Image Credit: Kai Medina (Mk170101)
In the last few years, J.K. Rowling has been swept up in a heated debate surrounding the conditions and politicisation of transgender activism. At surface level, her words may not appear directly hateful but, when considering the magnitude that she operates on and the ramifications as a result, they are dangerous and alienating towards the transgender community. Ultimately, she refuses to acknowledge the way in which her ignorance has had an effect on one of the most vulnerable groups in society. As a public voice, Rowling has a responsibility to take if she is prepared to promote her own opinions in the name of free speech.
This sort of debate is always entrenched with the ‘separating-art-from-artist’ mantra that seems to be everywhere nowadays. Disagreeing with J.K. Rowling does not mean you cannot enjoy her work or should stop acknowledging the way Harry Potter revolutionised children’s literature. Having said that, her comments must be addressed.
On June 6th she tweeted quoting a story which used the phrase “people who menstruate.”
(Picture: Metro/ twitter)
This comes after she defended a tax specialist who lost her job for stating that people cannot change their sex.
Most recently, she, along with other authors including Margaret Atwood, signed an open letter defending free speech. Whilst I agree that free speech is being targeted and needs protecting; it is easily abused and used as an excuse to spew misinformation. This is something Rowling is guilty of, a violation exacerbated by her extensive influence.
Rowling’s words have caused a confusing wealth of outrage, harassment and praise from the public and media. It is clear that despite her adversity to the way the “socio-political” concept of trans activism is influencing politics, she refuses to recognise her own political influence. Most alarmingly, she was quoted by Republican Senator James Lankford who opposed the recent Equality Act in the US Senate, as he believed the bill restricted religious liberty. Rowling has yet to acknowledge this.
In response to the criticism, she posted an essay on her website about why she has now decided to speak out on these issues. The crux of the letter is her concern with the way new trans activism appears to be “eroding” the rights of women, which have been fought and suffered for throughout history. In particular, she draws light to domestic and sexual abuse survivors like herself who fear the prospective trans activism will allow, as they term, “predators” to enter same-sex spaces. She gives a number of reasons for writing, most notably her right to free speech and the concern that trans activism “pushing to erode the legal definition of sex and replace it with gender”. I recommend reading the whole essay to get the best picture, although a warning: her language is inexcusably transphobic at points, referring to transitioning youth as their assigned sex at birth, rather than their true identity.
Given that Rowling is coming from the position of an abuse survivor concerned for vulnerable women, I don’t believe she is being deliberately hateful. That doesn’t mean she isn’t seriously misguided in her address. Her interpretation that trans activism ‘erodes’ the rights of women is wrong and perpetuates a severe attitude of adversity towards trans people, in some cases inciting violence. Women’s rights will not be fulfilled until they include trans women. Rowling’s comments call into question the limits of freedom of speech for which she so strongly advocates, when the consequences of a public voice are so encompassing and so far from the truth.
The UK based charity Mermaid, an organisation for the defence and protection of trans youth, have provided a kind and powerful response. They begin by acknowledging Rowling, as an abuse survivor, and thanking her for speaking out about her past as well as the similarities they share in wanting to protect the most vulnerable in society.
Mermaid prefaced by addressing her core issue, stating that “trans rights do not come at the expense of women’s rights”. Continuing on, they dismiss the idea Rowling presents that the Gender Recognition Act 2004 allows any man who ‘feels like he is a woman’ to enter same-sex spaces such as bathrooms. In fact, Mermaid notes the opposite; forcing people to attend the bathroom of their legal gender is far more dangerous, as seen in 2016 in North Carolina where this law was implemented (and then repealed). As Mermaid states, “nobody has to produce a birth certificate to use the bathroom or a changing room.” If a predator wanted to enter, they simply would, irrespective of their identity.
Mermaid’s overriding message is “if you haven’t listened to trans children, don’t speak about them”. They close their statement by urging Rowling to talk to trans youth and to recognise the often traumatic, exhausting and eventually relieving process of transitioning. Again, I would urge you to read their response in full.
J.K. Rowling may not be intentionally hateful but, as we saw in the Senate as well as her ability as an influencer to sway public opinion, her words have dangerous consequences which she refuses to acknowledge. We must protect those most at risk. Rowling must apologise for the harm she has caused.
Trans people are not predators simply by identifying as trans, nor should they ever be constituted as such. Instead, they should be protected, their voices upheld and the discrimination they face dismantled.