In her long essay on trans issues, JK Rowling uses a lot of techniques to make herself sound more reasonable than she is actually being. She frequently minimizes and avoids explicitly saying the things she alludes to. She spends a lot of time poisoning the well. In particular, she avoids acknowledging the truly terrible things she’s said or supported publicly. She implies that all trans women are physically and sexually dangerous, particularly to children, and she consistently implies that trans people are just “men in dresses” or “self-loathing women”.
I’m going to go paragraph by paragraph through what JK Rowling has written because I think it’s important to highlight the tactics she’s using to minimize her bigotry and aim that bigotry at trans people, especially trans women.
Before I get started I will just say… you really don’t have to read this. It’s a pretty miserable experience and there are much more enjoyable ways to spend your time. That said, let’s get on with it.
This isn’t an easy piece to write, for reasons that will shortly become clear, but I know it’s time to explain myself on an issue surrounded by toxicity. I write this without any desire to add to that toxicity.
She starts with poisoning the well, making it sound like the toxicity is somehow generated by the topic itself, and not the result of, for example, her own behavior. She also peremptorily disowns her own bad behavior, without actually apologizing for it.
For people who don’t know: last December I tweeted my support for Maya Forstater, a tax specialist who’d lost her job for what were deemed ‘transphobic’ tweets. She took her case to an employment tribunal, asking the judge to rule on whether a philosophical belief that sex is determined by biology is protected in law. Judge Tayler ruled that it wasn’t.
This is deeply misrepresentative of Maya Forstater. Forstater was a contractor whose contract was not renewed following a series of tweets in which she misgendered trans people and called them “crossdressers”. She dismissed the possibility of trans people existing, referring to trans women consistently as “males”. Her contract was not renewed after an individual complained that she was creating a hostile work environment. After suing, Forstater continued to post vile things – insisting on deadnaming trans people, intentionally using incorrect pronouns, and misgendering people. A judge concluded that this harassing behavior wasn’t OK in a workplace. Forstater is allowed to believe whatever she wants, but when that belief manifests in treating individuals badly, an employer has the right to protect its other employees from harassment.
I can only assume that Rowling doesn’t explain the entire story because it would look very bad for her case. You’ll note that Rowling never directly links to anything she refers to, not allowing people to judge for themselves her interpretations or the validity of her sources. Rowling’s tweet in defense of Forstater was equally misleading and dismissive of trans people, implying that they were just crossdressing, not trans.
My interest in trans issues pre-dated Maya’s case by almost two years, during which I followed the debate around the concept of gender identity closely. I’ve met trans people, and read sundry books, blogs and articles by trans people, gender specialists, intersex people, psychologists, safeguarding experts, social workers and doctors, and followed the discourse online and in traditional media. On one level, my interest in this issue has been professional, because I’m writing a crime series, set in the present day, and my fictional female detective is of an age to be interested in, and affected by, these issues herself, but on another, it’s intensely personal, as I’m about to explain.
Rowling’s interest in trans issues started because she wrote a book in which a trans woman attacks the main character (the main character then threatens her with prison rape). Her research was to help her write a villainous trans woman. She writes this paragraph as though she’s a disinterested researcher, when she is, in fact, someone with an agenda. Her agenda is to ensure that cis women do not have to share spaces with trans women.
All the time I’ve been researching and learning, accusations and threats from trans activists have been bubbling in my Twitter timeline. This was initially triggered by a ‘like’. When I started taking an interest in gender identity and transgender matters, I began screenshotting comments that interested me, as a way of reminding myself what I might want to research later. On one occasion, I absent-mindedly ‘liked’ instead of screenshotting. That single ‘like’ was deemed evidence of wrongthink, and a persistent low level of harassment began.
There are a couple of interesting things happening in this paragraph. First, Rowling refuses to take any responsibility for her liking a tweet. It may seem inconsequential, but liked tweets by popular feeds means that tweet show up in a lot of people’s feeds. So a lot of people saw bile who otherwise wouldn’t have had to. Rowling’s large platform comes with additional responsibilities. On top of that, she again fails to acknowledge what research she was doing (how to write a trans woman villain) or the fact that what she was reading was absolutely awful — or the fact that there were actually several incidents of her “accidentally” liking transphobic material on Twitter. That link has a much more exhaustive analysis of how the tweets were problematic than what I can provide.
The first she liked was an article that presented trans women as predators and “strangers with a penis”. The second was a tweet that described trans women as “men in dresses” and said that supporting trans women rather than the (cis woman) author of the tweet was an example of misogyny.
She also casts herself as some powerless victim of persecution for being perceived to have a “wrongthink” opinion. To be clear, she was accurately perceived to have an opinion which this entire piece affirms. She also seems to be under the misapprehension that freedom of speech means the ability to say whatever you want without facing criticism. She can post things denying people’s gender identity, and that’s free speech, but saying she is wrong is necessarily harassment.
I will say this though, she is right that there is too much harassment on Twitter and some of it is aimed at her. Some of the criticism she has faced has been deeply misogynistic and violent. That is, unfortunately, true of Twitter across the board.
Months later, I compounded my accidental ‘like’ crime by following Magdalen Berns on Twitter. Magdalen was an immensely brave young feminist and lesbian who was dying of an aggressive brain tumour. I followed her because I wanted to contact her directly, which I succeeded in doing. However, as Magdalen was a great believer in the importance of biological sex, and didn’t believe lesbians should be called bigots for not dating trans women with penises, dots were joined in the heads of twitter trans activists, and the level of social media abuse increased.
Again, refusing to take responsibility for liking something that she agrees with, understating the impact of liking a tweet when it makes it appear to millions of people, and overstating the criticism of her by implying trans activists think it’s a “crime”. Berns was young for someone to die of a brain tumour, but she was 36 not 16, which is more the age that Rowling seems to be implying here. As a fully adult woman, Berns was absolutely responsible for her reprehensible views, which were much more than thinking it was OK for lesbians not to date trans women. (Never mind that many trans women are lesbians). Rowling here also here mentions penises in an attempt to scare people. I do not understand her obsession with genitalia, but many anti-trans people seem to reduce people to their genitalia.
Why did she even want to support Berns? That’s not some incidental information, Rowling likely wanted to support Berns specifically for her anti-trans work. Again Rowling implies that dots were joined that shouldn’t be joined, in a piece in which she advocates for transphobia! She wants to imply that trans people are crazy for thinking she doesn’t support trans people, even while she is writing an essay about how she doesn’t support trans people!
As for Berns’ beliefs, they were really aggressively dehumanizing. She didn’t believe trans women were women, she said they were “blackface actors” and “men who got sexual kicks from being treated like women.” She insisted that homosexuality was about attraction to specific genitalia not genders. She was very much a TERF, by the strictest definitions. Rowling again avoids acknowledging the worst of Berns’ public statements to maintain some plausible deniability of her own fear and dislike of trans people.
I mention all this only to explain that I knew perfectly well what was going to happen when I supported Maya. I must have been on my fourth or fifth cancellation by then. I expected the threats of violence, to be told I was literally killing trans people with my hate, to be called cunt and bitch and, of course, for my books to be burned, although one particularly abusive man told me he’d composted them.
She knew perfectly well that as someone who had positioned herself as an LGBTQ ally, people would be upset when she publicly supported someone who literally called trans people “blackface performers.” Yeah, that’s not super hard to predict. Here she performs an interesting trick where she conflates genuine abuse (threats of violence, gendered slurs) with legitimate criticism (contributing to trans youth suicide, destroying books). I have to assume the particularly abusive man who composted her book was considered abusive for some unstated reason? Notice also that here she goes from just following so she could DM to actively supporting Maya. She sneaks in this reveal of what is more likely her real behavior — supporting a very transphobic person specifically because she agrees with the transphobia.
What I didn’t expect in the aftermath of my cancellation was the avalanche of emails and letters that came showering down upon me, the overwhelming majority of which were positive, grateful and supportive. They came from a cross-section of kind, empathetic and intelligent people, some of them working in fields dealing with gender dysphoria and trans people, who’re all deeply concerned about the way a socio-political concept is influencing politics, medical practice and safeguarding. They’re worried about the dangers to young people, gay people and about the erosion of women’s and girl’s rights. Above all, they’re worried about a climate of fear that serves nobody – least of all trans youth – well.
A yes, a good bandwagon argument. You see the good people of the world, the silent majority, agree with my bigotry, therefore it is correct. She also avoids stating what people are “deeply concerned” about. “[A] socio political concept” means the belief that trans people exist, “influencing politics” means that trans people want their gender recognized, “medical practice” means providing appropriate care to people who are trans, and “safeguarding” means protecting cis women and children from being raped by predatory trans women. The dangers to young people are presumably that trans people are sexual predators and that transitioning is dangerous to the young. The danger to gay people is that somehow their sexuality is not real if trans people exist. The erosion of women’s and girl’s rights is that those rights would also be extended to trans women and girls.
And then there is her claim that, somehow, people who criticize trans people are living in a worse “climate of fear” than trans people themselves. A “climate of fear” is when you don’t know if you’ll be fired, kicked out of your home, disowned, beaten, or killed if someone discovers you’re trans. It’s not worrying that people will call you a bigot for expressing a bigoted opinion on Twitter. These are not the same. The dangers are nothing alike. And using trans youth as a shield here is especially galling.
I’d stepped back from Twitter for many months both before and after tweeting support for Maya, because I knew it was doing nothing good for my mental health. I only returned because I wanted to share a free children’s book during the pandemic. Immediately, activists who clearly believe themselves to be good, kind and progressive people swarmed back into my timeline, assuming a right to police my speech, accuse me of hatred, call me misogynistic slurs and, above all – as every woman involved in this debate will know – TERF.
Again, she uses the term “support” here. Again, without saying what Maya believed and said. Here she says that Twitter abuse was bad for her mental health, without acknowledging that the persistent denial of their humanity and gender is devastating to the mental health of trans people. Again, Rowling makes this about her. She goes on to act as though all she was doing on Twitter was this act of charity for children (you’ll note she repeatedly brings up children to act as a shield for her behavior), when she was actively posting anti-trans missives. Again, minimizing her own behavior and her responsibility for it.
She here mistakes criticism for policing of speech. Your right to say whatever you want isn’t infringed by people telling you that what you said was terrible. You are free to speak, not free from criticism of that speech. Again she does this conflating things as though being (accurately) accused of hatred is the same as being called misogynistic slurs. She also conflates misogynistic slurs with TERF, even though TERF is not that. She also implies that the only women involved in this debate are cis women who don’t support trans people, entirely ignoring all the cis women who’ve not been called a TERF and all the trans women fighting for their rights.
If you didn’t already know – and why should you? – ‘TERF’ is an acronym coined by trans activists, which stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. In practice, a huge and diverse cross-section of women are currently being called TERFs and the vast majority have never been radical feminists. Examples of so-called TERFs range from the mother of a gay child who was afraid their child wanted to transition to escape homophobic bullying, to a hitherto totally unfeminist older lady who’s vowed never to visit Marks & Spencer again because they’re allowing any man who says they identify as a woman into the women’s changing rooms. Ironically, radical feminists aren’t even trans-exclusionary – they include trans men in their feminism, because they were born women.
Here’s another bit of little word magic. She ends the previous paragraph with the claim that every (cis) woman (who is a TERF) involved in this discussion is familiar with the term TERF, to highlight that it’s a terrible slur being used against everyone willy-nilly, but begins this paragraph with, why should you have heard of the term TERF, it’s so unimportant and niche, so she can build the term up as a slur used with abandon and dismiss it as unimportant at the same time.
She’s actually right here about where the term TERF is applied. It was originally used inside the radical feminist movement to criticize radfems who didn’t support/include trans women, but it has become shorthand for anyone who doesn’t support trans people. It has evolved, like many terms, from one that was merely descriptive of a single philosophical position, to having other meanings and connotations. She lists some people who I guess she thinks don’t fit the term, but she herself is a pretty textbook case of being a feminist who doesn’t want to include trans women.
These examples are weird because they feel like non sequiturs. She presents this mother as a caring mother, not as a person standing between her child and help, which is what she reads as to me. It seems like a lot of people who don’t support young people seeking gender transition care don’t realize that a huge part of that care is mental health-related or that it takes years in the UK – up to three years – to just begin any care, then a wait to get hormonal support (if wanted), and then many years on hormones to get surgery (if wanted). It is not as if a teen just goes to school, gets called gay, and has surgery the next day in a huff.
As for the Marks and Spencer lady, I’ve got no clue what Rowling is attempting to say here except that all anti-trans people can get called TERF, even if not feminist. I’m not sure what makes this lady “totally unfeminist” unless shopping for Marks and Spencer is code for that. You’ll note that the writing is muddy here about whether this is the view of the lady or of Rowling, but this was written by Rowling herself: “they’re allowing any man who says they identify as a woman into the women’s changing rooms.” So this is implying that trans women 1. are just men pretending to be women, 2. are sexual predators trying to get into women’s spaces to rape them, and 3. that women’s changing rooms are somehow sacred spaces when they’re literally just tiny closets to try on clothes.
Finally she says that TERFs aren’t trans-exclusionary because they consider trans men to be women. This is super messed up on a number of levels. First, the complaint about TERFs is specifically about their refusal to include trans women. Secondly, she’s asking for credit for refusing to believe someone else when it comes to their gender. Third, this is absolutely excluding trans men, because if you’re refusing to believe them when they say who they are, how could they be included?
But accusations of TERFery have been sufficient to intimidate many people, institutions and organisations I once admired, who’re cowering before the tactics of the playground. ‘They’ll call us transphobic!’ ‘They’ll say I hate trans people!’ What next, they’ll say you’ve got fleas? Speaking as a biological woman, a lot of people in positions of power really need to grow a pair (which is doubtless literally possible, according to the kind of people who argue that clownfish prove humans aren’t a dimorphic species).
This paragraph genuinely blew my mind, I had to read it several times to even begin to understand what she’s saying. People are intimidated out of bigoted behavior because people will call them out as bigots. This seems… fine to me. Is the ask that people not call out homophobia, sexism, and racism, either, to be sure they don’t intimidate people into not using slurs? It seems perfectly reasonable for a person/organization to say “Should I say something that insults my fellow human beings and denies them their humanity or should I not?” It’s not great that the only thing standing between them and vocal transphobia is a fear of being called on it but, baby steps.
Next she says that calling someone transphobic is equivalent to saying they have fleas — which is to say that Rowling doesn’t think that transphobia is a meaningfully bad thing. She’s really fine with it. Fleas are, sadly, much easier to get rid of.
And then there’s this clownfish stuff that is… confusing. First, she makes this joke (?) about “biological women” (note she refused to use the term cis, instead tying “woman” explicitly to biology) growing balls, but it’s sort of weirder than that, because the implication is that all the people in positions of power are women, which is statistically unlikely. Then she goes on this very weird tangent about clownfish, which she claims that trans supporters believe proves that people can spontaneously grow new and different genitalia.
I spent a long time googling to try to understand this, so here is the only context I can give you: Clownfish exhibit something called “sequential hermaphroditism.” They live as a non-breeding male, and when triggered by the correct circumstances, can sexually mature as either a breeding male or a breeding female. This is upsetting to some transphobes, because it was included in Blue Planet II and they thought this was pro-trans propaganda. What is interesting is that there are many examples of conditions in which humans can present as one sex as a child and then change at puberty or where they look like one sex but actually have chromosomes for the opposite sex. Humans do exhibit dimorphism (differences in body between sexes), though at a lower level than many species, and this is more like a spectrum than two buckets of people — many people are ambiguous, mixed, or change over time, and I’m pretty sure that there’s no one feature of a sex that doesn’t ever appear in the other. (More about biology here.) It is a weird thing to claim that trans supporters believe there are no general differences in physical development, when the transition in question is often about changing those very things. I wonder if she objects to cis women with PCOS shaving their beards or cis men with gynecomastia having breast removal, in order to feel more attuned with their gender identities?
So why am I doing this? Why speak up? Why not quietly do my research and keep my head down?
Uh, because you weren’t ever doing that?
Well, I’ve got five reasons for being worried about the new trans activism, and deciding I need to speak up.
“The new trans activism” is a weird way of putting “supporting trans people.”
Firstly, I have a charitable trust that focuses on alleviating social deprivation in Scotland, with a particular emphasis on women and children. Among other things, my trust supports projects for female prisoners and for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. I also fund medical research into MS, a disease that behaves very differently in men and women. It’s been clear to me for a while that the new trans activism is having (or is likely to have, if all its demands are met) a significant impact on many of the causes I support, because it’s pushing to erode the legal definition of sex and replace it with gender.
A charitable trust that, by the way, is all for including trans women and children in their care. The implication here is that somehow it would be bad if her charity had to help trans women prisoners or trans survivors of domestic and sexual abuse? I genuinely do not begin to understand why she’s upset that these would include trans women. I also don’t understand why she thinks the MS research is negatively impacted by focusing the legal definition of gender on identity rather than on sex. The medical history of a patient is the business of their medical providers and isn’t usually the business of everyone else. As mentioned above, there are lots of people who don’t fit neatly into either/or boxes, and medical research generally has to take that into account. Trans people offer the opportunity to learn more, not less, about how human bodies work. Also the use of “if all its demands are met” implies that trans activism is somehow holding the world hostage, not merely asking to be treated decently.
The second reason is that I’m an ex-teacher and the founder of a children’s charity, which gives me an interest in both education and safeguarding. Like many others, I have deep concerns about the effect the trans rights movement is having on both.
It is not that nothing else in this has made me angry, but this dog whistle is especially infuriating. She’s returned to the term “safeguarding” which in this context means “I think trans women are pedophiles”. I am unclear of the effect of trans rights on education, except, perhaps, that children will learn that trans people exist. It is incredible to me that someone who supposedly supports gay people cannot see that this is the exact same argument that was used against gay people — they aren’t safe around children and children shouldn’t have to learn about them.
The third is that, as a much-banned author, I’m interested in freedom of speech and have publicly defended it, even unto Donald Trump.
… How can someone post this long screed and also claim she doesn’t have freedom of speech. She has a much bigger platform than any of the trans rights people she hates.
The fourth is where things start to get truly personal. I’m concerned about the huge explosion in young women wishing to transition and also about the increasing numbers who seem to be detransitioning (returning to their original sex), because they regret taking steps that have, in some cases, altered their bodies irrevocably, and taken away their fertility. Some say they decided to transition after realising they were same-sex attracted, and that transitioning was partly driven by homophobia, either in society or in their families.
Detransitioning is a relatively uncommon phenomenon and it can happen at any phase of transition, meaning that someone doesn’t even have to have taken hormones, much less have surgery, to detransition. Because of how long it takes to reach the point of surgery (years and years, especially for very young people) it is even rarer for someone to have permanent alterations to their fertility when they detransition. Still, such things do happen, but they’re generally from choices made by individuals when they are adults after having extensive medical and mental health care. The logic of thinking trans men shouldn’t be allowed to transition at a young adult age is the same as the logic of doctors who refuse to let women get permanent birth control until they’ve had two children or are in their thirties. If this isn’t policing individual choices of what to do with their bodies, nothing is.
This focus on trans men (as she calls them, young women) is interesting, because she’s been presenting trans women as the bogey man so far, and mostly focuses on them throughout. Trans women are men who are predators trying to get into women’s spaces, and trans men are self-loathing women or self-loathing lesbians.
Most people probably aren’t aware – I certainly wasn’t, until I started researching this issue properly – that ten years ago, the majority of people wanting to transition to the opposite sex were male. That ratio has now reversed. The UK has experienced a 4400% increase in girls being referred for transitioning treatment. Autistic girls are hugely overrepresented in their numbers.
Researching this issue properly seems to mean reading a bunch of articles from Quillette. Note again she refers to young trans men as girls. I don’t know many women who like being called girls, but trans men definitely don’t.
This 4400% number is misleading for a number of reasons. First of all, there’s been a huge increase of young people being referred for gender treatment overall. Second of all, it is likely that this is because of the activism to reduce stigma against trans youth. Thirdly, 4400 is larger than the actual number of young people referred. The number of young people referred rose from 97 to 2519. That is indeed a large jump, but considering that there are over 10 million people under the age of 15 in the UK, it’s not a very impressive number. The vast difference of more “boys” than “girls” to begin with was 40 “girls” to 57 “boys.” The numbers currently are 1806 to 703, a much bigger difference, but still such small numbers that it’s difficult to discern much from it. Not all of these referrals lead to transitions, either.
I’m not sure what to make of this statement about “autistic girls” being overrepresented. The first is the implication that autistic girls are not capable of knowing their own gender, which is ableist. The second is the implication that “girls” who are “autistic” can only be “autistic”, and not also trans. Autism must explain everything. Either way, it’s a weird thing to bring up. Note again that she has not provided links for either of these claims so that we can evaluate the actual data.
The same phenomenon has been seen in the US. In 2018, American physician and researcher Lisa Littman set out to explore it. In an interview, she said:
If this phenomenon has been seen in the US, the following story is not an example of it. Again, no actual reference to support this claim.
‘Parents online were describing a very unusual pattern of transgender-identification where multiple friends and even entire friend groups became transgender-identified at the same time. I would have been remiss had I not considered social contagion and peer influences as potential factors.’
Not linking to this story also makes it more difficult for readers to identify the problems with this study. Lisa Littman went specifically to sites known to host anti-trans people and specifically asked parents who didn’t believe in their children’s transition to participate in her study. This sample method is not ideal. Her conclusions have not been replicated in other studies. It sounds very reasonable to insist that you consider social contagion when you don’t consider that she’s specifically sought out anti-trans parents. She also doesn’t offer an alternate possibility, like that children who are different in the same way often find each other. Or that children with anti-trans parents may be open at school, meet other trans kids, and form a social support network before talking to their parents.
Littman mentioned Tumblr, Reddit, Instagram and YouTube as contributing factors to Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, where she believes that in the realm of transgender identification ‘youth have created particularly insular echo chambers.’
Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria is a term Littman made up that has not been validated by any other study and is NOT a recognized medical condition or term.
Her paper caused a furore. She was accused of bias and of spreading misinformation about transgender people, subjected to a tsunami of abuse and a concerted campaign to discredit both her and her work. The journal took the paper offline and re-reviewed it before republishing it. However, her career took a similar hit to that suffered by Maya Forstater. Lisa Littman had dared challenge one of the central tenets of trans activism, which is that a person’s gender identity is innate, like sexual orientation. Nobody, the activists insisted, could ever be persuaded into being trans.
Her poorly researched paper that overreached in its conclusions did indeed create a backlash and had to be edited to meet the journal’s standards.
The argument of many current trans activists is that if you don’t let a gender dysphoric teenager transition, they will kill themselves. In an article explaining why he resigned from the Tavistock (an NHS gender clinic in England) psychiatrist Marcus Evans stated that claims that children will kill themselves if not permitted to transition do not ‘align substantially with any robust data or studies in this area. Nor do they align with the cases I have encountered over decades as a psychotherapist.’
Trans youth suicide is a big problem. It may not require transition to prevent, but transition is one way to lower the risks. Other ways include creating a supportive atmosphere where the author of the world’s most popular children’s books isn’t calling her young readers sexual predators and delusional lesbians. Again another reference without a link or any critical thinking about the claims of the person quoted.
The writings of young trans men reveal a group of notably sensitive and clever people. The more of their accounts of gender dysphoria I’ve read, with their insightful descriptions of anxiety, dissociation, eating disorders, self-harm and self-hatred, the more I’ve wondered whether, if I’d been born 30 years later, I too might have tried to transition. The allure of escaping womanhood would have been huge. I struggled with severe OCD as a teenager. If I’d found community and sympathy online that I couldn’t find in my immediate environment, I believe I could have been persuaded to turn myself into the son my father had openly said he’d have preferred.
She believes young trans men are only clever and insightful insofar as it concerns other mental health issues, not their own understanding of their gender. Why is Rowling willing to believe them on one and not the other? Presumably because she doesn’t think that people can actually be trans. She here conflates all mental illness with being trans and absolutely believes that actually feeling like the other gender is not required for wanting to transition. That her self-hatred would have been sufficient for her.
When I read about the theory of gender identity, I remember how mentally sexless I felt in youth. I remember Colette’s description of herself as a ‘mental hermaphrodite’ and Simone de Beauvoir’s words: ‘It is perfectly natural for the future woman to feel indignant at the limitations posed upon her by her sex. The real question is not why she should reject them: the problem is rather to understand why she accepts them.’
This feels, more than anything, a resentment of the fact that youth have more options available to them than she did. She seems to be dancing around the idea that she herself is a self-loathing non-binary person (not to claim that she actually is). And also that not identifying as a woman can only be evidence of living in a world of misogyny. She’s missing the very salient point that gender, because it is a social construct, is absolutely impacted by social assumptions about people of different genders.
As I didn’t have a realistic possibility of becoming a man back in the 1980s, it had to be books and music that got me through both my mental health issues and the sexualised scrutiny and judgement that sets so many girls to war against their bodies in their teens. Fortunately for me, I found my own sense of otherness, and my ambivalence about being a woman, reflected in the work of female writers and musicians who reassured me that, in spite of everything a sexist world tries to throw at the female-bodied, it’s fine not to feel pink, frilly and compliant inside your own head; it’s OK to feel confused, dark, both sexual and non-sexual, unsure of what or who you are.
Again stating that being trans is a mental illness. Again being sure to exclude trans women from the experience of womanhood with the term “female-bodied.”
I want to be very clear here: I know transition will be a solution for some gender dysphoric people, although I’m also aware through extensive research that studies have consistently shown that between 60-90% of gender dysphoric teens will grow out of their dysphoria. Again and again I’ve been told to ‘just meet some trans people.’ I have: in addition to a few younger people, who were all adorable, I happen to know a self-described transsexual woman who’s older than I am and wonderful. Although she’s open about her past as a gay man, I’ve always found it hard to think of her as anything other than a woman, and I believe (and certainly hope) she’s completely happy to have transitioned. Being older, though, she went through a long and rigorous process of evaluation, psychotherapy and staged transformation. The current explosion of trans activism is urging a removal of almost all the robust systems through which candidates for sex reassignment were once required to pass. A man who intends to have no surgery and take no hormones may now secure himself a Gender Recognition Certificate and be a woman in the sight of the law. Many people aren’t aware of this.
Where are these study numbers coming from? I cannot find them. But I believe it also refers to the understanding of gender dysphoria in prepubescent children (not teens). The problem with *that* is mental health professionals tend to lump any gender nonconformity into gender dysphoria when they are dealing with children, which means a lot of LGBQ youth get labelled gender dysphoric rather than gay. In other words, many parents of boys who liked to wear dresses took their children to psychologists because they assumed something was wrong. There is no reason to assume that everyone with gender dysphoria has any interest in transitioning even just socially, much less through hormones and surgery. That is even more true of children, because children get brought to therapists by parents who assume certain behavior, like boys dressing in dresses or girls being tomboys, is somehow pathological, and not within the normal range of experiences. Most prepubescent children who are thought to have gender dysphoria grow up to be gay or just slightly outside typical gender presentation. Some do grow up to be trans. But again, this observation is of prepubescent children, not of teenagers. So, as far as I can guess without a source, Rowling is referring to numbers that apply solely to prepubescent children and NOT to teens. My understanding is that the majority of teens who identify as trans are, in fact, trans.
I hate that she’s dismissive of the young trans people as simply “adorable.” I also hate this “I have a trans friend, so I can’t be transphobic” move. Again, she doesn’t recognize how many steps and how much time it actually does take to seek transition care in the UK. And again she thinks that trans women are men trying to sneak into women’s spaces to attack them.
We’re living through the most misogynistic period I’ve experienced. Back in the 80s, I imagined that my future daughters, should I have any, would have it far better than I ever did, but between the backlash against feminism and a porn-saturated online culture, I believe things have got significantly worse for girls. Never have I seen women denigrated and dehumanised to the extent they are now. From the leader of the free world’s long history of sexual assault accusations and his proud boast of ‘grabbing them by the pussy’, to the incel (‘involuntarily celibate’) movement that rages against women who won’t give them sex, to the trans activists who declare that TERFs need punching and re-educating, men across the political spectrum seem to agree: women are asking for trouble. Everywhere, women are being told to shut up and sit down, or else.
There is a lot about our current era that has manifested misogyny in a really ugly way — and Twitter is among the worst places. She once again puts wholly different things in the same list: violence (punching) and educating. One of those is not a threat. She also here implies that trans activists are men telling women to sit down and shut up. Again refusing to acknowledge the identities of trans women.
I’ve read all the arguments about femaleness not residing in the sexed body, and the assertions that biological women don’t have common experiences, and I find them, too, deeply misogynistic and regressive. It’s also clear that one of the objectives of denying the importance of sex is to erode what some seem to see as the cruelly segregationist idea of women having their own biological realities or – just as threatening – unifying realities that make them a cohesive political class. The hundreds of emails I’ve received in the last few days prove this erosion concerns many others just as much. It isn’t enough for women to be trans allies. Women must accept and admit that there is no material difference between trans women and themselves.
I don’t understand why it’s misogynistic to think that women don’t all have common experiences. There is a huge spectrum of what women’s lives look like and how their bodies behave. Not all women menstruate, not all women can get pregnant, not all women grow breasts, not all women are raped. The idea that women’s lives are all similar comes from an extraordinarily middle class and white conception of what it means to be a woman, something the feminist movement has a history of doing. This claim is classist, racist, transphobic, and homophobic.
Also, again and again, she uses the term “women” to solely reference *cis* women, excluding trans women.
She claims that trans women insist that there is no difference between trans women and cis women, when actually they just want to be recognized as women, a remarkably broad category of people with plenty of room for trans women, and they want even more to not be treated as predators and abusers.
But, as many women have said before me, ‘woman’ is not a costume. ‘Woman’ is not an idea in a man’s head. ‘Woman’ is not a pink brain, a liking for Jimmy Choos or any of the other sexist ideas now somehow touted as progressive. Moreover, the ‘inclusive’ language that calls female people ‘menstruators’ and ‘people with vulvas’ strikes many women as dehumanising and demeaning. I understand why trans activists consider this language to be appropriate and kind, but for those of us who’ve had degrading slurs spat at us by violent men, it’s not neutral, it’s hostile and alienating.
Okay, so here she is saying that trans women are men wearing a costume, based on an idea in their man head, because they think being pink-brained and liking shoes makes them a woman. Apparently any kind of desire for femme things is… not progressive and based on a specifically male understanding of femininity. See, here’s the thing, because not all cis women menstruate or even have vulvas, it is useful to be specific when you’re addressing a particular concern, even before you consider including trans men in the equation. I’ve also personally never seen the word “menstruators,” only the phrase “people who menstruate” which again, not dehumanizing, it has the word “people” right there. There are real slurs that have been spat by violent men, some of which Rowling has a genuine grievance about being thrown at her on Twitter, but this ain’t it.
Which brings me to the fifth reason I’m deeply concerned about the consequences of the current trans activism.
I’ve been in the public eye now for over twenty years and have never talked publicly about being a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor. This isn’t because I’m ashamed those things happened to me, but because they’re traumatic to revisit and remember. I also feel protective of my daughter from my first marriage. I didn’t want to claim sole ownership of a story that belongs to her, too. However, a short while ago, I asked her how she’d feel if I were publicly honest about that part of my life, and she encouraged me to go ahead.
I’m mentioning these things now not in an attempt to garner sympathy, but out of solidarity with the huge numbers of women who have histories like mine, who’ve been slurred as bigots for having concerns around single-sex spaces.
Yo, you are a bigot for not wanting women in your women spaces. No amount of domestic abuse and sexual assault makes it ok to deny other people their humanity.
I managed to escape my first violent marriage with some difficulty, but I’m now married to a truly good and principled man, safe and secure in ways I never in a million years expected to be. However, the scars left by violence and sexual assault don’t disappear, no matter how loved you are, and no matter how much money you’ve made. My perennial jumpiness is a family joke – and even I know it’s funny – but I pray my daughters never have the same reasons I do for hating sudden loud noises, or finding people behind me when I haven’t heard them approaching.
“My trauma justifies my bigotry. I refuse to recognize trans women as not men and I am afraid of men.”
If you could come inside my head and understand what I feel when I read about a trans woman dying at the hands of a violent man, you’d find solidarity and kinship. I have a visceral sense of the terror in which those trans women will have spent their last seconds on earth, because I too have known moments of blind fear when I realised that the only thing keeping me alive was the shaky self-restraint of my attacker.
“I don’t want trans women to be murdered, I just don’t want them to be treated as fully human. Look at how reasonable I am!”
I believe the majority of trans-identified people not only pose zero threat to others, but are vulnerable for all the reasons I’ve outlined. Trans people need and deserve protection. Like women, they’re most likely to be killed by sexual partners. Trans women who work in the sex industry, particularly trans women of colour, are at particular risk. Like every other domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor I know, I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men.
You can just call them trans. Calling them “trans-identified” implies that they’ve just chosen to call themselves that. Here she lists many many reasons why trans women should be welcomed in women’s spaces, including, for example, her domestic violence charity that she is afraid of trans people benefiting from.
So I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe. When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman – and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones – then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth.
She wants trans women to be safe, just not from being misgendered and harassed by people like Rowling. “Natal girls and women”? There is literally a word for what you’re trying to describe, it exists already, just use it. Again, she outright states that trans women are delusional men, denying them their identity and humanity. I do not understand why people like Rowling believe that the lack of a gender certificate would stop a predator from coming into a bathroom. The thing is, these certificates have been issued for like a decade, and there hasn’t been some increase in bathroom attacks by trans women.
On Saturday morning, I read that the Scottish government is proceeding with its controversial gender recognition plans, which will in effect mean that all a man needs to ‘become a woman’ is to say he’s one. To use a very contemporary word, I was ‘triggered’. Ground down by the relentless attacks from trans activists on social media, when I was only there to give children feedback about pictures they’d drawn for my book under lockdown, I spent much of Saturday in a very dark place inside my head, as memories of a serious sexual assault I suffered in my twenties recurred on a loop. That assault happened at a time and in a space where I was vulnerable, and a man capitalised on an opportunity. I couldn’t shut out those memories and I was finding it hard to contain my anger and disappointment about the way I believe my government is playing fast and loose with womens and girls’ safety.
Again, trans women are men who just say they’re women. She was triggered because she doesn’t believe trans women are women and thinks that they’re all predators. She thinks that trans women being allowed into changing rooms is a rape threat. She thinks her own mental health problems are best addressed by denying humanity to an entire class of people rather than, for example, therapy.
Late on Saturday evening, scrolling through children’s pictures before I went to bed, I forgot the first rule of Twitter – never, ever expect a nuanced conversation – and reacted to what I felt was degrading language about women. I spoke up about the importance of sex and have been paying the price ever since. I was transphobic, I was a cunt, a bitch, a TERF, I deserved cancelling, punching and death. You are Voldemort said one person, clearly feeling this was the only language I’d understand.
She was just innocently looking at the pictures of children (again, using children as her shield) not, you know, actively saying some transphobic stuff. “Paying the price” being people saying that she is a bigot, because… she is. Again she conflates a bunch of things that are very different: legitimate criticism (transphobic, TERF, deserving canceling) with gendered slurs and threats (cunt, bitch, punching, death). I think she’s genuinely upset that someone called her Voldemort, which is pretty funny.
It would be so much easier to tweet the approved hashtags – because of course trans rights are human rights and of course trans lives matter – scoop up the woke cookies and bask in a virtue-signalling afterglow. There’s joy, relief and safety in conformity. As Simone de Beauvoir also wrote, “… without a doubt it is more comfortable to endure blind bondage than to work for one’s liberation; the dead, too, are better suited to the earth than the living.”
Earlier, and below, she will state that there’s a huge number of people who agree with her, and that they’re in the majority, but somehow what she’s doing isn’t virtue signaling to that crowd, she cannot bask in her own afterglow. It is conformist to believe what she has elsewhere claimed to be a minority view. Confusing.
Huge numbers of women are justifiably terrified by the trans activists; I know this because so many have got in touch with me to tell their stories. They’re afraid of doxxing, of losing their jobs or their livelihoods, and of violence.
Huge numbers of cis women who don’t believe trans women are valid are afraid of being called bigots or having their bigotry exposed. I don’t support the harassment of these people, but I don’t know why anyone thinks that saying bigoted things will not cause some pushback.
But endlessly unpleasant as its constant targeting of me has been, I refuse to bow down to a movement that I believe is doing demonstrable harm in seeking to erode ‘woman’ as a political and biological class and offering cover to predators like few before it. I stand alongside the brave women and men, gay, straight and trans, who’re standing up for freedom of speech and thought, and for the rights and safety of some of the most vulnerable in our society: young gay kids, fragile teenagers, and women who’re reliant on and wish to retain their single sex spaces. Polls show those women are in the vast majority, and exclude only those privileged or lucky enough never to have come up against male violence or sexual assault, and who’ve never troubled to educate themselves on how prevalent it is.
No one is targeting her, they are responding to her actions and statements. She’s an extraordinarily famous person expressing extreme bigotry on a very large platform. Responding to that isn’t targeting any more than buying Harry Potter books was targeting. And here again this person, who supposedly is down with trans people, says that they are predators and trans women aren’t women. She’s literally targeting a class of people by calling them predators and denying them their identity but complaining that people are responding to that negatively. There are trans young gay kids, fragile trans teenagers, and trans women who are reliant on spaces without men. It’s just that she fails to see them as valid.
Here again she refers to some external source of a poll without citing it or allowing us to determine whether we think it’s valid. She also makes the claim that it’s only possible to support trans people if you’ve never experienced gender violence, even though trans women are subject to more risk for assault than cis women. I truly doubt that whatever poll she is referring to asked people if their beliefs about trans people were informed by their own personal assaults. But I can speak with complete confidence that being raped doesn’t make you hate trans people.
The one thing that gives me hope is that the women who can protest and organise, are doing so, and they have some truly decent men and trans people alongside them. Political parties seeking to appease the loudest voices in this debate are ignoring women’s concerns at their peril. In the UK, women are reaching out to each other across party lines, concerned about the erosion of their hard-won rights and widespread intimidation. None of the gender critical women I’ve talked to hates trans people; on the contrary. Many of them became interested in this issue in the first place out of concern for trans youth, and they’re hugely sympathetic towards trans adults who simply want to live their lives, but who’re facing a backlash for a brand of activism they don’t endorse. The supreme irony is that the attempt to silence women with the word ‘TERF’ may have pushed more young women towards radical feminism than the movement’s seen in decades.
Here she again implies that all cis women are against trans people and that trans women aren’t women and trans men aren’t men. Unsurprisingly, non-binary people really aren’t part of her schema. Again and again she fails to acknowledge that *her* concerns are NOT the concerns of all women, cis or trans. It may be that none of her friends who don’t support trans rights “hates trans people” they just are afraid of them, think they’re delusional monsters, and don’t want them in any of their spaces. You know, in the same way that you don’t have to “hate black people” to want them to use their own water fountains and have their own schools. And again, the wild accusation that the term TERF, which literally describes her actual philosophy, is meant to silence people. It’s like thinking that calling a Christian a “person who believes in Christ” is somehow negative. But here again she’s basically saying it’s great that people use the term TERF because it makes there be more TERFs. She’s all over the place.
The last thing I want to say is this. I haven’t written this essay in the hope that anybody will get out a violin for me, not even a teeny-weeny one. I’m extraordinarily fortunate; I’m a survivor, certainly not a victim. I’ve only mentioned my past because, like every other human being on this planet, I have a complex backstory, which shapes my fears, my interests and my opinions. I never forget that inner complexity when I’m creating a fictional character and I certainly never forget it when it comes to trans people.
She is asking us to excuse her bigotry because of her experience of abuse. And while she claims not to forget complexity when it comes to trans people, she absolutely doesn’t want to treat them like fully realized humans. They are evil to her mind, as she’s expressed repeatedly in this piece and in her own fiction.
All I’m asking – all I want – is for similar empathy, similar understanding, to be extended to the many millions of women whose sole crime is wanting their concerns to be heard without receiving threats and abuse.
She has spent an entire article insinuating that trans women are abusers, rapists, and pedophiles, but she’s asking for empathy for her own plight. Lovely.