To some extent, I think it’s possible to separate the art from the artist. Regardless of her controversies, Rowling is still a talented author, and one who taught me many positive lessons about love and friendship. However, I no longer wish to support this woman financially. Moving forward, I’m making a conscious effort to boycott her new material. My (just say clinging on to life) ability to enjoy her previous work will, at least, be buoyed by the fact several Harry Potter stars have publicly distanced themselves from her offensive rant.