This is an essay on me coming to terms with JK Rowling’s vile stance on transgender issues. When you want to broach the subject with a friend that the author of Harry Potter might have some disturbing views on gender health, maybe you’ll point them here and let them follow my journey on the subject.
JK Rowling has written controversially about gender issues, especially the acceptability of transgender people in society.
First, let me be forthright about my opinion about transgender issues:
I fully and without reservation support anyone trying to become whoever they think they might be. Whatever a person believes for themselves is real. It is difficult but worthwhile to work toward becoming that person! There are many aspects to understanding gender including but not limited to social, psychological, and biological. I have travelled a long, occasionally bumpy road in understanding my own and other’s gender and sexuality. It has been composed of a nonstop process of exploration, consideration, observation, and re-consideration.
When I first read JK Rowling’s Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues, I did so out of context of the discussion that was happening. I simply read it. On my first reading, what I saw seemed to make good sense. I even naively blogged a summary, “To cut through all the flak, what I read is this “Be cautious about encouraging people to change their gender too quickly.” I fully support that position.” I was completely wrong about her intent and about her position. I now see how vile her position is.
Making time to understand the full context of an author’s words can be difficult and time consuming with all the stressors and demands on my time. That said, understanding the context in which words are said is essential! Most of what is below are things I learned in the past few days.
(TL;DR, you are welcome to just read the parts in bold)
To skip to the heart of the matter, I completely disagree with JK Rowling’s impression of gender and gender rights. I believe it is a view that is detrimental to the wellbeing of individuals and society. Her core belief is, despite quite a bit of lip service to the contrary, that gender plays no important role in gender identity; a person’s observed sex at birth is the only important aspect of gender identity in society.
Rowling strongly supports Maya Forstater’s ideas in her failed transgender lawsuit. Rowling and Forstater state with nearly identical verbiage ,”I am concerned that the acceptance of “gender identity” in place of sex in laws and policies has a negative impact on women and girls, as it means that female only spaces including toilets, changing rooms, women’s refuges, prisons, hospital wards, and women’s sport can not be maintained as female only.” and “I am not anti-trans. Like JK Rowling I think people should be free to wear what they like and live as they please.”
A summary of the lawsuit: Forstater doesn’t believe a person who has changed genders has actually changed genders. Forstater includes even people that have gone through the legal process in the UK to obtain a UK Gender Recognition Certificate a “GRC”. She said as much and was let go from her job because of it. The judge in the case decided that Forstater is incorrect and the GRC does actually confer its namesake. “…the sticking point was [Forstater’s] insistence that a trans woman is still a man even if she holds a GRC confirming her legal status as a woman”
On my first reading, I had missed so many details in Rowling’s article. I incorrectly assumed that Rowling and Forstater had an understanding of the difference and nuance between sex and gender and were making an academic, pedantic point. This misinterpretation colored my understanding of the reading greatly. Forstater wrote things like ““Sex” is a material reality which should not be conflated with “gender” or “gender identity”. Being female (or male) is an immutable biological fact, not a feeling or an identity… I believe that everyone should be free to live as they choose without harassment or discrimination because of adopting or not adopting gender norms and stereotypes.” My initial response is “Ok… that’s interesting, I’m listening… where are you going with this?” Unfortunately, where she is going is that Forstater strongly believes that both gender AND sex are immutable in her eyes and likewise should be immutable in the eyes of the law.
In Rowling’s article she talks about people’s impression that she may be a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF) but she doesn’t say if she embraces the label or not. Forstater calls herself “gender critical” which is recognized as being synonymous. I didn’t understand what the term meant before reading about Rowling’s position and I mistakenly let the words roll over me. I even googled the term but got the wrong impression. I had latched onto a discussion about how it wasn’t really a derogatory term and moved on. Well, I’ve got egg on my face because “TERF” is not derogatory in exactly the same way that “white supremacist” is not derogatory per se.
A person that is a trans exclusionary radical feminist “denies that trans people’s self-affirmed genders and sexes are equally valid as cis people’s self-affirmed genders and sexes”
In the UK, actively promoting the core belief of a TERF is against the law as evidenced by Forstater’s failed lawsuit.
In Rowling’s Sex and Gender article, she expressed concern about “…Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, where [Lisa Littman, the person who coined the phrase] believes that in the realm of transgender identification ‘youth have created particularly insular echo chambers.” I’m sorry to say that I latched onto that idea too quickly and strongly without looking into it carefully. I had been reminded of an absolutely essential book I read a few years ago “Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche“. I cannot recommend it highly enough. (thank you Professor Jennifer Dawgert-Carlin at CCSF for the recommendation!) Please read the book, or my summary, it will blow you away! In brief, the book traces several mental illnesses that have been spread socially: literal “memes”. Recalling this book got me concerned that Rowling understood a problem that others might not understand. The rub is that the idea of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria is very new, not well studied yet, and simply not ready to be discussed outside academic psychology! Maybe it’s actually a thing, maybe not. I found exactly 1 research study about ROGD on Google Scholar, all the other articles are heated discussions about Littman’s paper. Here’s a good article in Psychology Today about some of the complexity of trying to mainstream the idea too quickly. My friend S. reminded me “[Rowling] is not a Psychologist. She is an author. Look to experts to learn more about the issues. Wikipedia is good for starters.” That is spectacular advice. I had made the mistake of thinking that Rowling was speaking as an academic with a lot of evidence. She is not and does not.
Here are the last nails in the coffin. Rowling took the pen name “Robert Galbraith”. The most prominent real individual with that name is Robert Galbraith Heath, a psychiatrist who was famous for coming up with electroshock gay conversion therapy in the 1950’s. That says it all. Yes, it’s as unethical and as you suspect it might be, maybe moreso! Rowling denies this origin of her pen name, but her reputation as an author who meticulously crafts her character’s names is well understood. Rowling’s new book is about a male serial killer who dressed up as a woman to hunt women. Oh come on! That’s just piling on! That demonstrates clearly yet again her ridiculous “things that go bump in the night” fear.
So, what do I think of JK Rowling’s views on transgender persons? Destructive, abhorrent, and disgusting are a good start.